Sunday, August 14, 2016

Let the Rain Fall Over Grand Canyon - August 10, 2016

For many years, I scheduled river trips in the Grand Canyon that coincided with the Arizona summer monsoon, in the hope that we would be able to witness a deluge of rain that could cause torrents of water to fall over the Redwall Limestone cliffs. In my more than 80 to 85 river trips in Grand Canyon, I've seen it happen maybe only 3 times. That is until this last trip that ended on August 11.

On August 10, 2016, we had just hiked up to the Patio at Deer Creek. The water in the creek was clear and refreshing as usual and we all enjoyed the morning without any worry about rain. It was especially nice since the Colorado River had been muddy since River Mile 1 at Lees Ferry where the Paria River was still kicking in sediment after a round of heavy rains during the first days of the month in northern Arizona and southern Utah. The forecast for the week we were on the river called for gradual drying of the atmosphere. We got an updated forecast on our stop at Phantom Ranch and it showed a 30% chance of showers on August 10. I figured it would be another trip without rain because after all, a 30% chance of rain is also a 70% chance for no rain.

After the Deer Creek stop we ran Doris Rapid and got wet in the muddy water. It began to look dark up ahead but clear blue skies surrounded the dark cloud. Then we ran Fishtail Rapid and began to enter the upper end of The Icebox, a section of the river that is quite cold in the winter. The dark cloud looked even darker now but the blue sky that continued to be seen over the north side of the canyon didn't really seem to indicate what was on the way. Someplace about halfway between Fishtail Canyon and Kanab Creek, big drops of rain began to fall. They were widely spaced but huge drops. It picked up until we could barely see up ahead at all. My raincoat was deeply buried in my camp gear and it never really got cold. But then about the time we ran Kanab Creek Rapid, the skies let loose with heavy rain and hail. Yep, it was hailing with pea-size pellets of hail, which stung your body really sharply when they hit a knuckle bone or your toes. I looked up and began to wonder if this would be one of those rare events in Grand Canyon. We were not disappointed!

The first runoff.

The dark cloud.

Walker Mackay has been running down here since the 1990's and had never before seen a Redwall Runoff.

I'll be able to go back another time and see exactly where this is - our heads were buried during a lot of it and we ran Kanab Creek Rapids pretty much blind!

The dark cloud.

Hail pellets plop down into the river.




It's still just warming up.

North side wall.

The cloud of mist against the cliff on the left is coming off of an unnamed side stream that was rushing with brown water.

Here it is coming off of the south side cliff.

Running past this drainage.

A triple falls. in one amphitheater

Jen has been running down here since the 1990's as well and was totally enthralled with the show.

There were even some clear falls that did not originate up above the gorge (in the Supai rocks) and so they ran with clear water only falling through the Redwall.

Same, same...

A north side water fall.

On the south side, a very large runoff was coming down...

...and this is where it came into the river.

I was thinking that maybe the amount of water entering the river was so insignificant relative to the volume in the river, I doubt if the river was raised even one inch throughout it all??

Is that gradual clearing up ahead. The hard rain lasted for about 25 minutes.

Just above Olo Canyon.

Olo Canyon in flash flood. The flood took out the little bit of sand that was the riverside camp here.

The fall at the mouth of Olo.


Yep, it did clear up with sunshine downstream.

More clear waterfalls.

One last shot. An event like this is unforgettable if you experience it. Yet, in the American Southwest these types of storms are not uncommon this time of year. They just don't happen that often to river runners. Please be sure to see my earlier posts about floods that occurred in Grand Canyon in 2012, here.

I remember one particular August 11 around the early 1980's that was stupendous in this part of Grand Canyon. Seems like the second week of August is a good time to see these types of events here.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Smoke-Filled Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

If it seems like I am doing a lot of Grand Canyon river trips this year, let me say that I will be doing five of them this year; one each in May, June, July, August and September. There is a nice symmetry to a schedule like that. I get to see the canyon emerge from winter into its flower-dappled spring and slowly roll into the dog days of summer, with just a hint of Indian Summer at the end. I like that. I recently finished my third trip and was worried from the start that this might be the hardest with the heat dome that has developed over North America this year. But we saw some monsoon clouds and moisture, and there was a wonderful group of 11 people. This was one of my geology-charter trips.

Bright, clear sunshine at the start as we float through the Supai Group of rocks. Note the haze in the far distance - that is smoke from the Fuller Canyon Fire on the North Rim.

