Run Wild! Run Rivers! Rafting Blog

Waterfalls along the Colorado

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What is it that draws us to falling water? Is it the height of the cliff wall from which the water spills? The volume of water cascading down the rock? Or is it the way that we feel when standing at the bottom of a waterfall? Along the side canyons of Colorado River and throughout the desert landscape of the arid Colorado Plateau- seeps, springs and waterfalls seem like an anomaly. Where red rock radiates like a solar oven in the sun, the verdant micro-climate associated with waterfalls creates a welcoming contrast. Maidenhair fern, crimson monkeyflower and columbines abound. Frogs croak, birds chirp and the footprints of desert big horn sheep are found at favorite watering holes.


It is no surprise then, that the ancient civilizations that made these canyons home revere these places with reverence. These places are not just a pristine water source in the desert. Many tribes that call Grand Canyon home understand that their ancestors emerged from the previous world to this one from where the water surfaces. Ribbon Falls is very sacred to the Zuni, the Little Colorado River to the Hopi, Deer Creek Falls and Narrows to the Piute, and Havasu Creek to the Havasupai. While visiting these places the feeling that you are somewhere special is evident. Here are a few that we stop at along the river;


The falls at the end of Saddle Canyon.


Calcium carbonate-rich waters of the Little Colorado River where we swim.


Above Phantom Ranch and in the Inner Gorge is a short walk up Clear Creek Canyon to this unique waterfall.


Playing in Shinamu Falls.


The magic of Elves Chasm. Here the water spills through Travertine Limestone where maiden hair ferns find refuge in nooks and crannies.


Upper Stone Creek Falls is found in the end of a box canyon, 3.5 miles from the river, and past a series of waterfalls along the way.


Thunder River comes shooting out of the Muav Limestone and is seen while hiking the “Death March”, an 11 mile loop from Tapeats Creek and ending at Deer Creek.


Dutton Springs is one of the sources of Deer Creek, best seen from the “Throne Room” on the up and over hike.


Deer Creek Narrows and Falls is sacred to Piute Indians and river runners.


Whispering Springs trickles down to a pool 3.5 miles up Kanab Creek.


Matkatamiba Canyon, with a thin sluice of water carving through the Muav Limestone.


Havasu Creek and it’s blue water- rich with calcium carbonate like the Little Colorado- forms pools and falls through towering canyon walls.


At the lower end of Grand Canyon is where a short hike leads to Travertine Grotto.


In Cataract Canyon, within Canyonlands National Park is where Indian Creek Falls is found- when the snow melts from the Abajo Mountains- and after big rain storms.


The reward for surviving heavy monsoon storms in July and August. To see rim falls like these are a rare and unique experience!

The awe one feels when witnessing a waterfall must be a universal feeling. People all over the world, from all generations go to these places for the experience. Beyond the beauty and the cooling mist that makes the hot summer months feel cool, it is the way that we feel in the presence of falls. Lately I have been trying to tap into what it is I feel while up close to falling water. In certain places and when I am alone I feel and hear a vibration that is unmistakable. I don’t know how to explain it, but feel like I am experiencing one of earth’s deep coursing rhythms that is unique but connected to the fundamental need for water, for survival.

When we take people to these places, even the most serious adults become children. We splash and play while societal concerns on how we must act as grown-ups is abandoned. In the Little Colorado River we swim through the riffles of a small rapid. I see trip after trip- the most conservative people- drop down their preconceptions of how they ought to act and tap into something they lost after childhood. These are life-changing events, and always a highlight of our river trips.

There are threats to this experience. The Tusayan development proposed by Italian developers on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon plans to build 2,100 housing units and develop 3 million square feet of commercial real estate. With no obvious water source, the plan would most likely draw from the underlying Redwall-Muav aquifer that is the source of water for many of the springs and waterfalls emerging from the South Rim. The development could affect the waters of the Little Colorado River, Elves Chasm, Matkatamiba Canyon and Havasu Creek. Click on the link above to learn about how you can get involved. Alicyn Gitlin from the Sierra Club goes on to say this about the threat to water in Grand Canyon;

“The National Park Service considers the mega-development a significant threat to Grand Canyon because it will require vast quantities of water and could lower the aquifer that feeds seeps, springs, and streams that support wildlife and recreation on the park’s South Rim. Groundwater pumping accompanying the development could also lower the aquifer that is the exclusive source of all water for Havasu Falls, the cultural foundation of the Havasupai tribe.

Models predict that pumping from the Redwall-Muav aquifer, which lies below Tusayan, will reduce the yield of, or dry up, South Rim seeps and springs. After wells were drilled in Tusayan and Valle in 1994, Cottonwood Creek turned from perennial to intermittent and Pumphouse Spring’s flow began declining. Base flow at Cottonwood Creek decreased 19% between 1995 and 2001; base flow at Indian Gardens decreased 25% between 1994 and 2001. These decreases began before the current drought cycle began but after wells were drilled. There has been “a declining trend in annual winter base flow since the late 1990s” for Havasu Creek below Havasu Spring.

The National Park Service estimates that water use in Tusayan could quadruple if the development is fully built out.

Northern Arizona is likely to reach an unsustainable demand for water before 2050.”

-Alicyn Gitlin, Sierra Club

This is a critical time to take part in the protection of Grand Canyon. For the experience of visitors, and for the possibility of this experience for those that will come next. For the fragile ecosystem of the Grand Canyon, and all the species of plants, animals and insects that depend on the water flowing. And for the Native American tribes- past, present and future- that consider this water sacred.

Recently, certain tribal members have explained to us details about their relationship with the canyon and the water that runs through it. They tell us that the veil between the past, present and future is very thin- and that the spirit of their ancestors is very much present today. So disturbances today affect the people of the past, the people here now and those that will come next. They ask us to visit these special places with reverence and respect. By doing this we are free to share our own experience with each other without disturbing the spirit of the Canyon.

Laughing, splashing, playing. Becoming a child, taking pictures or just cooling off from the harsh desert sun. We all seek the beauty of waterfalls for different reasons. It is time now to protect the experience by writing letters to the congressmen in Arizona, and by making comments when the public comment period opens up. These places are worth fighting for!

