Monday, May 28, 2012

The Richest People on Earth: River Trip Day 1

I woke early at sunrise on May 20th, chugged a quick cup of coffee, toasted some bread, threw some last minute items in my back pack and headed out the door toward River Operations. Less than a week ago I had no idea that I would be taking this journey. It is one that most visitors wait years to get permtis for and will often pay loads of money to experience. I greeted 18 other trip participants as we set our duffles down so that they could be picked up by the mules and be hauled down to the bottom of Grand Canyon. Some individuals were park staff that I was familar with, both coworkers and aquaintances. About half were new faces that would eventually become the faces of people I know to be friends. After a quick briefing we traveled to the Bright Angel Trailhead to begin the 9.5 mile hike to Phantom Ranch. The next day we would leave the trail crew bunkhouse and load rafts to begin a 4 day adventure on the Colorado River. The anticipation was what made this hike so much different that any other decent into the canyon. Chatter of potential hikes, visions, and rapids were flowing like water. The All-Employee River Trip had begun! Many have asked me,"How is it that you get to raft the Colorado River and get paid to do it?" This is a special opportunity that has been provided for the past 3 years. Each year permanent employees can submit an application to be incuded in the annual river trip. On the river, the experiences you gain are set apart from any other. Its is a chance to see remote areas of the park that we are helping to protect. Employees on board can learn from one another and gain an insight on just what it takes to run the park and preserve the mission. Approx. 40 employees run the river each year on this trip. 20 on the upper half and 20 on the lower half. I was heading for the lower half.
Our journey starts from Phantom Ranch. As you leave from Grand Canyon village via the Bright Angel Trail, Phantom is the destination. The Boats would be pulled out at Diamond Creek on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.
Packed in our packs were solar viewers. Not only was this the start of the river trip but it was also an Annular Eclipse. The moon would be visible traveling directly in front of the sun and was best seen this time around in the southwest. Stationed on the rim were rangers, visitors, scientists and not to mention N.A.S.A waiting eagarly with excitement. I have hiked the canyon many times but never with this much to look forward to. Many of us know the Bright Angel Trail very well and others had never touched it. Dressed in civilian clothes and enjoying the warm clear morning is throughly enjoyable, however, it is hard for some of us to turn the "ranger" off when we are hiking a trail with a group of people. Interpreters tend to show everyone the various fossils, pictographs, caves, and archeological sights along the way. Needless to say we took our time getting to the bottom and I was glad for that too because it was 104 degrees at Phantom Ranch when we arrived. After a quick dip in the creek we started to scope out a place to successfully see the eclipse. The bottom of a large hole did not seem optimal for getting a clear view of the sky. A 1/2 mile away from the bunkhouse was the silver bridge that we had used to cross the river earlier. It is suspended over the Colorado River just before Pipe Creek Rapid. The V-shpae of the canyon seemed promising for a sunset we could see and of course the moon as well. As soon as we arrive we whipped out the solar viewers and took a look. Sure enough there was the moon slowly making its way across, turning the sun into a cresent shape. Many more began to join the 5 of us standing awkardly in the middle of the 300 foot long bridge. Other members of our group who had not made the walk out have given us some extra soloar viewers. As curious bystanders wondered what we were using we started to offer them the extras and chatting. Finally after not using selective language, someone piped up, "Are you guys Rangers?"....busted. Many off-duty park employees will go to great lengths to keep their identity hidden, however this experience made the viewing that much more meaningful. We had all been drawn to the inner canyon for something...a river trip, adventure, hiking, camping, natural soundscapes, etc. But we were all sharing the same one together here in the middle of a bridge at the bottom of Grand Canyon. An experience that does not come around very often.
A coworker of mine placed his viewer up to the camera to capture the pivitol moments. Photos by: T.Karlovetz
Full eclipse. The "ring of fire" lasted only about 60 seconds before wanning the other way. I took my solar viewer down away from my face after the full eclipse to stare out over the river and the low erie light that had come over the canyon walls. Still light but shadows danced at strange angles when the moon blocked most of the sun's light. I looked at the group still in awe over the rare experience and turned to glace at pipe creek rapid. A rapid that we would be running in the morning hours. We stood there and felt like royalty. Suspended above a powerful river in the light of a full eclipse I began to wonder if we were the only ones to have an experience equal to this one on this night. And tomorrow we would embark on a rare journey to discover hidden secrets inside this emense chasm. I am often asked what the pay is like being a Ranger. The most popular answer is, " Well we get paid in rainbows and sunsets." (and sometimes eclipses and rapids). I like to think of wealth as not having any monetary value. You can not ever completely purchase an expereince. You must seek it and embrace it. All of us standing on that bridge as the sun set were at that moment the richest on earth.

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