Brian and Eileen Keelan

31 Benedict Drive

Rochester NY 14624

Phone: 585-426-0684


20 November 2005

Dear Friends and Family,

We hope that this letter finds you and your families in good health. Eileen and I are doing fine, with relatively little news to report. Eileen continues to volunteer two days per week, one at The Nature Conservancy, and one at Young Audiences of Rochester. She knocked off a book per week this year, and particularly recommends the following (some titles truncated): “Savage Summit: The True Stories of the First Five Women Who climbed K-2 …” by Jennifer Jordan; “Widows By the Thousands: The Civil War Letters of …” edited by M. Jane Johansson, “Love and Valor: Intimate Civil War Letters …” edited by Charles F. Larimer; “Gone For Soldiers,” by Jeff Shaara; “The Everlasting Story of Nory,” by Nicholson Baker; and “Can You Keep a Secret?” by Sophie Kinsella (chick-lit!!).

This year, I led a small software project involving considerable technical work and little project leadership overhead, a welcome change from 2004, which was the converse. My ISO standard (#20462) on measurement of image quality was finally published, an exciting event. Film profits are plummeting, but Kodak has aggressively acquired key companies to compete in commercial printing and health markets. The next two years will be critical in determining the fate of the company. We have had two massive layoffs in Research this year, totaling about 30% reduction, so the atmosphere here is very tense.

As in 2004, we took a late-winter camping trip to Algonquin, enjoying perfect weather for four days. The highlight of the trip was a brief view of a fisher (a large weasel that hunts porcupines) while we were snowshoeing. We have only seen one well previously. Other notables were extensive tracks of pine marten (a medium-sized weasel), scats and tracks of wolves, calling saw-whet owls, and spruce grouse.

The major trip of the year was a rafting trip tour down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Eileen’s trip account is included at the end of the letter. We enjoyed this adventure so much that that we are going to do another rafting trip with the same company in May, 2006, down the Green River through Desolation Canyon in eastern Utah. In fact, I will be serving as the naturalist on that trip, which should be a lot of fun. If you’re interested in such a trip after reading Eileen’s narrative, you might want to check out the website for more information.

In late May we made an enjoyable trip to the New Jersey Pine Barrens and vicinity. We camped along the Wading River at Bodine Field, and right in our campsite had beaver, Fowler’s toad, and whip-poor-wills. The latter were especially exciting, as the male would start incessant calling each night just before dusk, and one of the places from which he called (on a regular circuit of points) was about 20 feet from the camper, so we could see him well. One night, we were still sitting outside in our camp chairs when he and a female flew in next to us and he did a dramatic display, flashing his white tail feathers. One day we visited Brigantine, where two adorable baby opossums the size of guinea pigs waddled right up to our feet! The next day we paddled in the Sedge Islands from lovely Island Beach State Park. We saw many ospreys and shorebirds, including close views of oystercatchers with their maniacal laughing calls.

The next four days were spent paddling the four great rivers of the Pine Barrens. Each day, a canoe livery shuttled us to the starting point, and we paddled downstream an average of 15 miles back to our own vehicle. The trips were done on weekdays to avoid the large weekend crowds found on these spectacular rivers. The first river we paddled was the Mullica, which had marvelous stands of golden club. This unusual plant, related to jack-in-the-pulpit, has grooved leaves with some sort of coating that repels water, leading to the vernacular name “neverwet.” As a result, water droplets sit up on the leaves and sparkle brilliantly. We also found a phoebe nest on a bridge with four brand new young; by peering over the edge, we could see them just two feet away! Our second trip was on the Batsto, on a cold and rainy day. This river is especially notable for its extensive stands of large Atlantic white cedars. The Wading River, our third paddle, was wider and had more current, nearly a mile per hour (compared to a top paddling speed of four mph). This river is exceptionally scenic, and the takeout was right in our campsite, quite a convenience. The last river was the Oswego, which was a bit shorter and also ended at our campsite. We saw a number of red-bellied turtles here, and found small floating bladderwort, a new species of carnivorous plant for us.

Another day we paddled through tidal salt-marsh north of Brigantine, and saw many diamondback terrapins (a salt-water turtle), salt-marsh sharp-tailed sparrows, and seaside sparrows. On the last day of the trip, we toured by vehicle through the Pine Barrens, finding many interesting plants, including about 50 arethusa in bloom (this is a sensational magenta orchid), curly grass fern (a global rarity), and a wild lupine, our first in eastern North America.

In early June, we joined a New York Flora Association (NYFA) field trip to Valcour Island, a limestone island in Lake Champlain that hosts an exceptional concentration of state rarities. The primary target species of this trip was ram’s-head lady’s-slipper, a very unusual and scarce orchid. In addition to these, we saw golden corydalis, climbing fumitory, northern meadow rue, a lovely milk snake, and many other plants rare in NYS. Incidentally, we wrote an article for the NYFA newsletter about our research in the Moose River Plains, and published our annotated checklist on their website, so that it is widely accessible.

