It is Helicopter morning at Whitmore Wash as the ferry helicopters roar in over the rim and bank up river to take on a load of departing commercial passengers. The choppers are a great deal more sedate when they take off. We do breakfast, clean-up and camp tear-down and float all day in the blazing sun to arrive at Granite Park where we decide to continue on.
The camp site at that bend is an inferno with very little shade, so we launch downstream, pulling hard left to miss Gerry's favorite muncher hole at Mile 209 rapid. As we drift on, we find that all the next camps are taken by commercial groups. We are forced downstream to find one of our favorite campsites at 214 Mile Creek, complete with rock ledge overhang. Later that evening, we get a rain that drenches the beach during a magnificent lightning display that comes over us from the south. The girls do a thunder and lightning dance featuring numerous dives into the Colorado. What beautiful weather we have had all down the river! Bailey's Irish Cream is passed around as we appreciate nature's gaudy show.
Unfortunately, I had only thrown a tarp over our sleeping arrangements. Rebecca would like perfect luck with things like that; I point out that we were lucky not to see our tent and gear blown down river. I'll give serious consideration to erecting the tent next time. Uh-huh. Everyone else slept under the ledge and was perfectly dry.
After a ten mile float, we passed Diamond Creek. We see Dog Puss and the wedding party loading their gear onto a van and a flatbed trailer for the long drive up Diamond Creek's rocky stream bed and all the way back to Lee's Ferry. They have to go all the way back? Too bad! Gerry pays some local $5.00 to send him some Marlboros via the Supai rafting service the next day before we pass Separation. Diamond Creek is the official finish line that we had to arrive at before this evening, in order to conform to the rules of our permit.
Lower gorge view
We made camp later that afternoon down from Travertine Canyon next to the trickling falls on river left. We played and bathed. Red ants are in profusion in the tiny sand alcove beach camp. We nap comfortably finding just enough shade. Space is at a premium; Charley places the shitter almost in the creek bed on the path to the sand sleeping area. When the water comes up that evening, it laps at the foot of the rocket box. The Colorado turns a real pretty red/brown that evening and lives up to its name. Flash flooding up some canyon upstream? The setting sun reflects off the rich red chocolate river and lights up the canyon.
After getting a late start launching from Travertine, we pass through about four class 6 rapids and arrive at Separation by early afternoon. Gerry and Willy see no reason to continue to float. After swimming and trying to eke out some shade in the insect infested tammis, we make our last camp. Martha suffers again from red ant bites and we dig out the last of Kathleen's Benedril. Scrambling amongst the boulders, we find the "historic" marker on the downstream side of Separation Canyon that notes the parting of the ways on the Powell trip.
That night, after we see lightning in the distance and watch it get closer and closer, it rains. We all have tarps or tents up and are ready for this one. Two snout rigs lashed together float past us during the storm that night. The girls continue the thunder and lightning dance from a few days ago in front of their tent. The snout rig guys comment on this of course. We hear their ghostly laughter.
Rebecca is "so glad" that the tent is up. It was ready to blow into the river when we got into it, though, even with rocks as ballast. Great storm, raindrops pelted the tent. We poked our heads out as the almost invisible snout rigs slipped past us in the moonlit night. Tomorrow night we will be floating in the moonlight too.
A big aluminum jet boat pushes its nose onto the beach at about 7 am. We make our first contact with Wade Falany, the guy that I called two weeks before we left, whose business is to tow us across Lake Mead. I see some relief on Gerry and Charley's part as they have only had my word that arrangements were made and things would work out. Wade says that the first boat will pass us on the lake at about 6 or so and that he'll be ready to pick us up at about 9:30 at a place called God's Pocket on Lake Mead. We say that we'll see him there. He fires up his engine, backs the boat off the beach and turns upriver to rendezvous with a commercial party to carry them out to South Cove. He passes us a little later that morning as we are packing up for the day.
The day appears to be forming up as a sunny one with high clouds. The river is brown from last night's showers. We part with our last camp in Paradise in a subdued fashion and proceed to drift all day in the current with no organized lunch at noon; just boat snacks. No rapids or any semblance thereof appear. We manage to catch some shade while tied to a piece of climbing gear that Willy jammed into a crack in a cliff face. Crackers and cheese for lunch orduerves.
Finally, late in the day and after we've gotten back together as a floating group, we pull over to a rock pile at about mile 252 and produce a hasty pasta dinner for the sun tired boatpeople.
