Third Grand Canyon Trip - June 1992

Arrival at Lee's Ferry


The following is a transcription of a journal that I kept during a Grand Canyon trip in the summer of 1992. This was my third trip in the Grand Canyon and my first as trip leader/permitee. I brought my wife Rebecca, veteran of a previous Colorado trip, and two of my daughters, Rachel and Jennifer. They were experienced boaters, mostly in paddle rafts, and had acquitted themselves well on previous multi-day trips. The majority of our crew was composed of folks from western Sonoma county (an area just 50 or so miles north of the Golden Gate), that knew each other fairly well.

The exception to that rule was that two of my sisters (from Oklahoma), Kathleen and Rosemary, were able to join us for the first part of the trip only. I warned them about that, but to no avail. Kathleen and Rose were enthusiastic neophytes. Charley Netzow brought his wife Pam, his daughter Georgia and a shiny new 20' Hercules raft that hauled a ton of freight. The Dooley's and the Netzow's had gone down many rivers together. Gerry Louis, accompanied by Martha Hyde from Mendocino county, rowed a Shoshone III. I met Martha on my second Colorado trip. Gerry has been boating since I've known him. Willy Crane was the other "experienced" boatman, as well as an accomplished fisherman. I think that he's spent more time on the water than off. Willy rowed a self-bailing Avon Adventurer.

At Lee's Ferry, we constituted a four boat, twelve passenger trip. Although we had planned this trip months in advance, it was almost terminated by a very unfortunate situation. As events worked out, we arrived at Lee's Ferry with enough inertia to put on the river and soak up the majesty of the Grand Canyon. I hope you enjoy reading this. Please let me know your reaction.

20 June - Saturday - on the road from L.A.

Today, we are either in Venice or L.A., depending on how you look at it. It is a few months after the Rodney King riots of April of 1992. We made continuous visits to Venice from our home in northern California during that spring, then Rebecca stayed with Danny here as he wasted away from AIDS during May and early June. Danny died 10 days ago and Rebecca returned north, exhausted and in need of rest. At this point, we have returned to LA and are helping Maggie (his sister) in cleaning up the remnant threads from Danny's life here. We have especially returned to attend the memorial service that friends of his from AA have set up at the Rose Street beach at 10:30 this Saturday morning. Neither Rebecca nor myself feel up to saying any words or telling any stories on Danny at this time. We go back to the apartment to pick up our gear and prepare to leave this wretched place.

We leave at about two in the afternoon. Rebecca, Rachel and Jennifer conk out in their seats. They've had it. My forehead, indeed all of my head, is sunburned because I didn't wear my sun hat at the beach... It takes forever driving on the highway at the base of the mountains encircling LA to get out of this city-hell, but we finally begin to climb out of the L.A. basin. At about five that evening we are in the mountains and wandering when the smog will begin to disappear. I stop to check my oil and add a quart to the VW Bus. I wouldn't want to cross the desert with a crippled cooling system, right? The others revive momentarily.

We pass through Barstow along about seven and soon stop at a casino-like fake front building in Jean, Nevada to have dinner. What a mistake! An interminable line for sub-par fare with the flashing lights and ringing bells of slot machines sweetly playing in the background. We promise the girls that our canyon trip will not end with the obligatory pilgrimage to Las Vegas. They hate Nevada. After food and gas, we drive on into the night. Past Las Vegas, a Nevada State trooper slowly pulls up along side us to inspect the oar frame strapped to the top of our VW Bus. We try hard to intuit the right spot to road camp and pull off the first time at a bullet scarred sign directing us down a side road to Overton. No obvious camping at Overton, 20 miles toward Lake Mead, so back to the highway and now low on gas. Off to the left we go just after the Ute exit, our headlights illumine no beckoning sleeping place so we backtrack to the highway and then flag a right on a dirt track right there at the turn-off that quickly turns to sand. When the bus completely bogs down, I turn the key off and declare this an official Dooley camping spot. Nobody disagrees. We lay down some tarps, unfold our bags, blow up our air mattresses and float off into exhausted sleep counting satellites. Except for the casino, no one has become grouchy at the indignities of travel. This is distinctly unusual. As for me, I'm glad to be on the road again.

21 June - Sunday - Nevada sand trap to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

After loading the van and digging the rear wheels out a little bit, the women all push as I try to back this thing out of the sand. Steering, I find, is a dispensable art. When one steers going backwards in the sand one creates drag, the enemy of motion and with sufficient drag all motion ceases. "Don't steer so much!" they shout and shortly we free ourselves of the desert sand and drive off to get gas at Mesquite and some Sunday brunch in St. George. If it had been possible, (keeping our eyes open that is) we could have slept at a roadside camping area on the Virgin River in this tremendous river gorge just past Mesquite. Real pretty! St. George is not Cedar City, we discover, but there are some neat garage sales going on. Through Hurricane, Kanab, Fredonia (free women!), and continuing on Rt. 89, we head to the North Rim to meet up with the gang. We get to the rim that afternoon and naturally want to look over the edge, walking along the parking lot and peering over into the depths, a little hazy towards the bottom, we can't see the river from here. All of us take a tour of the stone buildings, Lodge and souvenir shops and Rebecca buys a beaded belt.

