Posted by: evanstafford | July 18, 2012

The Raw Power of Natures Scalpel On Display – The Grand Canyon

Within the first few days of joining the ranks of amateur river rat, a.k.a. raft guide in training, I had heard about the Grand. And the stories continued to grow for a number of years until I put it out of mind as too long, too much rafting, not enough class V, blah, blah, blah, but even then I knew that these were mere excuses for not getting invited on a permit that would work. Then I had kids and I just kind of conceded that I wouldn’t go until they were old enough to come along.

Then the permit system changed for the better and all of the sudden I was getting invitations. But in a twist of karmic retribution, some of the excuses had become reality. The time off needed was too long, even for the self/semi-employed, and it still kind of sounded like A LOT of flat water.

Through the years I had heard about a different way to see the Grand. One that seemed more appropriate for a paddler of my persuasion. Pile everything into a kayak and forget about the rafts. There was always a lingering doubt though how awesome that would be, since it seemed like an exercise in getting down the canyon as fast as possible paddling a sea kayak. It sounded like fun but almost a waste of the permit. If I only wanted to spend five days out, I could do any of the Idaho classics and do it without paddling 200+ miles of flat water.

Then I saw some pictures of the Remix XP/Boyce Greer inspired trips. Woody couldn’t say enough about the experience and it was to become an annual sojourn. Two weeks on the water with all the luxuries you could want all wrapped up in a crossover boat that can store it all and run the good whitewater with ease.

I badly wanted in now, but again the timing just wouldn’t quite work out. Finally, WSR co-author/amigo de kayak Kyle McCutchen and his lady friend scored a permit. Yes, it would mean missing Thanksgiving with the family, but I eventually got the go ahead for the trip of a lifetime.

The foundation of modern day river running can in many ways be traced to John Wesley Powell’s expeditions down the Green and Colorado Rivers. The spiritual epicenter for the native peoples of the southwest can also in many ways be traced to the Colorado River. For many tribes, their ancestors are believed to have originated in and around the Grand Canyon. It is at this intersection of ancient faith and modern day river exploration that a lucky few find themselves coursing one of nature’s finest temples fondly referred to as The Ditch. After a trip through the canyon I do have the distinct feeling of being one of the chosen ones.

It’s a place where cultures and values collide, from dams versus wilderness to early European settlers versus native tribes. This collision of sorts is played out across the landscape and across time, and though the canyon bears the scars of these battles, its significance and sanctity remain. From the clear water put-in, on over 20,000 cfs, in November, to the reservoir scarred landscape below Separation Canyon, the river did not hide its influences by man. Instead it embraces them and encourages visitors to look deeper into its history and understand its role in the civilizations that have inhabited the area, including our own.

All of the sacredness truly does remain. Spiritual vortex or not, there is no question that the canyons numerous springs and oasis’ provided some of the most habitable and stunning environments in all of North America for native people. The longevity for which human life has thrived in the area is palpable. The air you’re breathing just seems to be filled with the spirits of an ancestry that goes back possibly to the dawn of humankind as we know it. Waking up on an expansive beach deep within the canyon brings an excitement that only the promise of a day full of playful big water rapids and exploration of wild places can. Every night by the firepan is encircled by an endless sea of stars framed by the jagged edge of the canyon rim. The whiskey tends to flow freely.

The rhythm of river life takes over and the ritualistic packing and unpacking of your boat becomes a dance all its own. Especially if you bring an iPod and one of those fancy waterproof boom boxes. The self-support dynamic is something I’ve grown to long for between wilderness excursions and the Grand is the longest I’ve been lucky enough to sustain the feeling. One or two nights in the Clarks Fork Box will forge an unbelievable trust and bond of friendship in people you barely know, but two weeks in the Grand breeds a surreal closeness that captures the imagination.

What if all the nature haters I’ve known in my life were forced to spend two weeks on the Grand? Would they come out changed people on the other side? OK it might take a month in rafts cause most nature haters don’t kayak, but the Canyon makes you see things from a different perspective. The raw power of nature’s scalpel, to shape and forge the incredible landscapes hidden within this Grand Ditch is mind blowing. It’s impossible to capture, but these photos are my attempt to bring something home with me. To remind me that powers greater than my own, greater than all of man kinds combined, are out there, are right here, and that no amount of indoctrination can hide them in a place like this.

