John's Ultimate Rafting Trip


Well, friends, the Summer of 2007 has turned out to be a pretty good one for me, and why not?  My first summer on the other side of 50 years of age ought to be full of fun and adventure, right?

The summer began with a great trip to New York City which ended on Memorial Day.   I had a bunch of photos posted but that site is long gone.  I was a chaperone for the Central High School vocal and orchestra groups on that trip and was blessed with a really good busload of kids.

Then at the end of July, I went to a concert of a lifetime in Chicago.  See  for the scoop on that.

Then it was time for this rafting trip.

This was the trip my friends and I have been talking about for years.  At least 20  years ago we started saying that the four of us should go somewhere sometime.  A few years ago Kurt came up with the idea that we should do something in 2006 or 2007 because we’d all be turning 50 in that time frame.  (Mike first in October 2006, then me December 2006, then Kurt in May 2007 and Dave in September 2007).  Kurt came up with the idea of rafting in the Grand Canyon .  Our wives all thought it was a great idea, so we started planning.

Here is the Cast of Characters:

Me ( John Korn ).  Davenport , Iowa .  Engineer by degree and Account Manager by trade, working with automated manufacturing systems, including robotics.  (I love my job, by the way.  Check out   I’m also a working musician (  Three children, one in high school and two in college.

Dave Shawver, Iowa City , Iowa .  Senior Analyst at ACT ( American College Testing).  Dave is also a musician, currently not in a band but an experienced keyboard and saxophone player.  Two children, elementary and Jr. High, I think.

John Michael Smith, who goes by “Mike” and whom we often call “Smitty”, Cleveland , Ohio .  Mike is a “Pedodontist”, a dentist specializing in children.  Mike also does oral and facial surgery.  We were cleaning some photos off of his camera to free up some space and he showed me shots of 3 & 4 week-old babies born with cleft palates.  The heartache a parent must feel to see this helpless baby so grotesquely deformed at birth is something I cannot imagine.  Mike does surgery on these babies, moving bones into place and implanting bone substitute devices so that a plastic surgeon can build the skin over the corrected structure, giving the child a normal face.  You may have heard about “Doctors Without Borders”, where a team of doctors travel to Third World countries and perform surgery on people who would not normally have a chance for such medical care.  I don’t know if Mike is involved with that organization, but he has made several such trips to places like Lithuania .

Our fourth member is Karl Wagner, whom we call “Kurt”, Boston .  Kurt is a Psychologist with a practice located in Harvard Square.  His group does testing and screening for job applicants and guidance for students in selecting career paths and colleges.  Kurt and I were on the swim team together as kids, and also played a lot of golf together (we still do).   Mike and Dave, non-golfers, played football together.

Dave and I arrived very early – 9:30 AM – in Vegas due to bad planning on our part.  Dave and I are both procrastinators, and I outdid him on this one.  He finally booked our flights which was lucky for me because I probably would have waited even longer and paid even more.   The only decent flight fares we could get meant leaving Moline at 6:00 AM (ditto for leaving Vegas at the end of the trip).   We got our bags and wandered around the airport trying to hail a cab in the wrong places.  I’m pretty sure I heard a security guard say into his radio, “Midwest Alert – Goober and Gomer just arrived”.  

We had about 7 hours to kill, so we hung around the pool and looked at a map.  We couldn't check into our hotel until 4:00 PM, so we had to make do.  We did a “walkabout” in which Dave’s new rafting shoes, not yet broken in, gave him blisters that would persist for the rest of the week.  We walked to the north from the Desert Rose and found the nearest Liquor Store, which was the first landmark we asked for (we’d go there once we could get into our rooms, we wanted to get our bearings and know where it was), and then sort of made the rounds to different hotel/casinos in the area.  We had a beer at the MGM Grand, which is really spectacular (, and walked around the loop, near New York New York , and over to Excalibur and made our way back towards the Lexor, where we would be staying after the rafting trip.  The Luxor is pretty impressive – a big pyramid structure with an Egyptian theme.  We imagined what we would look like in a few days, checking in after three days on the Colorado River .  (See

Dave and I walked back to the Desert Rose and got our day bags so that we could put on swim suits and hang out at the pool.  We could not get into our rooms until 4:00 PM , so we just chilled at the pool – Dave slept a bit on the ground and I read my book (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince) in between dips in the pool to cool off.  It was pretty hot – mid 90s and even though it’s a “dry heat”, it was still hot.

