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FLOAT THE GRAND CANYON
The trip: There's nothing as galvanizing, humbling, and deeply spine-tingling as bucking and bobbing down the tourmaline-green Colorado River, the water whooshing a few inches from your backside and 5,000-foot-high walls towering over your head. (Goodbye, outside world.) The journey, punctuated by hikes through the Grand Canyon and dips in fern grottoes, is like life itself: full of unexpected twists and turns and scary moments that alternate with serene, magical stretches. Boaters can bounce along the rapids in a hard-hulled dory (à la Winslow Homer) for a true roller-coaster ride, or cruise along in a more flexible rubber-bottomed raft. The average length of a trip is eight days, but why be average? Opt for the full 19-day experience. It did take 300 million years to carve this place, after all.
Why go? More than any other waterway, the 1,450-mile Colorado River (277 miles of which run through the Grand Canyon) represents the lifeblood of the United Statesand dams are starting to temper its wildness.
What to pack: Watercolors, for sketching the psychedelic colors of the canyon walls from your riverside campsite.
Difficulty: 4 out of 10. Novices are welcome, and guides will not only help paddle through the Class V rapids but also prepare food and provide sleeping bags with sheets, pillows, and inflatable mattresses. But be ready to hike nine miles into the canyon and nine miles out, and to paddle hard day after day.
Your guides: O.A.R.S., whose founder, George Wendt, was granted one of the first Colorado rafting licenses, in 1969. Guests hosted include Robert Kennedy, Jr., and Christine Todd Whitman.
Tel: 800 346 6277
Rafting and dory trips, from $1,690 per person; 19-day trip from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead on a dory (including 47 major rapids, three to five hours per day on the boat, guided hikes, and all meals), $5,296 per person