Wild Grand Canyon


“I do not know, really, how we will survive without places like the Inner Gorge of the Grand Canyon to visit. Once in a lifetime, even, is enough. To feel the stripping down, an ebb of the press of conventional time, a radical change of proportion, an unspoken respect for others that elicits keen emotional pleasure, a quick, intimate pounding of the heart.”
- Barry Lopez, Gone Back Into the Earth

With the President of American Rivers, Bob Irvin, on a hike overlooking the river

I’m back from seven days floating the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. The President of American Rivers, Bob Irvin, and I accompanied 14 guests on the trip from Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch with the wonderful Robby Pitagora from Rapid Creek and fantastic guides from Arizona River Runners.

The Grand Canyon left its mark on me in so many ways. And it’s not only the scratches on my legs from rocks and mesquite thorns. This place blew my mind, heart and soul. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – wild rivers do that to me every time.

This is why we need wild rivers like Grand Canyon.

All smiles in the paddle raft, thanks to Captain Chuck

It’s the canyon’s breath on my face that first evening– the warm breeze coming off the rock wall and the coolness flowing from the river.

It’s feeling my heartbeat in the perfectly still moment before entering Hance rapid, then hitting the big wave head on in Chelsea’s oar boat, laughing all the way. It’s the vulnerability of a ladybug riding with us on the bow rope in the paddle raft.

It’s the California condors at the Navajo Bridges and the lizards and beavers and bighorn sheep and scorpions and herons. It’s the ravens that are always watching, who know how to unzip tent doors and unclip dry bags.

It’s singing Loving Cup at night with bats swooping overhead. It’s bare feet in the cool sand, watching shooting star after shooting star.

It’s huge boulders in North Canyon rolled and polished by flash floods, and other ones, angled and blocky and broken, that crashed down from the canyon walls.

Looking down at our boats from the top of South Canyon

It’s being humbled by a swim through cold waves, shivering in the canyon shade, then finding delicious hot sun to bake my skin dry.

It’s boot prints in powdery pink sand, and shiny dark chocolate mud drying and peeling in a pattern of perfect symmetrical curls.

It’s circles and spirals in the currents and constellations. Ringtail cat tracks in the sand next to our sleeping bags and beaver tail trails down sandy banks. The reflection of water and sunlight rippling on Redwall Cavern.

It’s standing at the site of Marble Canyon Dam, proposed in the 1960’s. Finding the test holes blasted into the limestone, for the dam that would have drowned all of this. It’s knowing how close we came to losing another wild place.

It’s the dams upstream and down – Glen Canyon and Hoover – that are bookends to Grand Canyon. And it’s debris flows and logs lodged high in cracks and rock walls sculpted by potholes and fluting. It’s knowing that, given time, water wins.

Late afternoon light over the water

It’s a red handprint on the wall at Saddle Canyon because I cut my finger scrambling up the rocks. It’s petroglyphs etched into the rocks near Tanner, men and women and waves and continuity. It’s the erosive forces in the side canyons, creative and destructive at the same time.
It’s walking up Nankoweap and drinking fresh water from a spring bubbling out of the rock. It’s layer after layer, flowing deeper and deeper through a different kind of time.

It’s trying to internalize the river’s lessons of patience and gratitude, so all of this will sustain me when I’m back at work, until I come back here again.

So far it’s working. In the words of the Rolling Stones, what a beautiful buzz…

Thank you, Grand Canyon. And big love and thanks to Robby, Erica, Erika, Jimi, Zach, Walt, Kenny, Chelsea, Bob, Chuck, Dotty, Sheridan, Mark, Brenda, John, Barbara, Rufus, BJ, Matt, Jenny, Ted, Mark, and Tom.

Until next time!