We knew when Smitty and Kurt were due to arrive, and it was like watching a kettle boil – the more you watch, the longer it takes.  Finally, Smitty got there and we put our stuff in his room.  We knew that Kurt was a couple of hours off, so we made a trek to the nearest liquor store that we had scoped out.  For the rafting trip we were allowed to bring liquor on our own (I thought ahead and brought plastic bottles), and a “half case of beer per person”, which we maxed out on.   :)   So we hauled all of that back to the Desert Rose, across the searing heat coming off the asphalt, blocked only a little bit by discarded hooker ads from the vending machines that look like newspaper vending machines, but which actually dispense prostitute propaganda.  Anyone interested in bringing kids here for a nice wholesome family vacation?

Finally Kurt arrived from Boston.  It should be a great beginning to the end of the night, but Kurt is incensed that our rooms are not what we had booked.  We booked rooms that were two beds per room.  We got rooms with one big bed and a sofa in the living room.  Dave and I would have been more than happy to sleep on those sofas that one night, but Kurt was not to be taken advantage of.  He admitted openly that this is a Boston thing – you just don’t take s**t from anyone.  So, we all had to move to rooms on the second floor – they were all exactly the same as the rooms we had, it’s just that we had 4 of them instead of 2.  So, 45 minutes later, we had this moving around all negotiated and we went to dinner at the Hooters hotel and casino next door, but not before we had drinks!  This was the first time in many years that the four of us were all together, so it was a special occasion.

L-R, Kurt, Smitty, Dave, Me

We chose Hooters because it was the closest to walk to (more about walking later), and we found that they have a Dan Merino’s restaurant (much nicer than Hooters) near the entry, so that is where we ate.   They do have a Hooters restaurant in the back, on the other side of the casino.  The Hooters in Las Vegas is one of the big hotel/casinos - a huge hotel, probably 30 stories high with thousands of rooms.

This was dinner at Dan Merino's.  Our waitress was a sweet young thing who told us it was not only her first night on the job, but we were only her second table!

The next morning we were in the lobby by around 6:05 or so and checked our bags that we didn’t want to take to the Canyon (golf clubs, for example).  We boarded a small bus and were on our way to a small regional airport on the north side of Las Vegas.  We boarded small twin engine turboprop planes (Durnier 220), seating about 10 people each.  We took off and flew north over the desert and flew for about 45 minutes or so as the terrain below became more and more rough.  I began to wish I had studied geology because it was fascinating.  Areas of reddish-rust rock appeared.  I also was a little jealous of the pilots who get to fly in this beautiful part of the world for a living.  The guys on the right could see the canyon in the distance.  After awhile we turned south, then made a U-turn back to the north.  I could see out the pilot’s windscreen and I saw a little single black strip in a valley, and I could see that it was nowhere near flat; it was going uphill.  The pilot made a great landing even though the airstrip was pretty bumpy.  We came to rest at the Bar 10 Ranch, elevation 4110 feet.   Temperature was estimated to be about 78 degrees and very dry.   Very comfortable.  

Smitty in the Durnier 220.  Headphones were required for safety instructions from the cockpit.

Durnier 220 at the Bar 10 Ranch.  Mike & Kurt, far right.


They began shuttling us to the canyon in small Bell helicopters.  One shuttle consisted of all the bags and Kurt.  The young cowboy managing all of this was as salt-of-the-earth as they get, and he enjoyed telling the chosen one that he was riding “shotgun”, which he said each time with a big grin.   I was lucky enough to be that person on the last shuttle into the canyon.  "Shotgun" meant in the front next to the pilot.  Dave and Mike and one other guy were in back.

