by Sara Moses
The morning heated up quickly, and we had little cloud cover through the day. On previous days, we had periods of clouds or rain that kept the heat from being stifling. Now we appreciated the splashing of the cold river water.
The big event for the day was a visit to a slot canyon and waterfall known simply as “National.” In the guidebooks, there is a long, sandy stretch of beach at the foot of the canyon. Two weeks before our visit, though, a rain storm flooded the canyon, spewing tons of boulders (some as large as cars) onto the shore.
Like the limestone rockfall we’d seen earlier in the trip, no one had witnessed this act of nature, and our captain pointed out how rare it is for visitors to actually see the sudden changes that shape the canyon gradually over the millennia.
We asked our captain Dustin what we would find at the top of the hike to National. He said he did not know. Fewer than 100 people had probably even been into the canyon since the flood, and he did not know the hiking conditions or the state of the waterfall that had been there.
It was a gorgeous hike up. The walls were white, peach, pink, and orange, and everything did have a feeling of being scrubbed clean. The water in the tiny creek smelled of sulfur, but when we reached the top and found a clean, clear waterfall, I dove into the sweet-smelling, reddish pool and paddled around. Builder Linda swam into a small cave, through a sunlit opening, and came out behind the waterfall. It sprayed and sparkled when she swam through it!
Even all the water that I drank on the hot hike wasn’t enough to keep me from feeling depleted, so once back at the boat, I coaxed everyone to have a round of electrolyte drinks.
We ran more rapids today, of course, but I’d begun to lose track of all the names. I missed the crazy wild rides from Day 4, and I imagined the thrill of the adventurous water molecules, evaporating repeatedly over thousands of years, just to condense and reenter the water cycle upstream and make that journey again.
The moon that night was particularly bright, and also bittersweet as we faced the fact that our trip would soon be coming to an end. Many of us would be returning to cities where visible stars number merely in the hundreds, and that’s only if we take time to look up.
I cringed a little at the thought of turning on a cell phone again, and pushed away the idea of dealing with my email inbox for just a little while longer. I focused instead on enjoying my remaining time with my new friends.
It was all about the heat on this last full day of river running. Dustin and Kinson estimated it to be 105-110 degrees, and the refreshing splashes from the cold river (the rapids less frequent now) were welcome.
We had plenty of time to ponder the history and geology of the Grand Canyon, considering that “just” in the last two million years, hundreds of volcanoes had time to erupt, flow over the canyon walls, go extinct, and erode away. Where the lava encountered the cold river, the rocks cooled in strange geometric patterns. In the quiet of the canyon today, one could imagine the hissing and popping and boiling it must have caused.
Our very last campground would be drenched in sunlight until dusk, so Dustin tied off the boat in a rare patch of shade (desert gold) for an hour or so.
We lounged on deck drinking Gatorade and napping.
A swim seemed in order, but we were in a deep spot, so a few of us hopped (fell?) in and relaxed in the cold water while holding onto the ropes of the boat.
After I cooled down a bit, I scampered to the top of the rocky outcropping and investigated all the different kinds of cactus I could find.
We headed downstream again awhile later to a different kind of shady spot, a sheer grey cliff that still managed to host an assortment of cacti in its crevices. We talked quietly about life and love and adventure.
Our boat moseyed and meandered to our campsite, bouncing over a few exciting rapids along the way. Our campsite was lovely, and the gentlemen cooked up the best, fork-tender filet mignon I have ever eaten. We still had salad and fresh vegetables on the seventh night on the river, thanks to an ingenious insulation system on the boat.
We stayed up chit-chatting, prolonging the last evening, and keeping a cautious eye on a thunderhead forming above Mt Doom, over there.
The Grand Canyon put on a final lightning show just for us. As we reluctantly headed off to bed, one by one, we laid down the chairs so the wind wouldn’t blow them away. I kept thinking I’d have to go inside my tent when the rain started, but it never did. The thunder kept rumbling and crackling and booming, though, for five hours. A better photographer would have captured something worthy of National Geographic, in silver and white, pink and blue. I caught just one shot of lightning over the bluff.
I overheard the other campers in their tents, whispering low, marveling at the power of the storm. I thought of the billions of people who have lived before me, sleeping under the stars, having an intimate knowledge of the passage of the moon and knowing the inevitability of the darkness of night. I treasured that last slice of perfect night without electric lights and refrigerator hum.
When this morning dawned, everyone worked hard and fast to break down camp. We stood around waiting for our coffee, not needing to be called. We had to get a pre-dawn start in order to meet the speedboat that would carry our group swiftly downstream to board the air-conditioned tour bus that would return us to Las Vegas, and the lives we had cheerfully suspended for a week.
We were ready to go home now. I was excited about seeing my family again, and looking forward to telling my stories of the river to my friends and coworkers.
When we met the speedboat, we said a rapid goodbye to our boatmen, Dustin and Kinson. We thanked them for all the amazing meals, their patience with their land-loving passengers, and above all, their technical know-how that kept us safe and comfortable on this enthralling outdoor adventure!
When we reached Las Vegas, we scattered to our hotel rooms, took hot showers, and dressed in fresh clothes that had been waiting for us in the luggage we left behind. We met for one last meal together at a busy Italian restaurant nearby and ate a yummy dinner, but I admit I already missed our quiet waterfront meals and lively camp-out cocktail hour!
I was pleased to come home. My family did fine without me, of course. I caught up on work and told my friends all about my adventure. I spent ages sifting through the photos, recalling inside jokes and quiet moments and smiling to see my friends’ faces, always to be remembered as part of the Grand Canyon. I am already looking forward to hosting the Women’s Only Splash trip again next summer, and know there are a few campers already signed up to join me. You should come too!
Click HERE to find out how you can join a gay summer rafting trip in the Grand Canyon!