Our weekends in June were spent doing boreal bird surveys for the Wildlife Conservation Society. Each transect consisted of five ten-minute point counts, each separated by at least 250 meters. Counts had to be complete by 9:30 a.m. to insure that bird song activity was sufficiently high for accurate censusing. Most of the work was done by canoe. Some mornings we had to get up at 3:30 and paddle in the dark for two hours to be at our starting point by dawn. But as soon as the morning’s survey was done, we could lay our inflatable chairs flat on the ground and sleep for a few hours before having to paddle back. We were very lucky that it was a hot, dry spring in the Adirondacks, so the black-flies were not too bad and we had a surprising amount of good weather, making the weekends unusually pleasant for this time of year. We had a nice assortment of birds, including many American bitterns, yellow-bellied flycatchers, and Lincoln’s sparrows. Eileen enjoyed enticing the many duck families we encountered with food treats.

In early July, we visited a new location for paddling, La Verendrye Faunal Preserve in southwest Quebec. Our campsite for four nights had a stunning 180˚ panorama of lake and islands, and one evening all the nearby loons gathered together in a flock and swam back and forth in front of us, calling periodically. Interesting sightings included grass-pink orchids, yellow-eyed grass, common goldeneyes, goshawk, floating hearts, and a beautiful round-leaved orchis colony. The most exciting event of the trip occurred just after we landed at a portage. We were sitting down, looking at  the map, when a pine marten came rushing out of the forest and stopped dead when it saw us, just eight feet away! He stood upright on hind paws to check us out, then bounded away. We waited quietly and were rewarded by seeing him swim across the wide stream in front of us and get out on the opposite shore. Eileen had seen this species only once before, and me twice, so it was quite a cause for celebration.

Over the next two months we spent three long weekends in the northwest Adirondacks. Although this area is a bit longer drive than the southwest Adirondacks, which we have visited much more frequently, it has somewhat better boreal habitat, larger bogs, and slightly different birds and plants. Locations we explored included Low’s Lake (where we had Cape May warbler and yellow-eyed grass), Little Tupper Lake (military rush), Hitchin’s Bog (pod-grass, merlin, northern harrier), Osgood River (wild celery in bloom, black-backed woodpecker), and Cranberry Lake (where we found a scarce and lovely hybrid aster, Aster x blakei). We had numerous black-billed cuckoos, palm warbler families, and a nice selection of less common pondweeds, an interesting aquatic genus. The Cape May and palm warblers were our first on the breeding grounds in New York State.

This year we made two trips to Pt. Pelee and Rondeau Provincial Parks on the north shore of Lake Erie, primarily to see fall warbler migration. Our late August trip began inauspiciously when backing into a campsite at night, the canoe (on the camper roof) caught on a stout oak tree limb, breaking both gunwales and bending the bow of the boat 20˚. I pounded the Kevlar boat back into shape with a hammer, attached some wooden strips to secure the gunwales, reinforced it with duct tape, and we used it for a few weeks before having it properly repaired. The damage was a bit over $400, but you should have seen the tree.

I’ve been wanting to buy a lighter pair of binoculars ever since Eileen got hers several years ago. While near Pt. Pelee, we visited a good optics store, where I spent several hours comparing the top binocular models, running about 25 tests on each one in direct comparison. I settled on the Zeiss Victory FL 8x32 as being the best of all, and they have been a joy to use. I also bought a matched Zeiss monocular, which can be used as a 3x monocular, a 5x magnifying loupe (great for plants), or a 3x eyepiece to turn the binoculars into a 24x telescope. Although the quality of such a combination is less than that of a real telescope because of the small objective lens, it is still surprisingly good, particularly if there is a reasonable amount of light. The monocular is about two inches long and the diameter of a quarter, so it is convenient in places where you would not normally carry a scope, such as on long hikes.

On the late August trip, we had 12 species of warblers, many yellow-billed cuckoos eating tent caterpillars, and black swallowtail. We paddled in Rondeau Bay on a windy day and found 11 species of shorebirds including red knot, and had large flocks of terns. Four weeks later, we had 15 species of warblers, blue-stemmed goldenrod at Rondeau, gray-cheeked thrush and lesser black-backed gull at Pt. Pelee, and a Swainson’s hawk (a highly migratory western species specializing in large insects) nearby. The butterfly flight was decent, consisting mostly of monarchs, but we also saw eastern comma, red admiral, and viceroy (which mimics the poisonous monarch in appearance for protection from predators). The hawk flights were fair, with many sharp-shinned hawks. We visited Holiday Beach to see the hawk and songbird banding operations there, and were excited to finally see a native population of the bizarre American lotus, a large aquatic plant.