Shuttling rafters to the canyon from the Bar 10 Ranch

 The pilot had very little to say – wait, let me rephrase that.  He had NOTHING to say, barely offering a nod when I said hello.  I was told by my father when I was a kid that flying a helicopter is very different from flying a "fixed wing" aircraft.  In the latter, you can relax a bit, look around.  Helicopters require constant adjustments and monitoring.  Our pilot flew over the valley at about 40 feet and when we got to the rim of the canyon he banked it in there and began a descent as he wound his way north through the weaving canyon walls.  This was the coolest thing ever – at one point he slowed it down and made a U-turn, going back downstream.  Far below I could see our two rafts and the little people.  Until then it was very hard to determine how high we were, with nothing for perspective.

Shortly after passing the canyon rim and dropping in and zooming upstream

Looking back at where our chopper dropped us off

The guides gave us life jackets, dry bags, and a lecture about safety on the river, and we were on our way. 

The Colorado River looked pretty much like chocolate milk.  They had had several rainstorms recently and the sandy surface silt from the desert dominated the water.  Visibility – zero inches, but all the same it was “good clean dirt” – silty but not pollution.  We didn’t feel funny about rinsing off in it.

We had two boats with about 13 people per boat.  The boats consist of freezers and travel cases as well as a platform on which they stowed bags, tents, cots, etc.  All of this was on top of 5 big rubber pontoons with a 30 HP outboard motor in back.  Later in the trip someone on our boat asked if there was a risk of the boat capsizing, and our guide said, "It's a 3 ton boat on pontoons - we've never had one flip".

As we cruised downstream, we hit some rough water which splashed onto us.  The ladies squealed and complained that it was cold!  Ooohhh!!!!  Well, not long after this we would sail through much worse and not make a peep, because we went through many of these and were told we were approaching our first rapids of the trip, rated Class 4.  One woman asked, “What where those earlier rapids rated?”  Our guide replied, “Those weren’t rated at all – they were just ripples”. 

UPDATE:  Cousin Tom Sitz sent me a link to a YouTube video of some other groups going through the Lava Rapids, which we did.  See     We were on a bigger boat and the river was not that wild but this will still give you a good idea of what it was like.   You'll see one point where a boat "surfs" - Jonathon told us about that spot and why it was to be avoided.  You'll notice that when they came out of it they were out of control.

Prior to each rapids, the guides would stop the boat and tell us about it, what it was rated, and embellish with a story if there was one to tell. 

All of the other whitewater boating I’ve done has been on rapids rated from 1 to 5, 5 being the most difficult.  For some reason, the Grand Canyon rapids were originally rated on a scale of 1 to 10, and they have never changed it.   Before I knew that, when I heard the guide say we would do mostly Class 4 & 5 rapids, I was both concerned and excited, but these ratings were on the original scale.  (Side note - the rating system, whether 1 to 5 or 1 to 10, is based on how difficult it is to navigate, not speed or vertical drop, which I had assumed)

The splashing on the rapids was refreshing because down in the canyon, it was HOT .    It was pleasant up at the Bar 10 Ranch, but when we flew down into the canyon we found ourselves at 1680 feet altitude, a drop of 2,430 feet.  The temperature was now 99 degrees.  Trips in the side canyons were up to 110.   How did we know all of this?  One of the guys on our boat, Miguel, had this great watch which told him the temperature, altitude, barometric pressure, direction (compass) and who-knows-what-else.   So I asked Miguel periodically for updates. 

We had a nice lunch prepared for us by the guides.  We had tuna salad wraps, chips, cookies, etc.  They also offered as much lemonade and water as we wanted, served out of big coolers at the stern of each boat.   We were encouraged to take on lots of liquids because dehydration is a common problem, and once it hits the point where the passenger is sick enough that he or she can't keep liquids down, the only solution is rehydration with an IV, and the guides are not equipped to do that, which means calling for a helicopter to haul you out.

A few more rapids and we stopped at what would be our campsite for Monday night.  By now we knew that our guides were Ty and Jonathon (the pilot) on our boat, and Erin and Ben on the other boat.  Erin is the younger sister of Ty, and Ben was the pilot of that boat as well as the official leader of the trip.  The three guys are in their early 30s while Erin is more like 24 years old.

