2021 April: rafting Grand Canyon 226 gorgeous miles, Arizona

In April 2021, we boated 226 gorgeous miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek over 16 eventful days. My peak experience was hiking 8 miles up sparkling Tapeats Creek to impressive Thunder River, across the remote desert of Surprise Valley, then down to delightful Deer Creek Slot Canyon and Falls. Carol’s favorite was swimming beautiful bright-turquoise water down travertine terraces of the Little Colorado River. See camera and clothing tips at bottom.

All images from rafting the Grand Canyon April 3-18, 2021


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions in the above gallery show. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Add any of the above images to your shopping Cart at this link: “2021 Apr 3-18: rafting Grand Canyon, AZ.” Highlights from this show are conveniently laid out further below.

The following video by fellow rafter Amanda Byrd and friends encapsulates the fun and joy of our trip. Please turn on Captions (CC/Subtitles) to read the words by Rebecca Douglass, sung by clients to their guides, to the tune of “The Sound of Silence” written by Paul Simon.

Above: YouTube video Hello Water My Old Friend – Grand Canyon April, 2021

Among the 15 Grand Canyon river concessioners, I chose:

Our skillful guides formed a truly exceptional team, as they enthusiastically served tasty food and spun river lore. This 16-day hikers’ special (offered only in April and late September) provides more onshore time than other trips to explore the wonderful side canyons, and lets you experience three kinds of craft (1 paddle raft, 1 dory boat, and 4 oar rafts). Plunging through whitewater and unplugging into sandy wildland camping for more than two weeks stretched our minds in new ways, away from clamorous news and social media. Grand Canyon’s colorful rock layers took us to awesome depths revealing 40% of Earth’s geologic history.

Having already paddled through the Grand Canyon in 1990 May 1-14 on a paddle boat run by Canyon Explorations, in 2021, I relaxed on AZRA’s dory and oar boats, each rowed by a guide, which left my hands free to take pictures—except when clinging to the boat during rapids! The many exciting rapids consumed only 10% of float time, leaving 90% placid time for contemplating canyon splendor, in the company of 24 nature-loving passengers and 7 guides. Minor discomforts included chilly wetness alternating with withering heat and living over two weeks in a sandy tent without hot showers. When wind subsided, many enjoyed sleeping without a tent under the brilliant starry night in the clear desert air with no rain.

Selfie view from Nankoweap Granaries Trail in Marble Canyon at Colorado River Mile 53.4. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Selfie view from Nankoweap Granaries Trail at Colorado River Mile 53.4.

I recommend this great book: While a dangerous Colorado River deluge threatened Glen Canyon Dam in 1983, three legendary river runners set an incredible speed record, rowing through the entire Grand Canyon (277 miles) in just a day-and-a-half using a dory boat. Their thrilling adventure is poetically interwoven with natural and historical context, including struggles between conservationists and dam engineers, in the following classic:
The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon [at Amazon]” by Kevin Fedarko (2013)

Photo highlights

The following photo highlights are gleaned from the animated gallery show at top. Colorado River Mile 0 starts at Lees Ferry embarkation…

Initially masked per pandemic rafting regulations, our Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) group embarks from Lees Ferry to boat the Colorado River for 226 miles through Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona, USA. Masks were required during the initial meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for embarkation at Lees Ferry, while being served for all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, this relatively safe outdoor activity was unencumbered by facial coverings, April 3-18, 2021. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Initially masked per pandemic rafting regulations, our Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) group embarks from Lees Ferry (Mile 0) to boat down the Colorado River for 226 miles through Grand Canyon National Park. For pandemic safety, masks were required during the initial AZRA meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for embarkation at Lees Ferry, while being served for all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, this relatively safe outdoor activity was unencumbered by facial coverings.

Highway 89A crosses the Colorado River here at River Mile 4.5 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. The original Navajo Bridge was built in 1929. The new bridge was completed in 1995. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Highway 89A crosses the Colorado River here at River Mile 4.5. The original Navajo Bridge was built in 1929. The adjacent new bridge was completed in 1995.

A rare California condor takes flight from Historic 1929 Navajo Bridge, US Highway 89A, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. The original Navajo Bridge was built in 1929. The adjacent new bridge was completed in 1995. Highway 89A crosses the Colorado River here at River Mile 4.5 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: One of the world’s rarest birds, a California condor (tagged for research) takes flight from the Historic 1929 Navajo Bridge. As of 2021, the world total of California condors is around 500, more than half of which are in the wild. Although still endangered and facing ongoing challenges such as lead poisoning, they’ve come a long way since numbering just 22 in 1982.

Our first lunch was staged at Six Mile Wash (River Mile 5.9) on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Masks were required during the initial meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for initial embarkation at Lees Ferry, when being served for all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, this relatively safe outdoor activity was unencumbered by facial coverings, April 3-18, 2021. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Our first lunch was staged at Six Mile Wash (at River Mile 5.9).

Day 1 of 16 rafting the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rowing through a rapid on Day 1 of 16 days boating through the Grand Canyon.

Sunrise light spotlights a wall in Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16, where we breakfasted at Twentymile Camp at Colorado River Mile 20.2 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Sunrise light spotlights a wall in Marble Canyon on Day 2, where we breakfasted at Twentymile Camp at Colorado River Mile 20.2. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, “The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints.”

Sunrise light spotlights a wall in Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16, where we breakfasted at Twentymile Camp at Colorado River Mile 20.2 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Desert spiny lizard. We had lunch at South Canyon at River Mile 31.8, while rafting through Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Desert spiny lizard, seen at South Canyon lunch spot at River Mile 31.8, while rafting through Marble Canyon on Day 2.

Rafting through Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Jed spins a river tale in Marble Canyon on Day 2.

Redwall Cavern at River Mile 33.3, seen while rafting through Marble Canyon on day 2 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Redwall Cavern at River Mile 33.3, seen while rafting through Marble Canyon on Day 2.

Crinoid fossil at Redwall Cavern in Marble Canyon at River Mile 33.3, seen on day 2 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Crinoid fossil at Redwall Cavern in Marble Canyon at River Mile 33.3, seen on Day 2.

Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) dory boat at Tatahatso Wash Camp (Mile 37.9) on the Colorado River in Marble Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) dory boat at Tatahatso Wash Camp (River Mile 37.9) in the late afternoon of Day 2.

View down Marble Canyon from Nankoweap Granaries Trail at Colorado River Mile 53.4. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: View down Marble Canyon from Nankoweap Granaries Trail at Colorado River Mile 53.4 on Day 3.

