the Rhythm of the River

Grand Canyon National Parks & Monuments Travel

“The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” – John Muir

The rhythm of our days on the river is something I will always keep close in my heart.

Our first full day on the river begins with the sound of the conch shell reverberating off the walls of the canyon. First horn signals coffee, second blow is breakfast. It’s still dusky as we rub the sleep from our eyes and stir. A bat up late on her quest for a full belly darts haphazardly across the lightening sky, the sound of the river ever flowing in the background.

First, coffee. We amble toward the kitchen area with our new Western River Expedition coffee mug, stumbling over the uneven sandy floor, delighted to see powdered french vanilla creamer! Woohooo! The day is starting off right! Back to camp to attempt to repackage everything in the bags they came in before the breakfast horn sounds. No small feat, it turns out. It’s a bit of a comedy of errors watching our fellow raft mates attempt to disassemble their camping supplies and prepare for the day. We will all get better at this our team leader, Lucky, assures us. We laugh at ourselves, we laugh with each other, we share an amazing breakfast of ‘the works’ together and set off on the river.

The canyon lighting was epic this morning. We all kept saying, “Is this for real?”

Our days on the river were the same basic rhythm: wake, coffee, pack up, breakfast, rapids, snacks, food, hikes, ‘smile breaks,’ set up camp, wash, dinner… similar activities each day, though enough variety to keep us happy, engaged, and anticipating. Day two offered us the opportunity for two cool hikes. Our first stop was at the site of some exploratory caves blasted by the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1950s. These caves were drilled in anticipation of the proposed Marble Canyon Dam. Believe it or not, someone thought it was a great idea to flood the Grand Canyon! Needless to say, after much controversy and some serious work by the Sierra Club, this plan was scrapped.

The caves are interesting! We hiked up a small hill to enter and waded through ankle deep water towards the back of the caves with headlamps on to light the way. When we were in the bowels of the cave, Lucky told us the story of the proposed dam, we turned off our lights, and enjoyed the thrill of the darkness. We were given time to wander and explore a bit before moving on.

Lucky, our guide, talking about the proposed Marble Canyon Dam and how the efforts of the Sierra Club saved the Grand Canyon.

A lunch of ahhhhh-mazing thai chicken wraps and a few rapids later, our afternoon brought us to Mile 62 and the confluence of the Little Colorado River and the Colorado River. Lucky had mentioned to us not to expect to have a stop here because this time of year the water is usually very muddy. Lo and behold, we reached the site and the water was a beautiful opalescent blue! We had what Lucky referred to as some time to ‘frolic’ in these warm waters made milky blue by the deposits of calcium carbonate in the rocks.

The spot where the Little Colorado River began mixing with the Colorado River is very obvious!

The Little Colorado River is a magical wonderland! We played and laughed and floated over the waterfalls in big long trains, linked together by wrapping our legs around each other. The water was refreshing but warmer than the 50 degree Colorado River. This little oasis felt like something straight out of a fairy tale! It was like being a kid again. Run upstream, float down, catch a snout full of water, spit it out, laugh, clamber to the shore and do it all again…. and again and again and again. We spent two hours here and were sad when it was time to leave. I think it was at this point that we all started to feel the rhythm, the magic, and the wonder, that is the Grand Canyon. I said a silent prayer to myself….take a snapshot of this moment, Tanya, and never forget it. Commit it to memory, engrave it upon your soul. Remember the smells, the feels, the way the sun sears your skin. Remember the colors, the laughter, the joy, the love, the heartbeat of this place. Let this place occupy a part of your heart from now until forever.

Back on the river, we headed ever downstream, more rapids, the beauty of the canyon changing around every bend, and the guides begin talking about Rapid Day. “Rapid Day is tomorrow! Big rapids….some of the biggest rapids of the trip! Wake up tomorrow with your battle rattle ready!” the guides tell us. And on that note, we stopped at the river’s bend, right in between two rapids to set up camp for the night.

Our camp spot for the evening two. Good and easy place to pee in the river!
Meet Russell the Rock Kisser, my outdoor adventure companion. He usually rides shotgun in my backpacking pack, but since he’s such a good traveler, he got to tag along this trip, too.
Dinner circle for BBQ chicken, cheesy jalapeno dutch oven corn bread, fresh grilled squash, and carrot cake for dessert, with a million dollar view.

Our day is coming to a close. We do a bit of laundry and take our nightly river bath, set up our cots and get ready for dinner. The conch sounds for appetizers, then again for dinner. The rhythm of the river is flowing more and more easily now. The problems of our daily lives at home are far away; river living is taking a hold of our hearts and minds. Though we’ve been active and busy all day, there is a new calm, we are breathing easier. My friends the bats are out looking for their dinner, their drunken flights make me smile. We wash our dinner dishes, amble back to our cots. We lay, looking up at the millions of stars, and drift off to the rhythm of the river.


I'm an only child who grew up on a sailboat, a lover of adventure, a mom, wife, an RN, and a friend of all dogs.

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