Our campsite for the first night.  Big rock field. The guides set up tables complete with checkered tablecloths for food preparation.

Ben gave instructions about campsites, dinnerware (we were issued plates & silverware) and how to wash it.  Jonathon would later give us a demonstration on how to assemble our cots and a tent if we chose to use one (nobody did – it was way too hot).   Ben also cautioned us about “critters” – watch out for scorpions, and shake out anything left on the ground overnight.  He suggested strongly that we bathe in the river, saying that even though the water is cold, it would feel great to rinse off, and he was right. 

Finally it was toileting instructions, on which I will not elaborate except to say that there were two places to sit down, one in a tent, and another in an outdoor hidden spot, which Ben called the “Poo with a View”.  We had a system to indicate when the latter was not in use so that nobody would be embarrassed by an unexpected visitor.

Ben told us he had a very old bugle which he would use to signal when meals were ready. 

We all chose our camp spots and then came back to the boats, which were strapped together, to form a fire-line in which we quickly passed all our gear, the cots, etc. off of the boats and onto shore.  We also helped the guides unload their gear for meals. 

We fetched a few beers from the mesh sacks they had been in all day, hung over the side of the boat to chill in the river.  They weren’t ice cold but tasted great just the same.  We were starting to be concerned about the scotch we brought along, thinking it would be a shame to drink it hot (it had been in the sun all afternoon) but lo and behold, Erin brought out a big cooler with a huge chunk of ice in it and an ice pick and tongs.  “Cocktail Ice!”  

A view from our campsite

Not only did they provide us with the dry bags, sleeping bags, and cots, they also brought enough folding camp chairs for everyone, so we arranged our camp area and had a nice drink together.  All the different groups on the trip sort of chose their own area in the campsite, so there was plenty of privacy.

The horn sounded and we refreshed our ice and had appetizers of veggies and meatballs with a variety of dips.  This was followed by a spaghetti dinner with rolls, salad, and cheesecake for dessert.   A very nice dinner in any case, and especially in the middle of the canyon.

Cocktails in the Canyon, Mike and Kurt

No campfires were allowed in the canyon so we sat in our area talking and enjoyed the relatively cool air.  It was only around 9:00 or so when we all turned in. 

Since it was still very warm, we slept under the stars on our cots, on top of our sleeping bags.  It was amazingly un-buggy and a light breeze made it pretty comfortable.  The clear skies offered brilliant stars as the moon would not rise over the canyon rim until around 3:00 am , at which time, being nearly full, it cast a bright light across the camp area.

At about 4:30 the skies woke us with a sprinkling of rain.  We all grabbed our plastic ground covers and pulled them over us.  The rain made noise on my cover which kept me awake but it didn’t last long and when it ended, it had cooled off the area noticeably.

At 5:30 it was still dark when I heard the guides start the pot for the “cowboy coffee” that Ben had told us about.  We found out at the end of the trip that they take that silty river water and fill a couple of big pots with it the night before and they add alum to it which makes the silt all precipitate to the bottom.  In the morning they pour off the top half into a big square pot and fire up the propane to boil it, which is what woke me up.  They bring the water to a pretty fierce boil which sterilizes it and then they just dump coffee grounds into it and let it boil for awhile.  Once they shut off the heat the grounds settle, and you use a ladle to scoop the coffee into your cup.  Ben warned us not to scoop too deep; even off the top it’s pretty gritty and, as he mentioned while giving toilet instructions, gets thing moving pretty quickly if you know what I mean.  Ben suggested using the toilets in camp in the morning if possible, so as to avoid taking the “walk of shame” in the middle of the day with a portable kit.

On to a much more pleasant subject – our breakfast.  When the coffee was ready, Ben yelled “COFFEE” and we helped ourselves.  It was gritty and strong but smelled and tasted good.


