The Grand Canyon/Colorado River Oar Trip: Day 5, Part II



July 18, 2016

We put on the river that morning at Upper Tanner and enjoyed some nice rapids, though they were smaller. Julia Rose took the first turn at fish-eying, since Greg wanted my weight on the front of the boat for the bigger rapids that were coming up later. Before heading into a rapid, we made sure to stow our sunglasses in a secured dry bag and stuff our wide-brimmed hats into the front of our life preservers, so as not to have anything washed away by the waves. The morning was relatively cool, riding in the early morning shade of the canyon walls, and Julia Rose had a wet run filled with pure joy.

We had a quick run through Tanner rapid, a straight-forward class 2-4 with a 20 foot drop, then we stopped at a major archaeology site at Unkar Delta. According to the Grand Canyon River Guide, Ancestral Native Americans in the canyon date back over several millenia, with animal effigy figurines dating to 3000 BC. These early ancestors practices a hunting and gathering lifestyle that shifted to agriculture and a more settled life, with evidence dating to around 700 AD. Puebloan people moved into the canyon around 800 AD, at first living on or near the rim and farming close to the river. As the climate improved (increased and regular rainfall), they began to move into the canyon and develop small pit house dwellings with rock walls and roofs made out of  brush supported by cottonwood poles. By around 1100 AD they had developed well-designed, multi-room, above ground pueblos, as well as underground ceremonial kivas.


The Unkar Delta, a wide flat terrace above the river, holds the ruins of over a thousand of these excavated dwellings, which can be seen along a trail maintained by the National Park Service. The Puebloan ancestors farmed corn, beans, and squash, laid out agricultural fields, built cliff granaries and rock lined roasting pits, and documented their lives with petroglyph and pictograph art. The trail is well marked with rock boundaries so visitors can’t disturb the sites. Greg reminded us of the importance of these artifacts to the contemporary American Indians, who see this site as sacred and holy. Numerous artifacts, mainly pottery shards, have been left along the rocks lining the trail for visitors to look at and photograph, but not touch or pocket. It’s an incredible view into lives lived over a thousand years ago.

Fisheye 1

Fisheye 1

fisheye 2

Fisheye 2

Fisheye 3

Fisheye 3

Fisheye 4

Fisheye 4

Fisheye 5

Fisheye 5

Fisheye 6

Fisheye 6

Fisheye 7

Fisheye 7

We got back on the boats and ran Unkar Rapid, class 4-7 with a  drop of 25 feet, with Julia Rose back in the fish-eye position. And then we stopped at Escalante Canyon and took a long hike, two miles round-trip, up Escalante canyon. The canyon opens onto the river in a wide graveled creek bed, and winds up through narrowing walls to a box canyon, where we practiced some rock climbing to get up to the next level of canyon. After a bit of exploring we sat in whatever shade we could find to listen to Greg tell us the story of his grandfather and how he got started on the Colorado, and sadly, how he died in a small plane crash (he was a pilot as well as a river-runner). It was a moving experience to hear Nevills’ story, told by a grandson who exhibited the love and pride of his generations, and a real connection to the history and physical dimensions of the land he walked on and the water he floated. Listening to Greg’s story in the canyon and later, pondering it while sitting in the boat his grandfather built and Greg tediously reconditioned, I felt a connection to the canyon and the river that I don’t think I would have gained from any other experience. It makes me happy that in this age of bottom line economic and business models, that Greg is able to tell his family’s history and share his grandfather’s boat and I admire his continuation and fulfillment of the tradition. Hearing Greg yell his grandfather’s name in the rapid named after him provided me with a true sense of historical connection. It made me feel like I had been invited into a sacred space.


Julia Rose got to fish-eye Nevills, a class 4-7 with a 16 foot drop (accented by Greg’s yelling out his grandfather’s name in memorial), but then we stopped to scout Hance, one of the bigger rapids of the trip so far, a much more technical class 7-8 with a nasty hole at the top and some big waves and a drop of 30 feet. It was my turn to fish-eye, my turn to throw my body around “like a linebacker” to keep the boat upright in the wettest ride of my white-water experience. It’s a limited view–your neck can only crane back so far when you’re kissing the deck, as the boat climbs roller coaster waves to the top, where you get a split second view of the rapid and the wave-train ahead, before plunging back down into the next trough. There’s no chance to anticipate the run, only to throw your body from side to side, sometimes extending head and shoulders beyond the perimeter of the deck and out over and into the water.

