Rafting the Colorado River

Rafting the Colorado River

Colorado River deep within the Grand Canyon

Recently I spent 10 days floating 226 miles down the Colorado River.  This was not a river trip to experience the excitement of running the rapids, rather it was strictly a photography trip.



There will be several of these Grand Canyon posts from me.  One will deal primarily with the abstract ‘Reflections of the Colorado River.’  As you can see in the photo above, each landscape photo often contains some interesting water reflections.  One blog post may have the landscape photos many of you are expecting.  This one will concentrate on the basics of the trip, answering some common questions you may be too embarrassed to ask…

Our rafting journey began just below Lake Powell near Page, AZ and ended 226 miles downstream at Diamond Creek.


Life on the Colorado River

Over 20,000 people float down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon annually.  These are all regulated by hard-to-obtain government permits.  I had many concerns regarding details of the trip, but with so many people successfully making the journey I figured I could as well.  Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) was the primary supplier for this trip.  Since this was a photography oriented trip, there was another company with another layer of expense, Visionary Wild, in charge of directing us to the photography sites.  Both companies did a superb job.

With so many floating down the Colorado River, you see other groups of boaters throughout the day.  Some are young kids looking for excitement, jumping off of rocks and tossing Frisbees, while others are serious kayakers and looking for the excitement and challenges of the rapids.  Our boat was a behemoth 35 foot long, 15 foot wide triple pontoon boat that mostly glided over the rapids.  It carried twelve photographers which included two photo guides, plus three AZRA rafting guides.  This was also our supply boat carrying 12 large waterproof camera backpacks, 12 tripods, 12 sleeping bags, 12 personal day bags, tarps, sleeping pads, tents, camp chairs.  AZRA also managed to feed us immense amounts of fresh food for ten days.  The cooks managed to serve us fresh crisp salad on day 1 as well as on day 10.  We had fresh avocados daily, salmon and steaks for dinner and many dozens of eggs each morning.


Here we just arrived at Marble Canyon, ready to start the daily unloading ritual, then off to claim a camping spot for the night.  Notice the red rock reflection in the river.  More of those to follow.


This young lady was NOT on the Elderly Photographers Tour. She was on the party boat. Deer Creek Falls in background.


A good portrait photographer would know to move a bit left or right so the water fall was not centered on his head…


The cry of “Coffee” was shouted shortly after daybreak.  Coffee grounds were dumped in a large pot of water and boiled until the grounds drop to the bottom, cowboy style.  A very welcome way to start the day for tired photographers.

Breakfast was served shortly thereafter.  Nobody went hungry with three large meals a day.

Breakfast along the Colorado River


All of this food had a purpose other than to keep us happy and occupied at camp.  I think they fed us so much to keep us regular in a restroom sort of way, since we often had to get on the river early.  The toilet bucket location would be announced upon arrival at camp so we would not toss down a sleeping bag in that important area.  It was always secluded from the view of our fellow travelers, but not hidden from view of the river.  While our restroom offered privacy from our own group, as well as pleasant views, other rafting groups would periodically float by, cheering and waving.

The bathroom wash station with soap and a foot pump.

The silver canister above is the ‘key’ to the whole process.  It contained the toilet paper.  If the canister ‘key’ was gone, the toilet was in use and you waited patiently for the silver canister to return.  Nobody was allowed to use a tree or a bush, only the river.

Liquid goes in the yellow bucket, solids in the ‘groover.’

The aluminum box was never referred to as the toilet, rather it was the ‘groover.’  In the years before the rafting companies made the much more comfortable aluminum toilet with a seat, rafters used old metal ammunition containers like the blue one above.  These metal ammo boxes left painful grooves on your behind.  The ammunition container toilet is long gone, but the name ‘groover’ has stuck.

Groovin’, a room with a view, for the user and the passing rafters.

Another important duty of the guides was to take care of the groover, which was stowed on the boat.  Solid waste must be hauled out of the canyon, but the yellow bucket was dumped into the river.  This all seemed fine until you realize the friendly river guides pump our daily drinking water from the river… and there are many boaters upstream…  They told us the water they pumped for us was filtered.  I can understand it being filtered for bacteria and dirt, but….  A saying repeated to us several times was “The solution to pollution is dilution.”




Very high winds plagued us our first couple days on the river.  Even the smallest ripple in front of the boat turned into a cold spray of rain.  Miserable is too strong of a word, but 10 days of those winds would have been intolerable. The poor groups of rowers were making very little progress fighting against the wind.  Our life jackets have flaps in the back for your head to rest on when in a big lake or ocean.  Here on the Colorado River they served as paddles whacking us in the back of the head five times a second for two days.  Initially it was mildly entertaining, but on day two we had had enough.

