It became a running joke, the extra activities on the trip.
On the second day, after we made camp for the night (at a campsite that has apparently been voted one of the top ten best campsites in the world), we hiked up the side of the cliff to look at where some Native Americans used to store the food they harvested from the land below. And to see the best view of the Grand Canyon. As in. The very best view it’s possible to get.
It’s the longest stretch of visible river, because there are no cliffs obstructing it, so you watch the Colorado winding its way down the Canyon, with the green of the banks blending into the blue of the water, and the stark browns and oranges of the Canyon walls rising above it.
We stayed there for a while, just gazing out. It occurred to me, like at the Getty, that this might be the only time I would ever see this magnificent view. You can’t helicopter in, or do a day trip. The only way is to paddle (or motor…) down the river, and hike up. I wondered how few people had been lucky enough to look out at this vista. I knew that nothing was going to beat that moment.
I was, as I’m sure you’re beginning to anticipate, wrong.
The next day, we came face to face with the Little Colorado River. Or, as our boatmen affectionately called it, the Grand Canyon’s little slice of the Caribbean. The water was ocean blue, that perfect kind of pale turquoise that just seems to be saying “Come on. You know you want to go swimming.” I wasn’t really paying attention, but it has something to do with a mineral deposit a little further upstream. I was more concerned with how cold the water was going to be.
Practically bath temperature.
We were in heaven. And then they showed us how to strap our lifejackets to our legs so that we could ride down the rapids. Of course, we didn’t just go once. By about the third time, people were hurtling down in pairs, and then in threes, and some were attempting to go backwards. Another rafting group arrived and suddenly there were kids going down on blow up animals, and someone wanted to see how many people joined together could make it down. I think the final count stood at about 21.
Well, clearly, nothing was going to beat that. But amongst ourselves we began talking. That was two days of incredible activities that hadn’t even been achieved by doing any rafting. What else would they be able to pull out of their sleeves?
As it turned out, waterfalls. The fourth day we made camp and then rafted a little further up the river to a small pool (again, beautiful, warm water) which had a small waterfall cascading into it. One you could sort of slide down. It felt like the sort of place you could never be unhappy in.
By that stage we were expecting to see unicorns on the following day. Instead, we got more waterfalls. A waterfall we jumped off the top of, a waterfall that was like nature’s own shower, and a waterfall so high the pressure of the water caused people’s hats to blow off. The challenge was to swim under it and see if you could touch the back wall. Spoiler: I couldn’t. (Although certain people were in fits of laughter at how I’d been just sort of swimming on the spot).
We treked up Havasu Creek and played in the small pools there, again the same beautiful colour as the Little Colorado. We watched the stars come out at night, so much brighter than we’d ever seen them, without any other light competing for the sky. We learnt about rock formations, and the explorers who’d travelled the same waters we were. We dined on the best prime rib steak I’ve ever eaten, and had peach cobbler for dessert on our last night. (Eugene wanted a note on logistics: Everything we needed came on the rafts. All the food, all of our packs, all the tents and the chairs and cooking equipment. And of course, the toilets. And the solid waste from the toilets that couldn’t be left in the Canyon…)
It was a week of spectacular experiences. The things I loved most weren’t what I was expecting to love most. My favourite time of day was just after dinner, when the heat had receded, and the sun was setting over the Canyon walls, and everyone was sitting in a circle, talking and laughing and sharing stories. I felt as if home was a trillion miles away. I felt as if home was there.
To the four guides from Wilderness River Adventures, thank you for making it such a fantastic experience. And to all the wonderful people I was lucky enough to share that week with, thank you for being so welcoming, and so caring, and such magnificent friends.