We hiked to the prehistoric Nankoweap Granaries (1 mile round trip with 700-foot gain) from Main Nankoweap Camp at Colorado River Mile 53.4 for this view of Marble Canyon. In 1960, archaeologist Douglas W. Schwartz found corncobs, a pumpkin shell, and pumpkin seeds inside the granaries, evidently harvested from Nankoweap Creek Delta by Ancestral Puebloans between AD 1050 and 1150. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson hugs a cactus next to assistant guide Bekah Martin. Hike to the prehistoric Nankoweap Granaries (1 mile round trip with 700-foot gain) from Main Nankoweap Camp at Colorado River Mile 53.4 in Marble Canyon. This image is from Day 3 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson hugs a cactus next to assistant guide Bekah Martin on the Nankoweap Granaries Trail.

Rafting through Marble Canyon, on Day 4 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rafting through Marble Canyon, on Day 4.

Downstream of Blue Spring, the Little Colorado River glows brilliant turquoise due to suspension of minerals including calcium carbonate, seen on Day 4 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Downstream of Blue Spring, the Little Colorado River glows brilliant turquoise due to suspension of minerals including calcium carbonate, seen on Day 4 of 16 days.

A swimmer in Little Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Downstream of Blue Spring, the Little Colorado River glows brilliant turquoise due to suspension of minerals including calcium carbonate, seen on Day 4 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Although John Wesley Powell knew that no marble was found here when he named Marble Canyon, he thought the polished limestone looked like marble. In his words, "The limestone of the canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors – white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints." Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunset happy hour at Lava Canyon Camp at Colorado River Mile 66. Day 4 of 16 days boating 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunset happy hour at Lava Canyon Camp at Colorado River Mile 66 on Day 4.

Furnace Flats seen from the Tabernacle Trail. Hike 4.6 miles round trip with 2250 ft gain from Colorado River Mile 74.6 to the Tabernacle butte (4830 ft elevation). The trail starts from Upper Rattlesnake Camp by ascending a steep hogsback spine of Dox Sandstone. Atop the Tabernacle, admire views of the eastern Grand Canyon, including Furnace Flats and the Palisades of the Desert. Day 5 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Furnace Flats seen from the Tabernacle Trail. Hike 4.6 miles round trip with 2250 feet gain from Colorado River Mile 74.6 to the Tabernacle butte (4830 ft elevation). The trail starts from Upper Rattlesnake Camp by ascending a steep hogsback spine of Dox Sandstone. Atop the Tabernacle, admire views of the eastern Grand Canyon, including Furnace Flats and the Palisades of the Desert. Day 5.

AZRA Trip leader Lorna Corson rows a rapid on Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: AZRA Trip leader Lorna Corson rows a rapid on Day 6.

Lunch at Below Clear Creek Camp (River Mile 84.8) in the Inner Gorge. Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. "The rocks of the Vishnu Formation, predominantly mica schists, are the oldest in the Grand Canyon. Approximately 2 billion years ago, 25,000 feet of sediments were deposited and volcanics extruded onto the ancient sea floor. During an orogeny, a mountain-building episode, 1.7 billion years ago, those rocks were folded, faulted, and uplifted (metamorphosed), and intruded by the Zoroaster Formation, predominantly granite (also subsequently metamorphosed to form granite gneiss). The resulting mountain range is believed to have been 5-6 miles high. Over the next 500 million years, the mountains were eroded until only their roots remained, and today, the roots of those mountains form the steep walls of the inner gorge." - geologistwriter.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Lunch at Below Clear Creek Camp (River Mile 84.8) in the Inner Gorge. Day 6.

“The rocks of the Vishnu Formation, predominantly mica schists, are the oldest in the Grand Canyon. Approximately 2 billion years ago, 25,000 feet of sediments were deposited and volcanics extruded onto the ancient sea floor. During an orogeny, a mountain-building episode, 1.7 billion years ago, those rocks were folded, faulted, and uplifted (metamorphosed), and intruded by the Zoroaster Formation, predominantly granite (also subsequently metamorphosed to form granite gneiss). The resulting mountain range is believed to have been 5-6 miles high. Over the next 500 million years, the mountains were eroded until only their roots remained, and today, the roots of those mountains form the steep walls of the inner gorge.” —GeologistWriter.com

Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson rows under Bright Angel Bridge (aka Silver Bridge). Built in the late 1960s, the Silver Bridge supports hikers and the transcanyon water pipeline across the Colorado River, connecting the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch and the North Rim. Hikers only (no mules) may cross this narrow suspension bridge. Five-hundred-thousand gallons of water a day are piped from Roaring Springs near the North Rim down Bright Angel Canyon through Phantom Ranch, across the Colorado River, and then pumped up to provide almost all of the water to the South Rim tourist area. Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. . (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) trip leader Lorna Corson rows under Bright Angel Bridge (aka Silver Bridge). Built in the late 1960s, the Silver Bridge supports hikers and the transcanyon water pipeline across the Colorado River, connecting the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch and the North Rim. Hikers only (no mules) may cross this narrow suspension bridge. Five-hundred-thousand gallons of water a day are piped from Roaring Springs near the North Rim down Bright Angel Canyon through Phantom Ranch, across the Colorado River, and then pumped up to provide almost all of the water to the South Rim tourist area. Day 6.

Schist Camp at Colorado River Mile 96.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. "The rocks of the Vishnu Formation, predominantly mica schists, are the oldest in the Grand Canyon. Approximately 2 billion years ago, 25,000 feet of sediments were deposited and volcanics extruded onto the ancient sea floor. During an orogeny, a mountain-building episode, 1.7 billion years ago, those rocks were folded, faulted, and uplifted (metamorphosed), and intruded by the Zoroaster Formation, predominantly granite (also subsequently metamorphosed to form granite gneiss). The resulting mountain range is believed to have been 5-6 miles high. Over the next 500 million years, the mountains were eroded until only their roots remained, and today, the roots of those mountains form the steep walls of the inner gorge." - geologistwriter.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Schist Camp at Colorado River Mile 96.5. Day 6.

Tents glow at night under the stars in Schist Camp in the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon at Colorado River Mile 96.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 6 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Tents glow at night under the stars in Schist Camp in the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon at Colorado River Mile 96.5 on Day 6.

Glenn gets splashed fafting the Inner Gorge between Colorado River Miles 97-108. Day 7 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Glenn gets splashed rafting the Inner Gorge between Colorado River Miles 97-108. Day 7.

Rafting the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon between River Miles 97-108. Day 7 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rafting the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon between River Miles 97-108. Day 7.

Hike to Garnet Canyon from a beach at Colorado River Mile 115.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hike to Garnet Canyon from a beach at Colorado River Mile 115.5 on Day 8.

