Rafting - The Grand Experience
I have been to the Grand Canyon a few times before, but I have never experienced it like this!
On Friday night, May 3rd my husband and I arrived at the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs, a 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas. We were warmly greeted by staff waiting to check us in for our two day rafting trip with the Hualapai River Runners. We were pointed towards the pool and the lodge restaurant which we could visit at our convenience and provided with a dry bag for the rafting trip which was so big I could fit inside! We opted to grab a bite to eat at the restaurant and headed to bed early as we had an early morning and long couple of days ahead of us.
The restaurant opened at 4AM so we made sure to start our day off right with some breakfast sandwiches. At 6AM the staff was waiting in the lobby to accept our dry bags and make sure that our gear and equipment got to the river safely.
At 7AM we hopped in the shuttle with our new rafting friends and started the hour drive to Diamond Creek. As we bumped along on the way to the river our driver told us of stories about the tribal lands and shared some the history of the Hualapai people. The drive into the canyon was stunning and the further we descended into the canyon the more surreal the entire experience felt. About halfway to the river the driver stopped at a view point and let us hop out, stretch our legs and snap some photos.
When we arrived at Diamond Creek we got the first look at our rafts and the river. We all gazed up at the towering walls of the canyon in awe. You couldn’t help but be reminded of how big the world is (and how small we really are). Some of the buttes of the Grand Canyon that extend up from the Colorado River are over a mile high!
Soon after arriving at the beach we met our energetic and fun loving guide, Jamie. His energy was contagious and it was easy to see how much he loved being a guide. After being outfitted with a PFD (personal flotation device) and helmet Jamie gave us a safety briefing which covered the basic principles of rafting. He welcomed eight of us into his raft and after listening to his engaging and fun instructions we were paddling as a team in no time at all.
Just like that, we were off! As the current began to sweep us out into the river I could feel the excitement rising in our raft. We didn’t have to wait long until we were in out first rapid. Everyone in our raft was cheering in anticipation as we saw it drawing near. We got the command from Jamie to “PADDLE” and we all began paddling like our lives depended on it. Our raft bounced and soared through the rapids and at times we couldn’t even reach our paddles into the water because we were so high up. After making it through to a calmer part of the river we all triumphantly threw our paddles up in the air in celebration, it was such a wonderful feeling. I was in the front of the raft and for those of you who have not been rafting before, this is the wettest spot in the boat! The water was a balmy 45°F or 7° C, but that was a welcome relief from the Arizona sun. If you want to stay a bit dryer, (you won’t) pick a spot towards the rear of the boat, but no guarantees.
Good luck staying dry at all if your team decides they want to try surfing! This is easily my favorite part of the whitewater section. This involves a lot of skill on the part of your guide. The best way I can describe this experience is being stuck in a section of the water where the raft is balanced on top of rapidly circulating water while facing upstream. You feel like you are flying down the river even though you are staying in the same spot! It’s up to the guide to locate spots in the river where this can be attempted.
Jamie explained that rapids in the Colorado River are rated differently than in most rivers. Most rapids are rated on a category one through five scale, but the Colorado River’s rankings go from one through ten. The rapids we ran ranged from a two all the way up to a seven! With a name like “Killer Fang Falls” you know it’s going to be a wild ride!
One question that seems to be pretty common with new rafters is, “will I fall out of the raft?” I think Jamie said it best during our safety brief, “there are two different kind of rafters, the ones that have fallen out of the boat, and the ones that will fall out of the boat.” On this trip we did not have any swimmers from our raft, but we laughed as we watched the boat in front of us loose four people on one rapid (don’t worry, they were all fine and laughing when they got back in their raft). Prior to entering the tough rapids Jamie was very professional and made sure we knew which way to swim if we did end up having an “out of raft experience”.
We made multiple pit stops in various canyon areas during the trip including a stop at the Travertine Falls trail which we hiked up and into the waterfall. We ran over ten rapids before the halfway point of the day. My fellow paddlers were all smiles after making it through the last few rapids and one of the guys even exclaimed that his face hurt from smiling so much!
We stopped on a sandy beach and the guides set up lunch for us. It consisted of make your own sandwiches, chips, fruit and cookies; just what we needed to refuel and get back on the water. When our stomachs were satisfied we all hopped on the power boat and got to enjoy the spectacular scenery for the next 10 miles on the way to Spencer Canyon. Spencer Canyon is where the origin of the Hualapai story begins which was later explained to us by our knowledgeable guides.
