Monday, July 2, 2012

Lees Ferry Put-In, June Oar Trip

Lees Ferry in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, fifteen miles downstream of Glen Canyon Dam, is where all boats running the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park put in to the river.
Canyoneers oar rafts, Lees Ferry, Colorado River, Arizona (click on photo for larger)

It's an historic site, in that it was a commercial river ferry crossing location, from the pioneer days (beginning with John D. Lee, hence the name) until the construction of Navajo Bridge about five miles downstream finally brought reliable, safe highway access across the Colorado River there in the form of US 89A. 

John Crowley, Canyoneers River Operations Manager, and Tom Meyers,
river guide and Grand Canyon author
 (click on photo for larger)
On this fine June afternoon, Canyoneers' crew were unloading their boats, rigging them up and loading supplies for the two week June trip through Grand Canyon. It was hot -- about 101 F. -- but as always the river water was very cold, making it relatively easy to get cooled off as need be. And to keep one's jug of water cold by setting it into the river's edge or tied to one of the rafts. 

Colorado River and Vermilion Cliffs, Lees Ferry, Arizona (click on photo for larger)
The main fleet consisted of five bright orange 18-foot Avon inflated rafts, each of which would carry four passengers in addition to the river guide who would be rowing through most of the 277 river miles of Grand Canyon.

Canyoneers C-Craft motor support boat (click on photo for larger)
This would be a "motor support" trip, meaning one of Canyoneer's huge 37-foot C-Craft motorized rafts would be along. The big boat would not be in the midst of the oar boats, but would go on ahead, carrying many more big ice chests of food and other supplies. Sometimes called "the mother ship" by passengers, it also carried the portable kitchen, making it a floating, traveling restaurant.

Greg Reiff and the historic Nevills cataract boat the Sandra (click on photo for larger)
The showcase of the Canyoneers oar trips is the Sandra, a little white-with-green-trim wooden cataract boat that has quite a history to her. The last boat built by legendary river runner Norman Nevills before his untimely death in an airplane crash in 1949, the Sandra is fully restored and owned by Nevills' grandson, Greg Reiff of Flagstaff. The boat was named for his mom, Sandra Nevills Reiff. 

The Sandra at sunset, Lees Ferry, Colorado River (click on photo for larger)
Greg rows the Sandra on the June and July oar trips. In August she is usually rowed by Andy Hutchinson, a master boat builder who did most of the original restoration work. 

Vermilion Cliffs and blue sky reflection near sunset, Lees Ferry (click on photo for larger)
Lees Ferry is also a magical place, in terms of scenery and photography. Besides having the Colorado River, the scenery is spectacular by having the Vermilion Cliffs on one side of the river and the Echo Cliffs on the other side. Add to this mix the clear blue Arizona sky and it's pretty impressive.

Canyoneers oar rafts and the Sandra, with Vermilion Cliffs sunset reflection (click on photo for larger)
Moreover, the closer it gets to sunset, the more special the light gets. With the Vermilion Cliffs so tall, so steep, and so close to the river, the low angle of the nearly-set sun lights up the reddish-brown cliff, until it's almost orange in color. The clear river reflects the orange of the cliff and the deep blue sky onto the river's surface, creating a unique color display. No "Photoshop-ing" needed!

I recorded the day on video, as well. The breeze on the river's surface makes for some mesmerizing effects as the orange and blue are stirred around by the ripples. You can see the 9-1/2 minute video on my YouTube channel:

-- Contributed by Steve Krieg, Canyoneers Reservations Assistant

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