OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M., October 5, 1995

Meeting #1557

Rafting the Colorado River
In the Grand Canyon

by Arthur M. Jensen Ed.D.

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


    San Bernardino Valley College Geology Department developed and offered an extra-ordinary geology class which included a field trip. It was, in fact, a rafting trip down the Colorado River with two geology professors who instructed the student travelers on the magnificent geology of the canyons that were carved by the Colorado River ions ago. These classes were held over a period of more that twenty years, and actually included two sections of the Colorado River in alternate years.

    Section I, was a rafting trip beginning at Moab, Utah, and ending at Hite, Arizona, the beginning of Lake Powell. Lake Powell was formed when the Glen Canyon Dam was Completed in 1963.

    Section II, was a rafting trip beginning at Lee's Ferry and continuing through the Grand Canyon.

    This paper refers to Section II, of rafting the Colorado River. Our particular trip ended at the Havasupal Indian Reservation. Professors, Gordon Clopine, and Jerry Horn, held classes before and after the field trip. The usual examinations, and term paper were required for the course, however, the Jensens' were excused from these as they were not taking the course for credit. We met at the college early in the morning, loaded our duffel bags, boarded our bus and were on our way by 7 A.M. The trip to Lee's Ferry was interesting with stops at Monument Valley and Arches National Monument before reaching Page, Arizona, where we spent the night. The next morning we got an early start and were at Lee's Ferry by 10 A.M. The Hatch Company, with our river guides and rafts were there, still putting air into the huge rafts that were to carry our group down the Colorado.

    Lee's Ferry is the starting point for rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. There are 161 rapids on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon region. Approximately one half of these are between Lee's Ferry and Phantom Ranch.

    Rapids and falls in most rivers are produced by rocks which project above the general gradient of the river.


    The Colorado River begins as many other rivers do. High in the Never Summer Mountains, in northwest Colorado, the River started with melting snow as a little creek. As other creeks and rivulets joined the flow down the mountains, it gained in volume and width where possible, and it became a larger and larger river.

    The course of the Colorado River flows southwest to Baja California. Years ago it flowed freely and emptied into the Sea of Cortez. It has been many years since it reached that Sea. Man has captured it and shackled it with dams, sending its waters to irrigate lands and quench the thirst of cities.Eleven national parks and recreation Areas stretch along its banks, making it the center of the southwest’s most used recreation areas for camping, boating fishing and swimming. They are:

    • Rocky Mountain Regional Park
      Shadow Mountain National Recreation Area
      Colorado National Monument
      Arches National Monument
      Canyon Lands National Monument
      Natural Bridges National Park
      Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
      Rainbow Bridge National Monument
      Grand Canyon National Park and Monument
      Lake Powell National Recreation Area
      Lake Mead National Recreation Area

    In addition, along the Green River, a major tributary to the Colorado River, we have two more:

    • Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
      Ashley National Forest


The Colorado River is 1,440 miles long. It is the sixth longest river in the United States. Its drainage basin covers 244,000 square miles, and in-cludes parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California. The River forms the boundary between Arizona and Mexico for seventeen miles, then it flows 80 miles through the Republic of Mexico, to the Gulf of California.

At Lee's Ferry, below Lake Powell, the Colorado River flows at 3,090 feet above sea level. Flowing and falling down, meandering through Marble Canyon and the Grand Canyon, into Lake Mead a distance of 285 miles, it falls to the level of 870 feet above sea level. This is an average fall of about 7.8 feet per mile.

All Colorado River mileage is computed from Lee's Ferry, as mile 0. River rapids are rated based on a "1 to 10 system", with a"10" rated rapids being the most difficult.

Rapids in the Colorado River between Lee's Ferry and Lake Mead have long been a favorite of "White Water" enthusiasts. There are 161 rapids in the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Approximately one half of these are between Lee's Ferry and Phantom Ranch.


#1. View of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim
Standing at the edge of the South Rim, one looks out over the vast Grand Canyon to the higher North Rim. Notice how the cliffs are formed by different colored layers of sedimentary rock. The Colorado River can not be seen from this point.

