Since my very first trip to the Southwest as a child it has held a special and magical place in my traveler’s heart. I think it is the wide open space, not possible in the Northeast (unless you climb a mountain!), the rich colors of the earth, the architecture, the culture, the food and the wild beauty. I love all of it. When I first visited Grand Canyon I had no idea that far, far below me a select few were having the time of their life riding the canyon’s wild Colorado river, spending quiet nights on its shores and exploring its many secrets and surprises. So upon discovering the opportunity that the Colorado River provides to explore Grand Canyon from below I knew my next adventure had to be rafting the Grand Canyon.
I chose to go on a 10-day motor raft trip with AzRA (Arizona Raft Adventures) along with my husband and mom. AzRA is one of the select few operators who get to take visitors down the Colorado and I wouldn’t go with any other company. AzRA is a family business, started in 1965, and now in its third generation of Grand Canyon boatmen owners. Their guides have an average of 14 years of experience and all not only have unique skills but care deeply about the enjoyment and safety of their guests. The company is fully committed to sustaining the delicate canyon environment for generations to come and holds itself to the highest conservation standards possible.
Our 10-day trip took us the entire length of Grand Canyon, 226 miles, from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek. We opted for a motor trip, as none of us had any real paddling experience. Though I would love to try another of AzRA’s offerings (particularly a hybrid trip) we did not regret our choice of a motor trip. It allowed us to relax, trust completely in our guide and just enjoy the experience. AzRA does offer an 8-day motor trip but I would definitely recommend 10 days as there is so much to see and do off the river. On a 8-day trip you’d be spending most of your time travelling the long miles on the boat; 10 days allows you to have time to get off and hike some of the side canyons which is an absolute must!
Our trip leader was Ed Hasse, a veteran boatman with 30+years experience on the river, seconded by his wife Sandra and assistant Steve (also a family relation though I forget how!). Ed steered our motley crew through miles of spectacular scenery, led fantastic hikes and skillfully navigated joyful rapids, always keeping us safe, informed and engaged. Our crew were also fantastic cooks, great teachers, entertainers and made each one of us feel special which is a remarkable quality in a backcountry guide. They love the canyon and the river with a palpable passion which stays with you long after you leave. They will have a special place in my heart forever.
After a long day on the river our team worked tirelessly everyday to provide fantastic meals that accommodated everyone’s tastes and diets. The rigs carry all the food they need for the entire trip in the hold which sits below the water line and stays as cool as a fridge. They also carry a full kitchen set up, water purification system and of course toilet! You take everything with you on a GC trip. Nothing is left behind. There are 3 solid meals a day plus snacks and electrolyte drinks/juice/water available all the time. You can check out our trip’s menu (and itinerary) here. We peeked at some of the other river trip’s spreads at the popular lunch spots and AzRA’s was 10x better!
Our boatmates ranged from 30-70 years old, but everyone was pretty active and up for great hikes and experiences. I think this trip would be an absolute blast for kids and am pretty sure the only reason there were none on our trip is that we went one week into the start of the school year. All the hiking on the trip is optional and chosen based on the level of experience in the group so go ahead and sign up your adventurous grandma. She won’t regret it!
Camping on the river is luxurious to those with backwoods experience but pretty rustic for those who are more used to “car camping” ie. flush toilets, showers, etc. You bathe in 48 degree river water, pee in the river (right next to your fellow boatmates, ladies!), go No. 2 in a glorified bucket and sleep on the ground. These things might sound out-of-the-question to first-timers but they are in fact part of what makes this trip such a memorable experience.
On the 10 day trip they try to split up the day with river time and canyon time, though there are a few long float days where you need to eat up miles to stay on schedule. The rapids on the Colorado are fun but not at all scary on the motor rig. However you will be very wet (which is sometimes great and sometimes freezing!). The hikes are always optional but I wouldn’t miss them if you can help it. There are some amazing sites hidden in the canyon which you can’t see from the boat. We were fortunate to visit some incredible, magical places.
Check out the slideshow below for some of my favorites:
In the end, the trip is of course not just about the scenery and the crew but also the amazing time you get to spend with your traveling companions, forging friendships and making lasting memories. The river has a community and culture all its own and many great stories emerge on the river. If you are interested in reading a great book of Grand Canyon River Stories I highly recommend this There’s this river… Grand Canyon Boatmen Stories by Christa Sadler.
Our trip took its place in river lore in the wee hours of our 7th day. We had camped that eve at Below Bedrock at mile 132. Ed had pulled the rig up to an area downstream of the camp and secured it for the evening. About 2 or 3am he had gotten up to go pee or something and suddenly where there had been 2 feet of water the night before his feet met solid sand. Uh oh. The level of the Colorado River is controlled by the dam at Lake Powell and while he had been anticipating a change in the river’s level the next day, they had dropped the river early and here was our 1000 pound giant of a boat… beached on a hidden river sandbar. His coffee cup clanging woke us all to stare in disbelief at our beached boat in the light of our headlamps. The next few hours were a blur of pushing, dismantling, moving, cursing and head scratching. But we were determined to get free! After we had removed all the gear, the pontoons, the gangways, everything… we started digging. We wedged the propane tanks under the back side of the boat, dug and pushed and HOOHA! – we were free. With another group of people this may have been a disaster but our scrappy and capable companions gave it their all and it bonded us, guides and guests, for the duration. Our trip took the name “Big Dig Motor Rig” and has certainly taken its place in river lore… that is if Ed ever told anyone! 🙂
To read a more detailed account of our river itinerary click here.
For my Essential Packing List for Grand Canyon rafting trips click here.
If you are still on the fence about rafting the Grand Canyon feel free to contact me with any questions or check out AzRA’s many reviews on Tripadvisor. For information on all AzRA’s river offerings visit their website.