By Christie Kroll
The canyon is opening up. We have floated past a number of geologic faults where there has been a great upwelling and subsiding that has caused an infinite number of fractures. Along the cracks the rock has eroded to gravel and that gravel fills side canyons that have worn down with debris in great angles of repose. The sheer walls of Marble Canyon and the barren fortress of the Inner Gorge have been replaced by curious pointy peaks with stair step edges. Side canyons are wider, flatter. Behind Indian Canyon camp is a short scramble up the limestone wall at river edge to the canyon.
Indian Canyon feels open, no crazy cut rock slits, no wondering what to do if a flood flashed. The gravel bed makes a rough trail that looks like it could go on for miles. Up here are the Bundy jars, proof that this canyon does go somewhere. Miners came down here to camp, and legend has it left the jars. Whether the jars are old or more recent is open to question. It makes for a good short hike on a day that is getting too hot for comfort already.
We have precisely 14 miles to go today. It feels odd to have a schedule after two weeks of getting up and doing [almost] as we pleased, but this is the last full day we spend on the water. Camp tonight needs to be at mile 221 so that with a quick morning departure we can row the last 5 miles to Peach Springs, arrive at the take out at the assigned hour, unload our gear and get our old lives back. Two weeks living in the canyon is enough start loving it in a way that cannot be described. It’s also enough time to know that it is too harsh a place for humans to call home. Camp breaks down and packs quickly this morning. Either we are getting good at it or we are ready to go back, maybe a little of both. Peter looks tired, or relieved, can’t tell which.
The kayaks come out; it is a great day to play in the water. There will be riffles and small rapids, enough to stay cool but nothing that needs scouting. Mile 209 rapid has a reputation for a boat eater of a hole. Oarsmen who let down their attention end up on YouTube under headings of carnage and disaster. Today the hole was easy to skirt, but Pedro lined up and took it with momentum, popping gracefully out the other side, white spray everywhere.
Our old friend Vishnu Schist pops up at riverside for a few minutes then slides beneath the surface. We pull into Pumpkin Springs. From the river it looks JUST like a gigantic wet pumpkin. The spring sits in a single travertine bowl over which the water spills in a glossy sheet. The spring comes up through enough rocks that were once lava that in addition to the travertine, the water picks up a brew of truly toxic elements that stain the edge in shades of orange with streaks of brown. Today there is not enough water flowing over the edge to keep the top of the spring clean. Patches of ripe algae cover it. Little bubbles of gas dance to the surface, it smells of sulfur. This feels like a side trip to a sewage treatment plant.
Tracey has other ideas. Beyond the spring is a long terrace that skirts the river heading back upstream. It forms a ledge 30 feet above the river. As the river bends around the ledge the water boils along the base in a way that does not invite swimming. Before Glen Canyon Dam, the terrace was scoured by seasonal flooding. Loose rocks that found purchase wore down bowls, carving ever deeper producing swiss cheese holes of human size. Some of the holes are 10 feet deep and lead out the face of the ledge. At one place it is possible for the agile and daring to slither down one hole, go across the face and back up a second hole. 15 days out and the canyon can still surprise us with special moments. Thank you Tracey for sharing.
A few miles farther downstream Three Springs Canyon entertains us for the rest of the afternoon. The cliff face guarding the canyon on the upstream side is undercut by the current, making a shady basin under a 50 foot overhang used for long jumps into the river. Thanks to Jim’s super spiffy camera this is captured in high speed splendor. The year round spring on the other side of the overhang finds its way to the river in a gentle notch lined with vegetation. A ribbon of clear water curls and glides over polished rock until at one point a choke stone backs up the stream forming a perfect bath tub with a miniature jacuzzi water fall. It is lush down here, completely unlike the arid cactus garden along the top. The stream bed is only navigable for another 100 feet where the water disappears into a wall of reeds. An expedition picks its way as far as it can before turning around single file and heading back. We work our way out, until someone notices that we have all stepped right past a basking rattlesnake not once, but twice.
By mid afternoon we return to the rafts. Much like floating above Phantom Ranch, a little planning is necessary to get a nice camp in the right spot before take out. At 221 Mile Camp there is good news: it is open. We can make this our last stand, but the beach is egg frying hot with no shade in sight. At Rod’s suggestion we pull into a sweet strip of sand a few hundred feet upstream. It is no larger than the 6 rafts and it hugs the rocks giving us excellent views up and downstream. We have a lot of beer and a large bag of jerky we’d forgotten about, so the time is not wasted. The group grew quiet. It was a serene moment.
To my knowledge Peter has never engaged in a practical joke. Things are what they are. He has organized the trip with honesty, hard work and a sense of duty. He has inspired trust. So when Peter looked upstream into an empty, peaceful river yelling “Here come the commercials,” utter panic erupted. Several people so believed in Peter that I think they actually saw boats in the river. There were none. We all fell over with laughter. The camp is in shade now so it is time to move. Dinner is stir fry out of cans and excellent. We still have carrots, onions and celery, we still have ice. Appetizers are a smorgasbord of tinned fish, grape leaves and cheese.
The beach is broad with plenty of room for everything. We set the chairs up in a great circle and stay awake as long as we can. Two weeks ago a full moon drew shadows across the desert. Tonight, in a moonless sky, the dazzle of stars stretches to infinity. Fifteen days ago, 226 miles ago, 33 dozen eggs ago, 13,824,000,000 cubic feet of water ago [seriously, do the math] we spent our first night along the Colorado river, grateful for being here. Tonight, listening to the happy voices in the darkness, thinking on all that this trip has been…..the river, the people. I am again overwhelmed with gratitude.