-Ben Reeder



Karma, Fate, and Rediscovery–Grand Canyon Style

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May 5, 2015

Alex, the hero of this story!

Alex, the hero of this story!!!

…Ahh Shinumo Creek. It was starting to get a little later in the day than most trips stay on the water, but I have always like to “stretch” the days and get as much in as possible on the trips I run, thus seeing and doing as much as possible. As Martha and Toner say you can “Sleep When You Are Dead.” This late afternoon stop at Shinumo Creek was more destiny than choice though. We had already had an exchange of guests at Phantom Ranch and ran the all the rapids from Zoroaster through Bass. I had thought I would camp somewhere amongst the 6 or 7 camps in the Bass area. Unfortunately there was a private trip at Emerald, Azra at Hotuata, a private trip at Ross Wheeler, a private trip at the Inscription, a private trip at the sandbar just above Bass, and of course a private trip laid over at Bass Camp. In addition up ahead were an Azra motor trip and 2 Canyoneers trips. I thought my odds of getting 110 mile camp were slim, but a few years earlier I had been hiking on the ridge above 110 and noticed a sandbar at 110.5 mile. This was my “Ace in the Hole” camp, something in the back of my mind that was as good or better than the host of small sandbars and rocky Garnet Camps from Walthenburg to Elves, and a place I had never seen anyone camped. We pulled our up-beat trip of 30 in to share the waterfall at Shinumo, knowing no trips would be coming behind us, and our fate had already been decided as far as where we would lay our heads down to rest when night fell.

We had a wonderful time at Shinumo Creek. The canyon was shaded, but the rocky debris fan from where our 37′ motorized rafts were parked to the mouth of the creek was still in the sunny glow of the beginning of sunset. Our guests who by now had become friends played in the cool water of Shinumo Creek, then returned to the warm rocks, laying on the red and orange rocks of the debris fan and on our grey and blue rafts. No one was “antsy” or in a “hurry” to leave, but you could tell a few of the group wondered where, or if we would be camping that night. We untied the rafts and headed around the bend through Shinumo Rapid and into view of the AZRA motorized raft and all the tents set up at 110 mile rapid. As we passed by the rafts my friend Wayne gave us a heartfelt wave.

August 2011 From Bruce’s Journal–

Day 8 – Finally talked James into moving to my boat, so that each boat would have two riders. I didn’t see the hole in Serpentine rapid, didn’t read the book that said “stay left” and went right into it. A second of thinking “oh!” and upside down. I felt bad for James, because he had flipped in Tony’s boat on Day 3. Travis did a great job getting on the raft, pulling James up and getting a spare oar out and getting the upside down raft into an eddy. It took me a couple days to get my confidence back after flipping.

May 5, 2015

We pulled our rafts into 110.5 mile camp and did a quick scout of the camp. Checking the usual things like if their was enough room for our group and wondering where we would set up the bathrooms. Cots have made camping much easier these days. Before cots gravelly camps were pretty much out of the question, but now gravelly camps are semi-acceptable. With the loss of sand every year due to the flow fluctuations of Glen Canyon Dam, as well as the removal of sand flowing through Grand Canyon caused by Glen Canyon Dam, the beaches are getting smaller every year. In addition to the problem finding suitable camps, this has also made the camps with sand very popular. Many are camped at nightly. With this over use I speculate the beaches are becoming dirtier on the microorganism level, even when everyone in the Grand Canyon does their best to keep the canyon pristine. This beach was totally pristine though, and adequately covered in clean Grand Canyon sand. We set up camp. On one end of the beach I found a food stash in a rice bag, full of salad dressing and canned foods. I have stumbled upon many beer stashes and a few firewood stashes, but only a couple of food stashes. The stash of food looked at least 5 years old. The rice bag was torn and the Annie’s salad dressing’s label looked really faded.

For cinco de Mayo we ate a large Mexican Fiesta Dinner. After dinner everyone was tired from our epic day, and went to bed early. The guides pushed the boats out before bed, anticipating the normal nightly drop in flow, from the Dam 128 miles upriver. The Dam releases the most water from 8 AM to 5 PM during the work week, and depending how far down river you are camped, the water drop or rise can cause you problems during the night. Where we were camped the water level drops during the night, then starts to come back up at around 11 AM.

The next morning after breakfast Alex brought down a partially rusted ammo can down to our Kitchen. He liked to explore our camps, and he had found this ammo can wedged into the rocks above the sandy part of our camp. Me and the other guides were immediately drawn to the new found treasure. What would it hold? I opened the can up and realized this was somebody’s personal ammo can…there was a Kindle on top, underneath was a toothbrush, swiss army knife, and wallet. We looked at the wallet and its contents. Inside the wallet were expired credit cards, some cash, and a Colorado Driver License. We speculated that the ammo can had been here quite a while because of how rusted it was and because everything inside was expired. I packed the can onto my boat and looked forward to the challenge of locating “Bruce.”

Bruce at Lee's Ferry.  The ammo can is the one with the white stripe on Bruce's right.

Bruce at Lee’s Ferry in August 2011 with the Ammo Can.

Bruce after the flip in August 2011.

Bruce after the flip in August 2011.

August 2011 From Bruce’s Journal–

Day 8 – I could see my ammo can of personal stuff was floating just out of reach, so I thought “swim for it”…But, then I saw the young men at the upside-down raft and decided I needed to swim to the raft. I tried to watch the ammo can from the raft, but it was hard to get it into the obvious eddy, so I couldn’t keep watching. Got the raft over and re-rigged, and headed to camp. I tried to look in every eddy and debris pile for days (apparently, as the ammo can only went 5 miles in nearly 4 years, I wasn’t looking in the right place). Some of the things in my personal can were sad to lose, but on the rest of trip the things I missed the most were my toothbrush and hairbrush.

The package we sent to Bruce.

The package we sent to Bruce.

The Ammo Can (May 2015) upon arriving to Bruce in Colorado.

The Ammo Can (May 2015) upon arriving to Bruce in Colorado.

The contents of the rediscovered ammo can almost 4 years later.

The contents of the rediscovered ammo can almost 4 years later.

