DAY 2: MONDAY, MAY 24
The sun was up enough for us to see and get around by 5 am. Coffee call was about that time and most of the group was up and packing their things. By the time I got down to the kitchen, the main table was adorned with a big bucket of orange juice, plain hot water for individual mixtures of tea, oatmeal and even grits, and the strongest, thickest coffee I've ever tasted. In fact, a strainer is provided for dipping coffee from the pot into our cup. But it was delicious. Some members of the group, the folks with hair growing on the palms of their hands, didn't use the strainer. A little later, the call for breakfast was made and we were thrilled to enjoy either blueberry or apple pancakes and bacon. There was no shortage and everybody ate all they wanted.
This was the first relaxed opportunity for us to really meet and chat with other members of the group. There were people from California, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, New Mexico, Colorado, Louisiana and, of course, Georgia. The entire group gelled together well and to my knowledge, there wasn't a cross word the entire week.
Even after the others heard we were from Georgia, I never even heard any wisecracks about the old river-running movie, "Deliverance." This movie was filmed in our fair state back in the early 1970s and contains a somewhat dubious love scene that somewhat stereotyped Georgia mountain people for years. If you don't understand, you'll have to see the movie because I'm sure not going to explain it here.
We ate breakfast with a group that we dubbed the "Chicago Four": Ed, Bob, Chuck and Skip. These guys were all fellow members of an Auto Club in Chicago and we all, Marty and Chase particularly, immediately hit it off with them. Ed provided constant comedic relief throughout the trip and played a mean harmonica on occasion. It turned out that Ed, a 64-year-old who doesn't look or act half that age, had been a Scoutmaster for several years. He was one of many in our group who was either currently or formerly involved in Scouting.
After everybody had packed up their stuff and made a run to the groover, John called for the duffle line to assemble and we loaded the boats. He announced that everybody would switch boats today so we all found seats in Gretchen's boat. It wasn't long until we were on our way down the river again with John's guinea pig boat running about a quarter mile ahead. We had fully garbed ourselves in rain gear to face the rest of the "roaring 20's" this morning. The boys not only wore their high-priced rain coats and pants but also pulled on their neoprene booties. We were primed to see some more serious whitewater and weren't disappointed. In the first couple of hours, we hit 23-Mile Rapid, 23 1/2-Mile Rapid, 24-Mile Rapid, 24 1/2-Mile Rapid, 25-Mile Rapid and Cave Springs Rapid. These first few walls of whitewater soaked us but there was no complaint as this is what we came for.
During one of the frequent lectures by the guides, we learned that one of the canyon's most famous original runners, Bert Loper, had lost his life at 24 1/2-Mile Rapid back in July of 1949. His body wasn't found until nearly 30 years later and was nearly 50 miles farther down the river. Loper had first run the canyon in 1907 and was making this run just prior to his 80th birthday. Legend says that he suffered a heart attack just prior to flipping his boat at 24 1/2-Mile Rapid. What a way to go.
As stated earlier, each rapid had a rating, based on severity and water level. Some rapids were rated more severe in low water and some were rated less severe. It all depended on the number of boulders present, the depth of the river, the width of the river, the number of suck-holes and a number of other factors. And we all had noticed that some of the more "fun" rapids were not highly rated and vice versa. I asked John about that and he explained that the scale I was looking at was based on the difficulty of running the rapid for the boat driver, not necessarily on the fun factor for the passenger. He went on to say that some rapids which seem fairly tame for the untrained eye are extremely difficult for the driver to successfully run. Having led expeditions down the Colorado for 11 years, he explained that he had developed a "Whoopee Scale" for his riders. From that point on, the Whoopee Scale was what everybody asked about - not the other stuff that we really didn't understand nor could do anything at all about anyway. After all, we were on vacation, right?
We finished out the impressive roar of the 20's and just after Mile 31 floated past Stanton's Cave, a hole in the wall of the north part of the canyon that's rumored to go back hundreds of feet and contain a wealth of ancient Indian petrographs and other artifacts. It is named after Robert Brewster Stanton, a railroad engineer who was surveying the canyon for a potential railroad route to Southern California. Story is that in his first attempt at riding the Colorado the length of the canyon, he lost several members of his party in rapids, stowed his equipment in this cave and hi-tailed it out, hiking up to the north rim with his remaining group.
Within sight of this cave is an area called Vasey's Paradise, an outcropping of vegetation also located on the north side of the canyon. This tributary and area of the Colorado was named by Powell for a botanist friend of his and is a significant area of lush beds of various greenery. Those not familiar with the inner area of the Grand Canyon must realize that it is largely desert - composed largely of rocks, sand, a few cactus, other small plants and little else. There's not much vegetation in most areas and a mass of greenery or the occasional flower stands out dramatically. This is also one of the few areas of the canyon in which poison ivy exists and that was enough reason for me not to stop and visit Mr. Vasey's paradise.
A mile or so down the river from Paradise was an outcrop of split rock near the river called the "Kissing Rocks." If one looks closely, one can imagine two lovers kissing in these rocks. Vaguely. The custom is that when passing these towering monoliths, all lovers should plant one on each other. At this announcement, several couples on the trip smooched their partners. I took a slug of lemonade instead.