After Hance there are a couple of short ripples, and then “Sockdolager,” a well named class 5-7 with a 19 foot drop. Sockdolager is a word that can be dated back to use in the 1830s, which means “something unusually large or heavy,” or “a forceful, finishing blow,” as in finishing a fight. Below Sockdolager I switched back to the rear of the boat and let Julia Rose finish the day fish-eyeing. The last section of the day featured a good mix of rapids in a section of the canyon with close walls and some wild-looking fins protruding from the rock walls. Julia Rose ran Grapevine (class 6-7 and a 17 foot drop) in the fish-eye, and in the smaller rapids that followed, I was able to shoot video with my compact fuji camera. Greg, knowing I was filming, took us into the wave train of one of the rapids without warning Julia Rose (he tended to cheat the bigger holes in his small boat) and Julia Rose got a great ride on film. We finished out the day with some good fun rapids, including 83 Mile rapid, Zoraster, and Clear Creek, along with some good ripples.

Greg Reiff




We finished the afternoon camping at Upper Cremation campsite. Julia Rose and I pitched a tent in a small sandy patch between boulders, up on a hill overlooking the landing site. The guides grilled steaks and made garlic mashed potatoes, and Terry and Amy told us about how they met years ago (the next day was their anniversary and they would be on the Sandra). They met back in the late 70s, when Terry spotted Amy driving on the highway and fell in love and followed her to a rest stop, where they chatted away the afternoon and made plans to meet on a later trip–she was returning to college dorm after a weekend trip). The guides made a deal out of saying goodbye to those of us who were hiking out the next morning (Julia Rose and I, and Ed Zifkin and his wife Sue, and their children Elena and Ben, who had both just graduated from college that spring); 5 new boaters were hiking into the canyon to continue the rest of the trip. It was sad to be be leaving the group without being able to see the rest of the canyon and share it with these people who we had become friends with very shortly. The guides pointed out (truthfully, I belive) how much they had enjoyed rafting with us all. It was a good group with good grace and small egos–everyone was friendly and unselfish and no one thought they were more special than anyone else on the trip. The monsoon season was coming on and it sprinkled and showered off and on all night. It was really too hot to be in the tent, but too wet not to be in the tent. A private group camped at Lower Cremation campsite, about 50 yards downstream from us, and they spread tents all over the hillside above their beach, yelled at one another, and played loud music for much of the evening before finally settling down for the night, proving that even in the Grand Canyon you can’t completely get away from assholes.  


The Grand Canyon/Colorado River Oar Trip: Day 4

July 17, 2016


Packing up for the day


Sunrise at Lower Saddle Campsite


Daylight at Lower Saddle

Julia Rose and I had originally scheduled with Greg Reiff to passenger on the Sandra, today, the short, wooden cataract boat built by Greg’s grandfather, Norman Nevills, one of the first commercial boaters in the canyon. It only takes two passengers, and Greg likes to get as many people on the boat as possible on a trip so that they can have a real historical perspective on boating in wooden boats. However, the day before, Ethan had warned us that Day 4 was much like Day 3 in terms of lack of big water and excitement. One of the reasons to ride on the Sandra is the excitement afforded by lying face down on the front deck, face just above the water level, holding on with two hand straps, and crashing through the rapids–Nevilles and Greg call it “fish-eyeing.” So the night before, I asked Greg if it would be okay to delay our time on the Sandra a day, since Day 5 promised lots of big rapids. Greg accommodated and let a more timid couple ride that day, and we teamed up with Terry and Amy and Don on Ethan’s raft.


River guides’ solution to the wear and tear of the desert on sandaled feet

Terry and Amy are Arizona natives making their third trip down the canyon, and they will be celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary on the river (by design, actually riding the Sandra). Terry is a retired engineer for the state and Amy a second or third grade school teacher. They’ve left Arizona and moved to Oregon, near Bend, and they’re a very cool couple. Terry likes to hike and we chatted a good bit on various hikes. Amy is gregarious and funny, easy to tease and teases back. It was a relaxing day on the boat because there was time to talk and observe the canyon while Ethan rowed. They will celebrate their anniversary on Day 6, the day we climb out of the canyon, and that is the day they’ve reserved for the Sandra. Terry and I had hiked together for a while going up Saddle canyon the day before.

