Tag Archives: Kaibab

Day One, From Paria River to Soap Creek

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Gulls at Water's Edge, Below Vermilion Cliffs

Gulls at Water’s Edge, Below Vermilion Cliffs

Red & White (Moenkopi & Shinurump)

Red & White (Moenkopi & Shinurump)

 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”.

Layers of the Grand Canyon (Cowley)

Layers of the Grand Canyon (Cowley)

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).

Toroweap Formation first appears below the Kaibab

Toroweap Formation first appears below the Kaibab

 

 

 

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.

I see faces:  Big Giant Head

I see faces: Big Giant Head

 

Clark sees buildings:  "masonry" cliff

Clark sees buildings: “masonry” cliff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Lois and Lana Rockin' the River Style

Lois and Lana Rockin’ the River Style

 

 

 

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

Boats on the way to Navajo Bridges

Boats on the way to Navajo Bridges

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.

The Navajo Bridges pass overhead

The Navajo Bridges pass overhead

 

 

First appearance of the Coconino Sandstone

First appearance of the Coconino Sandstone

 

Over the next couple of hours, we’ll enjoy a whole sequence of firsts:

1)       Our first California Condor sighting!

 

Condor! Condor!

Condor! Condor!

 

 

Condor!!!

Condor!!!

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.

Bighorn sheep in hiding

Bighorn sheep in hiding

4)      Our first bonafide landmark—Ten Mile Rock.

They call it "Ten Mile Rock"   Why?

They call it “Ten Mile Rock” Why?

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 at Soap Creek Rapid

Clark at Soap Creek Rapid

 

Big Shadows and Soap Creek

Big Shadows and Soap Creek

Standing Wave at Soap Creek

Standing Wave at Soap Creek

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.

Bark Scorpion (copyright Noah Charney, licensed under Creative Commons)

Bark Scorpion (copyright Noah Charney, licensed under Creative Commons)

Secrets and Mysteries of Rafting the Grand Canyon

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So, for the next month and more, this blog, or at least most of its available posting space, has been claimed by a fan of the Grand Canyon.  Yes, a fan of a really big hole in the ground.  It’s not as big as Valles Marinaris, but there is still a river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, which greatly facilitates travel by river raft.  The goal is to take you along on a fourteen-day expedition, from Kaibab Sandstone to Vishnu Schist, through rapids, slot canyons, waterfalls, and thunderstorms, and along the way reveal a few of the deep dark secrets of these trips so few of us take.  We’ll cover over 180 miles on the river plus many miles afoot on canyon trailways.  Why use up a month to take you on a two-week trip?  Because that’s what it feels like.  You forget what day it is, how long you’ve been gone, how much time is left.  If you don’t keep a journal, you’re lost.

I kept a journal.

I also took about 3,000 photographs and an hour of video.

Yes, there will be a fair amount of “what we did”, but I also want to share the background information the guides (and other travelers) shared with us, the additional tidbits I’ve gleaned from research (the addiction of the Ph.D.), and perhaps even paint the picture well enough that if you can’t go on this trip you can claim you did and provide your friends with a verisimilitudinous description.  Just pick one of the falsified names in the diary segments & say “yeah, that’s me”.   Also, if you’re a well-heeled adventure traveler planning your own expedition, I’d hope you’ll come away with enough information to know where you should not take short-cuts—and with some clues about how to find experienced, capable guides to get you through safely.

In the meantime,  I don’t want to wear out your eyeballs with more than a few photos and a thousand words of gushing per post.  There will be directions to see more photos, but, I promise, this won’t be a session of “Watch my Vacation Slideshow”.

Time for the first installment of Secrets of Grand Canyon River Rafting.

Deep, dark secret #1.  Not everyone wants to go on this trip.  Three husbands who could have joined their wives refused the chance to walk away from work, television, and electronic connectedness for a week.  A young backbacker—who had completed the climb of Mount Whitney with his mother just a few months previously—turned down a free ticket and sent his retirement-age Mom on her own.  She said he didn’t like the idea of not being in control on the trip.  Another traveller’s wife sent him off with a (female) friend he’d recently reconnected with after a thirty-year hiatus, because the wife just can’t stand camping.  His son, a golf enthusiast, only agreed to chaperone them if they took the shorter trip, to be sure he’d be home in time to watch the Master’s.  Me? No, actually, I didn’t want to go on this trip.  The only person who couldn’t tell was my husband, he was so excited about going.  Why would this nature/science/ancient-peoples-loving photographer want to sit this out?

First of all, it’s frightfully expensive—if you want to travel the Canyon and not spend a fortune, you need to be able to work there.   I am not the correct age or physical type to start a new career as a river guide.  Nor do I have the right background or training to get hired by (or even volunteer for) the Park Service or any of the scientific research teams with feet on the water down there.  So when my husband Clark declared that it had “always” been his wish to make this trip and that he had, after all, a big landmark birthday coming up, I made him pay for it out of his IRA.  That was the only place we had enough money set by.

Second, Clark got the idea from a friend of his, a childhood friend who’s facing the same landmark birthday this year.  When these two get together, they tend to devote a significant amount of our time to recalling those good-old-days.  Days I did not share.  Oh, great, my jealous heart predicted:  two weeks of traipsing along behind while they play “remember when.”  Well,  I did end up trailing along behind, but not quite the way predicted.  You’ll see.

And the third and most sensible reason:  I broke my shoulder in January and my orthopedist’s solid opinion about my going river-rafting in April was: “I wouldn’t recommend doing that.”   The bone knitted on schedule, but shoulders are complicated messes of tendons and muscles that don’t take kindly to the whole process.  I was told it would be a year or more before I’d be back from this injury.  My physical therapist did what he could to get some of my range-of-motion restored and added a couple of exercises to build back a little strength, but I went off with one arm fully-qualified to hang on tight and one that complained bitterly about any extension beyond a basic stretch while it simply refused to raise my hand beyond about 80 degrees.   One upside was that Clark got to haul all my gearbags, because I just couldn’t handle them.

The other upside is that I would not want to have missed out on this trip.  Even though we couldn’t afford it, it was worth it.  Does that make any sense at all?  Well, it will.

So, all right already, let’s go.  For a teasing sneak-peek, here is a picture from Day 5.  Oh, aye, it’s the Grand Canyon.

Day One

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