May 11, 2015

After we cleaned up our trip we called our main office and Vicki was able to locate Bruce from his Driver’s License. We sent the Ammo Can back to Bruce and he was thrilled to have it returned as it had a lot of things that had value to him. It was fun to be part of a Grand Canyon story and get some good Karma from the river community. That is one of the great things about the Grand Canyon. In my experience I have almost always had good relationships with all of the people in the Grand Canyon whether they be fellow commercial boaters, private boaters, NPS staff, backpackers, or that random guy that doesn’t fit into any of these categories. The Grand Canyon brings out the best in people.

–Walker Mackay

Westwater Canyon: Whitewater Rafting Through the Wild West

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Few places match the rugged landscape of Westwater Canyon of the Colorado River. Combine the geologic record of exposed rock, the history of refuge for outlaws, the abundance of wildlife, the hidden gems of side-canyon exploration, Native American petroglyph panels, the wild rapids deep in the gorge, and its easy to see why National Geographic lists Westwater Canyon as one of the best river trips in the West. Whether you have one day or three, Westwater provides a wilderness experience just an hour and a half away from Moab, Utah.

Less than a mile below the ranger station, red walls of Entrada Sandstone capped with the Morrison Formation rise from the water and form a perch for Bald Eagles as we float by below. Within a few miles the canyon begins to narrow as sedimentary layers of rock rise up. Kayenta Formation on top of Wingate Sandstone on top of the Chinle Formation. Around the bend is where miners in the early 1900’s built a dugout cabin- roof still in tact. Littered around the entrance are remnants of their failed attempt to extract.

Across the river the first signs emerge of 1.7 billion year old proterozoic rocks made up of black metamorphic schist and gneiss. A similar sequence of rock found in the bottom of the Grand Canyon’s inner gorge, but in Westwater Canyon, the “Great Unconformity” or missing rock sequence is much older than the Grand Canyon. Here, 1.5 billion years of deposition has been eroded before the Chinle Formation was deposited 208 million years ago.


We begin our descent into the canyon where walls rise to 1,200 feet above. Small riffles form as the walls close in. At Little Hole Canyon on the right, a hike presents itself through a variety of Great Basin Desert flora and fauna. After a mile and a half and at the base of the Wingate cliff a petroglyph panel of big horn ship can be found, as if navigating their way up through a weakness in the canyon wall. The artists were Ancestral Puebloans who left this area roughly 700 years ago.


Another mile down the river and we get to my favorite camp, near the mouth of the Little Delores River. We are right above the back-to-back big rapids, and the sound of Little Delores Rapid can be heard. From here, it is possible to hike up the Little Delores River where a waterfall forms during spring run-off, or after a rainstorm. When it is dry, we hike up a steep trail to gain a view of the river below, and to see another panel of petroglyphs, these most likely from Ute Indians who came through much later than the Ancestral Puebloans.


After the rapid at Little Delores there is a small cave on the left, with black soot coating the roof. Inside, two crude beds sag on top of rough-cut timber, and artifacts lie scattered around the stone floor. Some people say this outlaw hideout was refuge for counterfeiting brothers escaping the authorities in Grand Junction. Others claim this cave to be where Butch Cassidy laid low for the law to lose their trail. One thing is for certain. When Bert Loper and Ellsworth Kolb became the first to navigate this section of river by canoe in 1916, very few non-Native Americans had ventured into this rugged corridor.

On to the splashy waves of Marble Canyon Rapid, and rolling haystacks of Staircase Rapid. Next is Big Hummer, where a mound of water builds over boulders below the surface, and exits into a series of fun waves. Then comes Funnel Falls. At lower water levels Funnel feels like a waterfall, chuting through rocks below the horizon. At higher water, the Five-0 wave forms a big standing wave that feels like a roller coaster.


Through Surprise Rapid and Son of Surprise Rapid- both always bigger than they appear from above- and we come to the most infamous rapid of the canyon, Skull Rapid. Here, there is a critical move to the left to make, as most of the water plows into the Rock of Shock and either goes downstream or into an eddy carved into the cliff wall called the Room of Doom. This is the crux of the canyon, a class IV rapid at higher water. Just a few rapids remain, but the ride will be wild.


Rowing through Bowling Alley Rapid we approach Sock-it-to-me Rapid, my favorite. A few years ago I took my grandmother down the river, in her early 80’s. As we entered the rapid we accelerated, then stalled as the big curling wave stood the boat straight up in the air. Grandma emerged soaking wet and giggling, with a big smile on her face. She told me she hadn’t had that much fun in years!

On to Last Chance Rapid, we avoid the big domer in the center, and the river becomes peaceful again. The landscape begins to open, and the cliff swallows return to dart across the surface of the water, hunting for food. Not far is where the one and two day trip ends.




On the three-day trip, we meander through ten miles of mild water and enter Post Card Alley. This is a great place to capture photographs in the early evening glow of the Fisher Towers in the Professor Valley. Onion Creek is the first choice for camp, with good hiking and great views in the fading light. We camp under big cottonwood trees and spend our evening on one of the biggest beaches of this stretch.



The trip finishes with small splashy waves and incredible views as we pass Castle Valley and drop back into another canyon corridor. We have traveled just over 50 miles of river in three days, told stories, camped on the beach, and ran some really exciting whitewater. For those who haven’t experienced the awesome adventure of Westwater Canyon, don’t let another river season float by.



Last Minute Trip to Grand Canyon

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April 15-17 Grand Canyon trip still available!!

In the ideal world everyone would have the time to participate in a Grand Canyon trip that covers every bend, rapid, and side canyon hike. Unfortunately this world is not ideal, and not everyone enjoys camping for 7,8, 13, or more days that is necessary to see the entire canyon. This is where the short trip often referred to as the “Grand Canyon Ranch and Raft” or “Grand Canyon Multi-Sport” comes in.

Easy Logistics?

Yes, all inclusive from Las Vegas.

Scenic Flight?

Yes, Las Vegas to the Bar 10 Ranch on the North Rim right over the lower portion of the Grand Canyon.

A day at a working ranch?

Yes, horseback riding, skeet shooting, and hiking are some of the activities available at the Bar 10 Ranch. The crew at the ranch puts on a great variety show for nightly entertainment, and accommodation options include a covered wagon.