During the first week of October we took our traditional fall trip to Algonquin, this year visiting the Highway 60 corridor in the southwest part of the park, which is the most visited and developed portion (but still provides many marvelous day trips of hiking or paddling). We had five days of gorgeous weather and then it turned very cold and windy for the last few days. It was a good trip for mammals, with ten species recorded, including moose, beaver, and river otter. But the most exciting sighting was that of a wolf crossing the road, which we saw very well; we also heard wolves twice from our campsite. As I mentioned in a previous letter, evidence favors the wolves of Algonquin belonging to the red wolf species, which previously was thought to be restricted to the southeast and nearly extinct in the wild. We also saw a black bear sow with cubs several times, and another bear eating bright orange winterberries along the bank of a river we were canoeing. One day an endearing flock of gray jays came and landed on our canoe and sat on our paddles, to see if we had any food. Another day we encountered a researcher releasing about 150 baby snapping turtles, which we were able to hold and photograph – they were really cute! We finished the year having paddled 438 miles, giving a total of 1189 miles since we bought the canoe (christened “Headwind”) in mid-2003.

We are spending Thanksgiving in El Paso with Eileen’s folks as I write this letter. We are having fun visiting, feasting on authentic Mexican and New Mexican cuisine, and enjoying the lovely weather.

We hope that you and your families are well, and wish you a happy new year!


Brian and Eileen

P.S. When we arrived home from El Paso, it was to learn that my older brother, Chuck, had been hospitalized because of liver damage and other complications from alcoholism. He died on Dec. 10, leaving an aching hole in our lives. His friends have been a great comfort to us, for which we thank them.

Colorado River Rafting through the Grand Canyon

Eileen L. Keelan

In a rare burst of efficiency, I gathered up all the library books shortly before departure for the trip and returned them to the library. I was feeling pretty good about getting them back on time until I learned that I returned one that Brian was still reading and that it wasn’t actually a library book. I hoped that the anticipation of the trip would divert him from never finding out whether or not the butler did it, and he kept his fingers crossed that I would not be quite so helpful in the future.

Sat 16 Apr: Last night we flew into Las Vegas. This morning we stocked up on groceries, then drove to Zion National Park. We had our honeymoon here (and at Bryce Canyon N.P. and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon) nineteen years ago (already?), so we have a sentimental feeling for this place. We got a campsite in the South Campground which was almost full but pretty quiet.

After setting up camp, we drove the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, a 10-mile road that connects the east and south entrances of the park, through a tunnel, built in the 1920’s. We then walked the Canyon Overlook Trail, which is rather steep and rocky, but has a spectacular view of lower Zion Canyon and Pine Creek Canyon. Canyon wrens were singing and we saw rough Indian paintbrush.

Sun 17 Apr: Today we hiked the East Rim Trail up to Observation Point. It is eight miles round trip, steep (2150’ gain), with lots of switchbacks and terrific views of Zion Canyon. Along the way we had Lucy’s and Virginia’s warblers, plumbeous vireo, beautiful pink shooting stars and bright red slick-rock paintbrush. At Echo Canyon, we took off hiking boots and waded through a very cold pool but by the time we returned, the water level had dropped enough that we were able to stay dry by rock-hopping across.

Mon 18 Apr: Despite the caution in the trail guide that Zion’s Hidden Canyon Trail is “not for anyone fearful of heights”, we set off up the two-mile round trip trail, seeing a very pretty frittilaria in bloom. Eventually, the trail becomes steep and narrow with a long drop on one side and a chain bolted to the wall, to hang on to and give you a false sense of security. (I attempted to prove that by getting my hand pinched in the chain.) When we reached some stone steps and a sharp, hairpin curve, I declined to go any farther and retreated to a nice wide ledge where I waited for an hour until Brian returned. Fortunately, I had a book in my pack for just such emergencies. While I sat there, an elderly couple came by. The lady, wearing a long skirt and a lovely hat with a little bow on it, said to me, “I was where you are a couple of years ago; climbing Angel’s Landing cured me.” (The last ½ mile of that trail follows a steep, narrow ridge with long drops on both sides.) Her husband explained that she had climbed Angel’s Landing to celebrate her 70-something birthday. “You’d have thought she was atop Mt. Everest.” My chances of climbing Angel’s Landing are about the same as they are of climbing Mt. Everest.

We stopped for lunch on our way back down and had nice views of Uinta chipmunk. Then we visited the Weeping Wall, decorated with columbines and shooting stars, followed by a mile or so on the Riverside Walk. where we had nice studies of rock squirrels eating the bases of freshly sprouted grasses and exploring inside our camera bag.