Basement rocks of Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite in Garnet Canyon. Hike to Garnet Canyon from a beach at Colorado River Mile 115.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). The Vishnu Basement Rocks average about 1,700 to 2,000 million years old and consists of mica schist. These were originally sediments of sandstone, limestone and shale that were metamorphosed and combined with metamorphosed lava flows to form the schist. This layer along with the Zoroaster Granite were once the roots of an ancient mountain range that could have been as high as todays Rocky Mountains. The mountains were eroded away over a long period then topped by new sediments deposited by advancing and retreating seas. The crystalline Vishnu Basement Rocks underlie the Bass Limestone of the Unkar Group of the Grand Canyon Supergroup and the Tapeats Sandstone of the Tonto Group. These basement rocks consist of metamorphic rocks collectively known as the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite, sections of which contain granitic pegmatite, aplite, and granodiorite that have intruded into fractures as dikes. Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Basement rocks of Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite in Garnet Canyon; trailhead is near Colorado River Mile 115.5. Day 8.

The Vishnu Basement Rocks average about 1,700 to 2,000 million years old and consist of mica schist. These were originally sediments of sandstone, limestone and shale that were metamorphosed and combined with metamorphosed lava flows to form the schist. This layer along with the Zoroaster Granite were once the roots of an ancient mountain range that could have been as high as todays Rocky Mountains. The mountains were eroded away over a long period then topped by new sediments deposited by advancing and retreating seas. The crystalline Vishnu Basement Rocks underlie the Bass Limestone of the Unkar Group of the Grand Canyon Supergroup and the Tapeats Sandstone of the Tonto Group. These basement rocks consist of metamorphic rocks collectively known as the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite, sections of which contain granitic pegmatite, aplite, and granodiorite that have intruded into fractures as dikes.

Walk to the waterfall at Elves Chasm at Colorado River Mile 117.2 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Walk to the waterfall at Elves Chasm at Colorado River Mile 117.2 on Day 8.

Tent & laundry line at Hundred and Twenty Mile Camp at Colorado River Mile 120.3 (also named Michael Jacobs Camp for an old guide who died here). Day 8 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Tent & laundry line at Hundred and Twenty Mile Camp (also named Michael Jacobs Camp for an old guide who died here) at Colorado River Mile 120.3 on Day 8.

Sunrise on rafts moored at 120-Mile Camp, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Day 9 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunrise on rafts moored at 120-Mile Camp on Day 9.

Tom showers in Stone Creek waterfall at Colorado River Mile 132.5 (measured downstream from Lees Ferry). Day 9 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Tom showers in Stone Creek waterfall at Colorado River Mile 132.5 on Day 9.

Below: Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app).
Hike up Tapeats Creek from River Mile 134.5 in Grand Canyon NP, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Desert primrose (aka dune evening primrose, Oenothera deltoides) blooms with white flowers along Tapeats Creek, in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Desert primrose (aka dune evening primrose, Oenothera deltoides) blooms with white flowers along Tapeats Creek. Day 10.

Echinocereus triglochidiatus is a species of hedgehog cactus commonly known as claret cup cactus, Mojave mound cactus, or kingcup cactus. (It is the official state cactus of Colorado.) Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: along the trail up Thunder River, Echinocereus triglochidiatus is a species of hedgehog cactus commonly known as claret cup cactus, Mojave mound cactus, or kingcup cactus (the official state cactus of Colorado).

The astounding volume of water in Thunder River emerges year-round from a deep cave system of Muav Limestone. The half-mile-long Thunder River drops 1200 feet over a series of waterfalls, making it the steepest river in the USA, and one of the shortest. It's a rare instance where a river is a tributary of a creek. While Tapeats Creek was named by the second Powell Expedition in the winter of 1871–1872, the expedition did not discover its main tributary, Thunder River (which wasn't found by European-Americans until 1904). Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The astounding volume of water in Thunder River emerges year-round from a deep cave system of Muav Limestone. The half-mile-long Thunder River drops 1200 feet over a series of waterfalls, making it the steepest river in the USA, and one of the shortest. It’s a rare instance where a river is a tributary of a creek. While Tapeats Creek was named by the second Powell Expedition in the winter of 1871–1872, the expedition did not discover its main tributary, Thunder River (which wasn’t found by European-Americans until 1904). Day 10.

Deer Creek slot canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Deer Creek slot canyon on Day 10. (Photo © Carol Dempsey)

Deer Creek slot canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Deer Creek slot canyon at River Mile 136.9.

Mist forms a rainbow under Deer Creek Falls in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Starting at River Mile 134.5, a portion of our party disembarked our rafts for a hike one way up beautiful Tapeats Creek Trail to the wondrous Thunder Spring and River, across remote Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail to meet others of our group at The Patio and Deer Creek Falls at River Mile 136.9. This scenic one-way traverse was 8 miles with 2300 feet gain (measured by my smartphone GPS app). Day 10 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Mist forms a rainbow under Deer Creek Falls in the Grand Canyon at River Mile 134.5 on Day 10.

Scalloped rock pattern. Day 11 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Scalloped rock pattern on Day 11.

A healthy male desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) seen on Day 12 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. 31 years after I last rafted the Grand Canyon in 1990, I noticed lots more (dozens of) native bighorn sheep in 2021, a healthy sign for this fascinating ecosystem, which is gradually recovering since nonnative wild burros were removed in the 1960s. Since Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1966, floods no longer scour the vegetation or deposit as much sand on the diminishing beaches (which affects rafters). Aggressive nonnative species such as tamarisk trees continue to threaten native riparian biodiversity. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A healthy male desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni). Day 12.

31 years after I last rafted the Grand Canyon in 1990, I noticed lots more (dozens of) native bighorn sheep in 2021, a healthy sign for this fascinating ecosystem, which is gradually recovering since nonnative wild burros were removed in the 1960s. Since Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1966, floods no longer scour the vegetation or deposit as much sand on the diminishing beaches (which affects rafters). Aggressive nonnative species such as tamarisk trees continue to threaten native riparian biodiversity.

Hikers reflect in a plunge pool in Fern Glen slot canyon at Colorado River Mile 168.6. Day 12 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hikers reflect in a plunge pool in Fern Glen slot canyon at Colorado River Mile 168.6 on Day 12.

Canyon walls reflect in the Colorado River on Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Canyon walls reflect in the Colorado River on Day 13.

Canyon walls tower over our boats on Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Canyon walls tower over AZRA boats on Day 13.

A green pool in Mohawk Canyon hiked from Colorado River Mile 171.9. Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A green pool in Mohawk Canyon hiked from Colorado River Mile 171.9 on Day 13.

A motorized raft runs Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7. Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A motorized raft runs notorious Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7 on Day 13.

Rafting through Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7. Day 13 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: We raft through the anxiously-awaited Lava Falls Rapid at Colorado River Mile 179.7 on Day 13.

Starting from River Mile 187.9 in Grand Canyon National Park, Whitmore Trail goes 3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain, heading south into Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument, on Day 14 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Starting from River Mile 187.9 in Grand Canyon National Park, Whitmore Trail heads north into Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument (covering 3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain). Day 14 of 16 days rafting.

