Yesterday I wrapped up my eighth Grand Canyon raft trip. I had no idea on my first one in 2014 that I’d still be doing this trip 8 years later (with number nine already on the schedule), or that it would have such a profound effect on my life. But here I am.
Most people’s perception of the Grand Canyon comes courtesy of expansive views from the rim, ideally in person, but often only in photographs. But on my first trip I learned that Grand Canyon’s obvious macro beauty from the rim belies the micro beauty below. Down here, the potential to be surprised by a bubbling spring, tumbling waterfall, or narrow slot canyon awaits at every twist of the river.
And some of the raft trip’s appeal is more visceral than visual. I’m thinking specifically of the river itself, which offers long stretches of contemplative floating, punctuated by thrilling E-ticket (look it up) rapids. Early in the trip I’ll need to reassure a nervous bunch of rafters cowering toward the back of the raft with each approaching riffle (baby rapid); by trip’s end, the bigger the rapid, the more rafters we have jockeying for a spot up front on the raft’s pontoons.
Another reason to love this trip is the Grand Canyon’s night sky, which is quite likely the darkest sky I (or anyone else) has ever experienced. Every night on the river I shun the tent in favor of a celestial shelter. Reclined on my cot, eyes plastered open, I fight sleep until I spy a meteor. While waiting, my gaze drifts across stars that range from brilliant to completely invisible virtually anywhere else on Earth, connecting these pinpoint lights into patterns as I try to comprehend our Universe’s expansiveness.
But honestly, as great as all this other stuff is, my favorite part of these trips is the people. We enter the canyon as a disorganized cohort of uncertain, anxious, strangers, and emerge, bonded by teamwork and shared experience, a cohesive knot of friends. One of my greatest (and proudest) pleasures is standing back and observing the interaction of the new friendships that my trip has enabled—many friendships will last the rest of these individuals’ lives. And I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the friendships I make, the new people with whom I’ve formed (what I hope will become) lifelong relationships.
About this image
After tumbling over layers representing millions of years Earth’s history, Royal Arch Creek drops into an emerald pool nestled in a mossy, fern lined, red rock alcove: Elves Chasm. Getting there requires a bit of rock scrambling—there’s a trail of sorts, but in several places the route is interrupted by an inconvenient rock, ledge, or pool. Fortunately, Elves Chasm is only a couple of hundred yards from the Colorado River (mile 116). With small cascades and pools along the way, even those who can’t make it all the way to the pool will find plenty to see and photograph.
Despite the difficult access, this little gem isn’t a secret, and it often teems with gawkers. I’ve been doing this raft trip long enough that my guides and I have become pretty good at timing our Elves Chasm visit so we have it to ourselves (fingers crossed), in the best light (full shade), and this year we succeeded wonderfully.
Because of the confined space, my group had to negotiate photo opportunities, with everyone taking turns at the best spots and no one locking into one place for too long. I waited until everyone was done before setting up this shot on a narrow shelf along the chasm’s right wall. A few years ago I captured a horizontal version of this scene that I like, so this time I concentrated here on something vertical.
By the time I clicked this frame, the morning sun had already started to stain the rocks above, and it wasn’t long before it leaked into the chasm itself, marking the end of photography time and the beginning of tourist time. Appropriately, as my group joyfully scrambled back down to our rafts, we encountered another group on their way in, thrilled to find their destination in full sun.
This is the only image of the trip I’ve processed so far, but I promise more are on the way…