Kurt with Cowboy Coffee

They cooked and cooked for a long time, all four of them and then blew the bugle to signal that the food was ready.   Here is what they fed us in the canyon for breakfast:

Eggs cooked how you like them
Hash Browns
Fresh squeezed Orange Juice

And the big surprise was that they brought two Dutch ovens and made a couple of fresh baked coffee cakes – lemon poppy seed and cinnamon apple, warm and moist. 

Unbelievable – we’re eating a delicious breakfast in the middle of nowhere.  I should eat such a breakfast every day!

Jonathon working on the hash browns

Kurt with Erin while breakfast cooks

The Four Boys waiting for breakfast

The sunlight illuminates the canyon wall as we munch on breakfast


They made “last call” for breakfast, then for coffee, and the very last thing was for the toilets.  As we watched the guides move the toilets, after our experience even in the Poo With A View, we were thinking the same thing – we were planning on a tip for them, and their tips just went up.  Ugghh.

So by about 7:30 we’d packed everything and fire-lined it back onto the boats and were underway again.  Day 2 was when we would encounter our biggest rapids and also make two interesting side trips.

Our first rapids was just around the bend from camp, so it was still early but very warm so the cold water was not a problem.

We made our first stop, which was this half-pumpkin basin formed by a mineral spring.  The water coming out of the spring is so rich in this spring, as it poured over the canyon wall, formed a cover resembling a half of a pumpkin.   We checked out this spring and some people waded in it – it was warm water with plenty of black silt on the bottom which the waders stirred up. 

The best part about this stop, though, was the cliff to jump off of.  Our guides knew that the river below was one of the deepest points – 80 feet or more – so jumping in was very safe.  Most of the group did it more than once, and my three friends all jumped, including Kurt, who worked his way up there to the top and hurled himself off, making a great grunting sound just before he hit the water.  Kurt is a champion swimmer so once he was in the water he had no problem maneuvering. 

Dave and Mike also jumped, but I chose not to do so.  I do not have a fear of heights, but jumping in from that height did not appeal to me.  I never even liked jumping off of a high-dive board, and last June when I was in a swim meet for the first time in 33 years, I was uncomfortable diving in off of the starting blocks, so I wimped out on this one.

You can see the "pumpkin" basin at the bottom where the spring water has flowed out

Dave doing the Jump

Everyone who jumped in loved it and most of them climbed back up and did it again.

You can see from the photos what I meant about the chocolate milk appearance of the river.

Mike (left) and Dave after the jump


Our first hike off of the river was up into a side canyon. 

I’ve debated in my mind whether or not to include this, so I hope it's OK to do so, but Kurt has inherited a lower-body condition from his father that has meant declining strength in his legs over the last 10 years or so.  What that amounts to is that walking on flat surfaces is not a problem – he’s not real fast but he can do that all day long.  However, any vertical climb is pretty tough.  Even a few stairs or a climb up a short incline is difficult. 

I could not be more proud of a friend than I am of Kurt, because he has not once complained about any of this, and getting on and off of the boat and camp sites, etc. was probably a little difficult for him but was never a problem.  We had two side hikes which he had to sit out, and it was a wise decision each time because they were substantial climbs into the side canyons.  He was fine with it, saying that a slip, a twisted ankle, anything like that would not be worth it.  So twice he held down the fort on the boat.  My only remorse is that he would have enjoyed these hikes in our earlier days.

The first side trip was up into a side canyon and Ben explained for a while about the different cactuses we saw as well as the almost unnoticeable but critical layer of crust on the desert floor.  It’s made up of lichens and other organisms which form this crust which keeps erosion down to a minimum.  It takes about 75 years to become mature, and a single footprint starts that process all over again, so they really wanted us to stay on the trails.

On this first side trip we also saw an Indian hieroglyph.  I found it interesting that the guides referred to the American Indians as “the natives”.  I thought that was a nice effort to be respectful.  This symbol painted on the rock was very clear but it was unknown which group of Indians put it there.  At the very latest, it was 150 years or more old, and on the other side, could have been 1200 years old or so.  Painted with tint made from plants, I’m amazed that it would last at all.

Indian hieroglyph

Dave in the side canyon



A typical Canyon view

There was also a great little water spill to rinse off in.

