The day after Christmas next year, I will be hiking down the trail to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon’s gorge. However, I will noy be making the hike back up to the rim. The Colorado river will be my transportation back to civilization. I will be meeting up with a group of friends in rafts. They are starting the trip further up-stream on December 16th. About a year ago, we signed up for the Grand Canyon lottery river access permit. Many years ago, the national park service decided to limit the amount of rafts and kayaks on the river because of the over crowding issue. Before the permit system, boaters could paddle the river whenever they pleased, but this resulted in some serious devastation of the Grand Canyon’s environment. Paddlers left trash on the river banks. One fo the worst results of the unrestricted paddling was the issue of human waste removal. The Grand Canyon rarely gets any rain. The water in the river comes from the headwaters which are located in Wyoming and Colorado. So, the human waste needs to be removed because it will not wash away without the rains.
The trip will take about 25 days. All supplies will be carried down on a raft, while the rest of us kayak. We will also be transporting every bit of waste we make out of the canyon. This includes “everything”. The part I’m looking forward to the most is the geological aspect of the trip. Before the class, I would have had no idea about the rocks and geologic history that will be passing us every day out on the river. The hikes up the side canyons are supposed to be some of the best parts about the trip as well.
Water erosion was the main culprit in the making of the Grand Canyon. Ice and wind have also had an impact. The land around the canyon is desert like. The hot sun bakes the land into a hard soil that does not absorb water well. Since the soil does not absorb water, plants do not have extensive root systems that reach down into the depths of the soil. Roots are a major contributor to keeping erosion at bay. So when it does rain, the water is not absorbed into the ground and runs off in huge amounts into the river. This makes a powerful churning earth moving river. Also, during the winter the water seeps into cracks along the canyon walls. When it freezes, the ice expands in the cracks shearing off huge chunks of canyon wall and rocks. I will be kayaking the Grand Canyon during the winter, so unfortunately I might witness some of these cold nights when rocks may be cracked off the canyon walls. The water are also cutting through softer limestone, sandstone, and shale. The power of a river is measured in CFS. The popular Nantahala in the western part of our state runs at about 800 CFS. The Colorado ran in the past at about 100,000 CFS. Big difference in power.