#2. Monument Valley This is Monument Valley taken a while ago. We look a little younger, on the way to Lee's Ferry.

#3. Lee's Ferry Mile 0 This is at Lee's Ferry, getting ready for the raft trip. Lee's Ferry is the point from which distances along the River are measured in the Grand Canyon. The site was located in 1864 by Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon explorer. It was used as a supply point for the Powell Expedition, 1872.

#4. Loading the rafts at Lee's Ferry. John D. Lee, a Mormon settled here and operated a ferry in the early 1870's. He was executed in 1877, for his alleged part in the 1857 Meadow Mountain Massacre. The Ferry continued to operate until 1929 when the Navajo Bridge was completed.

#5. Navajo Bridge - mile 4.3 The Navajo Bridge is 467 feet above the River. It provided a road way connection from Northern Arizona to Utah and eliminated the need for the ferry. This bridge became the main route of all north-south traffic through Arizona, around the Eastern edge of the Grand Canyon until 1965, when the Glen Canyon Dam and bridge were completed near Page, Arizona. Most of the traffic now flows through Page.

#6. Riding on the outer tube of the raft This was allowed during calm waters. All raft riders were required to wear life jackets at all times, but notice the warm jacket being worn. Mornings were often cold.

#7. #8. Soap Creek Rapids, mile 11.2,- a 17 foot drop.
a. This rapids was rated 8 on the scale of 1 to 10. Powell ran these rapids in 1872.
b. The Brown Stanton Expedition set forth to survey a possible railroad route through the Grand Canyon. Frank Brown, President of the company, supplied five light weight cedar boats, but vetoed life jackets as unnecessary. In Soap Creek Rapids, Brown was tossed over-board, and drowned. Peter Hansbrough carved Brown's epitaph at mile 12. He drowned 5 days later.

#9. MARBLE CANYON, Mile 27. Marble Canyon has been described as one of the most distinctive and homogeneous formations throughout the Grand Canyon. "The upper cliff is largely Kaibab Formation, with the slope and upper half of the lower cliff in the Torroweep Formation. Coconino Sandstone forms approxi-mately the lower half of the lower cliff near the river level." The layers of rock and the colors are outstanding here. In fact, they were easily seen, and outstanding all through this trip.

Guidebook to the Colorado River, Part I: Lee's Ferry to Phantom Ranch in Grand Canyon National Park, p26_ 4

#10. MARBLE GEORGE Because of the polished and floating limestone walls such as these caused J. W. Powell to call this section Marble George. It is sandstone.

#11. VASEY'S PARADISE Mile 31.7 This section was named for a friend of Powell, botanist George W. VASEY. He had traveled with Powell on some of his expeditions.

#12. PARADISE VALLEY SPRINGS Sometimes these springs are nearly dry, depending on the rain and snow fall of the year.

#13. RED WALL CAVERN Mile 33.1 This huge cavern near the river level on the left side was also named by Major Powell. He thought the cavern was big enough to hold 50,000 people. We stopped there for lunch, and some of the folks played bocca ball.

#14. THE RAFT This is a picture of one of the rafts we traveled on. Hatch Company provided 3 rafts and 3 excellent boatmen to run them. The boatmen also cooked both breakfast and dinner for the group, and set up lunch with cold cuts each day. SBVC provided 2 excellent instructors and about 42 students.

#15. Unloading the Raft Everyone helped unload the rafts each evening for camp. Our luggage was wrapped in plastic tarps to keep dry. Each person was allowed one duffel bag. They contained sleeping bags, tents, mats and what-ever we could put in them for our comfort.

#16. & #17. Lunch time, and a shot of the kitchen
a. This is the 1983 Geology class lined up for lunch.
b. The kitchen was set up morning and evening to cook.

#18. SADDLE CANYON We stopped several times each day to take short hikes and explore the canyons.

#19. SADDLE CANYON Here some of the students are climbing, trying to reach the source of the stream.

