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Rafting the Grand Canyon on our Golden Anniversary!

It all began about 6 months ago when our children were talking of a celebration for our 60th wedding anniversary and Diana’s 80th birthday.   Because we had a major celebration for our Golden Anniversary, my wife and I weren’t keen on doing a repeat, having been there, done that!  I thought I was kidding when I suggested that we go rafting the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River instead, as this had been on Diana’s Bucket List for years.  But, before I knew it, plans were underway and a search of the Internet was followed by reservations being made, followed by a number of Diana’s siblings asking to join the party.

Thus, on May 26, 2012, we two, three of Diana’s sisters—Elaine, Helen and Eileen, one brother—Harlin and his wife—Jody, and Helen’s husband—Harry met at The Desert Rose Resort in Las Vegas.  After a pleasant night at the resort, we boarded a bus for the airport at 6:15 AM.  A drive through Fantasy Land known as the Las Vegas Strip, soon brought us to the airport where we boarded a skinny tube of a plane for an hour’s flight to the rim of the Grand Canyon.  The flight was interesting in that we flew very low, allowing exceptional views of the terrain.  We landed on a narrow strip of asphalt and were shuttled to the Bar 10 Ranch, our point of entry to the Canyon.  The helicopter accommodated only 7 people (all carefully balanced by weight) and in this way we were ferried to the Colorado River below.  This afforded quite a thrill, especially as we floated over the edge of the rim and the world dropped away below us, a mile of empty air to the beach at the river’s edge.

There were two rafts, bright teal blue in color, each large enough to accommodate 14-16 people.  They were manned by four guides, two to a raft—Haley, Scott, Johnnie and Wiley.  Each raft was constructed of 5 large inflated tapered tubes of heavy-duty rubber-like material, joined side by side.  They were spanned mid and aft by large rectangular containers which stored all equipment and supplies.  The forward section and the area between the storage units, as well as the tops of the container units provided seating for the passengers. Ropes and belts were within reach for handholds when traversing rough waters.  We were each provided with water-proof bags containing a sleeping bag, a clean sheet and coverup, a tarp and a smaller “day bag” to hold items essential for personal use during the day.  We stored our own duffle bag of clothing etc. within the larger bag which was then closed and piled on the raft, tied down with ropes.  The day bags and our water bottles were attached to the ropes with large clips.

During orientation we were told to keep drinking lots of water as the humidity was about 4% and we were warned about the dangers of heat stroke.  There would be periodic stops for potty breaks and, to quote our leader, “if you don’t have to go, you are not drinking enough water!”.  Also, we were forbidden to relieve ourselves on the shore.  Because of the minimal rainfall in the Grand Canyon, all the camping sites would soon be polluted beyond usage.  Thus, we all liberally added to the water supply of the downstream communities.

I guess I have a “potty” mind, but now that I’m on the subject, I may as well explain the camp procedure.  Two large, metal boxes, toilet seat attached, were placed in secluded areas at opposite ends of the camp.  About 100 yards from these placements, toward the camp, were set two plastic buckets for hand sanitation.  By these buckets was placed a plastic cushion, the ticket.  The individual intending to use the facility carried the cushion with him or her and returned it to the bucket position when mission accomplished.  In that way there was no intrusion on anyone’s privacy.  Rather clever!  Little red blinking lights lit the way to the stations in the dark.  What a serene setting!  No books or magazines, just communing with nature, watching the flowing river or scanning the majestic surrounding cliffs.  But enough of that!

Once we all boarded the rafts, we were soon underway on the smoothly flowing waters.  Our group was on the second raft, following the one commanded by our trip leader, Wiley, about a quarter mile ahead of us.  The waters were fairly clear, a pleasant green in color.  At times we floated on green mirror glass, then riffles with acres of glittering reflections.  Then came the rapids!  Fortunately, the first few were relatively mild, giving us a preview of bigger and better to come!  What a thrill!  We’ve all observed cowboys riding the big, bad, Brahma bulls at local rodeos.  Well, riding the big rapids has to be much the same sensation, the bucking, the heaving, the twisting, every new onslaught threatening to rip your fingers from their panicked grip on the ropes, while buckets of icy water are being flung in your face.  There is fear, there are thrills, then the elation of having survived another maelstrom of boiling water!  WAHOO!