Lunch was then served – cold cuts for sandwiches, chips, cookies. 

We did another rapid or two and then had another stop which Jonathon declared to be his favorite place on the Colorado River , and we quickly understood why.  This was the second and last place where Kurt had to wait it out and it was a good choice because it was a big uphill hike as well as climbing on ladder-ropes,  but it was pretty cool when we got there.

Jonathon described this stop as one of the coolest places he knew of in the canyon.  We climbed up a path and found a spot where a small waterfall was sending water down a stream.  The climb up to the next level involved a rope to pull ourselves up and over a big smooth rock, and then a rope ladder to go up another 15 feet or so.  This put us at the base of another, larger waterfall, and another rope ladder led us up into a sort of cave, through which the stream was running.  The water was moving fast enough that it carried small rocks with it.


Into the cave via the second rope ladder

Through the cave we went to where the final waterfall was pouring down from very high up.  It was a little unnerving because rocks came pelting downward and nailed us occasionally. 

The innermost waterfall

Smitty in the waterfall

Looking up inside the cave

Water was coming out of the rock walls in various places

Back down out of the cave

Looking back towards the canyon

As we were going down the river we had a couple of cool breezes but mostly we were hit with gusts of very warm air.  It seemed clear that the unusually hot temperatures of late and the sun beating down on the canyon walls all day meant that the rock absorbed a great deal of heat, which it gave back to gusts of wind. 

Mike and Kurt and Dave (lower left) enjoying calm water

I have dozens of photos like this - around every bend there was another beautiful view


Once we cleared our final rapid in the river, the guides told us we could take off our life preservers because we had entered the lowest part of the gorge and were technically on the same level as Lake Mead .  This was welcome news as the lifejackets were unwanted layers of clothing and a source of additional heat.

When we found our campsite for the night, it was a large, expansive sandy rock field, much bigger than our first campsite.  We chose our spots and then did the fire line to move all the stuff off the boats.  I mentioned to Jonathon that I also had an old bugle, possibly from the Civil War era like his.  I didn’t mention this but my bugle, while pretty beat-up and bad-sounding, is a gem compared to his.  His bugle is squashed nearly shut at the first turn of the bell, where it had been stepped on by a horse at some point.  I noticed that they were using a trombone mouthpiece.  Jonathon asked if I could play the bugle and I said yes, I’m a trumpet player, but the mouthpiece would be a problem.  They produced from their bag of gear a proper trumpet mouthpiece and suggested that I play it when dinner was ready.

When dinner was ready to be signaled, they brought the bugle to me and I played the dinner song, whatever it is.  

Dinner was even better than the night before – shrimp cocktail (plenty of it), followed by “surf and turf” – steaks and fish on the grill, as well as beans, rice, salad and rolls.  It was all delicious, even though the steaks were not what we’re used to in the Midwest .  For desert, they whipped up a couple of chocolate cakes in the Dutch ovens, and summoned us all for a tribute to the 50-year-olds, me and my friends as well as another group from California.

After dinner we washed our dinnerware and when it was getting close to time to go to bed, the guys encouraged me to go get that bugle again and play taps, so I did.  I stood near the cook area and aimed the horn downstream and down the canyon.  Not a great clear sound from that mangled old horn but I did my best and I think it was pretty cool as it echoed off the canyon walls.  When I got back to our camp area, the guys said it was great, very nice effect and that when I finished, they heard several nearby guys say “Huah” which I guess is a military grunt indicating agreement or satisfaction.  So that made me feel good about playing taps.

As we lay there on our cots we all became aware of the fact that it was not cooling off.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that the temperature never got near 90 degrees – it was in the low to mid 90s all night, with periodic blasts of hot air.  Add to this the fact that it started to get buggy, which did not happen the night before.  Uggh.  I got up and sprayed myself with bug repellant and removed the sleeping bag from the cot.  I had been trying to sleep on top of it but it just trapped heat underneath me.  Without it I had some air coming up through the fabric of the cot. 