Tues 19 Apr: We have done a lot of camping together including canoe camping, but I had never really backpacked before, so Brian arranged ahead of time for permits in Paria Canyon. When we arrived at the ranger station, a very harried ranger told us that the permit for two days did not also include two nights. But he was so busy trying to handle nearly 30 people who were waiting for the campsite lottery that he gave us permission to go ahead. So we loaded up and set out, our packs especially heavy as we were carrying most of our drinking water. The trail follows the riverbed and was slow going with 18 river crossings between stretches of soft sand and deep mud. Along the way, we were excited to see a new species of pygmy barrel cactus in flower.

We didn’t see many people but one fellow we spoke to told us that the water at the Narrows, where we were headed, was quite deep, so we decided to stop at mile 3, where there was a very nice campsite, backed by a cliff and shaded by a large cottonwood. We arranged our kitchen under the tree and cooked up what, according to the package, was “premium gourmet camping food”.

Wed 20 Apr: After breakfast Brian packed for a day hike to the narrows while I planned to stay at our camp to read and explore the area. Just before he set out, three hikers (volunteer rangers in the Sierras) who’d been camping upslope from us, came through. They told us about a natural cistern filled with rainwater not too far away, which we could use to replenish our drinking water.

Our campsite was filled with soft, powdery sand and we noted thousands of mouse and lizard tracks. There were dark purple phacelias in bloom and white evening primroses, some with very large flowers. We even saw a pair of peregrine falcons, romancing each other. After Brian returned and we ate lunch, he went to check out the water hole; if we could filter drinking water from it we would stay another night. He was successful and said I should go look at as it was very pretty and only a few minutes away. He explained the route to me, and pointed me in the right direction. Then he returned to camp and I went off and got lost. An hour later, I ended up on the plateau overlooking our campsite. Thankfully, I recognized the cottonwood tree and made my way back down. I never did find the cistern.

Thu 21 Apr: This morning, we photographed the mouse tracks and a lizard, had our last views of the peregrine falcons, packed up camp and headed back to our car. The packs were a bit lighter now and much easier to carry. A golden eagle soared overhead as we arrived at the parking lot.

We drove to Wire Pass, put lunch and cameras in our day packs and hiked into a slot canyon. Here, we had to clamber over rocks in several places. On our return, we discovered someone had knocked over a carefully-placed pile of rocks, making it difficult to climb up over one big boulder jammed in the narrow canyon. The slot canyon comes out at Buckskin Gulch. A large group was having lunch there so we went a few yards into Buckskin where we had a delightful lunch, with canyon wren songs rippling down the cliffs and white-throated swifts and violet green swallows zipping all over the place. Two stunning species of penstemon were in flower here as well. On the trail in we also saw a black-tailed jackrabbit and a desert cottontail, and heard Brewer’s sparrows.

Our next destination was Bryce Canyon National Park and we decided to take the scenic back road, which goes by Grosvenor Arch and Kodachrome Basin. But a flat tire (predicted by Brian) put a crimp in those plans. We used up a big chunk of time finding the auto manual, hidden in the rental car, and unloading everything to get at the spare tire, then changing the tire and reloading the car. So, instead, we stayed in Kanab, ordered take-out Mexican food from Fernando’s Hideaway, and got the tire fixed in the morning.

Fri 22 Apr: We made it to Bryce today without further mishap. There was still snow in places and some roads and trails were not open. We set up camp in North Campground and had lunch there with three least chipmunks and a couple of Steller’s jays. Then we took the scenic drive to its end and returned slowly, stopping at each overlook to admire and photograph the views. We had terrific looks at a gray-headed junco.

Sat 23 Apr: In our camp this morning we had pygmy and white-breasted nuthatches, juncos, robins, and a western bluebird. After breakfast, we began the hike down the Queen’s Garden Trail. It was cool and overcast but soon cleared and warmed up. There were lovely views all the way and we had good looks at two Townsend’s solitaires. Then we took the highly-recommended (by friends, and the park ranger) Peek-a-boo Trail, which is more beautiful than its slightly dorky name might suggest. A lot of the trail was still under snow and the rest was wet and slippery, with a lot of elevation loss and gain. We saw lots of blue spruce and intermountain bristlecone pine.

We finished the loop and headed back to the parking lot via the horse trail. At one point, where a stream washed out a section of the trail, I slipped and fell off the edge and was immediately cited by Brian for “unnecessary erosion of a river bank.” As we finished the hike, it began to rain. We stopped at the Visitor Center where Brian asked the ranger about Utah prairie dogs and she suggested a nearby location. We found two of them (a life species for us) and had good looks at their lovely cinnamon fur and white-tipped tails. Then, because last night’s temperature dropped into the 20’s and more snow was predicted for today, we went back to Zion for the night and snagged one of the few remaining campsites at South Campground.

