By Eileen Ogintz
DID YOU KNOW: Only about 100 people had traveled by boat through the Grand Canyon by 1949–eighty years after John Wesley Powell’s historic expedition. When war-surplus inflatable craft became available, Georgie White pioneered present-day commercial river running by lashing three surplus bridge pontoons side-by-side and steering them with an outboard motor. Interest in rafting grew with the public fight in the 1960s against damming the Grand Canyon by the Sierra Club and the growing environmental movement and the 1969 Centennial of John Wesley Powell’s trip. Western River Expeditions was founded in 1961.
BREAKFAST: Eggs Benedict and half grapefruits
LUNCH: Tuna salad in tortilla cones Shady Spot at Mile 158
DINNER: shrimp cocktail Steak, mashed potatoes, cheese cake
CAMP: Below Lava Falls Mile #182
BIG RAPID – LAVA FALLS Mile #180
“The Grand Canyon is different every day… It’s always changing. That’s why no trip is the same.” — Larry England, California, on his third Grand Canyon Rafting Trip, Sept. 2020
Ouch! We’re just setting up our final camp. It’s windy and hot on the sand and something bites me on both feet–flies I think—or maybe ants.
This is an outdoor adventure, after all, I’ll live. And though we’d all prefer some AC and a shower at this point, no one is letting the lack of creature comforts, the bugs, the heat, or the blowing sand spoil a good time. Actually, we’ve been lucky this entire week with mostly blue skies, beautiful camp sites and no bugs—until now, our last night on this Western River Expeditions raft trip in the Grand Canyon.
Everyone is glad to have been unplugged from the news for a week, didn’t mind the mitigations that are the result of the Pandemic and are genuinely glad to be here, helping one another carry bags on and off the boat as needed and in my case, up a steep 30-foot rock fin on a hike to a waterfall. We shared Band-Aids, sunscreen and even loaned a spare pare of sandals when one rafter’s shoes and his spare pair both disintegrated.
No one talks about bests and worsts. It’s better and best!
J.J. Johnston, at 75 the oldest on the trip and a retired restaurant owner from Napa, CA is delighted to be sharing one of the best experiences he’d ever had—on a Grand Canyon raft trip 16 years ago—with his wife Lisa. “This is just as good,” he said.
In fact, few of the 32 guests on this trip can think of any negatives. There were the ants that attacked Dayton Young one night, but he blamed it on himself—for bringing a second piece of cake back to his campsite. The crumpled paper towel the cake had been on drew the ants and his bedsheet ended up on top of it.
Memo to campers: Don’t bring food back to where you are sleeping.
Jenni Buchanan, an experienced backpacker from southern California also blamed herself for being so cold the first day. She hadn’t packed the right gear in her daypack, though Western River had given us a detailed packing list. “I just wasn’t prepared,” she said, “I didn’t think the water would be that cold.” Getting soaked in the rapids certainly was fun but cold as the Colorado River water is just 50 degrees.
Chelsea Milko, who lives in Washington DC, had a particularly scary moment when she lost her grip during one of the biggest rapids of the trip. But her raft mates grabbed her.
Memo to rafters: Gloves help your grip.
There were life lessons learned too. “I learned to slow down to River Time,” said newly retired Bendel Rushing. “That should be a mantra for life—slow down and enjoy.” He plans to buy an RV, he said.
That night, our four guides dress in ties with their shorts and come around to serve us shrimp cocktails followed by steaks, mashed potatoes and cheesecake.
Our last rapid of the day is Lava Falls.
“It is a fun ride,” says our expedition leader Ben Bressler.
You could say that about the entire trip.