|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 12/14/2019
|Topics/Keywords: #GrandCanyon #Rafting #WhitewaterRafting #O.A.R.S.||Page Views: 1780|
|Photos and narrative our our first day rafting the Grand Canyon Sampler.|
We didn't get to enjoy it for long because we had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. in order to get back to the airport in time to meet the representative of Lake Mead Air. The motel shuttle took us back to McCarron. It took us a while to find the O.A.R.S. representative, but eventually we did—after walking from one end of the airport to the other. At that, we weren't the last of our group to arrive.
We all piled into a van and drove to a little, private airport about a half-hour away. It looked like a parking lot for derelict aircraft, but we split up and got into three of them and took off.
This was Dottie's first trip in a small plane since she was very little. It was pleasant; the scenery was breathtaking. We flew over Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, the lake created by the dam. Lake Mead, at over two hundred miles in length, is the largest man-made lake in the world.
We finally landed at the Bar-10 Ranch at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. At the end of the dirt runway on which we landed was a hand-carved sign reading "Whitmore International Airport—Main Concourse—Gate AAA-1." I laughed for days every time I thought about it.
While waiting for our helicopter, I purchased some postcards, applied the computer-printed labels and stamps I had brought with me, and got started on writing them. Dottie helped. I felt so prepared.
The Bar 10 Ranch was a beautiful setting, and worth visiting in its own right. In fact, I'd love to stay there sometime.
This was actually my very first helicopter ride. I knew I would love it, and I did; but it was tamer than I expected. It was very gentle, smoother than an elevator. We flew low over the rolling sagebrush and cactus…
…then suddenly fell over the edge of a crevasse. The Grand Canyon!
Below us, far below us, I spotted what looked like a row of little yellow and blue pills on the water's edge. But as we got closer, I realized they were actually our rafts!
We landed at a beach called Whitmore Wash. Besides OARS' five yellow rafts, there were two large, blue, motorized rafts belonging to another company. All the raft tours run the entire Canyon, about a two-week trip (less for the motorized rafts, of course). Not everyone can spend two weeks on the river; so OARS offers a variety of trip lengths. On several of them, the rafts stop at Whitmore Wash, send their previous passengers to the Bar-10, and receive a new batch. This time, the new batch included ourselves.
And so, Dottie and I got our first look at Grand Canyon… from the inside!
It took a little while to get ourselves organized. For one thing, the helicopter could only carry four passengers at a time. For another, we had to repack all our stuff, organized by whether we would need an item during the day, not until evening in camp, or not until we leave the Canyon. (Some people didn't want to leave luggage in the hotel; but most of the others had simply overpacked.)
In fact, the process was drawn-out enough that Dottie, embarrassed about being a smoker in what was already looking like a new-agey sort of crowd, climbed halfway up a cliff to find some privacy.
She wasn't slacking off, however; as she and I were already done—we hadn't overpacked. My practice camping was paying off!
But finally we got in our rafts and pushed off.
Each raft held one "river guide" and four passengers. Dottie and I were in the lead raft. The other two passengers in our raft were named Mike and Mary Ann. Our river guide was Robby, the "trip organizer" or "T.O.".
So, yes, Dottie and I went rafting with a Michael (name of my future husband) and a Mary Ann (Dottie's mother's name). Weird?
So, I had purchased, for this trip, a pair of white gym shorts/swim shorts. I really liked them, they were soft and pure white, as you can see in the photo below. (I'm on the left.)
So we got into the rafts…I admit, I was a little clumsy but I'd never done such a thing before…and pushed off. A raven, guardian of sacred spaces, immediately landing where we'd been to look for snacks.
We floated a mile or so while Robby gave us some tips on river safety.
To an Eastern boy such as myself, the geology of this place was utterly different I'd ever seen east of the Rockies. And endlessly fascinating.
We rode only an hour or so before pulling beneath a suspension bridge far above. "That's Navajo Bridge", Rob told us. It's the only vehicular bridge to cross the Canyon until you get to Hoover Dam."
It took probably less than 15 minutes for the boatmen to pull tables, food, a stove and even an umbrella out and set them up for our lunch. The food served, gourmet sandwich-type things, was all high-fiber. I quietly asked Rob about that, and he admitted it was an attempt to thwart the tendency people have to get constipated on vacations.
Rob said there would be no serious rapids that day, so I asked if I could row. He let me, for about three hours. I was able to take us through a couple of little rapids with no problem. Rob said I was a "natural." (I figured he told this to everyone, but it was still nice to hear.)
Locations along the river in the Canyon are named by the number of miles from the start of the Canyon, a place called Lee's Ferry. We had "put in" at Whitmore Wash, at Mile 188. About twenty miles later we landed at a beautiful beach called, simply, Mile 202. It looked like every planet the Robinsons ever landed on in the TV series, Lost in Space. There were a couple of shallow caves in one cliff, and a high area I walked up to, to get a view of the whole camp; while Dottie relaxed around the boats.
Meanwhile, the boatmen, using the same quiet efficiency they'd employed at lunch, prepared dinner while the "passengers" (as we were called) played horseshoes.
Dinner was barbecue chicken, white and wild rice, cooked carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, and coleslaw. For desert, they made brownies, very light, fluffy ones, topped with whipped cream, which we ate while watching the sky turn purple.
Hot Summer Night
It was very hot, and a storm came up. There was a smattering of rain and we hurried to erect our tents. None of the other fourteen passengers knew how to set up these tents, which were similar to the dome tents I've had for the past several years. Because we expected rain, we put cloth flies over the tents. These also held in the heat, but they did protect us from the sand being blown about by the wind.
To be honest, that first night was so hot, it wasn't very pleasant. But sometime after midnight, the wind died down and the stars came out. I removed the fly from our tent, cooling it down considerably. I then took a dip in the river.
The Colorado, whose name means "colored", used to be a ruddy brown color all the time. In August, it also ran warm and a little sluggish. But ever since the Glen Canyon Dam was erected a few miles upstream of Lee's Ferry, the water is usually blue-green and cool—about 55°F. August is monsoon season, and there had been a good deal of rain upstream before Dottie and I got there. So the water was a silty brown which stained my white shorts tan—I still haven't got them quite white again. But the water was still cool, and felt terrific on such a hot night.