Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Gone Viral


The group in silhouette, Redwall Cavern

I’ve just resurfaced from my 9th raft trip in the Grand Canyon.  I have a few observations.


My last few trips were different. Easier.  They were gatherings of smaller groups (12 vs 23), shorter duration (10 vs 14 days) and we moved down the river on motorized rafts.  This last thing is relevant because they travel faster and there’s relatively less time on the water, as well as the drier experience of riding higher and more security for my camera gear.  Yes, I have insurance, but that won’t help if my gear tanks on day two. One of the rafts is paddled, as well, which (though fun) means more work as six guests and a guide propel the boat.  Really, though, I think age is beginning to catch up with me.  Ouch.


Long time readers might remember that I’ve been threatening to stop doing these trips for some time.  So much for my credibility, but I’ll commit to the following; if I do it again, I’ll do it the easy way.


Metallic light, Hot Na Na Camp

It’s tempting to lead with the hardships but let’s talk about the good stuff.  Being in the bottom of the Grand Canyon is a rare and precious gift.  Light plays across the walls and water through the day and night.  The stars are breathtaking. Nothing smells like the river corridor and cocktails taste better. Wildlife is everywhere, and I find I have the time and motivation to notice lizards, bighorn sheep, peregrines, osprey.


After a few days, I’m fully immersed in the experience.  Removed from the details and chaos of “rim life,” I learn about what remains (which I believe is who I really am.)


We scheduled this trip with three friends, and the chance for the five of us to hang out in this special setting was priceless. We made some new friends, too.


The elegant dory cuts through Lava Falls Rapid

Photographing five of the six boats coming through Lava Falls Rapid was a highlight for sure. 


Granite Rapid detail

I also loved experimenting with different ways to show the power and chaos of Granite Rapid.




We had wind, gusting to about 50 mph.  We saw actual waterspouts on the river, and anyone who has camped in sand can imagine what that night was like.  The wind makes some tricky rapids more treacherous.  The Trip Leader, in an abundance of caution, waited a couple of hours for a let-up (which we didn’t get) above Hance Rapid.  What I didn’t want to share with the group is that there was a death on the river last season which was partly attributable to wind.  Ultimately our skilled professional guides brought us through safely, though.


Particulate-enhanced light near Grapevine Camp

The wind created some lovely light, filtering though the dust.


What about the virus, you ask? On day 7, four of the six guides woke up with vomiting and diarrhea.  By that night two more of us were ill. Eventually there were 8 of 30, which is very good containment for what was likely the very contagious Noro virus.  The Park Service is apparently still investigating the situation, so there’s a lot we don’t know.  I’ll follow up and amend this post if I can convince them to tell me anything.  Bottom line: the guides heroically rowed the big rapids while ill and I lost a couple of days napping instead of doing anything requiring any effort.  There were several days when I didn’t take any usable pictures at all.


Moonset and Diamond Peak at dawn, river mile 222

I have no regrets, now that I look at the trip with some perspective, home with my dog and electric toothbrush.


Marco doing the thing, near South Canyon

More favorite images are in the Spring 2022 Gallery on the website.