Sun 24 Apr: The campsite we were in was officially a handicapped site and only made available to the general public when it was still unclaimed late in the day. A ranger stopped by in the morning and asked if we were aware we had to be out of the handicapped site by 0900. Uh, no. (We did know that it was only open for one night.) That timely notice gave us eight minutes to be out of there. Fortunately, I had already lingered over my morning book-and-coffee routine and didn’t have to cram that into our eight available minutes. It had rained most of the night and started again this morning so we stuffed all our wet gear in the car and headed for Las Vegas and the start of the rafting trip. Rain finally let up so we pulled over shortly before we got there and spread everything out to dry. With a stiff breeze blowing it didn’t take long, which was a good thing, because it began to rain again.

We checked into the motel, took showers, did laundry, and met up with our friend Karin for dinner. We missed Bob and Merrilee though; we tried to call their room but the front desk had given us the wrong room number. They tried to call us but were told we hadn’t checked in yet. We finally caught up with each other at the introductory meeting, where we learned the schedule for tomorrow and were issued ammo boxes (watertight, they would hold personal items we wanted easily accessible during the day) and dry bags to hold the rest of our gear. These containers were numbered so we could identify our own belongings.

Mon 25 Apr, Rafting Trip Day #1 (RTD1): We had a several-hour bus ride to the put in at Lee’s Ferry with a stop at the Colorado River and Trail Expeditions (CRATE) warehouse in Fredonia to meet the guides (Walker, Mindy, Kimo, and Annie) and eat lunch. In preparation for the adventure, we watched a film on boating in the Grand Canyon. At Lee’s Ferry, we loaded our stuff on the boats. All the dry bags were clipped to rope around the inside edge of the raft and the ammo boxes were lined up with a rope run through their handles, the way they would be for the whole trip. Then we were fitted with life jackets. Each one was stenciled with a name so we could always retrieve the same one. So, Brian became a red-tailed hawk and I was a junco.

Then we were off! The motor on the boat was quiet enough to easily hear bird calls from shore, and we moved at a leisurely pace. We ran through a number of riffles and several rapids with big splashy waves. The water was very cold! We saw a California condor; a number of them have been re-released in the Grand Canyon, a former home of theirs. And someone spotted several bighorn sheep moving along a rocky slope. We stopped at Mile 21 to set up camp. The bags and boxes were unclipped and tossed off the boats assembly-line fashion; people gathered up their things and found a spot to stake their tents. Several long tables were erected, a kitchen was set up and dinner prepared by the guides. It was wonderful to sit on the sandy beach, red rock walls towering above us , the river rumbling past, and enjoy the meal (the guides were, among their many talents, terrific cooks!). The site was thick with wildflowers, prompting Merrilee to name it Phacelia Gardens, thus beginning a tradition of naming each campsite. 

Tues 26 Apr, RTD2: We woke up early to take down tents, repack, and eat a pancake breakfast, before boarding the boats. Just a few minutes downriver from camp, we stopped to hike in North Canyon. The trail passed through lovely displays of scarlet monkey-flower and by occasional twining snapdragons, and ended at a small pool and waterfall.

We continued down the river and stopped for lunch at Red Wall Cavern, a large natural amphitheatre that explorer John Wesley Powell estimated could seat 50,000, quite an overestimate. The sand that filled the cavern was pocked with mouse tracks. Lunch fixings were set up and people constructed their own sandwiches and lounged around in the shade of the amphitheatre. It was here that “Swampy” made his first appearance, draping himself casually across a boulder, pretending to be one of the local lizards. He was soon found out to be a rubber model, though, and spent the rest of the trip in his rightful position as mascot, secured to Walker’s boat.

Our next stop was for a short but difficult hike up a cliff to see some fossils embedded in the rock. After a few more river miles, we stopped at Buck Farm Canyon for another lovely hike to a waterfall. Along the way we saw Venus maidenhair ferns lining all the damp spots on the canyon walls, with two species of columbine, stream orchids, and redbud still in bloom. From here, we had a short run on the river to our next campsite. We glimpsed two bighorn rams and a mule deer, and Walker pointed out the remains of an Azasazi bridge halfway up the canyon wall. Brittlebush (Encelia farinose) was in full bloom throughout the site, so Brian named it Encelia Esplanade.