#20. THE LITTLE COLORADO ENTERS THE RIVER, mile 61.5 This is a very muddy river carrying earth and silt into the "clean" Colorado. Although the Little Colorado River is a major tributary to the Colorado River, there are no significant rapids here because of the size of the material being transported by the two streams. Large boulders are transported by the main stream, but pebbles and sand are carried by the Little Colorado River. Instead of building a pile of rocks, making rapids, the Little Colorado has built a prominent sand bar which is easily eroded and modified by the waters of the Colorado River. The Colorado becomes colored with the sands of the Little Colorado.
#21. Another view of the confluence of the two rivers. These pictures of the confluence shows very clearly how the waters of the two rivers come together.

#22. UNKAR CREEK RAPIDS, Mile 72.4 Unkar Creek Rapids has a 25 foot drop in a distance of about three tenths of a mile. These rapids are rated a "6" on the scale. Powell's expedition did not run these rapids, but carried their boats around the rapids. In those days the men "portaged" the rapids of the river whenever they could as it was much safer to do so.

#23. OUR CAMP NEAR UNKAR RAPIDS Each night the rafts pulled into an area to camp. There are no "facilities" anywhere along the River. The rafts carried portable toilets which were placed in strategic places when we camped. Sometimes the camps were set up on ground, and sometimes on pure granite! Not very soft! At Unkar Creek the Indians farmed the sandy bars. They built a village on the North side of the creek. The School of American Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico, conducted archaeological investiga-tions in 1967-68.

#24. The Jensens The group is ready to load the raft for a new day! The orange boxes contain food and items to outfit
the rafts for the trip.

#25. Pink Dike in the old Metamorphic Complex The pinkish cliffs in the distance may contain different types of rock such as quartz, caused by shifting of the earth over millions of years. Metamorphic changes in the rocks are due, to the great pressures exerted in tilting and uplifting the earth during earthquakes.

#26. ABANDONED SMALL METAL BOAT, Mile 107.6 (Bass Canyon) This old abandoned boat belonged to William Bass. It is located about 50 feet above the water level on the left bank of the River. Bass was a pros-pector in the area at the turn of the century, and was able to extract minor quantities of copper and asbestos from this vicinity. He went broke after he transported a few loads out of the canyon. Bass' operation is one of over 100 attempts to exploit the mineral deposits in the Grand Canyon. The only mineral exploration which has proven to be economical to date is a uranium mine which is now operated on the South Rim of the Powell Monument, west of the Grand Canyon Village. Bass died in 1933. His ashes were scattered over the Holy Grail Temple area on the North Rim, five miles to the northeast of Bass Canyon. 5. p37

#27., #28., & #29. RAFTS ON THE RIVER-Geology Lectures
a. Geology of the Canyon was always on our minds.
b. Here we are studying the Canyon walls as we learn about time millions of years ago when all of this area was covered with ocean. Shells and fossils have been found embedded in deep layers of the sedimentary rock.
c. We made a rest stop here along the River.

#30. & #31. ELVES CHASM, Mile 116.5
a. Fern dotted walls surround a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole here. Perhaps elves danced here.
b. Here is a closer view of a lovely spot.

#32. & #33. DEER CREEK FALLS, Mile 136.3
a. The waterfall here is over 100 feet high.
b. The water from the Deer Creek Falls has developed a lush growth of vegetation.

#34. HAVASU CANYON, Mile 156.9 Havasu Canyon enters the main Grand Canyon from the south. Some rock and debris form rapids at the mouth of the canyon.

#35. & #36. HAVASU CREEK Blue-Green Water
a. The color of the water comes from minerals in the area. The Havasupal Indian Reservation is 12 miles up the canyon on the southeast.
b. Havasu Creek appears to be a narrow passage opening with a minor blue tributary to the Colorado River. However, this narrow passage opens up to become a broad canyon with spectacular waterfalls of blue green waters within the vicinity of the Havasupal Reservation. The Havasupal Indians are the only people presently inhabiting the Canyon. They are the only people to have lived in the Grand Canyon since the Pueblo Culture. The name Havasupal means, "people of the blue-green waters."

#37. BIG HORN SHEEP There are three big horn sheep in the center of this picture. We assume that they are native to the area.