We’re surprised to learn that Ethan is younger than he looks, though he looks fairly young. I would have put him in his late 20s, but turns out he’s still in his early 20s and has been working the river since he was 17. The guides on the equipment boats are apprentice boaters, working for tips and experience. Ethan worked his way up pretty quickly, due to his skill with the boat, which is obvious, and his easy-going personality. He’s a good leader. He tells us that when gets off a long river trip he always takes in an afternoon movie to soak up the air conditioning and the dark of the theatre.

The morning broke clearer than day 3, with little trace of smoke. We weren’t sure if the fire had burned itself out or if the wind had shifted or if we had just paddled out of the downwind stream. It turned out to be the latter of the two, since the fire was still burning weeks after the trip ended. Not long after we got on the river we passed Nankoweap Canyon and one of the bigger rapids of the day, Nankoweap Rapid which drops 25 feet through a long, sweeping left hand curve–lots of splash and quite long, but not very technical. High above the river under an overhang of the cliff the ancients built pueblo style granaries that dates back to 1100. The overhang had been walled off with tightly fitted adobe bricks, which formed rooms that held grain and seeds and protected them from rodents and decay. From the river four rectangular windows are clearly visible.

As we floated Terry and Amy told stories about their kids and each other. A motorized oar rig passed us and Amy knew someone on the other raft, someone she had taught with before, so it prompted a shouted exchange and kept Amy telling stories about her friend for a few miles.


lunch stop

The highlight of the day was an afternoon stop at the confluence of the Little Colorado River. Because of the high alkaline content and other minerals the water is eye-hurting turquoise blue. We hiked up the upstream bank of the Little about a quarter mile where a nice fast chute of water poured through a narrows. We took turns floating the chute in our life jackets, and in between swimming we rested under the shade of an overhang. Some of the rafters hung out beside some big boulders and made handprint designs by dipping their hands in the mud and laying them on the rock.


Confluence of Little Colorado River and the Colorado


20160717_121931We camp at Upper Tanner, which is a wide delta where the cliffs draw back from the river and we get the sense of wide desert, the feel of being hemmed in by the canyon forgotten for the evening. Julia Rose and I pick out a campsite below a short cliff  near the boat landing, but decide to move further away from the rocks  after watching a long thin snake cross our campsite and disappear into some brush on the other side. Clearly his territory, and while non-poisonous, unsettling enough to encourage us to move.


Looking across the valley from Tanner

Greg Reiff leads a group on a half mile hike to get a close up look at “Newspaper Rock,” a cluster of rocks on a hill that have dozens of petroglyphs carved into them. The site suggests that the area was heavily visited, most likely farmed hundreds of years ago, and important for whatever ceremonial, spiritual, or communal reasons that can be inferred. A teacher by trade, Greg establishes rules about not touching anything, but then leads the group in thinking about the importance of respect for cultural artifacts, comparing the site to the churches, temples, and synagogues of the Western and near-Eastern worlds. Sitting on the rocks near “Newspaper Rock,” we have a nice view of the river and a wide valley within the canyon.







Ed Zifkin, Greg Reiff (Sandra cataract boat), Erin Brugler (hike guide)


Don Schumm, Ira Wagner, Amy Burks, Terry Burks



Terry Burks, Glenn Sherratt, Sue Feldman, Elena Zifkin


Ed Zifkin, Chris Adakai, Erin Brugler


The evening is windy, blowing sand, and after a supper of spaghetti and meatballs, Omar and Greg stop by our campsite for a little while. For some reason we end up talking about Racism and the deep South, which Omar can appreciate since he grew up in Virginia with a Nicaraguan mother. Greg was flabbergasted by the stories Julia Rose and I told about the pickup truck parades flying Confederate battle flags in reaction to the black church shooting in South Carolina and talks about taking the rebel flags off of Southern capitols and state flags. That such a thing is still an issue is a concept that Greg, a true Westerner, can’t seem to wrap his head around. Chris, a friend of Leo’s  sets up a dome tent, fearing rain, and while we talk, the canyon walls in the distance color and darken with the setting sun. Sure enough, during the night we get a heavy sprinkle and a few people break out the rafting company’s dome tents and set them up by headlamp. Julia Rose and I debate setting one up, but decide it’s too much trouble and the rain blows over before we could have gotten it set up anyway.