Wed 27 Apr, RTD3: After breakfast, we hiked up Saddle Canyon to some waterfalls. There were brilliant scarlet monkey-flowers in bloom. When the canyon narrowed, almost everyone climbed up through the rocks to the falls, getting quite wet for their efforts. The lunch tables were arranged by the time we returned and we sat down to enjoy yet another sunny picnic accompanied by river-music. Suddenly we were interrupted by a huge gust of wind that seemed to spring up out of nowhere. The boats strained against the ropes tying them to shore and sand whirled madly, filtering into sandwiches, drinks, clothes, hair, eyes, and blasting the surfaces of everything else. We packed up fast and took off.

We had a short run to our next hike, up to some ancient Indian granaries that had been cut in the rock wall. The path was somewhat steep but not very difficult until closer to the top. There were four neatly-carved holes, about five feet deep. The view from here was one of the most spectacular of the trip. The river ran through the canyon as it has for ages, swirling around boulders, throwing up spray, tugging at the sandy, rocky, banks for as far as we could see. It finally disappeared between overlapping canyon walls in the hazy blue distance. If you stood still and looked hard, you could almost see it carve its canyon-bed ever deeper.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the boat. Walker pointed out a pyramid called The Tabernacle where he hoped to hike tomorrow but our intended campsite, and the trailhead, was already taken and we had to run too far down river to the next site to be able to return upstream in the morning. This was the only instance during the trip when we ran into other campers. We went a bit farther and found another very nice place to call home for the night, which we named Lucy’s Lanai for all the Lucy’s Warblers.

Thu 28 Apr, RTD4: This morning, we packed the boats and then set off on our first hike. Walker performed some interesting mathematical figuring and announced that those who wanted to do a shorter hike could go half way and then turn around and come back to the boats. Those tough enough to go the distance, would conclude the hike at a point farther down the river. Walker and Kimo would bring the boats down and meet us there.

The hike began with a bit of a climb, then wound around the rim of 75-Mile Canyon. Mojave prickly pear was in full bloom, and Merrilee said the small bright red fruit of the corky-seed fish-hook cactus looked like Tylenol capsules. Bristly gilia, a favorite flower from our California trip two years ago, appeared on the trailside. After a while, the trail dropped down from the rim and we hiked along the canyon floor, where we encountered a very pretty gopher snake, about 3.5 feet long.

We arrived at the beach and waited for the boats. Soon, Walker showed up but the other boat decided to take a time-out on a rock in the middle of the river. Thanks to a concerted effort and some heroics by Kimo, the boat was persuaded to quit goofing around and get on down the river. With everyone back aboard, we ran through a number of rapids, including Hance and Sockdolager. The technical, rocky ones had to be scouted from shore first before we went through. Though the days were usually warm and sunny, the water was still very cold. We often wore rain gear through the rapids to avoid getting wet and chilled. However, some of the more aggressive rapids managed to drench you anyway and those passengers at the front of the boat took the worst of it. At least in the warm, dry air we didn’t stay wet for long.

Except for today, that is. When we got to camp, it was raining. We got the tents set up, then Walker took a small group across the river for a hike in Vishnu Canyon, directly opposite the camp. Brian said they were only gone a few minutes before they had to climb up a waterfall. A second one soon followed and he and one or two others thought it looked a little risky to climb back down, so they returned to the boat where they waited in the rain for the nimble-footed remainder of the group to return. Fortunately, it stopped raining in time for dinner and we had another pleasant evening. This campsite was dubbed Vishnu View.

Fri 29 Apr, RTD5: We took the boats five miles down the river to Phantom Ranch which is also the destination for people hiking down from the rim. In fact, one of the participants was meeting her two children there today; they hiked to the ranch and would conclude the trip on the rafts.

We spent a few hours here replenishing the water supply, mailing postcards (which would make the trip out via mule), making the rendezvous with Maria’s children, and eating lunch. Mojave prickly pear was in profuse bloom, mostly yellow but occasionally magenta. We spent the afternoon on the boat running rapids and wound up pretty wet! At Crystal Rapids, Walker and Kimo stopped to scout the best route through the rocks and waves.

It was warm and sunny when we stopped for the day at Bass Camp, so we were able to spread the wet gear out to dry. The rocks and ledges were soon draped with a colorful assortment of clothing. Merrilee named the site Lizard Ledge after we saw two lizards basking on a ledge near our tents. After dinner, we explored the rocks with a flashlight, hoping to catch a glimpse of a ringtail but had no luck. Brian made a 2AM foray for them but if there were any nearby they escaped detection.

Sat. 30 Apr, RTD6: Ringtails really do exist! We did not see any last night but this morning, Kimo found a neat set of tracks in the wet sand near the boats. He said they have attempted to raid the fruit supply on previous trips.

Fortified with blueberry pancakes for breakfast, we set off on a four-mile (round trip) hike to the original Bass Camp. The trail climbed from the river to a ridge and then down the other side to Shinumo Creek where Bass used to run a tourist camp. There were still a lot of rusted artifacts left from Bass’s days there.