Hexagonal basalt columns. Hike Whitmore Trail (about 3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain) from Colorado River Mile 187.9. Day 14 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hexagonal cross-sections of basalt columns on Whitmore Trail at Mile 187.9 on Day 14.

A desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) shrub blooms with creamy yellow flowers in Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon at Colorado River Mile 220.1. Day 15 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) shrub blooms with creamy yellow flowers in Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon at Colorado River Mile 220.1 on Day 15.

At Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon, we stayed at the Middle Camp at Colorado River Mile 220.1. This photo is on the morning of Day 16 of 16 days rafting 226 miles down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: At Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon, we stayed at the Middle Camp at Colorado River Mile 220.1. Photographed on our last morning, on Day 16.

On the last of 16 days boating together for 226 miles, our group lay down on the job of raft deflation, at Diamond Creek on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, Arizona, USA. During this pandemic trip (April 3-18, 2021), masks were required during the initial meeting in Flagstaff, for bus rides, for initial embarkation at Lees Ferry, for serving lines at all meals, and for final disembarkation at Diamond Creek. Otherwise, our healthy outdoor raft trip was unencumbered by facial coverings. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire at PhotoSeek.com. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: On the last of 16 days boating together for 226 miles, our group lay down on the job of raft deflation, at Diamond Creek on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.

Camera recommendations for rafting

  • Smartphones cameras: should be waterproof and well protected, such as in a Temdan smartphone case which gives easy access to all buttons, including the power button. Your smartphone case or holder should have a lanyard attachable to your life vest with a small locking carabiner. Our waterproof Samsung Note 9 smartphones were useful as my wife’s main camera and my backup. (Our Willbox Professional case was too bulky and wasted precious phone power by not allowing power button access.)
  • Recommended: waterproof, shockproof, dust-resistant Olympus Tough TG-6 waterproof camera (2019, 9 oz, 25-100mm, f/2.0-4.9 lens), which can potentially beat contemporary smartphone image quality if you shoot and edit raw file format, as I did using the earlier TG-4.
  • For photography on dry land, I recommend the best POCKETABLE CAMERA , the 8x zoom Sony RX100 VII (price at Amazon) or RX100 VI with 1-inch Type sensor. Read my Sony RX100M6 review. This pocket camera, backup batteries, and soft carrying case fit well inside the Pelican 1060 Micro Case. When your guide on a motor rig, oar boat, or dory says that you have enough placid time before the next rapid, it’s possible to risk the camera out of the hard case for quick shots (which isn’t practical if you are an active paddler on a paddle boat).
  • Portable charger battery pack: is essential for recharging smartphones and cameras for the extended time away from electrical outlets.
  • Beware that bringing a larger or pricier camera risks damage from sand, water, and impacts.
  • A hard waterproof case (such as Pelican case) is required to protect your camera or anything fragile. (On the boat, your gear is stored in flexible dry bags which are tossed about, compressed by straps, and may be stepped upon as people clamber around.)

Clothing recommendations for rafting

Brrrr, my inadequate raincoat failed to defray the frequent splashes from the bone-chilling 50- to 55-degree-Fahrenheit water, released from the frigid bottom of Lake Powell! As rapids doused us randomly and intense sun alternated with canyon shade, we frequently vacillated between being too cold or too hot! Dressing in layers was helpful to a point, but when soaked, any extra layers added for warm tend to retain frigid water and delay drying out. That’s why you see the guides counter-intuitively wearing few layers (helped by frequent rowing to raise body temperature). Keep dry clothes, a warm knit hat, and hiking shoes available in your waterproof day bag.

  • Waterproof paddling jacket: Invest in a long paddling jacket with a fitted waterproof neck (I say with hindsight).
  • In early April 2021, record-warm air temperatures helped us warm up and dry out in the sun, but then overheating became a risk. When afternoon hiking became uncomfortably hot (85 to 90+ degrees), presoaking our shirts felt great. For handling intense sun while boating on a hot day, we liked shading ourselves with a multi-use cotton sarong wetted in river water. When you wear shorts on a hot afternoon then get cold as evening falls, a warm dry sarong stylishly wraps legs, for both women and men.
  • Footwear: While boating, on some days I wore lightweight waterproof breathable socks with Crocs sandals with heal straps and enclosed toe box; but cleaning and drying the socks took more time and effort than using wetsuit booties. Beware, those who wore bare feet in sandals were exposed to intense sunburn through the open slats. My wetsuit booties worked well in the rafts, but had painfully-thin soles for the frequent walks on rocks. Instead, I recommend wetsuit boots that have a stiff waffle tread, to accommodate shorter hikes of up to a mile or so. For longer hikes, change into dry trail-running shoes (like Altra’s “Olympus” or Hoka) with good hiking socks. To prevent skin cracking in the dry desert air, frequently moisturize your hands and feet (especially the heal), because repeated river splashes suck away your natural oils.
  • Sun gloves: “Coolibar UPF 50+ Gannett UV Gloves – Sun Protective” are worn by me throughout the day in dry climates and on any hike. If you paddle a lot, instead pick a good paddle glove. To prevent skin cancer, get gloves that fully cover your finger tips.
  • Hats: For rafting and desert hiking: Sunday Afternoons Sun Guide Cap. For any hiking: Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat. I brought both.
  • Dry bags: For protection from water and sand, bring extra lightweight dry bags and waterproof resealable plastic bags for clothing and gear. Expect that the company-provided dry bags may leak, so everything should be double or triple bagged. Bring carabiners to lock your day bag and water bottles to the boat.

Itinerary: our rafting, hiking, and camping locations April 3-18, 2021

Due to April temperatures in Flagstaff expected to be in the 20s degrees F overnight, we winterized our RV before leaving it for 16 days at the departure hotel. On the evening of April 2, trip participants masked up and met Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) at Little America Flagstaff to prepare for the float trip.

