Post dramatic stress relief

Published 1:12 pm Saturday, September 3, 2016

by James D. Howell

We are on the Colorado River for eight days. We hike slot canyons; we traverse rapids. We sleep under the peace of the canyon. Our eyes see what a select group can only see after doing the work of camping and hiking.

The routine of the earth becomes ours; camp before sunset, rise before dawn. The smell of the canyon is clean, sweet.

We stop at a particularly wide section of canyon. It has a large sandy and willow-covered bank. We’re going to climb high on the canyon’s south wall to a place commonly called The Granary. It’s where ancient Indians stored seeds and other goods, protected from river flooding, rain and potential enemies. It’s a moderate climb; I stop to rest, photograph and view the river on the way up.

Two main sections still exist, with obvious fallen remains of others. The more adventuresome follow the narrow trail a little further along the canyon wall to another built in section. I am content to take in the spectacular view.

We stop to visit the canyon crossing at Phantom Ranch. It’s an established lodge and visitors center built in the mid-1920s. There is a trail down from the rim and a suspension bridge across the river. We meet a few other canyon visitors; I check out the bridge and its entrance carved out of the canyon wall.

A little further, our guide ties up to a line left along the canyon for that specific purpose. This is an area where a rock classification called the Vishnu Schist forms the rock wall of the riverbank. Here are layers of rock formations that occurred before any shellfish or other sea creatures existed. It’s the base rock of all the other rocks in this area. They are volcanic in origin and are formed by the unfathomable pressures of a growing, changing earth.

We climb to Deer Springs Falls, hike to an ancient abandoned rock house on top of a mesa, and visit the “doll house” rock formation. We spend time at the lovely, peaceful, idyllic Elves Chasm, a grotto that boasts two different waterfalls. I spend most of the allotted time at the lower, quieter falls with more ferns and moss growth.

At mile 148, we beach the raft and ascend through narrow slot canyons to a large amphitheater, carved by millennia of water flow. It’s named Matkatamiba. The climb is a large part of this adventure, and we take time to wade the pools and help each other up the steep sandstone walls.

Today the water flow is minimal and fun. We emerge from the slot canyon part and climb still higher along the interior rim to the larger part. This plateau is lush and protected — an ideal place for ancient peoples to live.

It’s size makes it difficult to photograph for visual perspective. I move to several locations and have to be content with what I can do with the time allowed.

Early one morning, after a short run, we stop at a place of reflecting pools along the river edge. In morning light, the canyon walls are beautiful, upside down and brilliantly lit. I walk, look, walk and look some more. It’s fascinating.

The last night on the river, I dig deep into my waterproof pack and retrieve a special tee-shirt that I intend to wear for the trip back to Lee’s Ferry. I stow it on the top layer, easily accessible. The last day is spent running the river to Lava Falls, the largest and most complex on this trip.

We are given the opportunity to disembark before the falls, spend time walking the shore and watching other rafts as they run the falls. The shoreline offers nice overlooks of the rapids experience.

The mighty Colorado gushes down the canyon here, drops about 13 feet over a quarter mile., and exits to a calm stretch to Whitmore Wash. The path most rafters choose is entry to the right, drifting to the left around the bend in the river flow. It is exciting to watch.

I hike the rocks, talk somebody into taking my picture on the rocks, and reclaim a seat in the raft for the ride. Total time in the rapids/falls is about 25 seconds. It seems longer.

It’s calm when we arrive at Whitmore Wash. It’s somewhat anticlimactic. The helicopter arrives and we depart in small groups with their baggage.

It’s less than 10 minutes to the helo’s home, a ranch center among 5,000 acres on the north plateau. Guest showers are ready, I clean up and don my special tee-shirt. It reads “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

It seems very appropriate; I am a happy child.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at