Scientists struggle to preserve Grand Canyon wildlife

The Grand Canyon needs more water.

That’s the assessment of a U.S. Geological Survey report that studied the results of a 2008 experiment. A controlled flood let more water through Glen Canyon Dam in order to replicate the effects of annual flooding from before the dam was built. Sediment from the flood increased the size of sandbars along the path of the river. These sandbars are an essential habitat for the plants and animals living in the canyon and also make handy beaches for weary hikers who have just made it to the bottom.

Unfortunately, the sandbars all but washed away after six months. The USGS and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are calling for regular controlled floods, especially in spring when the tributaries of the Colorado River naturally flood, and March in order to stop seeds from the nonnative tamarisk from germinating and helping native trout as they grow to maturity. The Glen Canyon Dam was built in the 1960s amid a major controversy over how it would change the river. Several local species have drastically reduced in number because of changes to water temperature and flow.

The problem is, the dam on the Colorado River is a major source of hydroelectric power, and any flooding would reduce the amount of electricity generated. It’s a classic case of industry vs. environmentalism, but the huge amount of money generated from tourism to the Grand Canyon may mean the environmentalists have the money on their side for a change.

Rafting the Grand Canyon: Adventure of a lifetime

Even a few hours raft trip can feel like an adventure. A raft trip down the Grand Canyon is perhaps one of the greatest raft adventures of all. My husband used to be a rafting guide in Alaska and Montana and still recalls the 21-day raft trip he took down the Colorado River years ago with friends as the one trip he’d love to repeat one day.

Rafting the Grand Canyon takes planning, reservations, time and money. Because the number of trips allowed down the Colorado River through the canyon are limited, it’s important to plan ahead.

In my husband’s case, their trip was a do-it-yourself, non-commercial trip (private) which cut down on the money part, but increased the level of planning to make sure their food lasted for the 21 days and to make sure they had all the gear they needed.

To get a permit for a private 15 to 25 day trip from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek, apply through the Grand Canyon National Park’s weighted lottery system. Before you apply, though, read the requirements to see if your group qualifies. The lottery is held each February for trips for the following year.

If you want a private trip for a shorter period of time, apply for a non-commercial 2-5 day trip. This trip through the Lower Gorge section of the canyon offers 52 miles of smooth and white water paddling. Permits are given out on a first come, first serve basis a year in advance. Here’s the application that includes a phone number.

If you want just a taste of rafting where someone else does the planning, consider a commercial one-day or half-day trip.

The Hualapai Tribe operates the Hualapai River Runners which offers full-day white water trips that begin at Diamond Creek.

For or half-day or full-day smooth water trips from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry, check out Colorado River Discovery, LCC. Trips start up in March.

Like the non-commercial trips, reservations need to be made well in advance. There are other commercial operations that offer trips of the several day to a few hours variety.

Rafting The Grand Canyon and Utah’s website is one place to look at a variety of options. There are links that highlight sections of the Colorado River. If you have some cash to spend, go for it.

Also, check out Rafting through the Grand Canyon by Philip Greenspun for a up-close look at a longer raft trip. Greenspun does a tidy job of highlighting a commercial trip he took with the outfitter OARS. Wonderful photos are part of the mix.

Good luck lining up the trip that’s perfect for you and happy rafting!