Helicopter Ride?

Yes, right to the bottom of the Grand Canyon where our rafts will be patiently waiting.

What about the rafting?

Although it is true that the biggest rapids are upstream, this section still holds 6 or 7 formidable rapids, great views and some nice hiking opportunities. It is a really nice introduction to rafting the Grand Canyon. The one night camping is done on a sandbar along the Colorado River.

Anything Else?

After lunch the last day you will board a Jet Boat and speed off the upper sections of Lake Mead that have flooded the lower Grand Canyon. Motor Coach transportation is provided back to Las Vegas.

How Long is this trip?

Our rowing/paddle trips are 4 days long. The Motorized option can be completed in 3-days. For pricing and dates please visit

Walk Through Time, in Blacktail Canyon

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I was in Blacktail Canyon, 120 miles below Lee’s Ferry in Grand Canyon when I first heard the “Walk Through Time”. I was on a river trip with legendary senior guide Matt Herman, as he put things into perspective for our guests. Blacktail Canyon is an extraordinary place to witness the depth of geologic time, along with the processes that create these most impressive canyons. Matt started at a big rock in the channel, not too far from the mouth, and started pacing out each step of Earth’s development from the beginning to now. The most impressing thing was walking through the rock layers of the Grand and ending with human existence as just a infinitesimal part of Earth’s journey. I told Walker Mackay about the “Walk Through Time”, and it reminded him of a book he read by William H. Calvin called “The River That Flows Uphill”. There, I found what sounded similar to what Matt had presented to us that day. Here is a summery;

Very few places exposed on Earth’s crust reveal the depth of the geologic record revealed in Grand Canyon. If you were to pace out Earth’s existence in its entirety (with each step representing 100 million years) it would take you 46 steps to bring us to today. It would take 6 steps to represent the time it took for the atmosphere to accumulate and 3 more steps for the surface to cool enough for the oldest rocks to form from the original crust. At 11 steps from our starting point, the very first cells develop. Over the next 5 steps, stromatolites emerge, and the foundation of the continents formed through lava flows. Now at 16 steps, the crust is able to support deposition of sedimentary and igneous flows and land mass grows while mountain building begins. Bacteria evolves to photosynthesize at 21 steps, and 3 steps later the Earth enters the first ice age. Two steps further the ice age ends and fungi shows up, and 2 steps again represents the accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere and we reach an important place on our timeline.

Two thirds of the way into our journey and the schist which is seen in the walls of the Grand Canyon first forms. (This is the black rock at the bottom of Blacktail Canyon, and which through, at river level, we ran the Inner Gorge). In 5 more steps the supercell evolves and sedimentary layers of rock get bucked up to form the Appalachian Mountains. Boom! 36 steps in and our world gets rocked upside down. Sex is discovered and cells are able to replicate. Colonies of cells explode and life takes off. 3 steps to jellyfish. 1 more for the Cambrian Explosion. In a single step, vertebrates. (And this is where the Tapeats Sea bordered this area, and deposited the sands of this stone now above us, also called Tapeats.) Another step, land plants and spiders. Half a step for reptiles and a hiccup for the Permian Extinction. Then birds emerge and dinosaurs rule. At 45 steps in (while the leg is swinging into the final step), dinosaurs go extinct, mammals take over, apes evolve and ice ages oscillate. When that foot plants and comes to a stop, human existence would be represented by the portion of the toe nail you could clip off. Ancient civilizations. John Wesley Powell. The Bureau of Reclamation. Edward Abbey. Hayuke..


Matt’s presentation was on point, and people were impressed. By this time on our trip, we had gone nearly half-way through the canyon. We had watched as the walls rose up, layer after layer and oscillated up and down as the river cut through. Seeing the rock go from several hundred million years old and jumping to almost 2 billion years old as it does in Blacktail makes it hard to put into perspective how this relates to our personal sense of time. The first few day of a river trip seem to go in slow motion. Then, something strange happens. The days just fly by and what happened yesterday seems to blend into what happened the day before. To fully grasp what one is feeling and experiencing on a river trip is really difficult to explain in words. To understand how our lives compare to the deep geological time represented here is nearly as difficult as understanding our place in the cosmos. Very few places but the Colorado River can provide this perspective. Beyond the rapids, the waterfalls and beaches, sometimes it is the intangible discoveries that make a river trip a life-changing event.


Ten Tips to Pack Like a Pro for Your Next Desert River Expedition

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Choosing what to bring on a commercial river trip can be a daunting task. With all the variables to consider – weather, hiking, camp routine, hygiene, photography – it’s easy for your dry bag to become a back-breaking, black hole of, as Edward Abbey put it, “all that bloody gear!” If you’re planning a river trip in the desert this summer, here are ten tips to help simplify your stuff, streamline your dry bag and leave you with exactly what you’ll need.

 #1 Leave Half at Home

Keep in mind that you may have to schlep all your gear up a sandy dune or across a beach. You are going to have to dig through it to find what you need (which is inevitably at the bottom) and pack it all up everyday. Having less in the first place simplifies your routine and allows you more freedom to leisurely sip your morning coffee, quietly listen to the sound of a rapid or chat around the campfire at night.

Before ever leaving your house, lay out all you think you’ll need and cull it by half. This principal applies especially to clothing, but is useful for electronics, books, magazines and anything else you can live without while in the canyons. Fabrics that are lightweight, versatile and dry quickly should make the cut, providing you with a clean outfit every other day or so. Transfer toiletries into smaller bottles, pick just one book or make photocopies of articles you’d like to read.

And don’t worry; everyone else is going to be dirty, sweaty and smiling in their twice-worn t-shirts too!

#2 Know When to Splurge

It can be tough to decide what to buy new and what to make do with when packing for the wilderness. Outdoor gear is expensive and its hard to know what you will end up using the most once you’re on the trip. If you’re going to splurge on one new piece of gear for a desert river trip, think about investing in high quality, durable, comfortable water shoes or sandals. You will be wearing them all day everyday. If your footwear is good and comfortable, you won’t think twice about jumping on and off the boat and taking a short water hike. If they’re uncomfortable or low quality, your shoes might last a day or two before we inevitably have to dig out the duct tape and super glue to limp them through the rest of the trip. Nothing is more annoying than staggering along a trail with the partially-attached sole of your shoe flopping against the ground with each step, threatening to blow out all together at any second.