Rafting the Grand Canyon goes beyond description, each bend in the river revealing another dramatic panorama, cliffs and rock strata to stagger the imagination.  It’s a marvelous manifestation of God’s creating hand.  Of course, we were lectured about the millions and billions of years in the evolution of this magnificent wonder, but I am content in God’s Let there be—and it was!  It’s absolutely awe-inspiring and we were blessed to have had this experience.

To be honest, the trip is quite rugged and requires considerable stamina and is not for the decrepit or timid.  In my conversation with Scott, our leader, he said that they are very aware of the potential for accidents or health emergencies that could and do arise.  Helicopters have to be summoned and have to descend into almost inaccessible terrain with no place to land and it may be many hours before medical help is accessible.  Fortunately, these incidents happen infrequently, but the threat is ever present and multiplied with age and accompanying infirmities, lack of balance, lack of sound judgment, inability to hear and follow instructions, etc,

I’m convinced the 8 members of our family group, ranging in age from 63 to 84 acquitted themselves very well.  We carried our own weight, literally, although I was aware that the guides and younger passengers extended steadying hands and offers of help, sadly an unfortunate reminder of my age, but also a welcome respect for elders.

Speaking of carrying our own weight, this was very evident when setting up evening camp.  A fireline was set up at the signal from a conch horn, summoning us to the rafts.  All the equipment on board was passed hand to hand up on the shore and placed on the sand.  The crew set up the mess kitchen and began supper preparations while the rest of us picked up the individual storage bags, cots and tents and carried them to the personal camp site each one selected.  The next hour or so was spent assembling cots, putting up tents, arranging sleep equipment and tending to personal needs, among which was taking a bath!

Oh yes, we were all strongly urged to bathe every evening so as not to offend in the rather close confines of the raft.  This involved wading into the Colorado River in our swim suits, a quick plunge to wet the body, a quicker rubdown with cloth and bio-degradable soap and then another plunge.  Refreshing!

At another sound of the conch horn, we were called for snacks and light beverages before dinner.  The crew prepared some amazing appetizers.  A honk from the horn about one half hour later and we were treated to a great dinner.  The first evening it was spaghetti with Italian sausage sauce, vegetable salad, garlic bread, and brownies.  Diana was served a brownie with a candle on it and we all sang the happy birthday song.  The second dinner was steak and all the fixin’s  and chocolate cake and milk.   For breakfast we had bacon and eggs, muffins, blueberry hotcakes and a bucket of coffee.  We were indulged with good food in a very rustic setting.  The food was all fresh cooked by the crew and the baking was done in dutch ovens.  For lunch stops, we had the makings of sandwiches, cookies, fresh fruit, all very satisfying. 

When dinner was over, we washed our own utensils and by then daylight was fading in the deep shadows of the Grand Canyon. Our cots were set up in the open air and we slept under the stars.  What a phenomenal sky, sliver moon with blazing stars beyond description.  Bats flitting overhead, frogs croaking, not a single mosquito or fly, a warm breeze blowing, tittering laughter, whispering, in the camp sites around us, like the sounds of chickens going to roost.

With the narrow cots and tumble of bedding, wakeup came several times during the night.  Nocturnal trips to the river’s edge tended to jolt one out of sound sleep.  Watching the starry sky gradually turned us back to slumberland.  Peace!   A startling discovery in my sleeping bag when I woke up in the morning—a pair of black, lady’s tights—cause for lots of laughter and suggestive comments.

Although some of the Grand Canyon tours last 6 or 7 days, ours of 3 days and 2 nights of Rafting the Grand Canyon was very adequate, affording us the whole spectrum of viewing the stunning scenery, floating miles of peaceful river, riding the rapids and experiencing camping in it’s most  primitive presentation.  As we entered the outer reach of Lake Mead, the towering cliffs receded and we were saddened to once again face all the realities of civilization.  It was an idyllic three days and Diana and I feel so blessed that we had this adventure and were able to share it with close family and new friends.  Praise the Lord!

Lee Hafner – Montana
Rafting the Grand Canyon – 3 Day Trip

Guest Blogger
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Various guests of Western River took the time to share their thoughts with us both before and after their journey.

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