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Tue, March 19

Float on the wild side with the Hualapai

River runners use a portable ladder to get closer to the top of Travertine Falls.

We took part in a special trip that Bureau of Indian Affairs Field Superintendent Bob McNichols books every year, and this time around, it just happened to fall on the Summer Solstice. Bob had two cancellations he needed to fill, and I just happened to call on the right day. I offered fellow reporter Murphy Hébert a chance to go along since she'd never been on a raft trip.

We left the Hualapai Lodge along Route 66 in Peach Springs for a 16-mile bus ride on a dirt road 3,000 feet down into a canyon to the boat launch at Diamond Creek. This was an adventure in itself.

The guides provide life vests, food, drinks and wet bags to store extra clothing and other items. It's a good idea to bring rain-type gear in case you grow tired of getting wet, especially if the forecast is not predicting sunny and warm weather. It's also best to bring a fanny pack for easy access to a waterproof camera and sunscreen, and to keep car keys secure.

As the boats launch, the grandeur of the narrow canyon reaching thousands of feet above the river is enough to leave riders gaping as they crank their necks back to see it all.

But first-timers have a hard time concentrating on the scenery as they ponder what's ahead on the mighty Colorado.

The anticipation and trepidation of wondering how we might react to the rapids doesn't last long, however, because it's not long before the boats start hitting them.

Nine rapids fall in succession over the next 10 miles, with just enough time between them to dry off if you're smart enough to wear quick-drying shorts.

The rapids ratings range from 2 to 5, in a rating system in which 1 is the easiest and 6 is basically unrunnable. The 5 is aptly named Dragon's Tooth.

"Five will rock your world and at times will turn your whole raft," said Majenty, who has taken the trip many times. "But once you're there and experience it, there's a sigh of relief because it's not as bad as you thought it would be. You do get an adrenaline rush, but it's not as crazy as your mind can entertain."

The force of the wall of water is shocking the first time the pontoon drops into a major rapid. The next time, everyone's ready for it and more confident. It's also nice to hear that no one has been injured on a Hualapai trip since they started in 1973.

Riders calm down after the wild ride during a stop at the spectacular Travertine Falls that have carved their way through the cliff side. There's time to hike up the falls and marvel in their beauty.

Lunch on a sandy beach comes soon afterward.

Then it's time to relax and really take in the sights as the boats meander on down the river to Lake Mead. Some rafters on our trip spotted bighorn sheep on the jagged rocks, and great blue herons were common sights.

McNichols encouraged us to bring water guns, and we found out why after he dumped an entire bucket of water on us whenever his boat got close enough to attack.

But Bob's buckets didn't faze us after the bucket loads of water that Mother Nature had pounded against us.

The only sign of humans outside the boats is at Guano Point, where rafters spot a cable hoist that once carried a cable high across the river to pick up bat droppings for sale as fertilizer. One can't help but figure that there are more accessible bat caves in the area.

As we floated past Separation Canyon, our Hualapai guide noted how some of the men on John Wesley Powell's 1869 expedition decided they had enough and abandoned that river trip.

O.G. Howland, his brother Senaca and Bill Dunn tried to convince Powell to quit too, but he wouldn't do it. The three men hiked out of the canyon only to reportedly die at the hands of Paiute Indians who mistook the men for miners who had killed a Hualapai woman.

Two days later, Powell's expedition ended at the mouth of the Virgin River, which now is under Lake Mead.

After 37 miles, the Grand Canyon River Runners day trip usually ends in an uplifting helicopter ride that takes people out of the canyon to waiting vehicles long before the waters of the Colorado join the Virgin River, But it was too windy on the day of our trip.

So we continued another 30 river miles to South Cove on Lake Mead, then returned to the Hualapai Lodge via back roads as we watched the sun set on a huge Joshua tree forest framed by the Grand Wash Cliffs.

We made full use of all the daylight that was available. It felt good to do that on the longest day of the year.

Contact Joanna Dodder at


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