At this point we are beginning our Grand Canyon geology lessons. At the outset, back in those early times when we thought it a struggle to manage a simple footwear change, we were sitting just above the Kaibab formation—the same mostly-limestone layer that forms the tough, weathering-resistant rim of the Grand Canyon. And for the first stretch, we glide along in the shadow of the formation that lies above the Kaibab—the Moenkopi, a formation which is recent enough to offer up dinosaur bones to patient and industrious paleontologists. Our journey will take us much further back in time than the dinosaurs, deep into the pre-Cambrian, a thousand million years ago, when our most ancient ancestors were just beginning to try enough cooperation to form multicellular life. Today, though, we will just take a dive into the top of the Permian period. By the time we camp, we’ll be down in the Hermit formation, where the rocks date back 280 million years. Just Google “Grand Canyon Layers” and you’ll find a hundred diagrams of the geology of the Canyon. One of my favorites is this one, by Professor Charles Cowley of the University of Michigan’s Astronomy Department, because his essay does a super job of explaining the terminology and relationships…and also links to off-Earth “geology”.
Shortly after we set off, the Kaibab limestone shows up at the shoreline (Kaibab). By the time we stop for lunch, at Three Mile Camp, we’ve already dropped below the Kaibab Limestone into the Toroweap Formation (composed of mostly limestone and sandstone).
And we’re getting our first look at the variety of shapes to be seen in the rocks. I keep seeing faces and Clark keeps seeing assemblages that look like built structures.
It may seem early to stop for lunch, as we pull in to shore after just under an hour on the water, but keep in mind that we started the day at 6 a.m. and everyone is ready to practice off-boarding if it leads to serious snacking. Remember the Guest Uniform described at days’ beginning? Here Lois & Lana model these fabulous costumes. Well, maybe not exactly fabulous in appearance, but just you try to find an outfit that keeps the sun from frying your skin and also keeps you from succumbing to hypothermia when it turns cold and wet.
Check out the elegant lunch service, with the bottomless Blue Jug of Water prominently featured. But lunch is a quick meal, and we’re back on the water in no time, heading off to see the famous Navajo bridges. This will be our last glimpse of modern structures until we reach Phantom Ranch. Eliza and Todd graciously take the back seats, so Clark & I get to ride up front and take photos of the rest of the group
The bridges are just a mile downstream. I’m torn between admiring the elegant designs (there is just nothing like a beautiful bridge) and spotting the first appearance of the Coconino Sandstone layer.
Over the next couple of hours, we’ll enjoy a whole sequence of firsts:
1) Our first California Condor sighting!
2) Our first real rapid, Badger (Sorry, no photos from me. I was too busy hanging on. Oh, how I will laugh at myself in just a few days!)
3) Our first bighorn sheep sighting! Well, our first back end of a bighorn, anyhow.
4) Our first bonafide landmark—Ten Mile Rock.
Whatever is it named after, we wonder? It’s not even close to ten miles across. Did someone think it looks like the number ten? Or the Roman numeral X? If anything, it looks like the letter Z. So why is not not called “Zorro Rock”? But most importantly, this landmark is what our Trip Leader is looking for, as she is aiming for…
5) Our first camp! We pull in at Soap Creek Camp, where we receive in short order, the Lecture on How to Assemble Tents, The Lecture on How to Use the Bathroom, and the Lecture on How to Know When to Show Up for Meals. (The secret there is: listen for the conch. Yes, a blast on a conch shell. As if we are rafting down a river on Lord of the Flies Island. Luckily, the minimum age for this trip eliminates the risk we’ll be attacked by a tribe of feral boys.)
Soap Creek Camp is just upstream from Soap Creek Rapid, which makes Badger look like a couple of kids splashing in a wading pool. The last of the day’s sunlight gleams across the river, making it glow golden. Irresistible!
Clark and I ramble about for a while after tent set-up, skipping the “hors d’oeuvres”. Dinner is a fabulous service of grilled salmon, asparagus, and salad. (Poor Clark! He didn’t ask for an alternative to salmon, but doesn’t care for seafood. ) And dessert is a humongous cheesecake, which disappears in short order.
Each person is responsible for washing-up his or her own dishes. Critical item for anyone considering taking this trip—bring a pair of dishwashing gloves! After a few days in the desert dryness, all the hand-washing and regular river-soakings will leave hands dry and cracked. Alternative—con your travel partner into doing your dishes for you.
Night comes quickly when you’re tired. I find myself following my flashlight beam along the trail to our elegant bathroom well after sunset. But I need not be anxious about being in such a vulnerable situation, in the dark, on my own. Because I’m not alone. Peeking around the edge of the rock there is a tiny translucent scorpion. Hello there, little guy. Don’t worry, I won’t tell the others you’re here.