  • Day 1: April 3: Ride AZRA bus from Flagstaff to Lees Ferry (Colorado River Mile 0) to meet the guides and board the meticulously prepared boats—4 rafts, 1 dory, and 1 paddle boat. Lunch at Six Mile Wash (5.9) (Georgie White’s favorite camp). Camp at Twentymile Camp (20.2). Marble Canyon runs from Lees Ferry at River Mile 0 to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at Mile 62, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon.
  • Day 2: April 4: Lunch at South Canyon (Mile 31.8). Stop at Redwall Cavern (Mile 33.3). Camp at Tatahatso Wash (Mile 37.9)
  • Day 3: April 5: See Anasazi Foot Bridge (Ancestral Puebloan Foot Bridge) at 43.5. Lunch, then hike to the Nankoweap Granaries. Some hike further to Little Nankoweap to spot the snow-capped North Rim. Two boats doing fish research swing by and gave us a talk about their project. Camp at Main Nankoweap Camp (53.4).
  • Day 4: April 6: Stopped for a float on Little Colorado River (61.7), beautiful turquoise blue. Lunch. Boat to Lava Canyon Camp (65.9). Hike a short distance in Lava Canyon.
  • Day 5: April 7: Boat to Upper Rattlesnake Camp (74.6). Hike 4.6 miles round trip with 2250 ft gain to the Tabernacle (4830 ft elevation). See burrow trace fossils.
  • Day 6: April 8: Float the Inner Gorge, a big rapid day. Stop to scout then run Hance Rapid. Lunch at Below Clear Creek Camp (84.8). Schist Camp (96.5).
  • Day 7: April 9: Early arrival at Parkins Inscription Camp at Mile 108.6. Little-known “Geo. W. Parkins” neatly carved his name and “Washington D.C. 1903” into this hard Vishnu Schist rock. Lunch. From Parkins Inscription Camp, we hiked North Bass Trail to Shinumo Creek, to Bass’s old camp (featuring old rusting kitchenware). A dip in the rushing waters of Shinumo Creek refreshed us on an unusually hot April day.
  • Day 8: April 10: Stop downstream of Garnet Canyon at (115.5). Clamber up steep rocks with the help of guides, then hike upstream to Garnet Canyon for lunch. Boat to Elves Chasm (117.2). Boat to Hundred and Twenty Mile Camp (120.3) (also named Michael Jacobs Camp for an old guide who died here.)
  • Day 9: April 11: Stop at Stone Creek Camp (132.5) for short hike to first waterfall of Stone Creek. Boat to Talking Heads Camp (133.7) for lunch and relaxing afternoon.
  • Day 10: April 12: Quick float just 0.7 miles down to Below Tapeats Camp (134.5), where Tom traverse hikes (8 miles with 2600 feet gain) with Rebecca and several others up Tapeats Creek Trail to Thunder River and Spring, across Surprise Valley Trail, then down Deer Creek Trail (wilted by 90+ degrees Fahrenheit conditions until reaching the cool creek) to The Patio, Deer Creek Slot Canyon, and Deer Creek Falls, where the boats are moored at River Mile 136.9. Others rafted down to Deer Creek, where some stayed at Deer Creek Waterfall while a larger group hiked up to The Patio area or beyond. Guides John and Bekah ran a reverse hike to pick up remaining rafts at Tapeats Creek and ferry down to Deer Creek. We then briefly float across the river to OC’s Camp (137.1).
  • Day 11: April 13: Lunch at Upper Ledges (151.9). Boat to 158.7 Mile Camp (Bloody Ledges Camp).
  • Day 12: April 14: Early arrival at Fern Glen Camp (168.6). Lunch then hike up Fern Glen Canyon.
  • Day 13: April 15: Stop at Mohawk Canyon (171.9) for hike. Boat to 172.6 Camp for lunch. Stop to scout, then run the anxiously awaited Lava Falls Rapid (179.7) and Son of Lava Falls Rapid! No problems. Boat to Below Lower Lava Camp (aka Tequila Beach, at 180.1)
  • Day 14: April 16: Hike Whitmore Trail up to Whitmore Overlook (3 miles round trip with 920 feet gain) from Colorado River Mile 187.9, followed by lunch on a sand bar island surrounded by a river eddy. Boat to Below Parashant Camp (198.9).
  • Day 15: April 17: Lunch at Two Hundred and Fourteen Mile Camp (214.5). Mike and Jen chose to swim Three Springs Rapid (216). Boat to Two Hundred and Twenty Mile Canyon, Middle Camp (220.1).
  • Day 16: April 18. Boat to the take-out at Diamond Creek (Colorado River Mile 225.9) on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Ride the AZRA bus back to Flagstaff.

The rafting trip was part of the following longer trip March 21-April 22, 2021:
Seattle > Chico family visit > Lake Tahoe > snowy Mono Lake > Bishop > Mojave NSP > Joshua Tree NP > Mecca Wilderness > Palm Springs > Hualapai Mountain Park > Grand Canyon rafting for 16 days > Valley of Fire SP > Cathedral Gorge SP > Seattle

2018 April: SW USA. UT: Druid & Delicate Arches. AZ: Monument Valley; Hermit Trail. CA: Death Valley.

On a campervan trip to southwest USA from 7-26 April 2018, we enjoyed photographing some great sights shown in galleries below. Carol was delighted by her first visit to Death Valley National Park (further below), including sunrise at colorful Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, and Mesquite Flat Dunes.

Photo highlights from this trip


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Trip summary

Our 17-hour drive from Seattle to the desert playground of Moab in Utah was split with an overnight rest in pleasant Three Island Crossing State Park on the Snake River in Idaho.

Important tip: By scheduling the trip to avoid the full week before and after Easter Sunday (both hectic school vacation weeks), our stay in tourist hotspots like Moab was markedly quieter and more enjoyable! Avoid crowded Jeep Safari week. We prudently booked our campgrounds several weeks in advance. Furnace Creek Campground in Death Valley was first-come first served after mid April, with no problem getting a site, though shade is in short supply. Despite checking 4 months in advance, we couldn’t get into scenic Devils Garden Campground in Arches NP, which allows reservations up to 6 months in advance.

Our favorite Canyonlands RV Resort & Campground hosted our pop-top VW Eurovan Camper for four nights conveniently in downtown Moab. On nearby BLM land, red rock Hunter Canyon was a delightful hike of 4.5 miles round trip, blooming with fragrant yellow barberry flowers along a gentle potholed stream. A massive cottonwood tree nicely framed photos of Hunter Arch. Check out the roadside petroglyphs on Moonflower Panel and walk its half-mile canyon. In fantastic Arches National Park, we hiked from Klondike Bluffs parking lot to impressive Tower Arch via the Marching Men rock formations (2.8 miles with 1280 feet gain). The freshly snow-dusted La Sal Mountains provided a dramatic backdrop, such as seen southwest of Balanced Rock. Just before clouds rolled in, golden late afternoon sun illuminated iconic Delicate Arch (3.8 miles with 900 feet gain). Its parking lot was thankfully only half full during mid week. Don’t miss seeing the Ute Rock Art (1650-1850) on Wolfe Ranch side trail. A pullout southeast of Garden of Eden allowed off-trail access to Cove of Caves area on the back side of Double Arch. Walk on rocks and don’t disturb the black biologic soil crust. Also in the Windows Section, we visited Turret Arch and looped a mile around North and South Windows.