I lay there staring at the starry sky, knowing that in a few hours the moon would appear over the rim of the canyon and many of the stars would disappear.  I started to realize that I had not seen a shooting star in many years, and I whispered a wish for a special sign from beyond and just a few seconds later I got it – not the biggest shooting star I’d ever seen but a good one, and directly above me, where my eyes were focused.  How cool is that?

As the night wore on and the moon came up, I started to realize that I was probably not going to go to sleep.  It was just too hot.  I could hear that Mike was shifting around and I realized that Dave was as uncomfortable as I was.  Dave got up a few times to go to the river to cool off, and I got up to go for cold lemonade a couple of times.  The only one who was well-rested in the morning was Kurt;  I could hear him snoring peacefully all night.

When the moon was directly above us, I wondered how bright the landscape would be when it was full.  It was only a half-moon and yet almost bright enough to read by.  I watched as the little brown bats flitted over me, sometimes closer than I’d wanted them to, but I was grateful that they were reducing the bug population.

At one point it became very windy, knocking over chairs and causing me to grab my things and shove them under my cot so that they wouldn’t blow away.  Then, just as quickly as it came up, the wind died and it was just plain hot again.

Just about when dawn was beginning, I finally started to doze.  I knew I was dozing because I was just beginning to enter a dream-state when something was rousing me from it.  It was very annoying, being pulled back to consciousness, and I realized it was coming from my feet.

Smith had a small stick and was tickling my feet with it.

Luckily I had nothing handy to throw at him.

As I got up, Dave was lamenting the heat and the inability to sleep.  Kurt expressed surprise at this, having slept like a baby.

There was a sign from the guides near the coffee, saying that following breakfast, they wanted to be packed up and on the river as soon as possible.

As we were getting our cowboy coffee we learned that one guy near us got stung in the night by a scorpion.  He was, like Dave and me, struggling to get cool enough to fall asleep.  He had moved his cot out into an open area hoping for more moving air and he had a small towel to put between his knees.  The towel had been on the ground and he did not think to shake it out before using it.  The scorpion stung him on his thigh and by morning he had numbness all the way up into his hip.  Luckily he captured the scorpion and had it in a zip lock bag for a great souvenir of the trip.   I was surprised that I didn't hear him - he was not far away and I know I would have made some noise had I been stung.

Breakfast went pretty fast (blueberry pancakes, juice, bacon, and they even heated up the syrup!) and we got packed up and onto the water.

It was on this last part of the trip that Ty told us about making the coffee with river water and he also confessed that they sometimes play tricks on the rafters.  He asked if I had noticed that they put a pair of tongs in the foil container with the potato chips for lunch the previous day.  They did that just so that they could watch and see if people would actually use tongs to get chips.  (I tried to recall if I did or not)  Another trick they sometimes play is what they call "Sabo-tong", where they place a carefully deformed small tong with the olives.  They bend it just enough that when fully depressed it is not quite tight enough to hold onto an olive.  The rafter keeps trying to pick up the olive and it slips out every time.  I guess they enjoy seeing if a person will mind his manners even out in the middle of nowhere or if they will go ahead and use their fingers.

Ty has an interesting life.  He must have a real wanderlust, a need to seek out adventure.  He works as a rafting guide part time for Western River Expeditions and he works part time in Alaska as a commercial fisherman.  He also has a herd of cattle somewhere, in Utah, I think.  He said his next goal is to sail around the world.  He said he was actually engaged at one point but his fiancé became concerned with all his plans for travel, adventure, not wanting to settle down, etc.  She asked him when he was going to get an "office job", and that was the end of that engagement.


The trip through the rest of the river toward Lake Mead included an unexpected adventure.  Ty and Jonathon had added a second 30 HP motor to the boat to speed things up as this part of the river was wide and slow-moving.  While we were cruising along we heard a loud bang and then one of the engines sounded terrible.  We had hit a rock with the propeller, and it turns out they keep a spare motor in an enclosure on the boat, so we got to see Ty and Jonathon in action, changing a motor while we floated slowly downstream.

Getting the spare motor out with a crane

Mike and Dave would like to help but the guides have it covered

Cruising once again

The spare motor, probably unused in some time, was a little stubborn but Jonathon got it going and away we went - just another bump in the road.