Monument Valley on the drive in

Mike Pagel with a, um, loaded XP. Check the water line. Pagel arranged for a Thanksgiving turkey to be dropped for us by some rafts. Nothing quite like a smoked turkey, stuffing, cranberries, green beans and some bags of wine deep in the canyon to give thanks for everything we’ve got.

Ready at the put-in with the Straight Rocky Mountain, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey… transferred to a plastic bottle for safe canyon transport

Spend all day paddling sweet rapids, exploring sweet side canyons and ingesting various substances, pull up to a sweet beach, unload all of your sweet shit, and ingest more substances. Wake and repeat.

Pagel preparing to swan dive in the Silver Grotto of Shimuno Wash

Shimuno Wash natural waterpark. When I was kid I dreamed what Water World was gonna be like and then when I went there it was kind of a disappointment… well this is the real deal.

Justin Meritt launching off the wall in the Silver Grotto

Justin pulling out of Redwall Cavern. The gorge immediately downstream is full of the most incredible canyon walls I’ve possibly ever seen. The best way I can describe it is it looks like ancient mermaid castle ruins, as it was once, I believe, part of a shallow tropical marine environment teaming with life

Lana Young in Granite Rapid

Hands in Clear Creek

Willie Illingworrth slipping past the crashing Hermits

Lana Banana crashing right into Hermits

Getting it all packed up in the morning

Group shot in the pink Zoraoster Granite canyon

Deer Creek Falls

Deer Creek. This place is a Temple, especially the tapeats narrows near the confluence and the spring that feeds the creek year round. The Southern Paiute tribes hold this as one of their most sacred sites and it was hard not to feel the power of a holy land surrounding you while visiting. Pretty much how I envision it feels visiting some of he biblically referenced canyon country in Israel

Susan in her neon super woman outift

Adam Craig ready to make the ferry back to camp from Deer Creek after a long day of exploration

Boat docking in Matkatamiba Canyon

Trip leaders Cutch and Tina Swan lunching at MatKat

Susan Hollingsworth slip sliding her way down MatKat’s inner canyon

Susan and Lisa backstroking back to their boats in MatKat

The ultra-classic Elves Chasm

The girls checking out Susan’s dinnertime yoga regiment

One of my favorite camps, Last Chance. This was my set-up most nights – sandy flat spot, hang gear on rocks around me, lay sleeping pad and bag down, sleep.

Pagel contemplating… isn’t life grand, hmmmm

When you pull into Havasu, the blue water and the tight gorge you pull into is pretty breathtaking. We pulled in at first light and as we paddled up to the creeks last travertine waterfalls, a group of rams was leaping across the river from boulder to boulder. Lisa Marie clearly enjoying herself. I’m not sure her outfit could be more coordinated for this shot either!

Justin and Adam making their way up Havasu Creek

Awesome springs pouring into Havasu

Susan thought Mooney falls was so sweet she decided to do some cartwheels for us

Up from Mooney Falls requires climbing some ladders and chains and then climbing behind some travertine formations, basically going right into the cliff. It’s pretty spectacular.

Looking out from behind one of the formations

One of the caves you climb through

And back down again, after a visit to Havasu Falls upstream which was too contrasting in the blazing November sun for any good shots

Farewell Havasu. Pretty much one of the coolest places on earth


Jen Peterson finishing her scout of Lava and Willie in the background ready to get some

Willie finishing Lava

Cutch getting lifted in Lava

Cutch’s only shower of the whole trip

Nearing Pearce Ferry

The crew! What a sick trip



  1. Great photos and a wonderful way with words…Atom

  2. Looks like a great trip.

  3. Hell yeah!!! Sick trip indeed! Nice piece of work there too, Evan!

  4. Awesome write-up. Thanks for sharing. Makes me want to go.

  5. incredible. i want to go to there.

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