By Katie Thurlow
I have been to the Grand Canyon a few times before, but I have never experienced it like this!
On Friday night we arrived at the Hualapai Lodge and were warmly greeted by staff waiting to check us in for our two-day rafting trip. We were pointed towards the pool and the lodge restaurant, which we could visit at our convenience, and provided with a dry bag for the rafting trip that was big enough for me to fit in! We opted to grab a bite at the restaurant and head to bed early as we had an early morning and long couple of days ahead of us.
The restaurant opened at 4AM so we made sure to start our day off right with some breakfast sandwiches. At 6AM the staff was waiting in the lobby to accept our dry bags to make sure that our gear and equipment got to the river safely.
At 7AM we hopped in the shuttle with our new rafting friends and started the drive to Diamond Creek. During the trip to the river our driver told us about stories of the tribal lands and shared some the history of the Hualapai people. The drive into the canyon was stunning and the further we descended into the canyon the more surreal the entire experience felt.
When we arrived at Diamond Creek we got the first look at our rafts and the river. We all gazed up at the towering walls of the canyon in awe. You couldn’t help but be reminded of how big the world is (and how small we really are).
one of the guys even exclaimed that his face hurt from smiling so much!
Soon after arriving at the beach we met our energetic and fun loving guide, Jamie. His energy was contagious and it was easy to see how much he loved being a guide. Jamie gave us a safety briefing and went over the basic principles of rafting. He welcomed eight of us into his raft and after listening to his engaging and fun instructions we were paddling as a team in no time at all.
Just like that, we were off! As the current began to sweep us out into the river I could feel the excitement rising in our raft. We didn’t have to wait long until we were in out first rapid. Everyone in our raft was cheering in anticipation as we saw it drawing near. We got the command from Jamie to “PADDLE” and we all began paddling like our lives depended on it. Our raft bounced and soared through the rapids and at times we couldn’t even reach our paddles into the water because we were so high up. After making it through to a calmer part of the river we all triumphantly threw our paddles up in the air in celebration, it was such a wonderful feeling.
Jamie explained that rapids in the Colorado River are rated differently than in most rivers. Most rapids are rated on a category one-through-five scale, but the Colorado River’s rankings go from one through ten. The rapids we ran ranged from a two all the way up to a seven! With a name like “Killer Fang Falls” you know it’s going to be a wild ride! We made multiple pit stops in various canyon areas during the trip including a stop at the Travertine Falls trail, which we hiked up and into the waterfall. We ran over ten rapids before the halfway point of the day. My fellow paddlers were all smiles after making it through the last few rapids and one of the guys even exclaimed that his face hurt from smiling so much!
We stopped on a sandy beach and the guides set up lunch for us. It consisted of make your own sandwiches, chips, fruit and cookies; just what we needed to refuel and get back on the water. When our stomachs were satisfied we all hopped on the powerboat and got to enjoy the spectacular scenery for the next 10 miles on the way to Spencer Canyon. Spencer Canyon is where the origin of the Hualapai story begins which was later explained to us by our knowledgeable guides.
We offloaded the boats and set up camp in this amazing canyon while staff prepared dinner. As the sun sank lower in the sky and started to disappear behind the canyon walls the sky turned from blue to orange. The sky was not the only thing that changed as the varied lighting brought out the vibrant colors of the canyon including the oranges, reds and purples of the geologic formations.
We all gathered around the center area of camp with the provided camping chairs and indulged on a steak dinner (cooked to order), mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and a salad. As if that wasn’t enough food the guides prepared a freshly baked chocolate cake with frosting! It was definitely the best meal I have ever had while camping. During dinner the guides told us stories of the canyon and of the Hualapai people who are the “People of the Tall Pines.”
After the sun had set the stars started to come out, you would be hard pressed to find a better place to see the stars in the United States. I was astonished as I watched the night sky light up. Even though we were exhausted from our long day in the sun, none of us wanted to go to bed.
Though we eventually fell asleep, we were later awoken to the immediately recognizable smell of bacon in the morning. That’s right, BACON! We were served breakfast burritos filled with as many eggs, sausage, bacon, cheese and potatoes as you could fit in your pre-warmed wrap with a side of freshly brewed COFFEE.
Once we had our fill, it was time to break down camp and hop back on the powerboat. After a short trip down part of the river we arrived at an area that we were allowed to walk up part of the canyon wall and go cliff jumping into the river. Most of the rafters opted to take the plunge (including my husband) and I got to witness an acrobatics display as they jumped and flipped into the rushing river below. It was a great experience and the perfect opportunity to cool off before the rest of the thirty-mile scenic ride down the river towards Quartermaster Canyon, where the helicopters were waiting to take us out of the canyon.
I had never been in a helicopter before, but this was a ride I will certainly not soon forget. The pilot welcomed us inside and within moments we were gliding over the canyon. I thought I had seen it all, but this view was indescribable. The sheer magnitude of the canyon was awe-inspiring.
We landed at the airport where a bus was waiting to drive us a couple miles to the Eagle Point area, which was the final leg of our adventure. After arriving at Eagle Point we were escorted to the Skywalk, a glass bottomed walkway that extends out over the Grand Canyon. You truly feel like you are walking on air and can see straight down into the canyon. This is by far the best lookout point I have seen at the Grand Canyon and I have been to the area multiple times. The view is completely open with no obstructions. To say it was breathtaking would be an understatement.
After catching our breath, it was time to hop on the bus back to the lodge. This was the perfect opportunity to exchange contact information with all of our new friends and say goodbye before going our separate ways. I am so grateful to have had this experience with Grand Canyon West and really enjoyed my time there. I made a bunch of new friends and created memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I would recommend this experience to anyone who wants to have fun (and get wet) and am very thankful for the wonderful guides who made the experience so personable, as if we were a part of their family. We hope to get back some day soon, thank you Grand Canyon West!