Check with your local outdoor store, read reviews and contact our office for recommendations about quality footwear.

#3 Plan for the Sun


You will likely be in the sun from the time it rises until the time it sets each day. We recommend covering up us as much as possible in addition to wearing high SPF sunscreen. Even if you love the sun, never wear a hat or don’t own a pair of sunglasses in your regular life, bring the tools you’ll need to escape the sun on your river trip. We suspect there will be a time when you’ll use them. You will see your guides wearing long-sleeve shirts, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, ample sunblock and using pants or a piece of fabric to cover their legs and feet. We even have a guide who wears socks on especially sunny days!

The desert sun is wonderfully warm and life giving at the same time it is unrelenting and intense. As much as you can, be prepared.

#4 Consider Items that Have Multiple Uses

Can your fleece jacket be used as a pillow? Can your towel double a sun protection? Can you share a piece of gear with your spouse? As mentioned earlier, you are going to be happier with less, so how about pants that zip into shorts, skirts that double as a dress, and, never to be underestimated, a light top-sheet/sarong/ piece of fabric that can be used for just about anything.

I’ve seen sarongs worn as clothing, used as a towel, sunshade, wind block, dressing room, picnic blanket, nap station, head cover, backpack and lightweight bedding on a hot desert night filled with stars.

#5 Remember Lotions and Potions

I can’t tell you how many people underestimate how dry the desert Southwest is. It is really dry! And you will be too. During the day, employ the benefits of a high SPF sunscreen as mentioned above. River guides don’t splurge on much but we get the good stuff when it comes to sunscreen. Anything less than SPF 30 is not going be much help to you. In addition, bring a small container of thick moisturizing cream or lotion for the inevitable drying out of lips, heels, chin – yes chin! – backs of hands and other exposed places. You’ll certainly notice the desert’s toll after a long day on the river and you’ll wish for some relief.

Sunscreen and plenty of water are your best friends to combat dryness during the day. Reparative cream and more water are your arsenal at camp.

#6 Be Prepared for Wet Weather


There’s no need to bring your ski coat, but when culling your gear make sure a rain jacket and one warm layer make the final cut. Packing for the weather depends a lot on when you’ll be river tripping, but it’s always a good idea to have basic protection with you. After all, we are heading into wild country here! I have seen snow in Desolation Canyon in June, worn my raincoat against blowing sand in the Grand Canyon in July and been caught in many-a-drenching monsoon. The good news is that most of this crazy weather does not last long, but it does come up, so please bring the gear needed to combat it.

Even in July, a raincoat can be a much-appreciated splashguard for running early-morning rapids.

#7 Nothing Sacred

It is a good idea to leave your brand new smart phone – the one that holds all of your business contacts and photos of your children, that you’ve really been meaning to back up for months but haven’t quite gotten around to – at home or safely locked up at your hotel. We can tell you from experience that a lot can possibly happen to your expensive electronics and irreplaceables on a river tip: like sand, just to mention just one nuisance. Try not to wear your grandmother’s antique diamond stud earrings. It is a real downer to find one missing after a blissful afternoon of play in the Little Colorado River.

It happens, and it’s sad when it does.

#8 How Long is your Battery Life?

Almost universally we hear our guests lament the life of their camera batteries, saying they don’t last nearly as long as they’d expected, likely because they didn’t anticipate taking SO MANY photographs. This might be one area of packing where overestimation is slightly, and only slightly, encouraged. How much storage space do you have for photos? How many fresh batteries are you planning to bring?

There is no recharging once we’re off and floating, so make sure you plan accordingly. Batteries and memory cards are small and pack easily into the bottom of your dry bag. If you are a passionate shutterbug and would be devastated not to capture the canyons through your lens each day, bring ample power and storage to do so.

At the same time, don’t forget how relaxing it can be to put your camera down and solidify the memories of your trip the old fashioned way.

#9 Treat Yourself

Bring one set of clothing to keep clean-ish. Maybe you put your special clean shirt on at camp at night or just before you’re headed back to civilization at the end of the trip? If you’ve packed sparingly, a clean set of clothing feels like a real luxury. I wear my sweaty clothes all day and change into something cool and clean just before dinner each night. Some guides I know clean up just before they hop into their sleeping bag. Many of our guests reserve one t-shirt for the shuttle ride back to Las Vegas or Moab. It feels, good – really good – and is a simple treat you’ll want to give yourself at some point during your trip.

#10 Don’t Forget the Flare!


River runners, guides and guests alike, are a jovial bunch. We’re not sure if it is our nature or a mild form of heatstroke, but we like to dress up and goof around. And, as always, all are welcome to join us. If that sounds like something you might be interested in, stash something small that denotes celebration or makes you feel good – a piece of flare – in your dry bag. When you waltz into the chair circle wearing a tuxedo t-shirt or a feather boa, the echoing sound of camp-wide applause will make you glad you did.

CRATE passengers receive an itemized packing list specific to their trip, with details about exactly what they’ll need to bring. Use our list, call our office and keep these ten tips in mind while gathering your gear, and you’re sure to get the most out of your desert river expedition!

We want to hear from you! In the comments below, tell us what gear you wish you’d had on your river trip? What didn’t you need? What tips do you have for those taking a trip in the future?

Long Term Environmental Monitoring Plan for Grand Canyon

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Public Meeting February 26th, Salt Lake City Utah

Ever been on a river trip down the Grand Canyon and noticed “the tides” of the Colorado River nearly doubling, and then cut by almost half each day? The Long Term Environmental Monitoring Plan (LTEMP) is well underway and will open for public input in April-May of 2015. From February 25-27th, the Adaptive Management Work Group (AMWG) will meet to discuss the alternatives for the next flow regime. The meeting will be held at the Red Lion in downtown Salt Lake City, and is open to the public. Thursday the 26th will be dedicated to the LTEMP, from 9:00-3:00. Click here for the schedule. Read on to learn why it is important to attend.