After going out to the overlook and walking various other North Rim paths, I wonder if maybe they forgot the way? Walking back to the parking lot, we spy Willy (or he spies us) and we chat until Gerry pulls in. Shortly thereafter, we see Georgia beside her family's Ford van and we begin to have a meeting. Pam and Charley appear. We caravan out to Cape Royal and look down upon the Colorado River for the first time.

Remember to click on any thumbnail pictures if you'd like to see larger versions.

North Rim View  North Rim View  North Rim View
Looking through Angel Eye  View from Cape Royal  Another view from Cape Royal

We can see the entrance to Unkar Rapids from Angel Eye. A few photos are taken. Everybody hikes out to the point. After driving back to the North Rim, we get supper at the North Rim Cafeteria, real food for us commoners, real "simple" food, ribs as I recall. Willy and I eat our share. At dusk we all caravan out of the park, turn left up a logging road and pull off the way after about a mile and a half. The crew spreads tarps, unfurls bags, pumps up air mattresses, finds pillows, erects a tent or two, almost automatic by now... Cloudy skies keep us from counting much of anything. I gaze at the heavens until I see a satellite. To sleep.

22 June - Monday - North Rim to upper campsites at Lee's Ferry

We leave the North Rim sleep site and go a little further from the park to find a lodge serving breakfast. Rebecca and the girls, Charley and family remain to enjoy the North Rim sights, Willy and I travel to Page to ensure that the meat order and similar stuff is being attended to, Gerry and Martha accompany us in their van. We stop for gas at Jacob's Lake. The drive is its usual spectacular self. Lee's Ferry looks hot and familiar. Willy makes arrangements for the forgotten garlic to be shipped to us c/o General Delivery at the Post Office at Marble Canyon Lodge. We cross Navaho Bridge and go on to Page and find Basha's at the turnoff. We check with the store manager to see if the meat order is being taken care of; it is. We meet with Martha and Gerry to buy some stuff for dinner that night and also do some shopping for the trip. As we are loading the truck, Willy forks over a twenty for an interim beer buy and I trot back into the store to get it.

We are all high in that peculiar kind of way as we see the trip being realized, knowing that we are in and of it. Back to Lee's Ferry where we meet the rest of the group and elect to camp at the upper Park pay area rather than the sand spit down by the river in the Tamarisks. Dinner is loosely organized, toasts are made and there is a desultory effort at packing. We are beginning to form up as a group. With 48 hours to organize the put-in food packing, things look pretty good. A brisk breeze helps us to overcome the pre-trip giddy's and we doze off under a partially cloudy sky. My sisters, Kathleen and Rosemary, are to arrive tomorrow and then our company will be complete.

23 June - Tuesday - organization and form-up at Lee's Ferry

During breakfast coffee, Willy notices a pool of liquid under his truck engine. We determine that there is a coolant leak at an eroded heater bypass tee. After breakfast, I volunteer to go into Page to intercede with the parts gods and promise to get the right part back to fix this mess. The entire morning is spent in Page, founded in 1962 shortly before the finishing touches were put on Glen Canyon Dam. Progress is a little slow but I return with a fix around 1 PM. The boats have been unrolled and pumped up after the ranger (Tom Workman) had given us the go ahead. Charley volunteers to accompany me back to Page that afternoon to finish the food buy. Rosemary and Kathleen are due in that evening on a bus from the South Rim and so at 4 PM we leave Willy and Gerry in charge of sorting out and packing general foods.

Charley and I get to Page and buy a knife for him at Wal-Mart as well as pop and fishing lures for me. Its about 5:30 as we get the frozen meat and then start browsing among the veggies, fruit and other stuff on the list at Basha's. Martha insists that we have more than one new scrubber to do the dishes with, we splurge and get half a dozen. After the grocery buy, I get my soda and beer, carefully buying the diet Coke that I have been assured is the only thing that Kathleen drinks. Both Katy and Rose have represented themselves as vegetarians and, of course, having been on other trips, I am suspicious. Charley and I pack the various freezers under the overhangs at Basha's as the sky dumps cold rain all over us. We stock up on ice and drive back to Lee's Ferry relieved at finishing the last major chore needed to get away from the ramp. We stop at Marble Canyon Lodge under cool breezy conditions to find the assembled rafting adventurers in full company in the dining room. I get to hug Rosemary and Kathleen. Eat leftovers. Pay check. Buy fishing license and a new river guide. We go back to the upper campsites to set up the sleeping arrangements. The camp host causes quite a rude interruption, demanding payment that night, he would've liked it if we had done all this hours ago, blah bluh-blah ba. We fill out the forms, yatta-yatta. A breezy place to count stars. Can't wait for tomorrow.

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© 1996 Michael Dooley