We spent our second night in Grand Canyon National Park along the Colorado River at a campsite called Above Little Colorado River. As its name implies, the campsite was located just upriver from the Little Colorado River. The Little Colorado River has a high alkaline and mineral content which gives the river a beautiful turquoise hue. This can readily be seen at the confluence where the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River meet:
It was fascinating watching the color of the two rivers meet and blend together as the color line between the two constantly changed and moved.
We spent our first night at the South Canyon camping spot between mile 31 and 32 on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. When you are rafting down the Colorado River, there are designated spots where you are allowed to camp with other spots off limits. We arrived in early afternoon which gave us some time to hike around (if you plan to hike the side canyons when rafting down the Colorado River, a sturdy pair of shoes to change into from your raft water shoes is highly recommended).
I decided to try and hike up South Canyon with a small group from our raft since the guides said that it was a worthwhile hike. The South Canyon trail is a 6.5 mile (10.5 km) trail that leads from the Grand Canyon north rim to the Colorado River. Although we had no plans to hike the entire 6.5 miles of the trail, we were hoping to explore a few miles of the slot canyon.
Recent flash floods ended up making it a short lived hike. Less than 100 yards up the canyon was a huge boulder blocking South Canyon, but with a bit of scrambling and a log tilted against the rock, we were able to get past this first obstacle:
The second obstacle (a number of large rocks piled together in the canyon) just beyond the first rock ended our exploration of South Canyon. The ground beneath the rock was still wet from flash floods the week before creating a thick, sticky mud that didn’t give us much footing. Even with another log placed next to the rocks in an attempt to bypass them, it was simply too large a pile to conquer:
South Canyon appeared to be quite beautiful and would have been a lot of fun to explore if it had been passable. Hopefully future flash floods will clear the huge boulders making it more accessible to hikers in the future.
One of the first readily apparent natural landmark within the Colorado River that you pass when rafting in Grand Canyon National Park is Ten Mile Rock. As the name implies, the rock sits in the river approximately ten miles from the start of the rafting trip at Lees Ferry and a few miles past Navajo Bridge.
It’s advisable to listen to your rafting guide carefully as he/she explains about Ten Mile Rock. Ours decided to test our listening skills, rational reasoning and gullibility by announcing that Ten Mile Rock had been flown in by National Park Service helicopter to mark the tenth mile of the Colorado River. While the rock does have a rather rectangular shape, it ended up at the ten mile mark through natural processes. Only a few on our boat realised that our guide was pulling our leg and several members were shocked when they found out the truth several days later. If nothing else, listening closely and questioning your guides will give you a good indication of the fun they will try to have during the trip and keep them honest.
The official beginning for most Grand Canyon rafting trips is at Lees Ferry (also commonly referred to as Lee’s Ferry or Lee Ferry) in Marble Canyon which gives a wonderful preview of what’s to come with the Colorado River surrounded by magnificent canyon scenery:
Since this is where the Grand Canyon rafting trips launch, this is where you get your initiation to what the rafting trip will be like. You meet the crew that will be guiding you down the river, are given supplies to keep all your belongings dry on the trip, given a quick course of raft safety and life jacket use, and load all your belongings onto the rafts. While there are some historical buildings and beautiful scenery all around, unless you make a concerted effort to seek them out, you will likely miss them as your focus will be on all the activity to get you on the raft and on your way down the Colorado.
There is quite a bit of history that goes with the Lees Ferry launch site. The ferry was originally built in 1871–1872 by John D. Lee with financing from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The ferry was located near where the Colorado River and Paria River merge and the crossing was originally called Paria Crossing. For nearly 50 years, Lees Ferry was the only available crossing of the Colorado River by ferry between Moab and Needles. This made Lees Ferry the main Colorado River crossing point for travelers between Utah and Arizona.
The actual ferry at Lees Ferry closed in 1928 with the building of Navajo Bridge (7 miles to the south) across Marble Canyon. The steel wire cable from the ferry still remains and crosses the Colorado River at the old ferry site. This cable marks the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park as you begin the float trip down the Colorado River. Lees Ferry is currently part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and is deemed as a historical site.
Photo courtesy of Li Ru Yue