Then we were back on the boat for more rapid-running thrills. Two very elegant plants, rock nettle and pancake prickly pear, appeared along the cliffs. Lunch was at Elves Chasm followed by a short hike to the chasm where there was a pool filled with tiny shrimp. Our next hike was in the narrows of Blacktail Canyon. The trail was gravel with a thin trickle of a stream through a layer of Tapeats sandstone. We passed a pool of water so still and clear it could have been a sheet of glass; there was not a breeze or a bug to ripple the surface. Flashfloods had filled in the end of the canyon with gravel since Walker’s last visit, thus shortening the hike slightly. But we did reach a small waterfall. There was a canyon tree frog sitting on a rock nearby and we heard it call as we were leaving. It was a new species for the trip.

After another 10-15 miles on the river, we stopped to camp. We were on a long beach with a rocky slope rising up behind, which was covered with barrel cactus. Brian named this site Ferocactus Façade after the barrel cactus genus. Walker presented a geology lesson, describing the formation of the canyon and demonstrating its erosion on a mound of sand he’d built in preparation. Then he briefed us on tomorrow’s hike, concluding with, “it will be long, hard, hot, and miserable”. And who could resist that?

Sun 1 May, RTD7: We got up early today to get ready for the long hike, dubbed “the death march” by previous participants . After packing lunches, we boarded Walker’s boat and went to the trailhead. Kimo took his boat and the folks who preferred not to be “miserable” and sailed to the finish point. They hung out there and/or did some shorter hikes, while Kimo hiked the trail in reverse and floated Walker’s boat down to wait at the beach with the others.

The hike was approximately seven miles with a 2000 foot elevation gain, up Tapeats Creek, through Surprise Valley, and out Deer Creek. The trail had major exposure which was very scary and slowed us down quite a bit. (By “us” I pretty much mean me.) I do believe I might still be clinging to a cliff-face had not Walker been so kind as to guide me off the narrow ledge. More than once. Of course, the guides are charged with leaving nothing behind in the canyon: trash, gear, people… Still, I was very grateful for the assistance.

We took a rest break at Thunder Falls, where the water gushes out of two holes in the canyon wall and falls into Tapeats Creek. Because it flows directly out of limestone, the water is potable without having to be filtered, so we refilled our water bottles. Then another stiff climb brought us up to the beautiful Surprise Valley, our favorite part of the hike. The trail was fairly level and even (not even I could fall off of it) and wound through hundreds of wildflowers, including a superb display of larkspur and mariposa lilies. Walker spotted a desert woodrat (packrat) in the shade under a shrub, and a beautiful Baird’s swallowtail flew by. Eventually, the trail began to drop, getting rocky, sandy, and slippery. We reached Dutton Falls, which, like Thunder Falls, exits from Redwall Limestone. There were Venus maidenhair ferns growing in profusion on the waterfall-misted ledges. We made our way to a dry ledge behind the falls and ate our lunch, enjoying the unique view through a curtain of water.

Then we continued down the trail, passing through a riparian area where we saw a summer tanager in the cottonwoods, until we reached the “patio”, with its broad, flat ledges, creek and pools of water. Some of the walls displayed the signatures of ancient people--hand prints created by placing their hands against the rock and blowing paint through a reed. A view through binoculars revealed that Walker’s boat was still at Tapeats Creek where it had gotten stuck so he planned to take the other boat back on a rescue mission. He had some excitement getting the boat off the sand. Several people were pushing so hard that when the boat finally budged, four people dropped into the river and had to swim to shore. Despite this heroic attempt, Kimo and his boat arrived under their own steam. Our campsite that night was lovely but rather small prompting Merrilee and Brian to name it Tent City. There were a few sprinkles of rain during dinner but we got gorgeous rainbow out of it, so there were no complaints.

Mon 2 May, RTD8: This morning we rode the river a short distance to Havasu Canyon. There were several hiking options here, including a long one to the famous Mooney Falls. We chose a shorter version today. The trail was rough, rocky , and sometimes difficult to find. When we did locate it, we had to cross streamlets, clamber over rocks, and duck under overhanging ledges. My hiking style resembles that of a dislodged pebble anyway; on any number of occasions, Brian has suggested that I try actually watching where I’m going. All of this conspired to slow us down, so we only ended up hiking about three miles. Highlights of the stroll included watching several canyon treefrogs calling; seeing two-tailed swallowtail, a new butterfly for us; and looking down at the water far below us, and seeing the rare, native Colorado squawfish swimming in the creek. We photographed numerous pools of turquoise water and ate our lunch beside a particularly frothy one. That evening, we camped at a large beach that we named Limestone Spectacle after the two types of rock that were visible: the Muav and Redwall limestones.