#38. #39. #40. LAVA FALLS RAPIDS, Mile 179.3 a. Lava Falls Rapids has a 37 foot drop. b. It is one of the largest rapids in the Grand Canyon. c. It is rated from 8~ to 10 on the scale, depending on the amount of water flowing through the rapids.

#41. JIM HALL TAKING HIS RAFT THROUGH LAVA FALLS Lava Falls is situated in a spot where the rapids can be seen from rocks at the side of the River. All of our rafts pulled over to the side so that we could get off and watch as the other rafts went through the rapids. This was an exciting time!

#42. JIM HALL COMING OUT OF LAVA RAPIDS The water is still moving rapidly, but it changes from choppy to smooth quite fast.

#43. VIEW OF MOHAWK CANYON-Through Canyon Walls This was our last stop where we disembarked, camped, and said good bye to our great Boatmen.

#44 & #45. OUR LAST CAMPS
a. Our last camp was on the white sand beach of Mohawk} Canyon.
b. It was a luxury compared to the some of the rocky campsites we had.
#46. The Boatmen Cooking The picture shows that there is smoke from the fir' They always cooked a big breakfast for us. In fact, the food was always excellent.

a. This was the first time that a helicopter was used to take the class out of the Grand Canyon. In the past the group had to hike up and out. The helicopter could only take four or five of us out at a time with all of our duffel bags.
b. We looked down over the River and Lava Falls Rapids as we flew this short trip up to Tuweap Airport.

This plane flew us from Tuweap Airport to Boulder City.

#50. VIEW OF HOOVER DAM FROM THE SMALL PLANE We can see here how Hoover Dam was built at a very narrow section of the Colorado River. It completed in 1929. We had a beautiful view from the plane of the amazing extension of Lake Mead; waters of the Colorado River held back by Hoover Dam.

When we landed at Boulder Airport our bus was waiting to take us back to San Bernardino Valley College, our starting point.


    How does it happen that Lee's Ferry became the place in the Colorado River to be labeled "Mile 0"? It certainly seems to be out there in the middle of everything. Well, it is a long story, but here it is in a nutshell.

    The Colorado River sources come from two major Rivers. The Green River begins up near the Continental Divide in Wyoming, and flows 750 miles to the Colorado River. What was once called the Grand River has its beginnings in the Never Summer Mountains in Colorado, and flows 240 miles to the junction. At the confluence of the two rivers, they became the Colorado River. A Colorado Congressman, Edward Taylor, claimed that although the Green River was much longer, the Grand River had the most water, and the whole river should be named the Colorado River. Congress agreed in, 1921, and it was done.

    The Colorado flows into two basins, the upper basin serving Wyoming, Colorado, most of Utah, parts of Arizona, and New Mexico. The lower basin serves California, Nevada, most of Arizona, parts of New Mexico, and Utah. The Colorado River Compact of 1922, agrees that each of these basins, in theory, should be allotted one half of the water. It didn't end the fight over water, but it paved the way for future agreements.
    Glen Canyon Dam was one of the agreements, and Lake Powell came into being. It was a very controversial project because of all of the very beautiful land now covered by Lake Powell. Lee's Ferry is the dividing point between the two basins. Mile 0, begins the lower basin area. Sunset Magazine p 97

    In the early days of the exploration of the Colorado River the men took their boats out of the water and carried them around the falls and rapids of the River. The River was wild, and many men lost their lives while trying to explore the region. It was treacherous to try to go through the rapids, and much safer to "portage" the dangerous areas where possible.

    Now days we look forward to the fun and the thrill of riding out the rapids on these rubber rafts. Times have changed! Not only do we have much different equipment to ride down the Colorado, but this great Colorado River has been "tamed" tremendously by man, and it is no longer allowed to run freely as it did in the days of John Powell. The Glen Canyon Dam holds millions of acres of water in Lake Powell, and, Hoover Dam, likewise, holds back even more waters in Lake Mead. Man controls the water that flows down the Colorado River through those Dams, carefully measuring, and "allotting" the water passing through.

    Hoover Dam is a grand achievement by man. Its architecture and engineering are magnificent, and Lake Mead is 110 miles long. The whole area looks like a work of art from an airplane flying over.