In the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Whale Rock and Upheaval Dome (beware of limited parking) made short but rewarding walks of 1.0 and 0.8 miles. We moved camp to spend 2 nights at dusty Needles Outpost Campground, picked for its hot shower (though Canyonlands’ nearby Squaw Flat Campground is more aesthetically attractive, at trailheads). Best of all was a long-anticipated 12-mile lollipop loop with 1980 feet gain from Elephant Hill Trailhead via Chesler Park to charismatic Druid Arch in the Needles District.

Driving south, I liked exploring little-known Recapture Pocket near Bluff. Fascinating Goosenecks State Park overlooks deep, curly meanders of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat. A side trip on Mexican Hat spur road gives a closer look at the red wavy patterns of Raplee Anticline (Lime Ridge) along San Juan River.

Just across the state line, don’t miss the spectacular sunset or sunrise at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona. At sunset, I reshot a favorite balanced rock in the foreground with West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte on the horizon beyond. Sunrise was easy to photograph, as The View Campground looks directly east to the iconic West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.

We booked three nights in Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park, served by a handy free shuttle along on the South Rim. On the way into the park from the east, don’t miss the impressive Hopi artwork inside Desert View Watchtower, which was built by architect Mary Colter in 1932, integrating work by other southwest artists. Starting west of Yavapai Geology Museum, we enjoyed walking the 1.3-mile Trail of Time interpretive exhibit, backward in time from today toward the oldest rock in Grand Canyon, Elves Chasm gneiss, 1.840 billion years old. Our main hike was the scenic Hermit Trail from Hermits Rest to Lookout Point (7.6 miles with 2200 feet gain, plus walking between shuttle stop and campsite).

Death Valley National Park


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Late fall, winter, through early spring are good times to visit Death Valley National Park, which is otherwise beastly hot. During our visit 19-21 April 2018, some refreshing sprinkles formed a rainbow over the colorful geology. Parting clouds revealed fresh snow whitening Telescope Peak (11,043 ft), impressively high above Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level). Cresting the Panamint Range, Telescope Peak has one of the greatest vertical rises above local terrain of any mountain in the contiguous United States. At our feet, evaporation from Badwater Basin concentrated crystalline mounds of sodium chloride (table salt), plus calcite, gypsum, and borax (famously mined 1883-1889 with Twenty Mule Teams). Artist’s Drive was worth the short side trip to explore the colorful geologic formation of Artists Palette. More than 5 million years ago, multiple volcanic eruptions deposited ash and minerals which chemically altered into a colorful paint pot of elements (iron, aluminum, magnesium and titanium).

We were delighted to photograph sunrise illuminating a tapestry of golden yellow striated landscape patterns at Zabriskie Point. Next, driving around to Golden Canyon Trailhead begins a great hiking loop uphill to Red Cathedral then back downhill via Gower Gulch (6 miles with 800 ft gain), our favorite walk in the park. Around lunchtime, I enjoyed photographing pioneer-era mining and transportation machines outdoors at the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch. In rising 90+ degree temperatures, we retreated into the nearby national park Visitor Center to absorb the excellent orientation film.

To escape increasing heat, we drove up Emigrant Canyon Road to 4100-foot Wildrose Campground, where faucets provided tasty drinking water. Helpful tip: dry air cools by 5 degrees Fahrenheit for about every 1000 feet ascended (or 3 degrees for wet air). Along the winding road, we luckily spotted some Desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) with two lambs. Campground quiet was suddenly shattered with the loud hee-haw braying of an alpha donkey keeping his herd in line. Invasive burros (Equua asinus, often called donkeys) can be found throughout the backcountry in Death Valley. Originally descended from the African wild ass, burros were introduced to North America. These invasive, nonnative burro populations can grow quickly, damaging native vegetation and spring ecosystems, thereby hurting native wildlife such as bighorn sheep and desert tortoise.

Along the hike to Fall Canyon’s dry waterfall (6.7 miles with 1250 feet gain) were some feisty juvenile chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater) with striped tails, some creamy yellow flowers of the desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) clinging to shaded canyon walls, plus some intriguing rock patterns. But this experience paled in comparison to our previous day in glorious Golden Canyon; so for dramatic build-up one should hike Fall Canyon or other hikes first.

Near Stovepipe Wells, the first light of sunrise high-lit Mesquite Flat Dunes so dramatically as to impress my wife Carol, who previously hadn’t been attracted by dunes. Optionally take your shoes off and enjoy this inland wilderness beach. I love being the first in the morning to form footprints across a tall virgin dune. Most nights, the slate of footprints is wiped clean and wavy. Discover why Lawrence of Arabia was personally attracted to the desert, saying: “It’s clean.”

Just outside Death Valley (on the way to or from Tecopah and Las Vegas), you can camp overnight at Shoshone RV Park and swim in a developed hot springs pool. Thought extinct in the 1960s, Shoshone pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis shoshone) were rediscovered in 1986 and protected by the land owner in nearby restored ponds. Found nowhere else on earth, Shoshone pupfish are unique to Shoshone Springs.

See also articles on each state: Southwest USA (Arizona, ColoradoNew MexicoNevada, Utah), California, and Texas.

USA: ARIZONA

Check out Tom Dempsey’s photographic portfolios of Arizona, USA. Galleries below include exceptional sights in Grand Canyon National Park; Havasu Canyon within Havasupai Indian Reservation; Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell; Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park; Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park; Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area; Chiricahua National Monument; Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson; and Superstition Wilderness near Phoenix. 

Arizona favorite images


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Grand Canyon National Park

Read my latest trip report: “2021 April: rafting Grand Canyon 226 gorgeous miles, Arizona.” Earlier photo trips were in 2018 (Hermit Trail), 2011, 2006, 1999.

Grand Canyon began forming at least 5 to 17 million years ago and now exposes a geologic wonder, a column of well-defined rock layers dating back nearly two billion years at the base. While the Colorado Plateau was uplifted by tectonic forces, the Colorado River and tributaries carved Grand Canyon over a mile deep (6000 feet / 1800 meters), 277 miles (446 km) long and up to 18 miles (29 km) wide. In 1979, UNESCO honored Grand Canyon National Park as a World Heritage Site.


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Photos from Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, by Tom Dempsey, include: South Rim, Yavapai Point, Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mojave Point, Pima Point, Grandview Point, Colorado River seen from Moran Point and Lipan Point, Bright Angel Trail, rider on horse train. A flying hummingbird feeds on Indian Paintbrush flower.