We offloaded the boats and set up camp in this amazing canyon while staff prepared dinner. As the sun sank lower in the sky and started to disappear behind the canyon walls the sky turned from blue to orange. The sky was not the only thing that changed as the varied lighting brought out the vibrant colors of the canyon including the oranges, reds and purples of the geologic formations.
We all gathered around the center area of camp with the provided camping chairs and indulged on a steak dinner (cooked to order), mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and a salad. As if that wasn’t enough food the guides prepared a freshly baked chocolate cake with frosting! It was definitely the best meal I have ever had while camping. During dinner the guides told us stories of the canyon and of the Hualapai people who are the “People of the Tall Pines.”
After the sun had set the stars started to come out, you would be hard pressed to find a better place to see the stars in the United States. I was astonished as I watched the night sky light up. Even though we were exhausted from our long day in the sun, none of us wanted to go to bed.
Though we eventually fell asleep, we were later awoken to the immediately recognizable smell of bacon in the morning. That’s right, BACON! We were served breakfast burritos filled with as much eggs, sausage, bacon, cheese and potatoes as you could fit in your pre-warmed wrap with a side of freshly brewed COFFEE.
Once we had our fill, it was time to break down camp and hop back on the power boat. After a short trip down part of the river we arrived at another canyon where we could get out and walk around. This canyon stretched for about thirty miles. One of its predominate features was the “bath tub ring.” You could see the water level from years past in comparison to where it is now. The difference was astounding; it is crazy to think how much the canyon has changed over millions of years. After walking around for a bit we hopped back on the boat and soon arrived at an area that our guides affectionately refereed to as “jump rock.” It is exactly what it sounds like; we were allowed to walk up part of the canyon wall and jump about thirty feet into the river below. Most of the rafters opted to take the plunge (including my husband) and I got to witness an acrobatics display as they jumped and flipped into the rushing river. It was a great experience and the perfect opportunity to cool off before the rest of the thirty mile scenic ride down the river towards Quartermaster Canyon. This was where the helicopters were waiting to fly us out of the canyon to our next destination.
After the jumpers had built up an appetite, we stopped at another sandy beach where our guides prepared our lunch which consisted of deli sandwiches, fruit, chips and cookies. They also provided us with juice, soda and water. Afterwards it was time to soak up the rest of the scenery on the way to the helipad area.
Later in the afternoon we arrived at Quartermaster Canyon and said our goodbyes to our wonderful guides. We took our gear and made our way up a short bridge to the helipad area and checked in for our flight. I had never been in a helicopter before, but this was a ride I will certainly not soon forget. The pilot welcomed us inside and within moments we were gliding over the canyon. I thought I had seen it all, but this view was indescribable. The sheer magnitude of the canyon was awe inspiring.
We landed at the airport where a bus was waiting to drive us a couple miles to the Eagle Point area which was the final leg of our adventure. After arriving at Eagle Point we were escorted to the Skywalk, a glass bottomed walkway that extends out over the Grand Canyon. You truly feel like you are walking on air and can see straight down into the canyon. This is by far the best lookout point I have seen at the Grand Canyon and I have been to the area multiple times. The view is completely open with no obstructions. To say it was breathtaking would be an understatement.
After catching our breath, it was time to hop on the bus for the two hour ride back to the lodge. This was the perfect opportunity to exchange contact information with all of our new friends and say goodbye before going our separate ways. I am so grateful to have had this experience with Grand Canyon West and really enjoyed my time there. I made a bunch of new friends and created memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I would recommend this experience to anyone who wants to have fun (and get wet) and am very thankful for the wonderful guides who made the experience so personable, as if we were a part of their family. We hope to get back some day soon, thank you Grand Canyon West!
Recommended Pack List:
-Rash guard or quick dry clothing with UV protection
-Hat (you won’t wear your helmet for the entire trip and will want something to block the sun)
-Sunglasses with croakies
-Dry shoes or flip flops
-Change of clothes for camp
-Sunscreen / lip balm
-Reusable water bottle
-Tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag (if you do not have your own, they can be rented for a small fee)
-GoPro style waterproof camera and/or waterproof case for your phone (electronics can be packed in your dry bag but you will not have access to them until you reach camp so if you want to use your phone to take pictures a small dry bag is the best option)
-Most importantly - A sense of Adventure!
For more information about this trip and how you can experience the thrill of the Colorado River for yourself check out their website. Or Check them out on Instagram @grandcanyonwest
Safe Travels and Happy Adventuring
Great write up with a lot of visual effects with your descriptions. Thank you.
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