2014 Colorado River Photo Expedition – Dispatch from Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA
A river trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is one of life's great adventures. Looking down from the rim it's hard to comprehend how vast the Grand Canyon really is. From the river, you discover the Grand Canyon is not just one canyon, but made of canyons within canyons within canyons. And many have flowing water and waterfalls emerging from springs in the canyon walls. Around every twist and turn, there are hidden canyons of all kinds, from box canyons to slot canyons, and best accessed from the river.
White-water action in Hermit Rapid, Granite Gorge
Every other year I team with my good friends at Arizona Raft Adventures for a two-week photo expedition. The 2014 was led by Grand Canyon legendary boatman and photographer, Dave Edwards. With over 150 river expeditions through the Grand Canyon, it's equivalent to spending more than 6 years on the river – below the rim, in all seasons, all kinds of weather. Along with him were five professional guides, all responsible for navigating oar-powered rafts down 226 river miles through 150 named rapids.
Reflections and River Rocks, Conquistidor Aisle
The Grand Canyon will humble you, by challenging your perception with it's immensity – it's over a mile deep, over 18 miles wide, and 277 miles long. All the empty space is capable of holding all the world's river water and still only be half full. In it's depths there are canyons within canyons. Place names like Vassey's Paradize, Elve's Chasm, Deer Creek, Blacktail and Matkatamiba Canyons.
River camp under Tapeats Sandstone ledges, Lower Granite Gorge
The Grand Canyon is one of the hardest environments to do photography. First, there's the water. On the river you face water like you've never seen before, breaking waves that will knock the breath out of you. And sand. To understand the conditions you will face, dump a pile of sand in your back yard, set up your tent, throw a few shovels full inside, and turn on a strong fan to blow it around into every nook and cranny. Both are certain death to digital cameras without precautions.
Flute river rock, sculpted Redwall Limestone, Lower Granite Gorge
Upper Falls over steps of Tapeats Sandstone, Deer Creek Narrows
The experience of being on the river is hard to explain. After a couple of days everything seems to be moving in slow motion, mirroring the pace of the river, the rhythmic beats of the oars setting the pace. As your mind becomes quiet, thoughts even slow down, and you start recalling memories of things you haven't thought about in years. Your body adjusts to the cycle of the sun, in bed by dark and up at first light with the melodious song of the Canyon Wren.
Upper Falls, Tapeats Sandstone, Deer Creek Narrows
Sleeping under the stars reunites you with the universe, and grounds you here on earth. To see the North Star and the Big Dipper through a sliver of sky between towering cliffs, beckons you to ponder the origins of all things, and marvel at the mysteries hidden in the rocks. It's interesting to learn that the age of the Grand Canyon is still being debated to this day. In a subtle but profound way, the Canyon changes you.
The next Colorado River Photo Expedition is already being planned for May 2016. Contact Arizona Raft Adventures for more information.
Ralph Lee Hopkins
May 15, 2014
© Ralph Lee Hopkins