Omar Martinez, Julia Rose, Greg Reiff


Evening at Tanner


Colorado River through the Grand Canyon: A Photo Essay

I’m still working on my reflections of the summer trip through the Grand Canyon. Here are a few random pictures that I haven’t shared yet. More detailed journals of the trip will follow soon.



Julia Rose scouting the rapids on day 1.


Collared lizard




Early morning shade.


Lunch stop.









Ambleside and Grasmere, Lake District, England, and a poem by William Wordsworth

November 2014

Ambleside, England

Ambleside, England

We arrived in Ambleside after 10 p.m. after a horrific day traveling from London by chartered bus. There had been rain and diverted traffic due to accidents involving trailer trucks on the highway. We had passed the time reading, watching Mrs. Potter on the DVD, and staring at stalled traffic jockeying for position a few meters at a time.

We stayed at the Thornyfield Guest House, a comfortable bed and breakfast overlooking a churchyard. The weather was cool and rainy, and the Lake District Hills were lovely in the mist.




Border Collies at Play in Grasmere

Border Collies at Play in Grasmere

To the Memory of the Same Dog

by William Wordsworth, 1805

LIE here, without a record of thy worth,
          Beneath a covering of the common earth!
          It is not from unwillingness to praise,
          Or want of love, that here no Stone we raise;
          More thou deserv'st; but 'this' man gives to man,
          Brother to brother, 'this' is all we can.
          Yet they to whom thy virtues made thee dear
          Shall find thee through all changes of the year:
          This Oak points out thy grave; the silent tree
          Will gladly stand a monument of thee.                       10
            We grieved for thee, and wished thy end were past;
          And willingly have laid thee here at last:
          For thou hadst lived till everything that cheers
          In thee had yielded to the weight of years;
          Extreme old age had wasted thee away,
          And left thee but a glimmering of the day;
          Thy ears were deaf, and feeble were thy knees,--
          I saw thee stagger in the summer breeze,
          Too weak to stand against its sportive breath,
          And ready for the gentlest stroke of death.                 20
          It came, and we were glad; yet tears were shed;
          Both man and woman wept when thou wert dead;
          Not only for a thousand thoughts that were,
          Old household thoughts, in which thou hadst thy share;
          But for some precious boons vouchsafed to thee,
          Found scarcely anywhere in like degree!
          For love, that comes wherever life and sense
          Are given by God, in thee was most intense;
          A chain of heart, a feeling of the mind,
          A tender sympathy, which did thee bind                      30
          Not only to us Men, but to thy Kind:
          Yea, for thy fellow-brutes in thee we saw
          A soul of love, love's intellectual law:--
          Hence, if we wept, it was not done in shame;
          Our tears from passion and from reason came,
          And, therefore, shalt thou be an honoured name!

Borough Market, London, Fall 2014

Saturday at the Borough Market. The crowds were so thick that it made shopping, or keeping up with your loved one, difficult to impossible. Shopping in a market in London, or anywhere in Europe for that matter, is fascinating for Americans who grew up shopping in air conditioned supermarkets where everything is processed and packaged away under cellophane, plastic, and cardboard.

The crowded market around lunchtime

The crowded market around lunchtime

Cheese Booths

Cheese Booths

Our students try a variety of new cheeses just outside the market.

Our students try a variety of new cheeses just outside the market.




