I have nothing to wear on my feet but an old
pair of boots in which I cannot climb the mountains and which are my only reliance for
portages. On the boat and much of the time in camp I go bare-foot but I have a pair of
moccasins to slip on when the rocks are bad or the sand is too hot. I have given away my
clothing until I am reduced to the same condition of those who lost by the shipwreck of
our boats. I cannot see a man of the party more destitute than I am. Thank God the trip is
nearly ended for it is no place for a man in my circumstances but it will let me out of
the Army, and for that I would almost agree to explore the river Styx
is filthy with dust and alive with insects. If this is a
specimen of Arrazona a very little of it will do for me. The men are uneasy and
discontented and anxious to move on. If the Major does not do something soon I fear the
consequences, but he is contented and seems to think that biscuit made of sour and musty
flour and a few dried apples is ample to sustain a laboring man. If he can only study
geology he will be happy without food or shelter but the rest of us are not afflicted with
it to an alarming extent.
Thus wrote George Bradley at the mouth of the Little Colorado River in August
of 1869. There is no mention of the sublime beauty of the Canyon. Bradleys was more
a feeling of growing desperation in the most hostile of surroundings. The magical Canyon
experience was lost in the race for survival.
It truly was the trip of a lifetime. From the comfortable bus ride to the
river to the exhilaration of the helicopter ride out, it was all we expected and much
more. The food was unbelievable! Who would have guessed we would be gorging (no pun
intended) ourselves on chicken cordon bleu in the wilderness! The sleeping arrangements,
what with the thick pads and individual tents, were most comforting. And your guides
deserve an extra commendation for their skill and courteousness. Their humor kept us
entertained from dawn till dusk.
Again, it was the trip of a lifetime. A hearty thanks from our whole family.
Edna Winston, August 1993
No mention of the Canyon experience from Mrs. Winston either. Where did
she go, anyhow?
Perhaps in our attempts to lessen the hardships of Powells day we have
thrown the baby out with the bathwater. In our well meaning endeavor to cushion the
wilderness we have begun to bring the very things with us that we went on the river to
escape. We have begun to insulate people so thoroughly from the experience that they no
longer know where they are.
Last spring I watched two young ladies during the course of a trip. Each
night they would spend close to an hour setting up their tents and arranging the sleeping
gear inside it. Then they would crawl inside and remain there until hors dhourves
were served. You cannot see Grand Canyon from inside a tent. It wasnt raining.
Im not kidding.
An extreme case, I admit, but it was all company gear, that we supplied them
with, that had become their Canyon experience. We as an industry seem to be in the
position of either supplying or recommending ever more high tech gear to our clients. Why?
Because its there, its all the rage and we dont want to seem behind the
times. Have you looked at a Recreational Equipment catalog lately? Everything is designer
line. The BMW-and-Perrier crowd has taken over the outdoor experience.
The question is whether we, so called purveyors of the best possible
river experience, want to buy into this mentality. This humble boatmans
opinion is, hell no! We dont! The best possible insulation from the river
experience is not a valid reason to be in Grand Canyon.
Now Im not saying that we should go back to wet tattered blankets and
moldy flour. Im just looking for a balance between the extremes, comfort without
loss of contact, feeding without fattening, facilitating the Canyon experience rather than
competing with it. Consider a few questions.
Does it make for a better trip if everyone sets up an individual tent? Did
the old plan of having a big group tarp actually make for a more meaningful, if less
comfortable, experience on the rare night that it actually rains?
Should the crew spend three hours cooking a gourmet feast or one hour cooking
good food and two hours hiking somewhere with the folks?
Should passengers prime concern be dealing with all the material
comfort items that they or we have brought along? Should they spend the rest of their
waking hours expecting to be entertained? Or should they be encouraged to spend more time
exploring, savoring and pondering?
Should we hold peoples hands full time whether they want it or not? Or
should we encourage them to push themselves a bit, discover more of themselves, and have
guides there to help if they really need or want it?
Should we set up that abominable potty tent every night or should we
encourage people to savor one of the great joys of life, taking a dump in the great
Most of these questions dont have a black and white answer. Many of
them are not up to us but are dictated by company policy. But the bottom line is that the
character of a trip is determined by the way we present it, and company policy
doesnt change unless we push for it.
Lets put Grand Canyon back, first and foremost, in the Grand Canyon