Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The jet boat takes about 45 minutes to make the trip from Pearce Ferry Rapid to South Cove. Once this would all have been on the lake, but now the top section is the reformed river, running muddy through old lake bed. And as the lake continues to fall, some interesting new rapids are forming in Iceberg Canyon, which made our ride fun and probably adds some tricky wrinkles to the already complicated end-of-trip logistics for the raft companies.
We landed at a the dock at South Cove, dragged our stuff up the trail to the parking lot, and loaded it onto the trailer. There were cold pops and Subway sandwiches waiting for us and we ate them in the air conditioned van as we hit the road for the five hour trip to Flagstaff.
We passed through the Grand Wash Cliffs about Mile 277 and all of a sudden the canyon is behind us and looking back it's almost hard to figure out where we had been. Pearce Ferry used to be the standard take-out on the lake for many raft trips, but with the river falling, the landing has been left high and dry. The historic Pearce Ferry, on the original pre-lake river, is now buried under 200' of sediment.
The river is now flowing across these old lake sediments and has chosen a route very different than its original course. And happens to have taken a route that flows over a long-buried ridge - leaving a sharp rapid that changes rapidly as the river continues to erode. We scouted it on the left side and then untied the boats from each other and made the run. It's a neat climax to a long stretch of slow river.
Below the rapids, we unloaded our stuff and said goodbye to the crew (they're also going to South Cove and Flagstaff today, but will take considerably longer to do so since they have rafts to de-rig and load onto the trucks) and climbed onto the jet boat for the quick trip to South Cove.
We broke camp early, since we still have lots of river to cover today. The rafts remain tied together and we motor out. Folks can move around among the boats, foraging for water and food, finding places to nap, or seeking refuge from the heat. Amity occasionally makes the rounds with the bailing bucket, pouring it over our heads or down our backs. Jamie spends 30 minutes with a flyswatter trying to track down a horsefly the size of a bat.
At mile 266, we can see Bat Cave off to the right and the tramway that once carried the bat guano up to trucks on the south rim. High on the rim to the left, we can see the Hualapai's Skywalk sticking out over the edge, sort of like a giant toilet lid.
The canyon widens out here, but what is most noticeable is the increasingly continuous sandy banks of the river - the result of the Colorado gradually eroding into the material it deposited in this part of Lake Mead when the lake was full.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Our last night on the river was spent at the mouth of Spencer Creek. When John Wesley Powell ran the river in 1869, Lava Cliffs rapid was one of the more daunting ones they faced and it was right below here. But Lava Cliffs is now 40' (?) below the river, buried in sand. Maybe someday it will come back.
We passed along gifts - stones, driftwood - and shared some thoughts and some stories. Tomorrow, we have a lot of miles to cover, but it's basically the home stretch. The only mystery that remains is the rapidly evolving rapid at Pearce Ferry.
We had lunch at Travertine Falls (just a mile downstream from Travertine Canyon), where we crowded into what little shade we could find. It's definitely getting hot at this end of the canyon.
Devon and I are riding Sandra today. This section of the Lower Granite Gorge is steep and narrow and straight and it was fun to be hanging out over the front of Greg's boat, which is leading the flotilla this afternoon as we run the nice set of rapids in the 230s (river miles, not temperatures). There was a great blue heron that kept one step ahead of us through this whole section.
For much of the last 50 years, Gneiss Canyon Rapid has been under the still waters of lake Mead, but with the lake falling, it has now re-emerged. Unfortunately, the other rapids that Lake Mead flooded are buried in silt and sand and we will see no signs of them. Although the river is flowing in this last section, it is not flowing fast and rowing would be slow and painful, so once we got past Gneiss, we tied all the rafts together around Big Mona (the motor rig) and traveled under outboard power.
We're starting to see mudlines along the sides of the canyon - the bathtub ring from half a century of reservoir. Bridge Canyon, level with the top of Hoover Dam and therefore where Lake Mead runs out is, not coincidentally, where they planned the next in the originally proposed series of dams.
We waited upstream for 30 minutes or so, waiting for the group ahead of us to begin to clear out. Diamond Creek, back at Mile 226, is a traditional place for many trips to take out, but it is also the starting point for Hualapai-led trips on the lower river. Our stop at Granite Springs and our stalling here were both intended to let these larger groups move on through.
This was a great site and worth the hot wait. There's a fun climb, assisted by ropes and ladders, up to the grotto, where we took advantage of both the shade and the waterfall.
I am just making a stab at this location, but based on the maps and the river guide, I think this is correct. This beach on river right seemed to be a strange attractor of river debris - both natural and anthropogenic. I think we stopped in part to pick up garbage and in part to look for valuable artifacts - like sunglasses lost 100 miles upstream or still-sealed cans of beer. Rob used the stop to take detail shots of the Sandra for his next wood carving project.
Just downstream, Diamond Peak comes into view.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
This was a nice little camp just across and down the river from Three Springs Canyon, where we just were. We could look back across the river at the rapids along the base of the Tapeats cliffs. I particularly liked that the cliffs were in the sun, but that our camp was in the shade.
We had lunch at Granite Park, just above 209 Mile Rapid, and then floated down to Three Springs. We checked out, but didn't stop at, Pumpkin Springs.
There was a short, hot hike to the stream at Three Springs, where considerable energy went into making multi-cheek butt dams. From there we were able to walk downstream a hundred yards or so to where the side canyon abruptly ends at the Colorado - some rocky ledges of Tapeats Sandstone overhanging an awful lot of fast moving water. We could look across the river at tonight's camp.
We made an early stop on river right for a short hike up into this side canyon, where we sat in the shade (even at 9 in the morning the shade feels nice) and admired petroglyphs painted a very long time ago.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
We covered 20 miles after Lava Falls, pulling in to camp at Parashant Wash.
The evening round of Bocce was a grand success. Lots of teams, playing with both sets of balls. Colby and I managed to squeeze out the win - a combination of his accuracy and my incredibly lucky roll on the last shot.