A Journey Down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon

Golden reflections, first day on the river.

Here begins my journey down the Grand Canyon, as told in the WELL's Outdoors Conference. Eventually I'll copy-edit it all and get it up here. If you've already read it in Outdoors, here are just the pictures . -Gail Williams

Posted on The WELL - outdoors.159.1

The Grand Canyon, from Lee's Ferry to Lake Mead, takes sixteen days in a little wooden Dory. A pretty craft, light and colorful and curved artfully.

When I first learned about the trip sixteen days seemed like a long time, but the thought of hiking in or out through the 100+ degree heat at Phantom Ranch or being choppered to Vegas from Whitmore Wash instead of winding down to the still waters of the lake just rankled. Those ends would be a jarring break in a great winding epic, streaming eagerly in one direction. So the full sixteen days it would be.

We went with Grand Canyon Dories because of Martin Litton, the founder of the first Dories company. For anyone who might not recall the name, Martin was referred to by David Brower as his conscience back in the days of the great Sierra Club battle to save the stretch of this river called Marble Canyon, which we enjoyed for the first couple of days down into the Grand. Martin is responsible for being the catalyst in that struggle, for keeping that section of the canyon with the sheerest red walls open and living. And probably for keeping other dams out of the Grand between Glen Canyon and Hoover, too. He's a great American. Martin's near to 80 now, though he reportedly rowed a Dory trip last spring. He sold his outfit to a raft rowing company called Oars a few years ago, but the Dory guides hang on to a good thing, and come back year after year, so there are only a couple who didn't row for the old company, and those couple of newcomers were trained by the brotherhood and sisterhood of Dory guides who worked for Martin.

The other reason we went with the Dories, and remembered their beauty and tradition, was a book my mom had, an old battered picture book entitled, "The Hidden Canyon," by John Blaustein, with text by Edward Abbey about a Dory trip Blaustein had rowed on.

This book has just gone out of print, which is pure silliness. With text by a cult author like Abbey and those amazing images by Blaustein, someone should snag this one and reprint it. It might be worth it just for the Dory adventurers to purchase after their trips. (And if anyone has a copy I could buy please email me!)

Anyway, my party of three showed up in Flagstaff for the briefing the night before, and got our waterproof bags and surplus ammo cans for cameras, and had a little briefing from some river folks, one of whom introduced himself as "The Factor." He had a twinkle to his eye, and a very thorough briefing rap. His wife was there grinning and handing out the equipment. I liked these folks.

Early the next morning we climbed into a van towing a Dory trailer. Here was a charming, gleaming wooden boat, looking almost too pretty to take through wild waters. The drive was long, but we eventually arrived at Lee's Ferry, where the icy Colorado flows out nearly in the open, just before it slices down into the great layered rock plateau of the Grand. Four Dories and two supply rafts were readied, and we chose Factor's boat for starters. There were big motorized baloney boats nearby, and they only made the Dories more beautiful. Like fishing vessels from the north sea, only in brilliant colors in the desert sun.

The water was deep green and mind-numbingly cold. We got briefed on what would happen in a Dory flip, and I got a bit nervous about swimming in that cold, even in a jacket. But it was going to be an easy first day, two mild rapids. We cinched up tight in the orange vests, and climbed four each onto the rocking crafts. A few minutes later Factor rowed us under Navajo Bridge, where cars crossed overhead, and the last vestige of land-based modern artifact vanished.

The truest kind of trip, with no turning back, had begun. I unabashedly giggled and cried, "whee!" through the first little riffle. Steve yelled "yahoo!" We were off.

Skip ahead, to another day on the Grand!

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