    Rafting on the Colorado River is just part of the icing on the cake. When we look at the big picture of the Colorado River it is a picture of man conquering a huge source of water for his use of its power in making electricity, its use for irrigation, for industry, and supplying water for our growing cities.

    The Colorado River is dammed in 10 places along its 1400 miles, and it falls 2 miles on its course from the Colorado Mountains to the Sea of Cortez. Its tributaries are also dammed in countless places before the water reaches the confluences. What I call the "icing on the cake," are all of the beautiful recreation areas built up along the River. The largest of them are the first, Hoover Dam's, Lake Mead Recreation Area, and second, Glen Canyon Dam's, Lake Powell Recreation Area. Millions of people enjoy the privilege of use in these areas each year. These places also provide for thousands of jobs.

    • "Dam after dam backed up the Colorado's water which was siphoned off from the river in all directions and for all needs. Today after a little more than sixty years of dam building, the water experts tell us the Colorado River is "over committed." There is not enough water in the river to fulfill the demands made upon it.
      John Wesley Powell was right." 10. p. 145

    It is true that John Wesley Powell warned against over use and development of the Colorado River after his 1872 exploration, and he warned congress about how water rights should be assigned as property was sold, or made available. In those days the thoughts were only about small farms, and individual owners. not large land companies demanding water for irrigation. In these United States thoughts come in much larger sizes. Perhaps we must stop and take in account how we can hold the waters of the Colorado River at a level of use that it is capable of handling.

    I prefer to believe that man has conquered the River, and saved the water to get the best possible use of it. For example, making electricity, providing drinking water for millions of people, for animals and for irrigation. Rafting down the Colorado River was a real bonus, part of the "icing on the cake, "and it has been enjoyed by thousands of people. The Colorado River is "Grand" in its beauty, and "Grand" in all it does for man kind. However, we must be very careful and guard against loosing it. Conservation of water is surely going to be a "must" for all of us.



1. Beal, Merril D. GRAND CANYON, The Story Behind the Scenery, K.C. Publications, Inc., Las Vegas, NV 1983
2. Breed, Wm. J. & Evelyn Roat, eds. GEOLOGY OF THE GRAND CANYON, Museum of Northern Arizona and Grand Canyon Natural History Assoc., Northland Press, Flagstaff, AZ 1976
3. Fradkin, Philip A RIVER NO MORE, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., Publisher, New York, NY 1981
4. Hamblin, W. Kenneth, & J. Keith Rigby, GUIDEBOOK TO THE COLORADO RIVER PART I, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1968
5. Hamblin, W. Kenneth, & J. Keith Rigby, GUIDEBOOK TO THE COLORADO RIVER PART II, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1969
6. Rabbit, Mary C., Edwin D. McKee, Charles B. Hunt, Luna B. Leopold, THE COLORADO RIVER REGION and JOHN WESLEY POWELL, Geological Survey Professional Paper 669, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 1969
7. Schaff, Robert ea., with the cooperation of the National Park Service, GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, NY 1967
8. Udall, Stewart L., and eds. of Country Beautiful Corporation, THE NATIONAL PARKS OF AMERICA, Published by Country Beautiful Corporation, Waukesha, Wisconsin, 1976
9. Wallace, Robert, and Eds. of Time Life Books, THE GRAND CANYON, PUBLISHED BY Times Inc., 1973
10. Watkins, T.H., & Contributors: THE GRAND COLORADO, The story of a River and Its Canyons, American West Publishing Company, Palo Alto, CA, 1969
11. Weir, Bill, ARIZONA TRAVELER'S HANDBOOK, Moon Publications Inc., Chico, CA, June, 1992
12. Whitney, Stephen, FIELD GUIDE TO THE GRAND CANYON, William Morrow & Co., New York, NY, 1982


13. SUNSET The magazine of Western Living, "Our mighty and troubled Colorado" May 1983, Lane Publishing Co., Boulder, Colorado, 80321
14. PICTORIAL COLOR MAP OF GRAND CANYON, by Jack L. Currey, Copyright 1972, Paragon Press, Salt Lake City, Utah 84106



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