Rafting the Grand Canyon

June 4th

When we woke up early this morning, we packed up quickly. It was cold and looked like a storm was moving in, even though at the time there were clear skies overhead.

Then we made breakfast. Joel cooked the sausage, Ben H. the hashbrowns and I cooked the ham. People were hungry and hovered over us.

This trip has been much colder than expected. June is supposed to be the sunniest month, getting into the 90s each day. We have had a lot of cloudy and rainy weather. Though the rain has been patchy so the river is still green and not red from the side canyon floods. Since it has been colder than expected we are eating much more than usual to keep warm. At meal times we stand around the food table like vultures and eat it all in a few minutes and start looking around for more. Even when we are totally filled at meals, we become hungry very quickly afterwards. I'm always famished a couple of hours before the next meal. I didn't bring any personal snacks, though I wish I had. I could use five meals a day instead of three.

Sun breaking through the clouds
A little after we pushed off we ran into a flock of swallows. They were darting around about a foot or two off the water. Some made sharp turns and pirouettes as they danced across the water. They were quite beautiful in flight. Their wings were short but broad and they had a brilliant green on their backs. They were darting so close I could see that the white line across their rear of their bodies did not go all the way across, but a black line divided it.

Joel - "But this morning, [the birds] were out of force. Hundreds of violet-green swallows were swooping around at river level as we were rafting through. Many of the swallows swooped within 10 feet of the boat giving you a clear view of their graceful flight. I can only assume that the swallows are interested in the insects, perhaps riding on the water. Beautiful birds, very graceful, although small, they have a white underbelly and a green back with a white stripe near their tail. As you watch them flap their wings they remain about one foot above water level usually moving downstream. They have an unerring sense of when the waves are going to break because they always avoid them. Then, as if they made a decision that they have gone too far downstream, they lift their bodies up in the air and catch the wind quickly moving back upstream hundreds of feet only to start the cycle again. This ballet of the swallows kept us enthralled for a mile or so as we drifted downriver."

Monument Fold
The morning was freezing and I shivered occasionally even though I was in my long underwear (tops and bottoms), my fleece jacket, my fleece hat and my rain suit. Brrr. I remember getting this cold on occasion on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, but never in the Grand Canyon. It is supposed to be summer here already. Though with the profusion of flowers that we have seen, the rain has obviously helped the plants.

We had a few minor rapids today, the largest being Waltenberg (mile 112, rating 6). It had some wonderful waves. Alex took us through backwards so we wouldn't get wetter and colder with the river water.

When we left camp this morning we were on the edge of the clouds with blue sky downstream. We were hoping we would catch up to the sun, but it kept teasing us. We would see a patch of sun on the river in front of us and it would disappear before we reached it. Eventually we made the sun, but it was spotty and not yet strong enough to warm us well.

Elves Chasm
The eight miles to Elves Chasm (mile 116) went fairly quickly despite the cold wind. We knew we were near when we went past Monument Fold, a section where the Tapeats Sandstone is folded straight down along the fault. There is a small minor twist in the rock just upstream from this, which is also very nice. Also near Elves Chasm we began to see evidence of old cave formations in the Muav Limestone. Supposedly this area is riddled with caves in the rock. We could see places where the front of a cave had eroded long ago and left evidence of the stalactites and stalagmites under the ledges in the wall.

Elves has a permanent stream. Up the stream about 200 yards is the main waterfall which spills into a deep pool. This spot is particularly pretty because of all the growth around waterfall and on the cavern walls, probably because of the continuous supply of misting water. From the waterfall the stream cascades down various rock faces into small pools as it makes its way towards the river.

Elves has always been one of my favorite spots but cavorting in the water was impossible in the cold weather. Even without the frolicking, this was a particularly interesting chasm. At one of the smaller pools down at the bottom, Diane saw three large fish. This was surprising, because the pool is probably only six feet in diameter and there is no way for those fish to get out. We must assume that they were born there and grew such a large size that they could no longer escape.

Some decided to climb up past the main waterfall to the series of waterfalls above. This required going up on a rock face and walking along a very narrow ledge. Joel climbed as far as the ledge but decided to go no further. I didn't climb at all.

At the mouth of Elves while waiting for the rest of our group to get back, it had clouded over again and the wind had picked up. Occasional rain sprinkled down. I found a small niche near a tamarisk that was protected on all four sides from the wind. The tammy hung over me keeping most of the sprinkles off.

Great Unconformity in Blacktail Canyon
When the hikers got back we shoved off to look for a lunch spot. Elves would have been a pleasant place but the landing is small and another trip might want the spot.

Dave found us the perfect lunch spot. It had an overhanging ledge to keep the rain off the crackers and it was behind the tammies to block the wind. Mom brought out the extra peanut butter to go with lunch, a gigantic jar and we polished half of that and the lunch of tuna, canned sardines, squeeze cheese, tortillas, crackers and cookies. Lunch had the atmosphere of desperation. People descended on it quickly and devoured it. It was like a swarm of locusts came and went. It must have been our fastest lunch yet despite the quantity.

Blacktail Canyon
Down from lunch the walls of the canyon close to the river had just a bit of the granite/schist mix but was mostly dominated by the Tapeats Sandstone. The sandstone is sharply layered and above Blacktail Canyon there were formation sticking out of it like oyster mushrooms growing out of an old log.

The swallows were with us again. They are so beautiful to watch and graceful in flight. They would flap their wings vigorously then suddenly go into a glide with their wings wide out. Sometimes when they were farther away from the water they would dive bomb down, folding their wings straight back. They turn very quickly. It is hard to tell what their dance is about. Are they catching insects in the air or playing in the air currents? Probably a little of both.

Waterfall in Blacktail Canyon
We stopped at Blacktail (mile 120), most famous for its excellent view of the Great Unconformity. The tapeats sandstone (tan rock) is 570 million years old and the stone underneath (pink rock) is 1.7 billion years, over a billion years of missing history eroded away before the sandstone was laid down. Even without this geologic mystery, the canyon is worth the short hike up. The canyon was narrow and the many layered tapeats went straight up around me in a narrow canyon. If we had had sun I'm sure it would have glowed. On the way we saw some additional examples of nautiloid fossils smaller than the ones in Nautiloid Canyon, including one which had a cross-section because of a fissure in the rock which split away part of it. Unlike most of the fossils where it's just a flat silhouette of the prehistoric animal, you can actually see that there was some body to the animal.

Nautiloid fossil
Earl later told us a story about Blacktail. Someone he knows was sleeping out of the rain under the ledges there. She had an extremely vivid dream about an old Indian coming towards her with a stone knife. When she woke up her husband had had the exact same dream. They decide to move and set up their tent down on the sand below. Since then she still loves the canyon but will never camp under the ledges.

The trip down to camp was freezing, on par for today. It rained sparsely on and off. A cold wind blew up the canyon all the way down to the camp (mile 125). When we got there, Ben H. brought out his thermometer and it was barely 60 degrees. Damn cold!

The camp had a rock ledge that we all set up our chairs under, out of the occasional rain. Some of the group slept under the ledge.

Dinner was turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. For dessert was chocolate cake. Since I couldn't eat the cake I licked the frosting container for dessert.

The popular discussion for this evening was about the strange weather we were having. No one expected to have weather this cold. Who knows what the low will be tonight? Some of our group have been shivering this evening, even with all their clothes on.

When I got back home I was curious as to the official recorded temperature, but the nearest recordings I found were in the Grand Canyon Village. Historically June 4th had high temperatures in the 70s and 80s in the village. In 1999, the recorded high was 44. So we had temperatures about 30 degrees lower than average.

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