Vasey's Paradise is normally a good size spring issuing from the Redwall Limestone but its discharge is much compromised this season with the relatively low snow pack on the North Rim this past winter. The large hole on the left is completely dry and just a trickle comes out at center.

Just past Redwall Cavern, we entered the smoke zone. It was eery and weird looking to see the canyon in an orange haze.

It reminded me of my high school days in southern California when we ran track and field in the height of the smog epidemic.

This was the day that the fire grew from about 3,000 to 14,000 acres due to a flare up in the wind. We were right below the fire up near Saddle Canyon.

It did make for some pretty interesting pictures.

I'm not sure what everyone made of the smoke although a few were bothered by it at night. We did do the Saddle Canyon hike in the smoke as it drifted in and out of the canyon above us.

We finally got beyond the smoke and could look back upstream as it billowed up over Saddle Mountain.

With the smoke gone, we decided to hike to the Nankoweap granaries. I never would have imagined doing this on a middle-of-July trip but we started early and hiked with wet clothing. It was a breeze!

And a great view!

These are the granaries, located in a niche cut into the Muav Limestone about 800 feet above the Colorado River. They likely were constructed about 1,000 years ago by farmers who lived near the delta of Nankoweap Creek.These granaries were used to keep critters from getting into food stores at night, just as on river trips today when food and trash is put in closed containers to prevent the same.

A final view of the Colorado River from the granaries.

We set up lunch in some rocky ledges etched into the Tapeats Sandstone just below Sixty-Mile Rapid. Many people wonder how the ledges form, if the whole deposit is sandstone? The question actually is:"If it is all sandstone, why does it erode in such nice neat layers?"

The answer can be found looking back under the ledges. The formation is not entirely sandstone but actually interfingers with stringers of Bright Angel Shale. Notice how the shale is more readily excavated by the river since it is softer. The sandstone becomes undercut and ultimately collapses downward.

This is the Sandra, an original 1940's-era cataract boat made by Norman Nevills, considered by most to be the first commercial outfitter in Grand Canyon. Rowing the boat is Greg Reiff, the grandson of Norm Nevills. He patched her up and has now made 33 trips in the Grand Canyon with her.

Travertine 'drapes' on top of the Bright Angel Shale. The travertine formed when spring water, saturated by the dissolution of calcium from the Redwall Limestone, degassed and precipitated limestone. To a geologist, travertine is spring deposited limestone, to counter-top makers travertine is everything from limestone to marble to who knows what. The dates on this travertine are around 330,000 years.

The same process continues nearby within the drainage of the Little Colorado River. About 13 miles upstream from the confluence of the two rivers, is Blue Springs, the largest spring in Arizona at about 220 cfs. Groundwater is dissolving calcium in the Redwall Limestone (where the spring issues from) and the dissolved calcium gives the water its blue color. As the water runs over boulders, the CO2 is driven off and travertine forms in the bed of the LCR.

Wow! The canyon would be spectacular enough but then this warm, colorful water frames it all.

At home in a rocky paradise.

Running Unkar Rapid with the Dox Sandstone above the rapid.

One of the more popular camps above the Inner Gorge is Upper Rattlesnake Camp. I've camped here a lot and have grown quite fond of this little outcrop in the Dox. It is a mudstone/shale that is bounded above and below by thin layers of sandstone. It's like an ice cream sandwich. But the mudstone appears as if it is two weeks old! You could find materials like this on any exposed river floodplain. That is how unchanged it is after over 1 billion years.

Our boatman, Mikenna, has "adopted" the Clear Creek beach. You can read about the Adopt a Beach Program of the Grand Canyon River Guides here. As we stopped, I noticed the fabric in the Vishnu Schist and took a few pictures.

Erosive patterns composed of gray schist rock (metamorphosed shale or sandstone) with light colored quartz dikes (once molten magma).

Interesting shape with quartz dike remnants still plastered on in two places.

I like to set up my bed near the beach where it is a bit cooler in the summer for sleeping.

On our way to Elves Chasm in the Tapeats Sandstone.

Two large boulders of travertine frame the beautiful waterfall.

The Desert Spiny lizard (Scleroperos magister). They can change their color to better absorb or reflect heat.

Spectacular setting on top of Deer Creek Falls after a good hike of about 300 feet uphill. That's the Powell Plateau in the far distance. Note also how the Tapeats Sandstone across the river pinches out gradually away from the photographer. This was the location of a substantial knob of granite that protruded above the Tapeats depositional plane.

Looking into the Deer Creek Narrows from the trail above.

Wild plant garden.

Here is everyone from the trip, except myself who took the picture. You all were great river companions!