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Whitewater rafting through Grand Canyon

Ruby Briggs, Director of Visit USA and Managing Director of North America Travel Service, outlines her memories of a bucketlist experience through Grand Canyon:

We all have a 'Bucket List' when it comes to travel plans and on the top of my list for over 25 years was a white-water rafting trip on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. 

For someone who’s been in the travel business for over 40 years, you might ask “why did it take you so long to tick it off your list?”.  Good question!  Well, I’d always had this vision of sharing the experience with a friend but it seemed that my long sought-after dream trip wasn’t on any of my friends' lists! Then, one New Years’ Eve (possibly after a couple of glasses of Champagne!) I happened to mention that I’d always wanted to do this trip but I could never find anyone to do it with me.  To my amazement, a friend’s instant reply was “I’ll do it with you”. 

There are strict controls on the issuance of licenses to operate these trips so we knew we needed to plan well ahead and we also knew that we needed to train for the trip so we spent the next 8 months getting into shape and counting down the days.

We flew to Phoenix, Arizona and after a few days enjoying fabulous Scottsdale, drove north to Flagstaff.  That evening we met our river guide, picked up our kit bags for the trip and then it was time for an early night before leaving at dawn the next day on our 3-hour journey to the start of the Colorado River!

We drove to Lees Ferry at the eastern entrance to Grand Canyon, boarded our rafts and started our journey.  I'm not ashamed to admit that during those first few miles on the mighty Colorado, the realisation that I was actually embarking on my dream trip was all too much, and I couldn't contain the tears of joy.  This truly was a dream that was eventually coming true.

Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm definitely a 'deluxe hotel with a luxurious marble bathroom with a spacious power shower' kinda girl and camping was something I'd only done when I was a Girl Guide so this was way out of my comfort zone but, to my surprise, I totally embraced the opportunity of being at one with nature.  The awesome grandeur of the Canyon at every turn meant that nothing else mattered.  In fact, pitching my tent every evening, sleeping under the stars and washing in the cool Colorado river was as enticing as the daily afternoon hikes through the countless side canyons.  

Riding the exhilarating rapids each day together with the constantly changing scenery littered with waterfalls, wildlife and breath-taking rock formations formed over millions of years, all of which can truly only be experienced from below the rim from the mighty Colorado River, not only lived up to but exceeded my every expectation.  

At over 220 miles long, Grand Canyon takes just under 3 weeks to navigate by river from east to west and on this trip we travelled along the first 88 miles, leaving the river at Phantom Ranch where we spent the night before leaving in the dark, around 4am the following morning, to hike the 10 mile - all uphill - along Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim where our hotel (with a marble bathroom and power shower!) and a chilled bottle of Champagne were waiting for us.

It was a week full of amazing experiences but it just felt as if there was some unfinished business to be done so the following year we returned, starting from the South Rim of the Canyon with the 10-mile hike down Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch where we re-joined the Colorado River.  We spent the next two weeks rafting the remaining 140 miles through Grand Canyon and every day was as exciting as the last.

I once overheard someone refer to the Grand Canyon as 'a bloody great hole in the ground'!!  I only wish everyone could see that 'hole in the ground' from the river because I'm sure it would change their perspective of this inspiring natural wonder.  There's certainly no place on earth like Grand Canyon.

Posted on: 04/11/2020

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