The Grand Canyon summons images of a barren, dry environment which extends as far as the eye can see. A harsh environment gifted with beautiful views and chameleon colours that change with the rise and fall of the sun.
Visiting the Grand Canyon
On previous visits to the Grand Canyon I’ve savoured views from the rim and hiked the snaking trails into the belly of the canyon, something only 5% of visitors to the canyon can say they’ve done. I even flew over the canyon in a five person helicopter with Mavericks Helicopters to understand just how grand the Grand Canyon truly is, and see the path etched by the Colorado River over 17 billion years.
Apart from the obvious and breath-taking magnificence the canyon offers, there is a rich bio system and a vast array of flora, fauna, bird species and geological wonders. This is not always apparent from the rim or seen whilst hiking depending on how much attention people pay. Each time I visit the Grand Canyon I see more, I discover more and with each new visit I realise how little I knew the time before.
So having seen the Grand Canyon from high above, from the rim and hiking into the canyon itself, I wanted to discover what John Wesley Powell and his team of heroic brave men experienced in 1869. You see, no-one had ever travelled down the Colorado River, so they had no idea if they were setting off on an adventure or too their death. When you actually think about that it’s an amazing thing. Were there monstrous waterfalls, extreme rapids, wild animals, drinking water and if it was actually possible? Yet here was one-armed Mr Powell and his team of intrepid explorers ready to face the unknown in wooden boats which by todays standard wouldn’t be allowed down the river.
Rafting the entire length of the Grand Canyon
I signed up with to go with Grand American Adventures who start and finish in the desert neon city of Las Vegas. There were two inflatable rafts and a maximum of 14 people on each, so 24 in total. I found with this group size there were enough new people to have a conversation with, yet still small enough for it not to feel like a coach trip. On my trip I was the token Kiwi alongside 23 Americans.
We set of from Las Vegas for Lees Ferry, leaving behind the comforts of home including Wi-Fi, mobile phones and anything that required charging. Our motley crew of travellers hit the flat water at the beginning of the Grand Canyon – our goal to raft the rapids for the entire length of the Grand Canyon. Unlike John Wesley Powell and his crew, we were stocked with enough ice and food or the duration of the trip, inflatable rafts and guides who knew the river like the back of their hand.
Each raft has three sections, each of which offers a different experience on the river and the chance to speak to different people:
The Devils Chair – This involved sitting at the front on cushions and facing the full impact of the grade-5 rapids. Only the brave-hearted few sat here and got continuously drenched by the muddy silt-laden water
Higher Ground – Here we sat on a raised service with an overall view of the rapids and surrounding area. Sure, we still got wet but there was more time to dry off between the rapids
The Cadillac – This is like sitting in first class on a plane. We could sit in comfort with cushions to lean back on, only had a light dusting of spray and had peace to take in the views around us
Being in close proximity for eight days facilitated easy group bonding and conversations flowed easily. If you wanted to swap places on the raft (or change to another raft) it was easy and no-one took offence. Within days it felt as though we had been together for months and friendships were formed with people who I’m still in contact with now.
Each day without fail the scenery seen from the river or from land on hikes through the canyon itself can only be described in one word…EPIC. I would literally need to be a novelist to describe the raw, 360 degree beauty that surrounded us. One of my favourite memories was during a hike on one of the trails, when we stopped for shelter from the rain beside a magnificent slot canyon. With so much rain falling in such a short space of time, the result was hundreds of channelled waterfalls cascading over the mountain top, sliding down the canyon walls. It felt as though we had reached the Garden of Eden and we were surveying our new playground.
Due to the heat at night, it was far too hot to sleep in the tent so I spent some nights laid on my camp stretcher enjoying the breeze under a blanket of stars. In the belly of the canyon there is no light radiation and the Milky Way shines brightly like I’ve only ever seen in New Zealand or Africa.
My favourite morning routine was waking up whilst it was still dark, to the smell of bacon sizzling and brewing coffee. Ready for my morning swim to freshen up and wash away the camping aches and pains. The further down the river we went, the richer and thicker the river became until the last few days I was literally swimming in mud, and emerging dirtier than when I went in.
Although I could go on about my 8 days rafting the entire length of the Grand Canyon, the entire experience was far more than I expected. The food was nothing short of exceptional – I mean the guides baked bread and cakes down there. Seriously – fresh cakes and bread…in the Grand Canyon! The camping was comfortable, the guides gave us a wealth of historical information and about flora and fauna, the scenery was mind-blowing, rapids were exciting and the group helped make this a wonderful experience.
There are some experiences which are truly amazing. I know us travel bloggers have a way of turning a day out in our home city to one of the greatest days ever, but this trip was truly incredible. It’s not often we can switch off our ordinary lives completely and absolutely live in the moment.
If you are considering this experience don’t delay! Dust off the drysuit and brave the rapids of the Colorado River, just like John Wesley Powell did and his brave crew did back in 1869!
Happy travelling folks.