Havasu Canyon, Havasupai Indian Reservation

On the Havasupai Indian Reservation, Havasu Creek flows over Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls through Havasu Canyon, part of the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. The beautiful color in the pools of Havasu Creek is caused by carbonate minerals settling to the bottom, turning it white, and acting as a reflector of the surrounding green and brown mossy cliffs plus the blue sky. This unique color combination creates a striking turquoise pool, and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

Havasupai (or Havasu ‘Baaja) means “people of the blue-green water,” and their people have tended fields in the Grand Canyon for at least 700 years. The Havasupai also lived at what is now called Indian Garden on the Bright Angel Trail in the main Grand Canyon, but they were evicted by the National Park Service in the 1920’s. Their brush shelters (wickiups) and gardens were destroyed at Indian Garden, leaving the Havasupai Tribe just 518 acres in Havasu Canyon. In the more enlightened year of 1975, fully 187,500 acres of canyon and rimland were returned to the tribe. As of 2005, about 450 of the tribe’s 650 members live in the village of Supai. As of this 1999 photo trip, Supai is the only town in the United States which still receives its mail by mule train.

Tom and Carol Dempsey in Havasu Canyon, April 1999: Having registered for camping permission from the Havasupai Tribe (external link) a few weeks in advance (as recommended), Carol and I parked our car in the dirt lot at Hualapai Hilltop and backpacked the 8-mile dusty trail downhill into Supai Village. About 25,000 tourists visit each year, so advance reservations are recommended. We checked in at the tribal office, then hiked 2 more miles to the campground, passing the wonderful Havasu Falls, one of the most surprising desert oasis experiences in the world. Impressive Mooney Falls was a short walk further downstream. To more fully experience the isolation of this desert oasis, walk to Supai instead of riding a horse or helicopter. But next time we’ll consider having the mule train carry our packs, to make the desert walk more comfortable. Thank you very much, Havasupai people, for sharing your very special canyon with visitors.

Helicopters carry in people and supplies, but the loud chop-chopping roar disturbed my appreciation of this beautiful natural setting. Out of nowhere, a porta-potty suddenly flew over our heads. Helicopters repeatedly flew full porta-potties, one at a time on a very long cable, out of the heavily-used campground, for disposal elsewhere. A composting toilet would seem to be a more cost effective solution. The densely-packed and worn campground in this narrow canyon would have benefited by further restricting the number of visitors per day.


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Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park

Flash floods in Southwest USA deserts have carved slot canyons into Navajo Sandstone creating astoundingly beautiful natural rock cathedrals. Drive to Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park east of Page on Highway 98 between mileposts 298 and 299 in Arizona, USA. Turn south to Upper Antelope Canyon toll booth and parking lot, which has a 4WD shuttle and guide to reach the slot entrance. Or turn north on Antelope Point Road (Navaho Route N22B) to Lower Antelope Canyon (or “the Corkscrew”) parking lot.


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Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Photos from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell, in Utah and Arizona, include: Willow Creek Canyon, Broken Bow Arch, Llewellyn Gulch, petroglyphs of bighorn sheep chipped into desert varnish, pink cactus flower, frog held in hands, Bishop Canyon, LaGorce Arch. An Anasazi kiva (ceremonial room) was restored at Three Roof Ruin, on Escalante River Arm of Lake Powell.


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Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Don’t miss the spectacular sunset and sunrise at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona. In 2018, I enjoyed reshooting a favorite balanced rock in the foreground with West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte on the horizon beyond. Sunrise was easy to photograph, as The View Campground looks directly east to the iconic West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.



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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area, in Arizona & Utah

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area overlaps both Arizona and Utah. Fossilized sand dunes have eroded wondrous striated formations into the Coyote Buttes such as “The Wave.” Over 190 million years, ancient sand dune layers calcified into rock and created “The Wave” in the northwest corner of Arizona near the Utah border. Iron oxides bled through this Jurassic-age Navajo sandstone to create the salmon color. Hematite and goethite added yellows, oranges, browns and purples. Over thousands of years, water cut through the ridge above and exposed a channel that was further scoured by windblown sand into the smooth curves that today look like ocean swells and waves. For the permit required to hike to “The Wave”, contact the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), who limits access to protect this fragile geologic formation.


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Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson

The Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona, shows an impressive variety of live native wildlife and plants. A coati (member of the raccoon family, Procyonidae) climbs a tree. A handler presents a live Barn Owl. Pink cactus flowers bloom.


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Superstition Wilderness, near Phoenix

Hike to Weaver’s Needle, cactus, and jagged rock formations in Superstition Wilderness (“the Superstitions”), in Tonto National Forest, near Phoenix, Arizona, USA.


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Chiricahua National Monument

The Heart of the Rocks Loop Trail (7 to 9 miles) makes an excellent day hike through fascinating arrays of hoodoos in the far southeast corner of Arizona, in Chiricahua National Monument. 27 million years ago, huge volcanic eruptions laid down 2000 feet of ash and pumice which fused into rhyolitic tuff. This rock has eroded into fascinating hoodoos, spires, and balanced rocks which lie above the surrounding desert grasslands at elevations between 5100 and 7800 feet. At Chiricahua, the Sonoran desert meets the Chihuahuan desert, and the Rocky Mountains meet Mexico’s Sierra Madre, making one of the most biologically diverse areas in the northern hemisphere. Colorful cliffs of rhyolite (solidified volcanic ash layers) rise 2000 feet above white sycamore trees in Cave Creek Canyon, in Coronado National Forest, near Portal, Arizona.


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Southwest USA favorites from Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada


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See my neighboring state articles for Southwest USA (UtahColoradoNew MexicoNevada, Arizona) and Texas.

Recommended Arizona guidebooks from Amazon.com:

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USA: ARIZONA: Havasu Canyon, Falls, Supai

Beautiful Havasu Canyon flows into the Colorado River, and is part of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. River rafters can hike a long rough trail up to visit Supai, but the normal access is via an 8-mile dusty horse trail from a car park at Hualapai Hilltop (or via helicopter).

Havasupai (or Havasu ‘Baaja) means “people of the blue-green water,” and their people have tended fields in the Grand Canyon for at least 700 years. The Havasupai also lived at what is now called Indian Garden on the Bright Angel Trail in the main Grand Canyon, but they were evicted by the National Park Service in the 1920’s. Their brush shelters (wickiups) and gardens were destroyed at Indian Garden, leaving the Havasupai Tribe just 518 acres in Havasu Canyon. In 1975, a more the enlightened time, 187,500 acres of canyon and rimland were returned to the tribe. As of 2005, about 450 of the tribe’s 650 members live in the village of Supai. As of 1999, Supai is the only town in the United States which still receives its mail by mule train.

See also my separate Southwest USA articles: ArizonaUtah, and Nevada.

Tom and Carol Dempsey in Havasu Canyon, April 1999

Having registered for camping permission from the Havasupai Tribe (external link) a few weeks in advance (as recommended), Carol and I parked our car in the dirt lot at Hualapai Hilltop and backpacked the 8-mile dusty trail downhill into Supai Village. About 25,000 tourists visit each year, so advance reservations are recommended. We checked in at the tribal office, then hiked 2 more miles to the campground, passing the wonderful Havasu Falls, one of the most surprising desert oasis experiences in the world. Impressive Mooney Falls was a short walk further downstream. Thank you very much, Havasupai people, for sharing your very special canyon with visitors.

