What makes a Colorado River rafting trip so special is precisely the things that words can rarely come close to describing. It is an all-encompassing experience that combines the thrill of running a wild river with the awe and serenity of being surrounded by an ancient geological wonder. Part of what makes the trip so spectacular is the sheer improbability of a river as huge and powerful as the Colorado in such an otherwise arid landscape. While big rivers do flow through arid regions in other parts of the world, it is rare that they flow so strongly year round. Not only does this provide the opportunity for thousands of annual rafters to enjoy the one-of-a-kind experience during the height of summer, but the diversity of plant and animal life in the canyon is made possible by the river as well.
Only Place on Earth
The fact that the Grand Canyon is located in an arid region is not what makes the area so special. Besides the majesty of the canyon itself, it is the presence of the Colorado River that defines the natural wonder. It is thought that over millions of years the river – along with tectonic shifts – carved out the canyon. So not only is it responsible for its creation, it continues to flow through it and support the many life forms. Rivers flow through other arid locations such as in Africa, but they have wet and dry seasons, and are generally located in plains types of geography, so the wet seasons bring massive floods, while they are bone-dry during the dry season.
The river’s unique year round flow is one of the reasons the Grand Canyon is considered a natural wonder of the world. Colorado River white water rafting adventures let visitors see the canyon from the bottom up, giving them a fantastic vantage point from which to enjoy the beauty of the area and to fully comprehend its vast geological imprint.
Civilizations: Ancient and Modern
The Colorado River helped create the Grand Canyon and sustains all manner of plant and animal life. By extension, it has made life possible for human civilizations to spring up in the otherwise uninhabitable region. Both ancient and modern humans have the river to thank for their survival.
Many Native American tribes have lived in the area for thousands of years. The canyon, known as Ongtupqa to the Hopi, and the river flowing through it made ancient life possible by providing a source for irrigation systems. Today, the river is as vital as it’s ever been. It is still used for irrigation, but it is also used to generate power hydroelectrically. Cities located in the river’s basin, including Las Vegas and Phoenix, would be nothing like they are today without water from the Colorado. Even distant Los Angeles and Denver benefit from the water and the power generated by the river.
Ironically, humankind’s ability to harness the river to power modern life for so many millions of people is an ecological disaster waiting to happen. More accurately, it’s a disaster that is happening a little at a time.
There are many negative repercussions resulting from human interference with the river and the Colorado Plateau. Water issues are among the direst. The Glen Canyon Dam which sits at the eastern end of the Grand Canyon helps to generate an incredible amount of electrical energy. The cost of this, however, is a major disruption in the natural flow of the river during the year; it is now kept artificially relatively constant to maximize power generation. Despite this, Colorado River raft trips have lost none of their excitement. The river persists despite the unintended consequences of human involvement.
White water rafting outfitters are among the most vocal of the conservationists dedicated to protecting the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River for future generations. Other issues such as uranium mining, noise pollution and depletion of underground aquifers are of equal concern, but restoring the flow of the river to levels more in accord with nature is of special importance to most conservation efforts. The river provides far more than a thrilling white water rafting experience, the massive flows due to snow melt also cleanse the valley floor, and work in concert with the ecological balance that must be maintained to keep the Grand Canyon so grand.
On a rafting trip guided by professional outfitters, people still get the white water experience of a lifetime, but they also learn first-hand of the external threats to the canyon and the river and the steps being taken to mitigate them. After witnessing the grandeur and serenity of the place with their own eyes, people can hardly go away from the adventure without becoming conservationists in their own right.