I have boated several rivers in the Colorado River watershed but have never floated downstream of Lake Powell. It is humbling for me to prepare for a two-and-a-half-week trip on this storied and nearly mythical section of the Colorado River. Included in the legendary stories about famous Grand Canyon adventurers I also have the stories my parents have told me about their experiences. They took a three-week trip through the Grand Canyon for their honeymoon in the late 1980s. I heard all about bailing bucket boats as fast as they could while crashing through big rapids, about not having any long pants or shirts and cooking at the bottom of the canyon. About the cold water and a couple who flipped their boat in Crystal Rapid and swam for a long way downstream, requiring a hypothermia rescue with warm bodies in a sleeping bag. I also learned that the groover got its name because human waste cans were made from recycled military ammo cans. Without a seat on one of those rectangular containers, you’d get some serious grooves on your butt cheeks from sitting on the can. While rafting technology has advanced since that time, everyone still needs to use a groover but with a much more ergonomic seat. Nobody’s bailing out bucket boats, and sun protection has become indispensable. Through time the river continues to be a powerful force, even as it is held back by Glen Canyon Dam.
Though I get butterflies thinking about Crystal Rapid or Lava Falls, I feel deep gratitude for the opportunity to know the Colorado River unlike any other way I have encountered her – deep in her carved canyons of the Colorado Plateau. Following in the oar strokes of John Wesley Powell’s crew and countless river lovers since, I hope this experience informs my future efforts to sustain and heal the Colorado River from her headwaters to the Gulf of California.