Surrendering to the flow of the Colorado River and the majesty of the Grand Canyon

May 22, 2018

Katie Lee – a free spirited, eloquent, profane, passionate conservationist and singer sang:

“Last night, I lay in a restless bed.

A humdrum life pounding in my head.

When out of the night, came a mighty roar. The river calling me back once more.”

(Song of the Boatman, by Katie Lee)

I get it now.

As a kid, I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and saw far below me a river. The Colorado River. I knew that I wanted to be on that river one day. And this year, I finally was.

In April, my partner and I had the luck and privilege to join 16 other guests and seven unbelievably skilled, talented and humorous guides to journey 277 miles down the Colorado River. We were spirited down the river by five dories – elegant, hand-hulled boats that are 18 feet long and had names like Vishnu, Escalante, and Bright Angel. We moved and bounced with the river, climbed into side canyons, hollered under cold waterfalls, and slept under a night sky exploding with stars. We lived in the moment and were humbled by powerful rapids and layers of exposed Earth’s history. A long-held dream became real.

Below is just a small selection of the hundreds of photos I took along the way.

Forever in gratitude to Lew, Kate, Coop, Doc, RD, Tony, Glade and Grand Canyon Expeditions.


“My heart knows what the river knows,
I gotta go where the river goes.” (Katie Lee)


Grand Canyon river runner, conservationist, and Grand Canyon Dories founder Martin Litton originally named his boats after natural places that were lost to human development and greed (such as Hidden Passage – drowned by Glen Canyon dam). The dories we traveled in had names that honored the canyon, like the Bright Angel formation, and beautiful places that are now threatened, like Escalante.

bright angel dory wildearth guardians

There were five dories and one “mother ship”, a giant raft that carried all of our gear. Our guides had been on the river for decades, and some had taken more than 200 trips through the canyon. Each guide shared knowledge and stories that kept us entranced for hours.

tiny dory wildearth guardians

We were in a time machine, traveling through different layers of rock from different geologic eras. The tiny dory rounding the bend in this photo gives some sense of the scale.

Bedrock rapid and with “House Rock” raft heading downstream to camp.

When we weren’t on the water, we were often hiking. This hike was to an ancient food storage granary built by native people who lived in this canyon hundreds and hundreds of years before us.

Another short hike into a slot canyon, where we saw the Great Unconformity, a 175 million year gap in the rock record.

On a longer day hike, we traveled up Tappeats Creek to an incredible spring. The water enters the rock on the surface of the canyon’s north rim, then moves through cracks and fissures in the rock for nearly a year before it shoots out here.

“Someday before I’m old and gray, I’ll find a woman who’ll go my way. She’ll take the rapids strong with me, And she’ll blend her voice in a song with me.” (Katie Lee)

About the Author

Marlies Wierenga | Pacific Northwest Conservation Manager, WildEarth Guardians

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