A Grand Canyon rafting vacation on the Colorado River is, yes, an immersion in world-class rapids and catered camping under the stars. But after three, six or seven days on the Colorado River guests are swimming in mythology, geology and natural history of the Wild West.
Much of the “eddy”fication comes while exploring grottos and escarpments during planned side canyon hikes of 15 minutes to three hours on Western River Expeditions’ May through September three, six and seven-day programs (priced from $1,396 per person for a three-day trip to $2,962 for a seven day journey).
Western River Expeditions asked its veteran guides for a list of their favorite off-river hikes or sites in the Grand Canyon. Following are 10 explorations marked by river mile while rafting downstream from the put-in at Lees Ferry enroute to Lake Mead.
- Mile 33: Redwall Cavern carved in a towering limestone wall hosts volleyball and touch football games and explorations of fossils, cephalopods, brachiopods, crinoids and corals. In the summer of 1868, Major John Wesley Powell camped here, claiming later that 50,000 people could seat themselves comfortably in the cavern all at the same time! The only “non-hike” in the list.
- Mile 41.5: Bert Loper’s Boat and Bert’s Canyon came into legend when Loper capsized his boat, “Grand Canyon” while running 24.5 mile rapids during high water in July 1949. At age 79 he probably had a heart attack. A hiker discovered his jawbone in a driftwood pile some 50 miles downstream. The remains of Bert’s boat are located here.
- Mile 47: Saddle Canyon and Saddle Mountain (at 8,424 feet forming the headwaters of Saddle Canyon) tempts river runners up a steep talus slope before reaching a reasonably level surface in the canyon floor. Cardinal monkey flowers bedeck the limestone walls as the canyon begins to constrict. A choke stone in the middle of the creek requires hikers to climb around and over this obstacle before reaching the final destination.
- Mile 53: Nankoweap Canyon and Granaries (a Southern Paiute word meaning echo) are accessed from a trail leading to most-sought views and where under limestone walls are four granaries (storage sites) built and used by Native Americans from the ancestral Pueblo culture. These canyon dwellers practiced hunting and gathering in the canyon, in addition to agriculture on the Nankoweap delta roughly 1,000 years ago.
- Mile 72.5: Unkar Delta (a Paiute word meaning red creek or red stone) was home to Native Americans 1,000 years ago. Numerous archaeological sites and pottery shards remain as do desert vistas of Furnace Flats.
- Mile 116.5: Elves Chasm yields cardinal monkey flowers, columbine and orchids, plus a cool waterfall to jump from into a soaking pool.
- Mile 136: Deer Creek Falls and Patio is a must for cooling off. The falls lands into a pool from a creek 100 feet above; a trail leads hikers several hundred feet above to a point overlooking the river. Views over to the north rim are phenomenal from this vantage. Those comfortable with heights can continue upstream to the Patio, requiring careful footwork and cool-headedness to navigate a short span of narrow ledges with a precarious drop below. The narrow slot canyon downstream from the patio is of particular significance to the Southern Paiute people’s spiritual world view, as it serves as a conduit for spirits passing from this life to the next.
- Mile 148: Matkatimiba Canyon is named for a Havasupai family. There are two hiking options here: the “goat trail” is a straightforward path to an open and relaxing grotto area; the “up the gut” option leads through the middle of the drainage where participants must use balance and determination to navigate themselves to the same grotto area.
- Mile 156: Havasu Canyon is home to the Havasupai tribe. Havasu Creek flows through Supai village and cascades through numerous cataracts and waterfalls (the highest is Mooney at 190’) before reaching the river. Swimming in the turquoise pools is a cool-off must; but stay away in a rain storm. A 20-foot wall of water swept through the village in 1910; in 1990 a flash flood studied by the USGS recorded flows as high as 22,800 cubic feet per second.
- Mile 215.5: Three Springs Canyon sports a collection of desert plants representing three of the four Great American Deserts: the Great Basin, the Sonoran and the Mojave. Native American pictographs (paintings) embellish rock walls. Manos and metates, tools for processing corn and other plant matter, are also nearby, suggesting that canyon dwellers from the past used Three Springs as a gathering place.
Follow this link to Western’s Photo Gallery to see images of these off-river wonders and others: http://www.westernriver.com/trips/grand6day/photos.php.