Water is the lifeblood of the Grand Canyon. It is the Colorado River and its awesome downcutting power that has revealed 1.8 billion years of geologic record below and between the rims, and transported all that material out to sea. While the Colorado has been at work for the last 6 million years, all natural processes in the riparian zone of the canyon were altered in 1963 when the gates of Glen Canyon Dam were shut. In the blink of an eye –of geologic time- the flow of nutrients and sediment changed, and seasonal fluctuations of water were released each 24-hour period and stripped the canyon of beaches and habitat. A young scientist named David Wegner began to study the effects of the post dam ecosystem. It was his work that led to the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992 that stated that Glen Canyon Dam operation could not adversely affect downstream resources. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was conducted, and in 1996 the Record of Decision (ROD) was signed that implemented the Modified Low Fluctuating Flow (MLFF), which continues to dictate canyon flows today.

While the MLFF was a huge improvement to protecting and improving the ecology of the river system, today’s fluctuating flows still swing water levels by up to 80% daily. High Flow Experiments (HFE) were implemented and effectively redistribute and rebuild beaches, but the daily fluctuations continue to erode the sand. After the last 3 HFE’s, I have witnessed the river swirl brown when fluctuations spike for peak power on June 1st, with new beaches washed downstream. Two steps forward, 1 ½ steps back.. Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) who distributes hydropower from Glen Canyon Dam ramps up in peak winter and summer months to meet the power demands of heating and cooling in the desert Southwest. Over the last 3 years, the flow regime has been reevaluated, and today we have an opportunity to improve the environment of Grand Canyon over the next 20 years.

Over $120 million has been spent on science down there so far, but the decision on how to release the water between stakeholders is still unclear. Out of 6 alternatives listed, the Hybrid alternative has emerged as a combination of alternatives supported by the National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, basin states and WAPA.

As a board member for Grand Canyon River Guides, I got the opportunity to sit down and meet with Lynn Jenka, an accountant for WAPA and the manager of the Colorado River Storage Project, and Shane Caprone, a Wildlife Biologist with WAPA. Here are some key points I learned in the meeting about the Hybrid alternative, water flows, sediment transportation, and WAPA’s internal workings:

  • The Hybrid alternative currently has 24 HFEs scheduled over a 20-year period to help rebuild and maintain beaches for camping and habitat for native fish. These yearly floods are conducted when there has been a heavy sediment input from the Paria River, usually at the end of the monsoon season. The HFEs are also good for the native plants in the riparian zone, as the water can wash out non-native species. The potential length of these floods has been expanded from 96 hours of high flow- to 250 hours- given that conditions are ripe for longer high flows to most effectively distribute the sand.
  • WAPA claims that the carbon cost of allowing water through the bypass tunnels during the HFE’s over the 20-year period will be 1.7 billion pounds of CO2 released into the atmosphere. This figure was calculated by a member of the Salt River Project and assumes that the water not moving through the turbines will necessitate the equal amount of power generated through coal burning power plants. This raised a lot of questions among board members at the meeting, who felt that this calculation didn’t account for opportunities to offset potential hydropower with renewable energies- and the decreasing costs of solar power production. It also doesn’t consider conservation, where power users could use less energy.
  • Within the Hybrid, fluctuations will continue to rise and fall by 8,000 cfs. But Shane Caprone explained to us that it isn’t the fluctuations that are eroding the beaches, it is the total monthly volume of water released that is devastating to the beaches. While flows below 12,000 c.f.s are found to have minimal erosional capabilities, flows above 12,000 erode sand at an exponential rate, to the 3rd The Hybrid as currently discussed, evens out the monthly spikes of water flow throughout the year. This plan will retain 70 metric tons of sediment more than the existing MLFF.                               Discussion/ questions for the upcoming meeting:
  • HFEs are crucial to rebuild beaches and maintain habitat in Grand Canyon. Will the biased/skewed statistic relating to carbon emissions lead to less HFEs? Turbines could be built in the bypass tunnels for a cost between $20-30 million. How long would it take to pay off this cost?
  • Do we really need to continue fluctuating flows by up to 80%? In our meeting, WAPA representatives told us that the price paid for power generated by Glen Canyon Dam is the same for peak and off-peak production. How much more sediment could we retain if fluctuations were maxed at 4,000 c.f.s? Foreshadowing a last-minute move to increase fluctuations even more, Shane told us that fluctuation swings of 10,000 or 12,000 wouldn’t erode much more sand. What are the ecological impacts of fluctuating the Colorado by 120%? Certainly it would have negative impacts on river trips, with boats getting beached at camp, and lower flows at the bottom end of fluctuations to navigate the river.

So what can we do to ensure the right decision is made? Come to the meeting at the Red Lion, Thursday February 26th starting at 8:00 AM. Make a public comment by emailing Glen Knowles at least 5 days before the meeting at, and state that HFEs should be priority, and fluctuations should be kept to a minimum. Sign up for email notifications for when the draft EIS opens for public input in April/May. Power production was only a secondary thought after Glen Canyon Dam was built. There is only one Grand Canyon. We need to do what we can to protect the natural wonders of the world.


Colorado River Dory and Music Trip–July 5-16, 2015

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Colorado River & Trail Expeditions will be running a Dory and Music trip July 5-16, 2015 through Utah’s Canyonlands.  The trip will start at Loma, Colorado near the Utah/Colorado stateline.  The trip will follow the Colorado River through Ruby, Horsethief, Westwater, and Cataract Canyons before ending at the headwaters of Lake Powell.  The trip will be hosted by boat builder and musician Andy Hutchinson; and famous historian, author, and boat builder Brad Dimock.  This should be the perfect trip for those who have always wanted to experience the Colorado River above the Grand Canyon in the sleek style and feel of a Dory.  In addition to the rapids and river scenery, the schedule should allow for plenty of time for off-river hiking and exploration.  Camp time will be filled with stories, history, music, and campfires.  The trip is priced at $2995.00/person with round trip transportation provided from Green River, UT.  Below is a rough itinerary for the trip.  As of today there are 8 spaces available.