Mon 3 May, RTD9: This morning, we did a short hike into National Canyon, turning back where the canyon was flooded. Then we did a short run on the river to the cool, narrow, Fern Glen Canyon, another short hike, this one terminating where a large boulder and deep pools blocked the way (although a few intrepid explorers waded and scrambled their way through). At this spot, we found comfortable rocks to sit on and listened to Kimo give a couple of inspirational readings, selections from Edward Abbey’s writings. Rock Mat, a favorite plant from the Grand Canyon, grew on the walls here.

Back on the boat, we headed for Lava Falls and its 13-foot drop. The boats went through one at a time, giving the passengers an opportunity to photograph each other on this exciting run. Lunch was enjoyed on a series of flat rock ledges. Practical jokes abounded, including a faux banana that one hungry camper tried to chew open when it refused to peal properly, and a horseradish-stuffed oreo cookie. Obviously, we weren’t having enough fun and needed to find additional ways to spice things up.

We stopped for the day shortly after lunch. After setting up the tents at Basalt Base Camp, Walker and Mindy led a hike up Whitmore Wash, which Walker described as “a workout hike with a good view at the top.” I stayed in camp enjoying the sight and sound of the river and reading from “Canyon Voyage: A Narrative of the Second Powell Expedition”, by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, a member of that expedition. Brian hiked up 900’ to the rim for a superb view of the river from a different perspective.

Tues 4 May, RTD10: Today was spent mostly on the boat. We had a short hike to what Mindy claimed was her favorite locale, “The Bundy Jars”, and had lunch on a sunny beach where the only shade was under a ledge that you had to crawl under. But there was plenty of room once underneath and we had a perfect view of a Say’s phoebe nest under a ledge directly across the river.

In the afternoon, we stopped at Travertine Canyon where Walker said we would cross “about 300 yards of burning Sahara to a lush tropical paradise” which turned out to be pretty much true. There were lovely waterfalls and pools. Some folks climbed a rope and a ladder to continue to a second falls. We photographed maidenhair ferns, scarlet monkey-flower, and golden columbines amongst large, decorative sprays of spiny rush. Back on the boat, we passed Diamond Creek, where Brian and I camped a few years ago, and ran the 25’-drop of Diamond Creek Rapid. We camped that evening at Ringtail Rapids which we named in honor of our final, and still futile, attempt at seeing a ringtail.

Wed. 5 May, RTD11: We packed our gear for the last time this morning and turned in the tents and sleeping bags. The rafts were tied together today for the last morning of rafting. Both engines were run but only one driver was needed. There were no rapids on this stretch so no one and nothing got wet! Perhaps the most unexpected bird sighting of the trip was a flock of about 20 red-necked phalaropes that we nearly ran over with the raft. These sandpipers, which swim like ducks, breed in the arctic and winter far out to sea, so it was a thrill to see them deep in an interior canyon. Brian spotted a succulent plant called Dudleya, which was the 100th plant species identified on the rafting trip. At mile 260 we were met by a jet boat to quickly reach Pearce Ferry. This last section of the trip was less interesting (from a natural history point of view!) as we left the canyon behind and saw mostly tamarisk-lined steep sand banks. There were many western grebes on the lake as we approached the take-out.

Thu 6 May: We still had a couple of days before we had to fly back to Rochester and we had decided to spend them at Toroweap, a place we’d been wanting to revisit ever since our first stay a few years ago. There were several routes from which to choose. The most scenic route was also the longest, so we decided to save it for the return trip if there was time We tried the second route, but it had rained and the dirt road was now a slick clay road on which we spent as much time slithering sideways as we did advancing; we made a valiant effort and then gave up. The third choice was also unpaved but was in better shape. Since it left from Fredonia, we stopped in at the CRATE warehouse briefly, where Mindy, Walker, and Kimo were unpacking from the trip.

We finally reached the observation point late in the afternoon, after seeing lark bunting, lark sparrow, and Cassin’s kingbird along the way. We took several scenic photographs, although I had to retreat and bury my head in a book while Brian took a shot from the rim; he finds it hard to focus when I yank on his arm, trying to haul him back from the edge (The first time we were here, I did go out on a pinnacle and the photograph was spectacular, but as it turns out, sometimes once really is enough.) Then we set up camp. It had started to rain but we put the tent under a fairly dry overhang and were comfortable.

Fri 7 May: We had a glorious last morning, spent photographing and enjoying the views. The two-hour, 61-mile drive out was good for birds, including Scott’s oriole and green-tailed towhee.

Altogether, we had a marvelous trip, in a favorite place, with good friends, both old and new. It was well-organized by CRATE and well-led by all four of our guides. The name of the canyon sums up our experience quite nicely — it was Grand!