Parasailing along the coast of Ecuador. Snorkeling in the south Caribbean Sea. Backpacking across Europe to ring in the New Year in Prague, and again a year later in Edinburgh. Hiking a portion of the China’s Great Wall. Touring the Taj Mahal. Kenyan safaris. I had been on a lot of adventures in my life, and to many people, a grand road trip across America would be enough to add to the list. To me however, I wanted more and the Grand Canyon was just the place for it. 90% of people who visit, according to the National Park Service, only visit one general area of the South Rim. That’s not good enough for me. But the whitewater rafting trip down 35 of the canyon’s miles, complete with a helicopter ride up to the rim, had sounded ideal. And today, the weather was perfect for it.
The van that took our small group to the boats sounded like it was about to fall apart on us, each bump and divot on the unpaved road shaking the doors against their frames and threatening to break the glass even more. We stopped twice on the hour-long ride to the water’s edge, once for a small break and again to look at a waterfall.
We soon made it to the boats, where a team was waiting, ready to fit us with our life jackets and help us stow our gear. My new vest snapped tight around me, I placed my camera bag into an ammo can for easy access, fitted my GoPro to my head strap, and climbed into the boat. Almost immediately, we hit our first rapid.
Pushed by the boat’s motor, we slammed into the waves. Water crashed around us, soaking us. I felt the ice-cold water find its way through the collar of my rain suit. Of the 9 passengers in our group, I was the only one with some sort of protection. The others, dressed for a day at the beach, froze.
Our boatman navigated the way through the waters, occasionally stopping in between the sections of rapids to point out things along the way, sometimes a unique rock formation, other times an event that happened during early explorations, and once even the remains of when the Government attempted to build a dam across the canyon.
We stopped after a couple of hours and left the boat, beginning to hike a little ways away from the river. I hadn’t remembered anything about a hike when I had first read about the trip, so as we climbed our way up a few slick rocks and walked through a slot canyon to find another waterfall, I was pleasantly surprised.
Back in the boat, we continued down the Colorado. I wish I could say how things looked as we crashed through yet another set of rapids, but when that much water slams into you, you tend to shut your eyes as it hits your face and you grip the handrail even tighter as it pushes your feet from the floor, the boat falling from under you as it dips into the trough of another wave.
We passed several rafters throughout the day, but one group made us stop. Something was wrong. The Boatman pulled our raft along theirs and started talking to their group. A woman in one of the rafts had been struck in the face with an oar, splitting her lip badly. Our boatman motioned to our second boat, a passenger-less photography boat, and helped transfer her over, the boat’s outboard able to get her to help significantly faster than her group’s oars.
We floated onwards as the river carved its way through the canyon, traveling on smooth flat water with the last of the rapids behind us. The motion of the boat and the hum of its engine threatened to put me to sleep as I stared up the canyon walls. They climbed so high, and this canyon was so massive. I had wondered how some things had gotten their names, but the Grand Canyon wasn’t one of those things. It was simply Grand.
After another several miles, the Boatman docked the raft at a dock. Helicopters were everywhere, flying through the canyon to either drop off or pick up passengers from the helipads near the dock. Our group waited nearly a half hour for our ride to land. Due to my tall height, I was placed in the most cramped seat onboard. The ground fell away a moment later, and we were whisked to the top of the canyon, landing again almost before we had taken off.
Our group split up, most returning to their hotels in Vegas. I joined up with the driver who had first taken us all to the river, and we rode to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a horse-shoe shaped walkway extending from the edge of the canyon wall. Oh, and it had a glass floor, letting you look straight down at the two thousand feet of air between you and the ground.
Because of the weather reschedule, the tour company waived the ticket cost for me, and I surrendered my cameras and cell phone to a storage locker. No cameras allowed. Some would claim it was to prevent them from falling and damaging the glass or littering the canyon, but I felt it was more fiscally motivated. If you wanted a picture, you were going to have to pay for one. I’m sure people had paid, having been opened for the past seven years, which left me with one simple question: why did the facility look so unfinished? Temporary plywood walls were built in the visitor’s center, and large trash cans held the shoe covers to protect the glass walkway.
At least the view was stunning. I walked out onto the glass, taking my time, trying to remember as many of the rich reds, oranges, and browns that the evening sun had painted the canyon wall as I could. Around me, people talked. Nervous parents scolded their kids for jumping on the glass while the brave talked about how it was just simple counterbalancing and wasn’t an engineering marvel. Soon bored, I put my overshoes into another trash can and made my way back onto solid ground.
I walked through the gift shop, not intending to buy anything, but I saw a display of refrigerator magnets and paused to look. Alyssa had a thing for those types of magnets, collecting them from places all over, and since I couldn’t take pictures on the Skywalk a magnetized photo of the canyon would have to suffice. I returned to the van, my head beginning to fill with ideas of how to present my souvenirs to her.