Just below was a feature of the trip that is one of the most amazing for me: an ancient wooden Anasazi footbridge located on what looks like a sheer cliff on the north face of the canyon. According to a guide, this area of the canyon was one where the ancient people used to cross the Colorado from the north to the south and vice versa. This old piece of wood has been in place for at least 500 years. The immediate question is, "Why hasn't it rotted out?" Apparently, with the extremely low humidity, things rot slowly. REAL slowly. Despite this fact, don't expect me to be dancing across this old log. A neat piece of history though.
Another mile of river brought us to a spot I'd long wanted to see, the famous Redwall Cavern at Mile 33. This area is simply a big undercutting of the cliff wall on the south side of the river but was a great photo opportunity and nifty place to get out of the sun for a while. Powell said it could house 50,000 people, but he either was deep into the suds while making this observation or really significant sand had built up here since 1869. I figure 500 people could camp here relatively comfortably. If camping was still allowed here, that is. Still, it was a good, open place to visit. The boys had fun tossing a frisbee around while most of the rest of the group took time to stretch their legs and enjoy the shade. Our friend Ed brought out his harmonica and serenaded us with various tunes, which echoed off the cavern walls. After he played a rendition of "Yankee Doodle," I posted a request for equal time and aiming to please, Chicago Ed played "Dixie" with feeling that betrayed his northern residence.
After a restful respite from the river at Redwall, we reloaded and continued on. We splashed through 36 Mile Rapid then paused at Mile 39, the former proposed site to build Marble Canyon hydroelectric dam. Gretchen gave us a brief history of the politics and fight to kill the building of this dam. Test drill holes made by the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1960s can still be seen. The defeat of this project was apparently a major victory at that time for the environmental movement.
The river in this part of the canyon still traveled roughly north to south and because of this, the direct sun was limited to midday. Outside of the 11 am to 2 pm time period, it was bone-chilling cold after hitting rapids in the shade and wind. During these four midday hours, however, we simply baked in the intensity of the sun. Through the week, the four of us applied 30, 40 and 50 SPF sunscreen five or six times a day and STILL got burned in places. Many on our trip stayed covered in long-sleeve shirts and long pants the entire trip. As hot-natured as I am, this wasn't an option. On this, the second day out, I found myself taking my bandanas and tying them over my knees to decrease the burn already starting. None of us got any serious sunburns from the trip, but that is due only to our constant attention to the intensity of the sun's power. At one point, Marty's face broke out in what looked like mild sun poisoning but the loan of a big sombrero from guide assistant Julianna saved him from some serious discomfort.
We stopped for a delicious lunch of roast beef sandwiches, and several people, including Chase, got out their fishing gear to cast a few. Later in the trip, fishing was to become the norm for Chase at every stop and he was very successful. The water was so clear in most places that fish could be clearly seen. As it turned out, the boys returned all fish to the river.
After lunch, I commented to John that it felt hotter today than on Sunday. His response was, "Oh, we're still a good 20-30 degrees away from 'hot'. This is very mild." He went on to say that in late July and August, sometimes the LOW temperature hovers around 100. On nights like that, people sleep under wet sheets they'd soaked in the river, he said.
We pulled into a place called Saddle Canyon at Mile 47 and took a short but pretty steep hike up the canyon to another beautiful waterfall. Again, everybody took the opportunity to wade in the pool and cool off. This jaunt was less strenuous than yesterday's but had a very tricky crossing from one ledge to another one higher up. The drop wasn't hundreds of feet down but far enough to ruin one's whole day.
It was decided to camp just a few feet down from Saddle Canyon and we beached again on a sandy area on the north side of the river. This camp had more cover than did our first night and the boys found us a site with some scrub trees on three sides to help block the wind. After unloading the boats, one of the guides gave Marty "groover detail" by asking him to set up the camp's toilet and accompanying ammo cans of toilet paper, soap and rinse buckets.
Setting up camp was a bit more organized than the night before and after another delicious meal (beef stir-fry with rice and cheesecake), Brian, the boys and I decided to try out the "solar shower" we'd brought to use for bathing. This solar shower is basically a big, flexible plastic bladder that holds four gallons of water. We'd filled it up this morning before casting off and tied it to the top of the boat's duffle heap. The thermometer built into the bag showed a temperature of 118 degrees when we unloaded it and even though it had cooled off some, it was still much warmer than the river. We strung the shower up in a small tree near the river. Because we only had a limited amount of this lukewarm water, we all took turns bathing in the river then rinsing off with the shower. Even after finishing, we still had nearly a gallon of water left.
Camped near us were a couple of middle-aged gentlemen of Asian descent. Jim is a professor at Grambling State University and his buddy David is in real estate in California. We enjoyed chatting with them and I offered them use of the remaining water in the shower. David decided to try it and was very appreciative.
As previously decided, we camped under the stars without a tent. And what a display of stars! Here in Georgia, one can't see near that number of stars in the sky due to the smog and "light pollution," as some call it. And I'd completely forgotten all about the Milky Way - that band of stars that I'd not seen in the sky since my childhood. So many stars were in the clear sky that enough light was provided for us to get around camp without a flashlight. There was a quarter moon until just before midnight and it reflected off the canyon walls as well.