While at the Grand Canyon visitors center I’d read that tour guides ran calm water rafting trips from Glen Canyon Dam down the Colorado river through Glen Canyon. The Grand Canyon itself is mostly white-water rafting and the trips are both expensive and take multiple days to complete. The Glen Canyon option, while not as stunning as the Grand Canyon sounded a little more in our budgetary ballpark. We made such a trip the basis of the next leg of our journey.
We booked our river trip with Colorado River Discovery. They offer a 3-hour river adventure, starting at the dam, stopping off to look at some native petroglyphs, heading down to Horseshoe Bend, then back up to the dam. I imagined a sunny day on the river, staring up at the canyons around us in wonder and awe. That’s not exactly how things went.
You start out at their headquarters in Page, Arizona where you can grab some drinks or shop for adventure merch or tourist geegaws. From there they load you in a large bus that takes you to the base of Glen Canyon Dam. The bus ride itself is pretty interesting; it drives out of town and into a two-mile-long, incredibly dark tunnel maintained by Homeland Security complete with gun-toting guards and security barricades.
Arriving at the base of the dam you don hard hats, walk under the bridge spanning the canyon above, and hurry off to the rafts waiting below. Here we met our intrepid young river guide, a member of the Navajo nation, who’d been called in at the last minute from a fly fishing trip to take us downriver. We were also greeted by some cantankerous weather. While sunny, we could see storm clouds brewing in the distance and a stiff wind began to blow.
As we set sail on our 3-hour tour things started normally enough. We snapped pictures of the dam, got some general info from our good natured guide and generally enjoyed ourselves. Before very long however the weather made good on its threats and we found ourselves buffeted by strong cold winds along with a good bit of freezing rain and hail. Our guide tried to shelter us against the cliffs but we all got nicely soaked and frozen by the time the storm cloud blew past.
No sooner had the weather eased off than we came across another raft in our expedition that had gotten caught up on the shoreline with a broken prop and no way to push out from the rocks. We, of course, tried to come to their rescue, our pilot jumping out into the water to lend them a hand. Local fishermen also swung in to assist. Some of their passengers had to abandon ship and go with the fishermen so the raft would be light enough to get off the rocks.
Unfortunately in trying to rescue the other raft, ours busted its prop on the rocks as well. Again our guide showed he was worthy of the challenge and had spare props on hand, apparently the fist time in 3 years he’d needed to use them. Pushing out from the bank a new problem emerged. The motor, which he’d raised up to get near the shore, would not descend back to its proper position, and so we had no propulsion and were now drifting down the river powerless.
Another of the rafts then had to come to our rescue, shoving our raft about to maneuver it safely to a sandbar where we were bid to leave our intrepid guide behind and pile into the other raft to continue our journey. Lucky for us they normally leave lots of extra room on the rafts so doubling up was perfectly safe, if not especially comfortable. Soggy and crowded our new guide continued the tour of the canyons features and landed us where we could use the bathroom and check out the native petroglyphs.
By the time we’d finished our little excursion our original guide had been rescued, gotten his ship back into shape, and arrived to take us on the final leg of the tour down to the spectacular Horseshoe Bend. The weather even decided to give us a break and the sun came out from behind the clouds to ensure we got a great look at the majestic canyon walls. It was a bit less kind on the return trip as the boat sped back up the river into a stiff headwind. Still damp from the hailstorm, it was a cold and blustery trip back up the river.
One reward for our hardship was getting to see a waterfall in the canyon on the way back, one that is only there shortly after a stiff rain has come through. We were told back at the visitors center we were lucky in that we would likely get to see one of these on our trip, in hindsight their way of saying, “you all are going to get rained on today.”
All in all the trip was really a fun time. While never in any real danger, there was definitely a sense of adventure through the whole thing. Both our guide and all the tourists in our boat had a great sense of humor about everything that happened and genuinely seemed to enjoy the challenge and surprises as much as we did. It also built a bit more camaraderie among the group than you might normally find on a short day trip. It wasn’t just a tour, it was a little adventure!