Beaches and nice stopping places are becoming more rare the closer we get to the lake. After dinner, we row out into the current and lash all our boats together. They are configured three across with Willy's Avon tethered to Charley's central big boat. Everyone starts seeking a comfortable position in which to spend the night aboard the floating raft jungle. Loads are shifted and flat space is created. Boat people seek a chance at sleep while drifting towards Lake Mead under a full moon.
As the full moon rises people get situated where they can doze or even sleep. Georgia and Jennifer thrash about in the front of Charley's raft trying to find comfort on the floor. Pam sleeps across the front giant cooler top, Charley curls around on the tabletop he uses for a raft seat. Rachel and Rebecca nestle as best they can in the front of my boat on top of some dry bags while I stay awake keeping watch to worn Gerry of difficulties as they occur during the evening. Gerry sleeps on his slant board under a sleeping bag ready to man an oar on the other side of the floating raft mess and Martha dozes on a platform made of the various kinds of luggage that they carry. Willy sleeps very soundly during the entire float on top of his rear deck. As he put it, "It was the most level and insect free sleeping spot that I had had for about five days."
The great big moon that rose repeatedly over canyon walls as we floated downstream illuminated the river corridor quite well at first. I could see things as the moon got higher but I had no depth perception at all. Things in the canyon just had no similarity to familiar objects or familiar sizes and so I could not tell how far away stuff was. Big splashes continually followed our floating island sounding like huge rocks were being thrown at us. Was it a fish? Was it parts of the bank caving in as we passed? Sometimes the sounds would cease for a while, maybe for about five minutes. Was Charley throwing his beer collection one by one into the river?
Charley said that he saw a huge body "like that of a dog" jump up from the water ahead of us and land to make a monstrous splash. I could not tell what was going on at all. We were floating as fast as three miles per hour, we made the lake at about 3:30 AM (mile 279?). 27 miles / 7 hrs= 3.85 damn near 4 mph, we were really moving. But what were those noises? Tamarisk trees grew in such profusion that I hallucinated that we were floating through giant Christmas tree farms. The river split and became narrow and treacherous occasionally but we could only keep on floating trying for the "main" channel. Gerry came to life each time he was needed to help pull us away from the serious stuff, he was great. I finally got to doze at the oars when we got to the lake and serious motion was gone. We had no running lights and luckily, no one rammed us.
We got to the lake at about 3:30 AM by Charley's estimate, we bob in the water and drift where the mild breeze and equally mild current takes us. As the sun comes up in the east and the lake is gently illuminated and colored, the jet taxi comes by at 6:30, throttles wide open and engine screaming. We awaken and curse him for an unfeeling idiot and gradually collect our wits and form a plan of action. First coffee. On my boat I assemble and light the propane stove and boil water for the pour. After way too long, coffee is ready and we pass out cups of morning stuff strong enough to enliven the most desolute. Need to have a real morning food break if we float into Lake Mead like this again. People were exhausted by the lack of a scheduled breakfast.
Willy sets up the shitter for the last time on Scorpion Island and some of us use it. The armada splits up and reforms at the tip of the island to prepare for the arrival of the big aluminum jet boat at 9:30, cleaning gear and untying our loads and frames so that we can toss stuff aboard as instructed yesterday by Wade Falany. The boat arrives as promised and we all one by one offload passengers and gear and finally the blow-up boats themselves, letting them deflate one on top of another in the center of the jet boat. After going at least 40 mph downlake, we arrive at the beach at South Cove by 11:00 AM and throw things over the front of the beached landing craft onto the sand as other boatloads of tourists arrive and begin to commingle their stuff with ours.
Wade Falany says in passing that Tom Workman has been at Lee's Ferry too long. Always trouble between business and the public. Tom is high in our esteem. We pay Wade off and are packed into our vehicles by noon, and make the small store at Meadview by 12:30 to get some fresh bought lunch. From here on out, no plans are written out and each vehicle tends to go its own way. Willy says he will follow us and we say that we are looking for rest and succor at the first stop that looks like a motel. We reach said motel by 4:30 in Boulder City, shower and kick back with a few restorative beers in glass bottles, and arrange dinner with Willy at a quasi-Mexican joint in Boulder City that evening. After dinner, consciousness begins to fade and we retire to our beds, I to sleep and the others to read or watch TV. It was a nice trip.
© 1996 Michael Dooley