Riding The River
By Robert Pekel
I didn’t want to leave the farm, but I was given an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was asked to help crew a 15-day journey down the Colorado River. This would be a 278-mile gauntlet through the Grand Canyon. There would be no communication with the outside world. Everything we needed to survive had to be packed in. We would be totally on our own. I love that kind of stuff. I was going.
We put in at Lee’s Ferry, after a short tribute to the late Martin Litton. Martin is credited with preserving Marble Canyon from being dammed, a dam that would have destroyed a large portion of the Grand Canyon. Martin also operated a guide service on the Colorado River that employed dories to transport customers. A dory is a flat bottom, wood boat with upturned ends that provides a unique and exciting river adventure.
Our crew consisted of four guides. Andre was our lead guide along with Mokie, Rio and Duffy. They were responsible for the safe passage of 15 customers. Each guide rowed a dory that held four passengers. Three baggage boats (10-foot rubber rafts) carried all our food, equipment and clothing. The baggage rowers were Hayden, Mariah and Ben. Two swampers, Tony and I, completed the crew. Swampers ride on the baggage boats and work where needed. On this particular voyage, a fourth raft was along to carry Peter, who was photographing the tribute to Martin. Blake and JP assisted him.
Andre had more than 150 river trips under his belt. His experience navigated us safely through dangerous waters such as Hermit Rapid, Crystal Falls and Horn Creek Rapid. The Colorado has claimed the life of more than one person. Bert Loper perished in 1949; the weathered hulk of his boat still remains. Frank Brown was another victim. Bessie and Glen Hyde, the young “Bride and Groom,” were believed drowned in 1928. Their bodies were never found, only their boat.
Rowing 278 miles is not easy. Setting up a new camp each night, then breaking it down every morning is no small chore. Accomplishing this in 112-degree heat is physically and mentally challenging.
Daily chores were made easier once everyone learned the routine and worked together. Fire lines were established to efficiently move our food and gear from the boats to the campsite. “Let’s go, villagers,” Mariah would say, for many hands made light work.
We explored ancient Anasazi granaries, observed petroglyphs, and were educated about the geology of the Grand Canyon. The cathedral walls ranged from pale orange sandstone to shining granite in a rainbow of colors. At Salt Creek Rapids, the canyon walls were lined with salt that early Indians had mined. Jimson weed, barrel cactus, and Century plants added a lime green tinge. Huge lava deposits from long-ago volcanoes created the notorious Lava Falls. Big Horn sheep, and mule deer were occasionally spotted. Collared lizards, chuckwalla, and gecko were everywhere.
Stars lit up the night, for there is no artificial lighting in the Grand Canyon to distract from the evening sky. It was the first time in decades I saw the Milky Way. The Big Dipper moving from east to west was exciting to watch and helped us track the time at night.
The Grand Canyon is an adventurer’s paradise, but it takes the work of many dedicated individuals and the Park Service to keep the Canyon pristine, natural and out of the hands of greedy developers. The Colorado River, as commanding as it is, no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez. Industrial farming and wasteful habits extract so much water from this beautiful river that it completely dries up 90 miles before reaching the sea. This should be a wake-up call. Running out of fresh water is a startling reality that we must face today.
I couldn’t help but view the Grand Canyon as a source of strength. The wilderness experience seemed to regenerate and recharge the mind, body and spirit with energy and strength. This life-giving force appears to be a gift of the canyons, mountains, oceans and forests. The unspoiled places of the Earth provide an inner peace and strength that cannot be matched in the artificial world.
Growing food, harvesting rainwater, composting, and restoring native plants cultivate the same life-giving force. Be it a small garden, one rain barrel, or beginning to compost, any of these actions can be a connection to the circle of life. One does not have to search the globe for harmony. Good things are waiting to be discovered right at home. Urban farms illustrate this vividly. Homesteading elevate the back yard into the final frontier.
In the end, the Eagles said it best, “Find a place to make your stand, and take it easy.”
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