Between the rim and the river in Grand Canyon lies a vast wilderness. A few trails traverse this region, but most of it is trail-less, and seldom visited by people. This immense, empty land contains innumerable side canyons filled with treasures to discover: waterfalls, narrow, twisting slots, fern-filled grottos, Ancestral Pueblo ruins, rock art, sculptured rock terraces, and on and on.
The easiest way to access many of these side canyons is from the river, and we got to visit some of them on our journey down the Grand Canyon in April. I wish we’d had time to explore each and every side canyon, but of course that’s not possible on a ten-day trip. In the winter of 1976 a party of six people set off from Lee’s Ferry, and pulled out 103 days later – the longest Grand Canyon rafting trip ever, as far as we know. That’s enough time to truly immerse yourself – to explore as many side canyons as you want, or just relax and enjoy a spot for awhile. I’d love to do something like that (though unfortunately the Park Service doesn’t allow trips of that length anymore).
For me, visiting some of these side canyons added immensely to the experience of rafting down the Grand Canyon. Walking even a short distance up any side canyon was like entering a different world, as you moved away from the vast main canyon, and the roar of the Colorado River, into a quiet, enclosed, more intimate space. As the sound of the river diminished you might hear the tinkling of a small stream, or the croaking of frogs. Moving around a bend often brought a new surpsise: light bouncing off the canyon walls, a patch of hanging ferns, a seep with scarlet monkeyflowers, a reflecting pool, maybe even a small waterfall.
Sometimes the exploration came to an end at a waterfall or dryfall that couldn’t be climbed or bypassed. But no problem; time to more thoroughly explore the places you just passed.
Though we visited some beautiful side canyons, there are so many more I’d like to explore. I’ll just have to go back. 🙂
— Michael Frye
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.