We pitched tents one night to protect us from the wind.  Putting them up was certainly a challenge.  While they did help protect us, they primarily acted as a flour sifter, allowing only the finest dust particles to settle inside the tent, on our sleeping bag and camera gear.  We generally slept out in the open, under the stars, staring at the Big Dipper and North Star.  I was happy to have had cataract surgery so I could enjoy the view without eyeglasses.



The Little Colorado River gets its blue color from flowing over dissolved calcium carbonate deposits.  These spring fed waters flow at a fairly constant rate all year, but will sometimes turn a very muddy red after a storm.  Pictures of the red rock reflections contrasted with the soft blue colors is often the highlight of any trip.  However, the strong wind caused ripples in the water where we wanted to have smooth reflections.  Regardless, the unique beauty of the area is apparent.

The scene below shows the perfect formula for great reflection photos.  The red cliff wall needs to be in bright sunshine and the river below must be in shadow.  Crouching down low to get the right angle results in very vibrant reflections.  This same setup works when fall leaves are in the sunshine with a shaded river below.

Evening shadows along the Little Colorado River, LCR.  This photo was taken mainly to show how the gold reflections are created.


Getting closer and lower to the pools in the picture above isolates some reflections

While the weather was quite miserable due to the very high winds, it resulted in some good storm clouds the following day, plus a rainbow.


A rainbow appeared near the end of our time in the canyon.  Always a good sight for a photographer.


A longer time exposure removes the distracting ripples and waves that are not really important to the photo, making the scene more simple overall.

For the above sunrise photo I’m standing on a good size rock, but I would have to crouch down periodically to keep from being blown off.  Other photographers had their tripods blown down…. with their cameras attached.  It is difficult to capture a long exposure with your tripod being buffeted by the strong winds.

Most groups will stop here and enjoy the view and depart.  The advantage of being on a photography tour was the knowledge and willingness to camp across the river overnight waiting for sunrise the following day.  Get ready for may more reflection photos to come.

Thank you for your interest in my photography adventures.

25 thoughts on “Rafting the Colorado River

  1. Very nice, thanks for all the details , now I know how they handle the waste. Looks like a great adventure!!!

  2. Great stuff Harold, thank you for posting these photos and comments. The old body is done wandering, but the spirit is still active!

  3. Your post brought back many memories. In 1972 I filmed (16mm) GRAND CANYON BY O.A.R.S.. A 14 day trip. The film was used to promote Outdoor Adventure River Specialist and was shown at the GC movie theater for 10 years.

  4. Nice work Harold! I’m glad to see you’re still exploring! I always enjoy seeing your work!! Where is your home base?

  5. Thanks for the great description of the trip details and the shots from the trip. I’m looking forward to your next post!

  6. Nice photos Harold. I look forward to your blog and possibly impressions of the difficult areas of floating down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon.

  7. Great report and cool Groover view 🙂 Bummer about the wind … We just had 8 hours of it up around Hill City yesterday … I was being interviewed and filmed and that was a challenge for the videographer as well as me the photographer and Poo the artist. Margie was “done” with the wind by later afternoon and quite cranky and just hid out in the vehicle. So glad it calmed down for you.

  8. Looks like you had a great adventure! Loved the photo of the canyon with the rainbow. Looking forward to reading your next blog on this great trip! Doug enjoyed reading it too.

  9. I’ve been waiting for your river trip blog! Your beautiful photos and explanations don’t disappoint. I guess if they ask astronauts about their restroom arrangements, people would ask you too. Looking forward to your next set of river trip photos.

  10. So great to read your entertaining and informative blog again, Harold. Love it all. I always wanted to do that rafting trip so now I can travel down the river with you instead. Thanks for posting!!

    Bonnie and David too

  11. Come to think of it I didn’t go on the Colorado River trip when I worked for Fish and Wildlife because the permits are difficult and only a few people could go. Those are beautiful pictures.
    A friend in Utah told me of a calendar “Views from the Groover” So you’ll need to go on another rafting trip with this in mind and photo your daily view from the Groover. Just don’t accidentally take a selfie.

    • I DID take a photo of each ‘groover’ location. I’m not sure that it is of calendar quality. My next publication is tomorrow. Thanks for taking the time to read this and look at the photos.

      • LoL 10 would fill a calendar, the water reflection pics would seem appropriate for the theme and you’ve got it!

  12. I revisited this blog now that I have a little time to enjoy it more. I’m very impressed with it, both the photography and your writing style. It helps me get an idea of what it might have been like. Thanks, Harold.

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