Our first swell was imminent. Anticipation built like the slow click toward the most dramatic plunge on a rollercoaster, an exciting approach that you knew would lead to big thrills. I could hear the rapid’s roar before I saw it.
I braced for the Diamond Creek Rapids. Helmet on? Check. Life jacket tightened? Yes. I glanced at my husband, Jacob, whose mustache slightly obscured a nervous smile. We were ready as we’d ever be!
Suddenly, our sky-blue whitewater raft plunged into the waves ahead as my companions and I hollered and whooped and rowed furiously through our first gush of icy rapids. The shock at the temperature of the water was energizing, and we paddled through swells and additional dunks, each of us on the raft working as a team.
Jacob and I have hiked the Grand Canyon twice so far—once on the Bright Angel Trail, and once more on a trek to Havasupai. All in all, we’d covered nearly 40 miles, an accomplishment to be proud of. But, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and more than a mile deep. That’s a lot of ground left uncovered.
Images of rafting down the Colorado River tempted us to explore further. Over and over again we’d read that whitewater rafting was an experience like no other—a way to view parts of the Grand Canyon that you’d otherwise be unable to.
Jacob and I arranged our trip through Grand Canyon West and Hualapai River Runners. The two-day option was perfect for our limited time off.
Within 48 hours, we would paddle through whitewater rapids, hike to Travertine Cavern Falls, sleep under the stars in Spencer Canyon, learn history, helicopter out of the Grand Canyon and then walk above it on the Grand Canyon Skywalk.
With the first rush of Diamond Creek Rapids swiftly tackled, our group quickly prepared for the following moments of sheer exhilaration. Drenched and laughing, we roared as our guide shouted, “Paddle! Paddle!” into the next stretches of tumbling water.
We conquered rapids that ranged from Class III to Class VII. We yelled every time a shower of cold water crashed onto us. We smiled so much that our cheeks hurt.
Our group, just this morning a mere collection of individuals, had become a supportive pack with pounding hearts. Our raft bounced along chocolate milk rapids, which reminded me of the river in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Our guide had us stop along an embankment and led us on a path I otherwise would have missed. Ahead lay a short trail beside streaming water, leading up to a dark cave. We hopped over small boulders until we came to a rope draped over a large boulder.
Jacob went up first, and I grasped on and pulled myself up. Next, we climbed a steeper ladder. Another rope. Another ladder. Until we came to the opening of the cave we saw from below, water streaming out of it.
Our group walked through the slot canyon—a rich red, with blue sky above and shallow water at our feet—until we reached the base of Travertine Cavern Falls tumbling over the rocks above.
This waterfall is fed by natural springs, with a pool beneath for our group to pose in, in front of the waterfall (unless you’re Jacob and me, who stood underneath it for our photo—adding to the waterlog from the Colorado River).
Our group next stopped at the evening’s campsite: Spencer Canyon. As we set up tents, Jacob and I chatted and recapped the fun we were having so far.
Each trip that we had taken down the Grand Canyon had been different—new sights, new sounds. This rafting trip with Hualapai River Runners, however, was the first time Jacob and I felt like we were exploring entirely new territory. Not just new to us, but unspoiled wilderness.
When our group wasn’t diving into rapids or hiking into waterfall-filled caves, there were moments for reflection on all that Mother Nature had accomplished in the Grand Canyon before we arrived—6 million years of weaving through limestone, sandstone, shale, granite and schist to create layers of color, cliffs, buttes, caverns and arches.
Over a steak dinner that evening, our guide spoke about the history and culture of the Hualapai tribe, and how the Colorado River has been an important source of life for them and other Native American communities near the Grand Canyon. The river’s water supplied fish, supported agriculture and was an important part of their lifestyle.
“The river and environment are different now than they were back then,” our guide said. “But each journey among it is spectacular.”
We fell asleep under the stars dreaming of journeys past, present and future.
The first day of our trip was as rapid-filled as the second was calm. Motorized pontoon rafts chugged our group along the quiet waters as we admired our surroundings and listened to our guide tell more stories of the Hualapai people.
Jacob and I spotted caves deep in the rocks above us, looked out for wildlife and wondered how tall each spire we saw was—lauding even taller spires just beyond. We passed by buttresses and floated between walls in shades of ochre and crimson.
We heard a familiar rush. For a minute I thought I’d need to grab onto a paddle and brace myself, until I realized we had come to the end of our trip. A helicopter’s strumming blades waited on the shore of the river to take our group out of the Grand Canyon, a thrilling conclusion that elevated us skyward.
From above, it was even easier to see just how small our little group was in comparison with the canyon—an ant-sized, sky-blue raft embracing its every twist and turn.
“You two heading to the Skywalk?” one of our group members asked after we landed.
My eyes lit up remembering the grand finale to our Grand Canyon trip. Yet another new view was on the horizon. This was living.