To more fully experience the isolation of this desert oasis, I strongly recommend walking to Supai, instead of riding a horse or helicopter. But next time we’ll consider having the mule train carry our packs, to make the desert walk more comfortable. Helicopters also carry in people and supplies, but the loud chop-chopping roar disturbed my appreciation of this beautiful natural setting. Out of nowhere, a porta-potty suddenly flew over our heads. Helicopters repeatedly flew full porta-potties, one at a time on a very long cable, out of the heavily-used campground, for disposal elsewhere. A composting toilet would seem to be a more cost effective solution. The densely-packed and worn campground in this narrow canyon would have benefited by further restricting the number of visitors per day.


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USA: ARIZONA: Antelope Canyon Navajo Park

Photo Tips for Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Where:

  • Page, Arizona: Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons are very easy to visit, great for both children and adults. Expect crowds. Drive there with your private car (or pay more for a tour booked from Page). Different Navajo families operate Upper and Lower Canyons, which explains the separate admission fees:
  • The Upper Canyon is an easy flat walk in sand. To get there, drive east of Page, Arizona on Highway 98 for several miles, to just before milepost 299. You will see an entrance booth for Upper Antelope Canyon on the right (south). Pay at the booth, park your car, and wait for the next 4WD shuttle & guide to take you to the slot entrance. In 2005, Navaho lands entry fee was $6 (good for one day only), plus $15 for the guided tour & ride to Upper Canyon.
  • Lower Antelope Canyon: Across the highway, to the north of Upper Canyon’s entrance station, you will see a sign marking the short road to Lower Antelope Canyon parking lot (Antelope Point Road, Navaho Route N22B). Pay at the office and walk along the marked trail, which descends into Lower Antelope Canyon on easy ladders and slanted sandstone. The Lower Canyon has less dust, fewer tourists, the best formations, and requires no guide, which allows you much more freedom & time to photograph. Walking straight through without stopping would take only half an hour, but the amazing cathedrals in stone should slow you down, awestruck. In 2006, Navaho lands entry fee was $6 (paid only once if seeing both canyons on the same day), plus Lower Canyon tour fee was $13.
  • Click here for the Navaho Nation’s official web site for “Antelope Canyon Navaho Tribal Park”.

When to go:

  • Entrance station open March-October 8:00am – 5:00pm (Mountain Standard Time year around, never Daylight Savings), charging fees.
  • Entrance Station is closed for the winter season (November – February) but Lower and Upper Antelope Canyon are both OPEN.
  • The canyons are subject to weather closures, especially in hot July-August which is dangerous flash flood season. In May-July (closer to summer solstice), the sun shines most directly into the slot canyons, for exciting light shafts.
  • Midweek is better than weekends, to avoid crowds.
  • Wait for a sunny day with the sun high overhead, best midday, during normal Canyon opening hours 9-5:00. Light quality will be very dull on a cloudy day, not as good for photography.
    • I shot my images on April 12-13, 2006.
    • I recommend 10am to 3pm, in April or October.
  • I recommend all day in each canyon (two days total) for serious photography. If you are sightseeing without a camera, you only need an hour or two in each canyon.
  • Your guide, required in the Upper Canyon, may let you linger for photography (which may cost a little more for extra hours). Large groups come through continuously in Upper Canyon. You must take shots quickly. Try to determine your shot settings at each spot before placing the tripod in the narrow path.
  • You have more freedom to photograph in the Lower Canyon, where no guide is required.


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Photographic techniques:

  • The best lighting is bounced indirect sunlight.
  • Avoid including directly sunlit rocks in the image. An exception to this is capturing a column of sunlight in the dusty air. To get the best shots of shafts of sunlight, shoot when the sun is highest in the sky around noon. Throw sand up into the light column and quickly shoot the falling sunlit dust & sand. If others are present, get their permission before tossing sand. Crowds may also stir up enough dust to brighten the rays of sunlight.
  • If you use film, expose for the brightest rock (but avoid including directly sunlit rocks in the image as described above).
  • Have fun! This is a fantastic place, despite the crowds of people. Smile and be friendly to everyone, and patiently let people pass by in the narrow slots.

Photo Equipment to Bring:

  • Bring a tripod, flashlight, jacket, snacks, & water. The crowds of people in the Upper Canyon will make use of a tripod more challenging than in the longer and lesser traveled Lower Canyon.
  • I recommend a digital camera over a film camera since you can immediately determine the exposure and appearance of images. Check your LCD frequently to confirm image quality. Fill your bell-shaped histogram with good shadow detail, without cutting off highlights. I don’t recommend changing lenses in these dusty canyons (keep your digital sensor clean with a hand-squeezed blower).
  • Using a wide angle such as 17-35mm on a DSLR (~27 to 52mm on 35mm-film cameras) is good. But a 24mm lens (in terms of 35mm-film) will be even more useful in these tight slot canyons.
  • You can widen your lens angle by stitching together multiple shots using software (such as my image on the right).
    • For stitching, take each shot overlapped by a third, with exactly the same focus, exposure and white balance (such as using Manual), using the DSLR at about 24mm (36mm in terms of 35mm-film cameras). Use 17mm if you have to, but stitching may not line up as well on the edges.
    • Least distortion for stitching is usually within the range of 35 to 50mm (in terms of 35mm-film cameras).
    • On a typical DSLR (with an APS-sized sensor with ~1.5x lens multiplier), 24mm is equivalent to a 36mm lens on a 35mm-film camera. (But if you have an expensive full-framed sensor, the lenses are the same size as for film). A DSLR 24mm lens (or longer) usually stitches better than 17mm.
    • Canon supplies a good panorama stitch program in their Zoombrowser program provided free with many of their digital cameras.
    • Adobe Photoshop CS3 greatly improves the Photomerge feature versus previous Photoshop versions.
  • Upper Canyon is darker: I shot exposures of about 0.5 to 2 seconds.
  • Lower Canyon is shallower, a little brighter, and has the most interesting rock formations: I shot exposures of about 0.2 to 1 second.

This article is in response to an email question from Larry 5/23/07:  “Any tips on photographing in antelope canyon. I have a Nikon D2x and wide angle lens 17-35mm.” In reply to my tips Larry said, “Thanks for the great information. I plan to be there on Saturday, but I will definitely go to the lower canyon. Not changing the lens with all the dust sounds like a good idea. I will let you know how it works out. Your photo enclosed is fantastic. – Larry”

See also my separate Southwest USA articles: Arizona, Utah, and Nevada.

Recommended Arizona guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest Arizona travel books at Amazon.com (look for updates every 1-3 years):

2011: 2004: 2012:
2012: 2010: