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Grand Canyon
Looking downstream from river mile 242 where the Hualapai picked up our hikers

Flipping a Grand Canyon raft
It took three men with all their might to flip a loaded, overturned raft—the result of Killer Fang Falls rapid.

A grand time in river time

—BARB AND TY BELKNAP
There we were at long last, rowing the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. It was the fulfillment of a dream—part of it anyway. We put in at Diamond Creek where most boaters take out. It’s the first road access to the river after Lee’s Ferry, 226 miles upstream, and the last before Lake Mead, seventy miles downstream.

Our trip leader and permit holder seemed to know this Lower Granite Gorge just like the back of his hand. Just a few miles and a few easy rapids after put-in, we stopped for lunch at a slot canyon with an impressive series of waterfalls near the river. The evaporative cooling effect was a welcome relief from temperatures soaring toward one-hundred degrees.

That night, one intrepid rafter talked about a book he enjoyed called Sunk Without A Sound—the tragic Colorado River honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde, by Brad Dimock. He was excited and a little anxious about a rapid two miles downstream called Killer Fang Falls (we love that name) where Glen and Bessie probably drowned in 1928.

Dimock described Killer Fang as follows:

... the first giant breaking diagonal wave would have slammed them toward the right. Two more diagonal waves in quick succession would have forced them further to the right ... Adrift in the main current, they would have hurtled down the right shore straight into three bedrock fangs, just five feet above the river ... Study will probably show that this one has gotten more victims than any three other rapids in the canyon combined.

Because of his fascination with this rapid and because of his great affection for the canyon, our friend had decided to scatter some of his dearly departed mother’s ashes here. The moment his wife released the ashes, their boat flipped in the aforementioned “giant breaking diagonal wave,” ejecting the couple into the main current, where they had to swim hard to avoid being pinned between the overturned raft and the fangs. They were sucked briefly into a hole below the fangs (hole: a dangerous recirculating hydraulic feature).

We all survived, but lost a few hours rescuing swimmers, retrieving the raft, and flipping it back over. Not that it mattered, since the plan was to spend five days in three separate camps in the first ten miles.

While the swimmers bailed out their “dry box,” the conversation turned to the time our trip leader snagged his “flip lines” on the fangs ... and flipped. A flip line is a rope tied under a raft that enables swimmers to pull themselves onto the overturned raft. He was convinced at the time of the danger of entrapment in a “chicken line,” which is a rope strung all the way around the raft through D-rings that are attached to the sides of the inflatable tubes.

Another rafter who was feeling pretty cocky after negotiating the fangs said, “What a bunch of BS. How could you get caught in a chicken line?” Shortly afterward at camp, he found out the hard way when, attempting to bounce off the tube of his raft and into the river, he slipped behind the chicken line and landed face first in the water from the waist up, entrapped with his heels hooked under the tube and the rope digging deep into his shins. He was totally immobilized, head under water, sticking straight out in front of the raft like a human bowsprit.

Interrogators at Abu Ghraib could not have devised a more excruciating torture. Luckily, his audience rescued him quickly, and resumed laughing and razzing him while he iced his shins with a cold beer.

Most of the excitement of an eight-day trip took place during this three-hour period ... well, there was that other time when two of the women hiked down into a canyon upstream and were saved from a two-hour hike up and over difficult hot terrain by motorized Hualapai tour boats. But that’s a long story.

Some people enjoy this same trip through the Grand Canyon in a single day by booking a seat with the Hualapai. They also offer helicopter rides from Las Vegas over a later section of canyon and then fly you back in time for afternoon gambling.

One night we had to camp near the helicopter landing pads. It was like a scene from Apocalypse Now until sunset, when they stopped flying. Campsites were limited on this lower section because Lake Mead has dropped to record-low levels, leaving a silty bathtub ring around the reservoir, and the river is lined with inaccessibly steep banks topped with salt cedar. Ironically, it is the drought and low levels that made this trip feasible in the first place, because for the first time in years, the river flows steadily well into the lake. We easily rowed twenty-eight miles one day and finally across the lake to South Cove, spared from the still water and powerful head winds that often turn this beautiful little float into a colossal struggle.

The canyon was grand. The river was clear and green. The weather was perfect. Things could have been a lot worse.


Heard In The West

—BETSY MARSTON

UTAH
Booming St. George in southern Utah has an odd disconnect going when it comes to the price of new homes. The Spectrum noted recently that while median household income was a reasonable $40,000, the median price of homes featured in a 25-home public tour was a hefty $1 million, with a $955,000 home considered "affordable" and "normal." The most expensive house on the popular $10 tour cost $5.3 million and enclosed 10,723 square-feet. Its footprint on the land was unusual: Part of an ancient lava-rock field had to be blasted flat by 3,400 sticks of dynamite. The place dumbfounded one visitor, who exclaimed: "This is indescribable. It bankrupts the English language." The homeowners say they will live in their new house six months of the year, spending the rest of the time in Montana.

COLORADO
The carpool-lane scofflaw who got busted for hauling a doll-like companion in his car had a good time carrying out his punishment. A Westminster municipal judge ordered Greg Pringle, 54, to stand by the side of a busy highway and its HOV lane for four hours, holding aloft a huge sign that read: "HOV LANE IS NOT FOR DUMMIES." Drivers honked and waved at Pringle, reports the Denver Post, and Pringle did a lot of waving back while also chatting with reporters. Accompanying him during this roadside mission — just as she did in the passenger seat of his car — was "Tillie," the badly dressed fake passenger he chauffeured for nearly a year. "She’s hurting," Pringle said. "She wants to be free and riding in that fast lane." Tillie quickly became a collector’s item, selling on eBay recently for $15,000. Pringle donated the proceeds to a group that promotes safe driving, but he’ll no doubt miss Tillie’s company: She cut his commute time to downtown Denver by 30 minutes.

CALIFORNIA
Military recruiters may be more desperate than reported. In Saugus, Calif., 78-year-old Sonia Goldstein received a flattering letter from the Marine Corps, asking her to enlist because her talents were needed by the "few and the proud." Goldstein told the Associated Press that even though she uses a walker to get around, she’d do what she could for this country. "But you know, this is kind of stretching it a bit."

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (betsym@hcn.org).



 

 

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