The Changing Rapids of Grand Canyon:
Badger Creek Rapid

Call me stupid. On my first river trip in 1984, I thought Badger Creek Rapid looked huge at 30,000 ft3/s. Then, as everyone else does, I learned quickly that there were a few bigger rapids downstream, Soap Creek for one, then House Rock, then…. From the perspective of a completed Grand Canyon trip, Badger is but a riffle in the memory by Diamond Creek. But Badger had caught my imagination. Perhaps it is the roar, the first of its kind that you hear on a Grand Canyon trip. Possibly it is that marvelous horizon line, obscuring the cause of that roar. Maybe it was the beer.
Anyway, Badger Creek Rapid has caught the imaginations of others too, providing those of us who work with old photographs with bountiful information on how this rapid has changed. We’ve matched 58 of these, including ones taken originally by Franklin Nims of the Stanton Expedition (1889 and 1890), the Kolb brothers (1911), the 1923 usgs Expedition, Clyde Eddy (1927), and the Dusty Dozen (1934). Author and photographer George Wharton James created the most useful photographic record of this rapid. He encountered Nathaniel Galloway at Lee’s Ferry in 1897 and got boat rides up into Glen Canyon and down to Badger, which James mistakenly thought was Soap Creek Rapid (James, 1900). Some of James’ photographs from river right cannot be matched because they are now under water and the sediment from the largest historical debris flow to enter this rapid. The exact date of this debris flow can only be determined approximately as between 1897 and 1909, when Raymond Cogswell of the Stone expedition next photographed the rapid.
The debris flow of 1897-1909 was the largest historical event at Badger Creek Rapid. It came out of Badger Creek, which enters the top of the rapid on river right. The debris flow increased the drop through the rapid by three feet or more and deposited a large rock at the head of the rapid that creates a significant pourover at most dam releases. Time and pre-dam floods have erased most of the obvious evidence of this debris flow, leaving the pourover and that marvelous horizon line as not-so-mute evidence of an historical change to the rapid. Our photography showed that no significant debris flows had occurred in Jackass Canyon on river left until August 17, 1994, when a small event increased the constriction somewhat (Melis and others, 1994). That debris flow had little effect on the rapid, with the possible exception of increasing the punch of the one significant wave in the tailwaves, and depositional evidence of its existence was largely erased by the 1996 flood.
As whitewater navigation techniques improved, and with increasing numbers of experienced boatmen running the river in the 1930s, Badger the significant rapid faded from the imagination of most river runners. Its value to commercial and private recreation began about the same time.

. Beginning with Doris Nevills in 1938, it was traditional that those left behind at the launch would first drive to the old Navajo Bridge and wave as the boats passed beneath. Then, they would drive to the rim overlooking the left side of Badger Creek Rapid and photograph the runs.
Some would hike down Jackass Canyon to continue downstream with the trip. Norman Nevills, in particular, enjoyed a tradition of stopping for his day-one lunch at a now-gone reattachment bar below Badger on the left. This tradition continued through the 1950s with Mexican Hat Expeditions on their near-annual July river trips.
It is difficult to determine who first used the beaches on either side of the river below Badger Creek Rapid as campsites, but now it is an unusual summer evening when one or both of these beaches is not the temporary home for a group of river runners. These campsites are the first significant ones downstream from the put-in at Lee’s Ferry and are in demand as a first-night destination for oar-boat trips. The first beach surveys in 1973 identified both beaches as significant campsites. Unfortunately, both continue to deteriorate. The sandbar downstream from Badger Creek has become a poor choice of campsite owing to a surging eddy and rocks that armor the sandbar at waters’ edge.
Because of the large number of photographs, particularly from the 1950s, Badger Creek Rapid was an ideal site to use repeat photography to reconstruct long-term changes in the volume of sand bars (Schmidt and others, 1995). On the Jackass side, two marker rocks in particular, called the “Turret Rock” and the “Pyramid Rock” by Jack Schmidt, allow estimation of the amount of sand change here. In the 1950s, the volume of sand fluctuated considerably, but the amount of sand in this beach declined precipitously following the 1965 and 1983 floods. The reattachment bar has disappeared completely. Current river management appears to assure continued degradation of this sandbar, the first important campsite in Grand Canyon.
Bob Webb and Diane Boyer

James, G.W., 1900, In and around the Grand Canyon: Boston, Little, Brown, and Company, 346 p.
Melis, T.S., Webb, R.H., Griffiths, P.G, and Wise, T.J., 1994, Magnitude and frequency data for historic debris flows in Grand Canyon National Park and vicinity, Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Investigations Report 94-4214, 285 p.
Schmidt, J.C., Grams, P.E., and Webb, R.H., 1995, Comparison of the magnitude of erosion along two large regulated rivers: Water Resources Bulletin, v. 31, p. 617-631.