Culture Shock: Paris to Arkansas, Reflections on Three Months Abroad, Part II



Looking Across the Seine from the Quai de Bourbon

Looking Across the Seine from the Quai de Bourbon

The five nights in Paris had not been magical, necessarily, but they had been pretty nice. We IMG_1870rented a small third floor flat on the Ile St. Louis, an island in the middle of the Seine just upriver from the Ile de la Cite, where Notre Dame and Saint Chappelle draw crowds and lovers proclaim their love by locking cheap brass padlocks to the railings of the Pont des Arts. Our flat overlooked a small courtyard entered through a massive wooden doorway that opened onto the Quai de Bourbon. Just across the quai steps led down to a tree-lined walk along the Seine. To reach the flat we climbed an exterior, semi-enclosed stairway with wooden steps worn by the feet of generations of Parisians. It was a cozy little space, with red clay tile floors and massive wooden beams, a small but well-equipped kitchen, a bathroom, a living area with a queen-sized bed behind a wooden partition, and a small bedroom with bunk beds. Best of all the bathroom held a clothes washer and drier—our first access in three weeks except for a pay-by-the kilo service in Amsterdam, where the four of us washed three outfits each—and a well-stocked bookcase, mostly in French, except for several old guidebooks and maps, and a non-fiction book titled Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik, a writer from the New Yorker magazine whose name I recognized. Based on the sound from adjoining flats, at least one neighbor offered guitar lessons to students of varying skill. One night I lay in bed and listened to the rhythm of a conversation, in French, between a man and a woman in the adjoining flat.

Our flat

Our flat

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Puppet store

On the next block, the neighborhood shifted from residential to commercial, and the sidewalks were always busy with people going about their business. We were a few minutes away from a bank with ATMs, a pharmacy, a couple of upscale souvenir stores and several downscale ones, a really nice patisserie, three or four gelato shops, upscale wine and liquor stores, a newsstand/bar, several hotels and restaurants, and even a puppet store. Every evening we walked a couple of blocks to a nice little grocery with fresh vegetables to pick out our supper, then crossed the street to buy fresh baguettes for supper and breakfast from the boulangerie. In the evenings we enjoyed the apartment, luxuriating in the comfort of spending five nights in the same place after three weeks of one, two, and three night stands separated by long bus and car and plane rides. After a day of walking, Lisa and I caught up our journals and read, while the girls usually watched television inported from the United States through the magic of NetFlix.

Gargoyles at Notre Dame

Gargoyles at Notre Dame

We spent our days doing the predictable touristy things—touring Notre Dame and climbing the tower to pose with the gargoyles, seeing the stained glass at Saint Chappelle, wandering among the Impressionists at the d’Orsay (the Van Gogh especially enjoyable after learning about his work at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam), visiting Monet’s water lilies at the Musee de l’Orangerie, eating lunch at the Christmas market at the base of the Champs Elysees, ascending the Eiffel Tower, and touring the palaces and walking the grounds of Versailles.

10th anniversary of 9/11 attacks It seemed odd, as always, to see small groups of soldiers patrolling the grounds of Notre Dame or walking between the legs of the Eiffel tower, wearing full field uniforms, berets, and with machine guns slung by straps over their shoulder and cradled in their arms, ready for use. In some ways it seemed like overkill, because the most obvious threat beneath the Eiffel tower seemed to be the gangs of mostly Middle-eastern and African hustlers hawking cheap souvenirs spread on blankets on the sidewalk and rattling wire hoops strung with miniature Eiffel Towers at tourists. Whenever a police officer approached, warning shouts would sound down the sidewalks and the hustlers would bundle their wares and sprint across a lane of traffic and wait on the median until the police left, then drift back across and set up shop again. All in all, an enjoyable spectacle for the tourists.

Of course, this was a few days before a couple of lone wolf terrorists who, in separate incidents, drove into Christmas market crowds in the cities of Nantes and Dijon. Those provincial towns were miles away from Paris, but we had spent two nights in Colmar, France, in the Alsace region near Germany, wandering the Christmas markets, and it seems to me now that a lone wolf attack could have just as easily happened in Colmar as Dijon. France holds a population of over 5 million Muslims, many raised in the former French colonies of North Africa, or the children of those immigrants. The Muslim population has long suffered from high unemployment, poverty, and a Europe increasingly hostile to outsiders.

Outside the Charlie Hebdo offices

Outside the Charlie Hebdo offices

The day we left Paris was almost exactly a month before two men burst into the offices of a Paris satirical newspaper, murdering twelve editors and nationally known cartoonists in a well-coordinated, Al Qaeda backed attack, in response to a long history of the paper’s editorials and cartoons directed against extremist Muslims (as well as Jews and Catholics on the extreme edge). The days we had spent in Paris were regularly punctuated by the claxon wail of sirens, and more than once I saw a train of police cars and paddy wagons flashing through the streets with full lights and sound. When I looked up the address of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, it turned out to be a few blocks from the Bastille market, where we spent the morning of the last day of our trip shopping. I can only imagine the confusion that Paris streets posed for tourists that day. 150108113231-je-suis-charlie-ross-irpt-super-169