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.
FLOATING THE COLORADO RIVER,
FOR 226 MILES
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…
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.
BREAKFAST ON THE RIVER
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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
50 MPH WINDS
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, LCR
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.
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.
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.