River rafters

NEGAUNEE – A couple’s enjoyment of the wild and scenic beauty of the Upper Peninsula helped inspire them to take a rugged rafting trip on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

Wayne Young of Negaunee and his partner, Toni Peterson of Skandia, both of whom winter in Arizona, set off April 9 for a seven-day, six-night guided river journey with other travelers.

“I think our appreciation for the U.P. had a lot to do with why we wanted to go there and do that,” Peterson said, “and you live in the city all the time, all you do is appreciate fancy restaurants. We like the country. We like the woods. We like four-wheeling. We like the scenery here, so we knew we’d like it there. We wanted to see that.”

The fact they’re both 74 years old didn’t keep them from rafting on the wild river.

“I wanted to do it,” Young said. “It was an adventure. And it got to the point – we’re getting elderly. I hate to admit it. We had to take this trip. Do it now or forget about it.”

The couple prepared for the journey beginning last September, walking to get in shape.

“And there are no Holiday Inns at the bottom of the canyon,” Young said. “It’s all camping, rusting camping.”

The two left from Lee’s Ferry and traveled 188 miles to Whitmore Helipad, where they were taken by helicopter to Bar 10 Ranch and later flown back by a airplane to Marble Canyon.

The actual rafting trip took place on a single – but large – raft with flexible tubes. With other rafters, Young and Peterson were taken down the Colorado River by two guides who operated the raft and cooked their meals.

“And it’s not just strictly jumping on a raft and floating down this river,” Young said.

The trip participants stopped at various spots along the river, viewing sights such as waterfalls and Native American ruins.

There was at least one dicey moment, Young said, when the raft went back into rocks, resulting in the lower part of the engine breaking.

“So they actually had to change engines in the middle of the river,” he said.

The couple also learned the canyon is to be kept pristine. That meant if they were to build a campfire, they would have had to carry out the ashes. They also were told to urinate in the river, the reason being the water content would evaporate but a stain would be left.

“They’re so particular about this canyon, because it’s a gem, and they don’t want it spoiled in any way,” Young said. “Whatever’s brought into the canyon comes out of the canyon.”

Another place that will remain the same, he said, is the site where two airliners collided over the canyon in 1956.

Peterson said, “There are parts of bodies and so forth left there, and that’s sacred ground. They show you. You can take pictures, but just ‘look and let’s go,’ because they protect that spot too.”

Whatever hardships they had to endure came with stunning sights, such as the turquoise-colored Little Colorado River mixing with the greenish color of the main river (the minerals cause the difference in hue), bright angel shale and other amazing rock formations, desert bighorn sheep, the very rare California condor and a blood moon lunar eclipse the final night of the trip.

Then there’s the panoramic scenery that’s always there, day or night.

“Everything you view, you’re looking up,” Young said. “And it’s thousands of feet up.”

It was an angle the two wanted to see.

“You see, we flew over it with a helicopter one time, and we’d been there, but we wanted to be on the bottom,” Peterson said.

The lack of computers, cell phones and other amenities of modern civilization had its positive aspects.

“When you’re down there, if you were to close your eyes and just listen to the river, it could be a thousand years ago,” Young said. “You could never know.”

Young and Peterson both recommend the trip, which was put on by Western River Expeditions.

And what some people call “a big hole in the ground” – the Grand Canyon – is awe-inspiring, Young said, with its geological history.

“It just is the trip of a lifetime,” Peterson said, “and anyone who likes the outdoors would just love this.”