2014 Colorado River Photo Expedition – Dispatch from Grand Canyon

May 29, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

 

 

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. 

 

GC14_00155GC14_00155White Water Rafting, House Rock Rapid, River Mile 17, Marble Canyon, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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.  

 

GC14_01352GC14_01352Reflections, River Rocks, Middle Granite Gorge, River Mile 127, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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. 

 

GC14_01326GC14_01326Camp at Twilight, Randy's Rock, River Mile 127, Middle Granite Gorge, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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.

 

GC14_01276GC14_01276Fluted Rock,. Redwall Limestone, Middle Granite Gorge, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Flute river rock, sculpted Redwall Limestone, Lower Granite Gorge

 

Preparation for a Colorado River expedition begins with ordering essential equipment from B&H PhotoVideo. The best way to protect your gear is with a waterproof Pelican Case (1510) with padded inserts (not foam) and lid organizer. Next a lightweight tripod is absolutely essential, and preferably one that can strap onto your daypack or camera backpack for day hikes and canyoneering up narrow side canyons. I use both Oben and Induro lightweight models with ReallyRightStuff ballhead, along with a miniature GorillaPod for stabilizing a GoPro for time lapse and video.
 
Other essential gear includes up to five (5) fully-charged batteries, polarizing and ND filters (graduated and 5-stop), and sunshades for all lenses. Neautral-density filters are great for making motion blur images using slow shutter speeds. I carry two Canon camera bodies (1DX and 5dMKIII), with 16-35, 17 tilt/shift, and 70-300, and a 100-macro lenses.
 

GC14_02237GC14_02237Upper Deer Creek Falls, River Mile 137, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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. 

 

GC14_00230GC14_00230Common Chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater), North Canyon, River Mile 21, Marble Canyon, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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

Flagstaff, Arizona

 

© Ralph Lee Hopkins

 


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