A Land of Rock

A Land of Rock

Day 1:

We will get an early start and drive from Green River, Utah to Loma, Colorado where we will be fitted with life jackets, given a safety orientation, and introduced to the guides. Shortly after we will push off on the mighty Colorado River.  Right away we will be in Horsethief Canyon.  Camp will be set up at Mee Corner.

Day 2:

We will leave Horsethief Canyon and then enter Ruby Canyon.  Camp will be set-up in the Black Rocks section.

Day 3:

Around lunchtime we will say our goodbyes to our Adventure Bound guide and support raft.  The first few miles after lunch will be spent floating through big cottonwood groves and sandstone outcroppings teaming with an array of birds including Bald Eagles.  Then suddenly the Wingate sandstone walls become high and the black rock of the metamorphic complex starts to reach its fingers out of the river.  Westwater Canyon is one of the most beautiful sections of the Colorado River.  After a short hike to the abandoned Miner’s Cabin, and running a few small rapids, camp will be set up near the Little Dolores River.


Scouting the Big Drops

Day 4:

Today will be one of the most exciting whitewater days of the river trip.  The fun and exciting class III-IV rapids of Westwater Canyon will come one after another.  Some of the bigger rapids include: Funnel Falls, Skull Rapid, and Sock-It-To-Me.  After the river exits Westwater Canyon it will mellow out again and the river banks once again will be filled with large cottonwood groves and sandstone outcroppings.  Camp will be set up near Fish Ford and we will hopefully do a nice hike to a big view.

Day 5:

Today brings us into the upper section of the Moab Daily and past the Cutler Sandstone Fisher Towers.  Views of sandstone spires, pinnacles, and buttes will be framed by the laccolithic La Sal mountains from our camp along the rapids of Onion Creek.

Day 6:

After a nice early start, we will maneuver our way through the last few rapids of the Moab Daily section of the Colorado River.  Sometime before lunchtime a motorized raft will meet up with us and motor us through 30 miles of flat water.  Garbage and recycling will be exchanged for new food and drink.  We will float past the Salt Valley known as Moab, through the Portal, and into Canyonlands National Park.

Dory in Rapids

Dory in Rapids

Day 7:

In the morning we will take a short hike amongst the ruins and pictographs of the Ancestral Puebloan site at Lathrop Canyon.  Then we will get back on the boats and float toward Indian Creek.  Indian Creek offers more opportunities for hiking and ruins as well as a nice camping opportunity.

Day 8:

The river makes a large gooseneck, and at the narrowest part, a short steep hike affords some spectacular views and the opportunity to meet the boats on the other side. Along the hike are ancient petroglyphs.  In the afternoon the Colorado River will meet the Green River.  The confluence of these two rivers is often referred to as the “Center of the Universe” amongst rafters.

Day 9:

A Layover Day!!  Relax and Read, or Hike up to the Dolls House of the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park.  Pack a lunch.  Great Geology!  Great Views!  Great Hike!

Dories lined up at camp

Dories lined up at camp

Day 10:

Rapids! Today we will run the first 20 rapids of Cataract Canyon.  The rapids will start small and gradually increase in size.  Camp will be set up at the top of the famous Big Drop Rapids.

Day 11:

The Biggest Rapids of the Trip!  Today we will run the series of rapids known as the Big Drops.  The Big Drops in Cataract Canyon are always very technical and at high water are the biggest rapids in North America.  In July they should be a little more tame, but still very exciting.  After the Big Drops, we will see the effects of a 15-year prolonged drought, as some rapids that have been buried under the water of Lake Powell for the last 30 years have re-emerged recently.  These include a long rocky rapid at the head of Waterhole Canyon.  In the afternoon we may have time to hike into Dark Canyon.

Day 12:

After an early start, we will reflect on our incredible journey over the past 12 days.  The trip will end at North Wash and transportation will be provided back to Green River.

Brad Dimock author of "Sunk WIth Out a Sound" and "The Doing of the Thing"

Brad Dimock author of “Sunk With Out a Sound” and “The Doing of the Thing”

Lineage of Grand Canyon Boatman

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It is easy to see why working for Colorado River and Trail Expeditions is an ideal place to work. We are a family, where past and present crew members are all a part of that legacy. As current guides, we hear stories about the first generation boatman, the second generation and the third. We know these guides like brothers and sisters even if we have never met them in person. Most of our guides are related to someone who worked for CRATE in the early years, Mother, Uncle, Cousin, or fell into the family through close family friendship. What Dave and Vicki Mackay have created is a lineage of people connected through their love and passion of the rivers we run.

To lay out the family tree of each boatman would be an entire book in itself. Here I would like to highlight two different 3 generation boating families, the Quayles and the Reeders.

Amil Quayle started working for Western River Expeditions in the 1960’s and soon found himself working side by side with Dave Mackay. My Grandpa Grant Reeder signed up as a passenger on some of these early Western trips with Jack Curry, Amil and Dave, and soon became a regular. After a few trips, Grant accepted the opportunity to row the second set of oars on the 33 foot-long double-oar rigs. The video link above is a 8mm film of two different river trips, 1965 and 1966 in Grand Canyon, trips that included Dave, Amil and Grant. It was in Lava Falls on one of these trips that another boatman flipped. A passenger on the flipped boat was dealt a bleeding head laceration and the trip stopped at Tequila Beach to figure out what to do. More than 40 years later, on a Desolation Canyon river trip, Amil recalls that day. He said that as a Doctor, Grant decided that stitching up the man’s head was the best solution. “I was so mad!” recalls Amil. “It should never take 3 hours to give someone stitches! We still had miles to make that day”. I laughed when hearing this story. Grant was an Anesthesiologist, and probably didn’t have much practice at stitching someone up. I could just picture him, being overly paranoid while trying to keep the wound sterile in that environment.

In the early 70’s Dave and Amil split off to start their own companies, Colorado River and Trail Expeditions and Quayle Expeditions, respectively. Amil’s sons Bruce and Manx fell in love with the river and started guiding when they were old enough. Grant’s sons Stuart and Mark guided for Dave’s company. While Quayle Expeditions lasted only a few seasons before Amil chose to go work the land, farming in Nebraska, his sons where drawn to spend as much time in the canyons as possible. Bruce Quayle and Stuart Reeder have continued to run trips all these years.