For perspective on how big the canyon walls are, look in the center of the above photo for our other boat.

At about 10:45 we were picked up by a jet-boat which already had other passengers on board.  We bid farewell to our guides and zoomed toward Lake Mead at about 40 mph, arriving there in a little under an hour.  Our guides would take at least 4 hours to get there.  At Lake Mead we saw a big truck waiting for the boats.  They would disassemble them and deflate the pontoons and transport them back upstream for the next trip.

We boarded a big motor coach (air conditioning!) and drove towards Las Vegas, stopping in a little town with a grocery store & deli.  We were given meal vouchers for $6.50 and got sandwiches, drinks, etc.  We drove around the Hoover Dam, which was pretty cool.  We had to go through a security check first but then we drove around the dam and on towards Vegas.

We arrived at the Desert Rose hotel at around 4:30 and collected our stuff from storage and took a cab to the Luxor, stopping, of course, at a liquor store for supplies.

A postcard showing the pyramid Luxor with light beaming out of the top

The Luxor, luxurious and decadent, was a big change from our surroundings from the last three days.  We got to our rooms - adjoining rooms on the 21st floor and enjoyed the opportunity to shower, shave, relax.  We had dinner that night at a Mexican place in the hotel.

Above is the view from the hallway outside our rooms.  You can see the open hallways on the other side.  We were near the top of the pyramid, and the sounds of the casino and other attractions below echoed upward, making the whole thing very surreal.  And it was like that 24 hours a day.

After a leisurely breakfast in the hotel Thursday morning, we went to the Las Vegas National golf course for 18 holes.  I was concerned about the heat at 1:00 pm but it was pretty pleasant, just around 90 degrees or so.  I've played in much worse here in Iowa.

Mike, Dave & Kurt

Kurt and I have been golf buddies for most of our lives and have played countless rounds together, but this was the first time that we've  had Mike & Dave on the links, so that was a fun experience.  As it turns out, Mike has a pretty good knack for golf, considering he never plays.  He hit some really good shots, but his mental attitude is all wrong for golf - he got way too upset with himself over bad shots.   Dave, on the other hand, hit a lot of bad shots but never let it bother him.   If you could combine the two guys you might get one pretty good golfer out of it.

After the round


After the Blue Man Group show - I'm doing my Blue Man Expression

The Blue Man Group show was really fun - very entertaining and unique. 


The fountains at the Bellagio Hotel

Someone told Mike that we should go see the fountain show at the Bellagio, so we did that after the Blue Man Group show.  The fountains and lights are programmed to go along with music that is played over loudspeakers.   It was pretty cool, especially amazing to me as I wondered how many pumps they had to develop that kind of pressure.  The photo above shows just a small section - it's a huge pond and a huge array of fountains, and they are motorized.   (see for more on the hotel.)

The last part of the trip was that Dave and I had to get up at 4:00 am on Saturday to take a taxi to the airport for our 6:00 flight (we flew from Vegas to Dallas to Chicago to Moline, arriving at about 5:30 pm).  We had not been out much past midnight while in Las Vegas, but as we made our way through the hotel and out to the taxi stand, I realized that we had missed an important component of Las Vegas - the goings-on that take place between midnight and dawn.  There were several "deals" being made in the lobby, if you  know what I mean. 

While we were flying home, it occurred to me that the date was September 8.  I turned to Dave and said, "September 8th is your birthday, isn't it?"   Dave thought about that for a moment and nodded.   "Well, happy birthday then!"   I thought it was funny that the very last day of our trip was the birthday of the last guy to turn 50 of our group.

I will say that rafting in the Grand Canyon is something you  should consider if you don't mind the camping side of things (sand, sleeping on a cot, outdoor toilets).  I would also recommend the Western River Expeditions company  (see  They prepared us pretty well for the trip and they delivered what we expected.  We also met some real nice people.

THANK YOU for reading all of this - I know it's long - and for letting me share my adventure with you!  Please feel free to pass it along to anyone who might be interested.