White water rafting in the Grand Canyon is truly a thrilling adventure. I had the opportunity to be part of a fantastic trip that will resonate with me for a lifetime. Stunning scenery, fresh air, and an adrenaline rush intensified by churning rapids and blasts of ice-cold water were just a few experiences encountered, and it was practically in my backyard!
Travel originates for many reasons. But this trip had a particular purpose. A friend called and said that she was planning a surprise birthday celebration for a mutual friend. It involved a trip out of town. Would I like to join in? Of course! I replied. Connected by a love for travel and adventure, I knew she was organizing something amazing. She owned a travel company and knew the best excursions in the area. Little did I know that she would reveal a travel-savvy that would knock-my-socks-off!
In mid-September, we surprised our birthday girl by barging into her bedroom in the early morning hours(her husband let us into the house), handing her a packing list, and telling her to be ready in 20 minutes. Her destination (to her) was unknown.
Five hard-working moms crammed into an SUV and drove out of Nevada and into Arizona on Highway 93. We stopped for a few hours on the Colorado River to kayak, giving our birthday girl a glimpse of things to come: ice-cold water and moderate to strenuous exercise. By 3:00 p.m., we were on the road again for an overnight stop in Kingman. Known more for its place on the historic Route 66 than anything else, it seemed to be built in the middle of nowhere.
We continued our festivities at Kingman’s popular Mexican restaurant, the Palacio, that evening. The service was wonderful and the food great (try the Mexican Flag enchiladas. Everyone loved them). The next morning we left at 6:00. Fifty more minutes of drive-time was ahead of us. Our birthday girl was still trying to figure out where we were taking her.
Driving into the rising sun we took Route 66. The vast high desert sprawled out before us. As I gazed at thirsty looking shrubs and rocky hills, I wondered why the straight two-lane byway was so famous. True, it was the first paved road to connect Chicago to L.A., but many other roads spawned from the government’s road development program in the ’30s. Did it maintain its notoriety because of popular culture? Songs and movies came to mind. “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” and “Easy Rider” were just a few. In the 1950’s it became the main tourism route for Americans heading “out west.” Small towns along the way developed tourist stops with Teepee gift shops, restaurants, and gas stations that still stand along part of the route today.
I was shaken out of my reverie when the SUV stopped. We had arrived at our final destination, Peach Springs, Arizona. A low, expansive building sat across the road. It was the Hualapai Lodge built for overnight travelers. We were now on the Hualapai Reservation. A tour booth stood like a lone lemonade stand in the middle of nowhere beside our SUV. I gazed at the “Hualapai River Runners” sign gently swinging in the brisk morning breeze. Our birthday girl suddenly knew what the surprise was all about as we tumbled out of the truck announcing our arrival to a woman from the Hwal’Bay Ba:j tribe. She signed us in for the day-trip down the Colorado River.
Boarding an old model school bus, we headed into Hualapai country, taking a dirt road for the next hour. It was territory that I hadn’t seen, although it was so close to home. From barren flat landscapes, we descended into rising canyon walls. As we got closer to the water, the wheels on the bus worked harder as the driver navigated soft, wet spots in the road. At the bottom appeared the river, moving swiftly beyond a large dirt parking area. Three catamaran-like rafts waited for passengers. Someone piled life jackets and a dry bag for our belongings along the docking area, and a portable-potty tucked away in a few surrounding trees and shrubs was available to use before the seven-hour journey.
Anticipation rose as I noticed the rapids! How rough was the ride? What category rapids would we face? Was our guide going to take it easy on us or drive like a madman? What would I do if I had to pee? As these thoughts swirled in my head, a tour operator stepped over to introduce himself. In his calm, kind voice, he asked if we had any questions? Mine came flooding out. He assured us that we would have a wonderful time.
Victor was our tour guide. He gave us a short rundown of what to expect. We would be going through rapids rated on the old “classification” system, 1 through 10. Currently, the rapids ranged from 3 to 7. We would observe unique geological formations, hike, swim, have lunch on a sandy beach all in the course of one day.
The fun began as we went into our first rapids a few hundred feet from the docking area. We held on tight, but some of us lost our grip and fell to the floor of the boat (I guess that’s better than falling off the boat). Gasps exploded from our birthday party followed by laughter. It was our initiation into the thrilling sport of white water rafting.
Travertine Falls was our first stop. It was a welcomed break after being drenched by the rapids. We slid off the side of the boat and climbed over a rocky shore stacked with boulders. The sun quickly dried our clothes as we hiked up slopes towards canyon walls. The scenery was spectacular. From an overlook we could see the river as towering rock walls closed in. After scrambling over solid basalt stone, using ropes, we found ourselves beside a narrow stream. It tumbled down in stages, coursing over rock ledges. We pulled ourselves up more ropes and ladders into a crevasse. Water poured from an opening above us, cascading against the cliff walls. Someone dared us to stand under the water…we did.
Back on the raft, we floated through a section of smooth water. Our guide pulled up to the oldest rock formation in the canyon. Polished columns of chocolate stone pointed towards the sky. The fluted Vishnu Schist was 1.8 billion years old. We were told that the rocks at the canyon’s bottom were the oldest, with layers near the top a mere 500 million years old!
The water was a beautiful emerald green. Our timing couldn’t have been better. With little rain, the canyon water wasn’t the muddy red seen during more wet seasons. Lunch was spent on a wide, sandy river bank where all three rafts once again congregated. A few folks were brave enough to swim in the 50 degree water, including our birthday girl.
After covering twelve miles of intense white water rafting, we were able to sit back and relax, taking in the grandeur of our surroundings. The canyon walls seemed like Titans looking down on us. We were able to see the Grand Canyon Sky Walk off in the distance. It swung out above us like a hoover craft in the sky.
We were exhausted by the end of our 42-mile journey. Nothing else existed for us but nature at its finest, the communion of friends and pure enjoyment. I would absolutely do it all over again.
Our travel savvy friend reduced our time traveling back to Peach Springs (where our trip began) by having her son pick us up at the end of our raft trip. She saved us four hours of travel time it would take to get back home! We were all appreciative!
At the bottom of this article is a GoPro video I took. I hope you enjoy it and become inspired to get out and enjoy life.
We used the Hualapai River Runners. They were the only tour company that offered a day trip. Reservations can be made at https://grandcanyonwest.com/explore/colorado-river-rafting/
The last day of the season is October 31, 2020. We went in September, which was perfect weather.