This morning we packed up our stuff and headed out to the bottom of the Glen Canyon Dam for our rafting adventure (another “ride or our lives” according to Julie).
The bottom of the Dam is not an easy place to get to. The last two miles are a one-way tunnel bored into the rock. Security is at the same time both tight and lax. Theoretically you’re not allowed to bring any guns/knives/explosives/weapons of mass destruction beyond the security checkpoint, but the river rafting company gets to do its own security checks, which basically involves someone glancing in the general direction of your bag and saying, “yep, that looks fine.”
At any rate we made it to the bottom of the Dam which, amazingly, looks even larger from the bottom. There is about 150 feet of hard hat area when you get off the bus (you’re standing right under the bridge and anything falling from that has 500 feet to pick up speed before hitting you. We walked down to the water on a long causeway that ate the soles of Dad’s water shoes for breakfast. The boats were large twenty-seater pontoons but they were filled less than half full for us. Our river guide, Cory, was very knowledgable about the river, geology, and the history of the region. He told us a couple of yarns though, including a herd of big horn sheep that had been trained to cross the river in a cart suspended by a cable about twenty feet up (reality: geologists use it to get from one side to the other).
The water is a balmy 47 degrees when it comes out of the Dam. Early in the morning when the river is still in shadow it’s a bit cool down there. We saw a couple of brave souls in wadders fishing for trout. Cory recited a bit of Powell’s journal (the passage about beginning their journey “how many ________ lie before us, we know not…”) and we started our own journey.
There was a bag full of cans of lemonade hanging off the side of the boat, keeping them at a crisp 47 degrees for us. We mostly floated for the first part of the journey. The walls are about 700 feet above the river at the mouth of the Dam but by the end of our journey they had soared to more than 1000 feet around Horseshoe bend. It’s very difficult to get any sense of scale when you’re down there though. They’re simply enormous!
At about the halfway point we pulled up onto one of the few sandy beaches (most have been eroded away and aren’t being replenished because the sediment is trapped behind the Dam). We walked a short way up but it was amazing how much hotter it got even a few feet from the River. Cory and I chatted on the way up. He went to the University of Colorado to study Environmental Science. He worked for an oil company for a couple of years and was miserable, so he moved back to Arizona and started running tours on the Colorado River during the summer and is a ski patroller in the winter.
Our destination was a rock wall, covered in black manganese that had petroglyphs carved into it by the Anisazi. There were a few rare depictions of humans, as well as the four steps (one of the only land accessible trails) and long horn sheep.
We retreated back to the relative coolness of the river and the kids on the trip did the polar plunge by rushing into the water and submerging themselves up to their heads. Dad waded in up to his knees, but I stuck one foot in Lake Michigan one time and that was enough (and it’s about ten degrees warmer than the Colorado!).
We hopped back on the boat and continued on to Lee’s Ferry, which is mile 0 of the Grand Canyon. White water rafting trips put in at Lee’s Ferry, but we got out.
Those of us who were soggy changed and got back on the bus to head for Bryce. We crossed into Utah and lost an hour so our late lunch was very late. It was at a Western Movie Museum. It was a little kitschy but all in good fun. We were seated at long tables but before the dinner bell was rung we were all drafted into the filming of our very own Western. I was an Indian, but Dad got to be the playboy (meaning the fiddler, of course). We were costumed, choreographed, and then played out our movie. After than we had our Tauk group photo taken. I have to say it will be the most unique group photo ever taken on a Tauk tour…
We went back inside and had a really tasty barbecue lunch. There was salad, corn-meal dusted biscuits, roasted potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and beef with homemade barbecue sauce. Everybody chowed down.
After lunch, there was (predictably) one enormous gift shop to go through. I ended up purchasing a straw cowboy hat. Out here you can really use the extra sun protection. I can see why they invented them! Also it will look dashing on tomorrow’s trail ride…
After lunch we loaded up the bus and headed into Bryce. We passed and Elk farm and a Bison farm along the way, as well as a lot of baby horses. We got dropped off at the Bryce Visitor Center while Julie and Ron went to drop our bags off at the hotel and get our room keys. We watched the orientation video (standard def on an old projector, yeesh) and the scenery was beautiful. After we were back on the bus Dad immediately e-mailed his company to tell them to follow up with the visitor center about upgrading their system.
We got to our hotel and headed out to the Rim of the amphitheater (it is incorrect to call Bryce a canyon because there is not water running through the middle of it, rather it slopes down only on one side merging with the plane below). Dad pointed out that the design of the Bryce lodge is just the way Disney would have done it. The buildings are inset about from the edge of the canyon and are on the lower part of a downward slope. You have to walk up to get to the rim. This means that you don’t get any sneak peaks of the beauty in the amphitheater until you see the whole thing suddenly drop away before you.
And Bryce is breathtaking. The rock spires (called hoodoos) caught the setting sunlight, which made them appear even redder than they really are. We walked along the rim taking in all the different angles of the hoodoos. Some looked like chess pieces, others looked like greek statues… with a little imagination the whole valley appears to be filled with fantastic creations.
Eventually we strolled back towards our room. We saw a california ground squirrel (commonly miscalled a chipmunk) and they are tiny! I bet I could comfortably fit three of them in one hand. They have very long tales and are very quick.
We had dinner at the lodge and created our own surf and turf by sharing blue cornmeal dusted trout and short ribs coated in cinnamon. The cinnamon was a really great idea. I was fading very fast so we went back to the room and I conked out right away. I suppose I could try blaming the altitude for my sleepiness, but I have a feeling it’s just from doing so many wonderful things a day on this tour.