Monday, January 18, 2010

A Poem about Rafting the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runners by Thomas Peterson

One of Arizona River Runner's Guides Evan Youngblood-Petersen's father Thomas Petersen wrote this wonderful poem about the experience of rafting the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runner's:

The Grand Canyon Supergroup for the ARR crew

Geologically it is comprised of a series of mostly soft unassuming rocks—

Lime, silt and sandstones formed more than 1,000 million years ago

as the earth moved and a basin subsided.

Now one part of the supergroup, the red, orange, purple strata of Hakatai Shale,

is revealed in both burning sun and bright, full, canyon moons.

But there are other brilliant groups that are a part of this wonder of the world,

Assemblies of Arizona river runner guides that read currents, swirls, boils and eddys

With a sharp vision and sense like the canyon’s peregrines spotting potential prey

at heights as much as a half-mile below.

The guides’ visual radar is broad, encompassing far more than the obvious,

you can witness it as they constantly turn their heads from shore to shore, eyes scanning the

waters for dangers in the Colorado’s hydrodynamics often hidden to the untrained.

The guides run about 160 rapids, some of them, as they like to note,

“rapids of consequence,”

with unsuspecting names like Hermit, Lava, and Crystal that feature boat-eating holes

that, if run off course, can be killers.

Coming into Crystal rapid, which boasts the biggest hole on the river,

once flipping and recirculating a 33-foot pontoon boat,

Kyle, our guide, begins what he calls his “spin move,”

swinging our boat of the same size around 180 degrees with the 20-horse motor

so that the boat and 15 passengers face upriver,

Kyle, at the back, turning and facing downriver, facing the danger as they say,

slowing the boat down by accelerating against the current.

We glide and maneuver Crystal as if in slow motion,

Missing the huge hole by only a few feet (but that’s plenty of room in river feet)

And, at the bottom of Crystal, and “ABC” as the guides say (Alive Below Crystal)

Kyle calmly swings the boat back around.

“Why run Crystal backwards?” we all ask, bewildered at the unconventionality of it all.

Kyle simply replies, “I’ve never run it very well straight on,”

and as everyone nods their heads, I can clearly hear their thoughts:

Keep running it backwards, then.

On calmer water, while still constantly watching the swirling Colorado,

Which is sometimes a rich mokka-brown, but deep green this trip as we’ve had little rain,

the guides’ awareness shifts a bit,

looking up now and then at the sometimes building billowy mountains

Of cumulus clouds, portends of possible thunderstorms;

Or noticing where the scorching sun is,

Relative to where the next beach shade would be

to take a lunch break from the 105 degree temperatures.

Near the end of the day, late afternoon,

The guides find camp, one of the many smooth sandy beaches,

with shade of course,

That are negotiated like a friendly chess match with the other guides on the river,

First come first served, but no problem, if taken we just glide gently to the next spot,

The guides always having two or three options up their Sorcerer’s sleeves.

The guides and swampers pull dutch ovens from the boats, burners and grills,

Charcoal and steaks, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers for salad,

Quickly setting up tables for our beach kitchen, washing and cleaning stations too,

don’t forget the groover,

and before the canyon wall sun-shadows disappear replaced by the full moon light,

we eat,

feet nestled in satin soft sand,

and later sleep soundly, the flowing Colorado always nearby,

the guides resting on their boats,

already visioning the next river day.

Thomas R. Petersen