Manx told me about a trip he was on with my uncle Mark. It was 1983 and nobody had seen that much water running down the Canyon since Glen Canyon dam was completed in 1963. Manx said that it was Mark’s first trip with clients on his boat and Lava was cranking. “Mark had a wild ride, down the left side”, he said. “But he managed to get through staying upright”.

My uncles Bruce and Russell had short stints on the river. Russell met Holly- who was Vicki’s niece- on a Grand Canyon river trip. At 17 years old, the two fell instantly in love and got married. My cousin Zak was soon born to the young husband and wife, and began guiding for CRATE while still a teenager. Zak became a senior guide in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s, dedicating 17 years to Colorado River and Trail. At the end of the 2007 river season it was Zak who convinced me to leave my job guiding in Moab to join the CRATE family.

In 2008 Manx’s daughter Kyndl Quayle started guiding for Colorado River and Trail Expeditions. Same year as me. She had been down the river before, and found a natural knack for reading water, rowing boats, and motoring S-rigs. Don’t know where she got it…but she continues the legacy, building her own stories to tell. Leading trips, rowing, paddling and motoring she has been a key part of the CRATE crew.

One of my favorite parts of taking people down the river is telling stories about the ancestors. Because nobody has a knack for words as Amil does, I like to read from his book of poetry, Grand Canyon and Other Selected Poems. People love to hear his poems about Shorty Burton, Tater- the Invincible Dachshund, and about Shawn from poetry class. When I read the poem Grand Canyon, many people tell me that Amil puts to words what they feel in the Canyon, but cannot describe. I love to tell people about a trip my dad, uncle Stuart and Grandpa did in 1969. They were at Lee’s Ferry on the 4th of July and Grant threw a string of firecrackers into the fire to celebrate. They where quickly reprimanded by park rangers, who informed them that launching the next day was Secretary of Interior Stuart Udall and Superintendents of the major National Parks to celebrate John Wesley Powell in a century memorial trip. Grant felt bad and apologized to a park ranger on the water a few days later. The ranger just laughed, and said, “I didn’t care, I thought it was funnier than hell!” Turned out to be Edward Abbey, who came from Arches to join the trip.

I feel very lucky to be a part of this crew, this family. Together our own stories grow. And even though the facts become blurred from one season to the next, the stories season, and get better and better. If you haven’t joined us to share your story around the chair circle at night, there’s no time like the 2015 season.

The best part is that anyone who has been down the river with us- is part of that family. Especially those Friends of CRATE who have been down on multiple trips with us. What a pleasure it is to see old friends and return to the conversations we left from the last time we went downstream together. For those who are not part of the family yet, you have an open invitation.

indian creek falls

Congratulations to our Photography Contest Winners

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With gratitude to all the friends and guests who entered, we are proud to announce that Anton Foltin of Phoenix, AZ is the grand prize winner of the second annual Colorado River and Trail Expeditions photo contest! In addition, Libeth Saenger of Aachen, Germany swept all three people’s choice categories.

Anton’s winning image of Havasu Creek was taken during our 10-day photography workshop trip in the Grand Canyon in May of last year. Libeth captured her popular shots in August on our 12-day Alsek River expedition in Canada and Alaska. For their efforts, Anton will receive a complimentary 8-day Grand Canyon river trip this summer and Libeth will have her choice of our Utah trips. Cheers to our winners and their keen eye for photography!

Havasu Creek, 2015 Photo Contest Winner

Anton Foltin‘s 2015 grand prize-winning photograph. Late afternoon light plays on the blue water of Havasu Creek. Grand Canyon NP, AZ.

Next year, the winner could be YOU!

CRATE’s photo contest begins with our rafting seasons each April and is ongoing throughout the summer. Participants on our trips are encouraged to upload a total of ten of their favorite images to share at, and can specify six to be entered into our contest. We offer three categories in which our guests can showcase their talents – “Scenery”, “Guides and Guests”, and “The River” – as well as two ways to win.

The people’s choice winners are the most popular photos in each category. We track the ones that are shared the most and receive the greatest number of “likes” on social media. This year Libeth swept all three categories, but we have room for three photos and three winners here.

 Libeth Saenger’s winning photo in the “scenery” category. Sweeping vista of Lowell Glacier and Lowell Lake, with peaks of the Wrangell-St. Elias Range beyond, taken from the top of Goatherd Mountain. Alsek River, Yukon Territory, Canada.

Libeth Saenger’s winning photo in the “scenery” category. Sweeping vista of Lowell Glacier and Lowell Lake, with peaks of the Wrangell-St. Elias Range beyond, taken from the top of Goatherd Mountain. Alsek River, Yukon Territory, Canada.

The grand prize image is chosen from the total pool of entries by an expert in the realms of river running and photography. This year’s judge was landscape photographer Tom Till, who – in the name of full disclosure – is also my dad. As a professional photographer, he has spent the last 40 years photographing around the world but concentrating on the Southwestern US. During that time he has logged many hours on the river, both as a boatman and a photographer. His gallery in downtown Moab, UT and his website,, showcase his iconic images of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon and Canyonlands, as well as images from around the globe. I can say, with only a hint of bias, that he really knows his stuff.

When asked why he chose Anton’s image, Tom said,

“Picking this photo was a tough decision. There were five or six in my final running and any of them could have won. I chose Anton’s for the emotional response it evokes. Many of the photos were very technically sound, so I tend to go with photos that are something I haven’t seen before or take new twist on the landscape. Also, very few pictures capture the true color of the water in Havasu as closely as this one does. The composition is nicely balanced, with a beautiful waterfall and the afternoon reflective light on the walls and in the creek. It’s very close to how I know Havasu to look in reality.”

We are currently finalizing the entry process and prizes for our 2015 photo contest so look for more information here, as well as on our website, about how you can participate this summer.

We want to see the canyon through the diverse and talented eyes of our guests, and share the images of the places we love with fellow river runners. Any and all photos that showcase the beauty, excitement, camaraderie, serenity and awe of a river trip are welcome. The more participants and images the better!

To see the remainder of Libeth’s winning photos along with the rest of the incredible entries we received in 2014, visit and click on the “photos” tab at the top of the page.


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