John Beatty

The Grand Canyon of Colorado

In the evenings, the confluence of Saddle Canyon with the Colorado River is a golden doorway. Afternoon shade deep in the Marble Canyon cools down the sandbanks on which I will spend the night. My sleeping bag is laid out under soft fronds of a tamarisk tree. The tethered raft twists and gyres in the current. Cold air from the river flows around the rocks as the last salmon and amber glow ebbs from the canyon walls above. All is still.

Water carved bluffs and shelves, which by day offer endless pallets of colour, have become rounded animal shapes against towering cliffs that reach into the heavens. The mighty pulse of the river drags submerged boulders and stones grinding and bumping the bedrock. An almond glow radiates beyond the rim rock a thousand metres above. All is silent.

Invisible movement and slow time are overwhelming in the Grand Canyon of Colorado. Evidence of constant inexorable change in the geology en masse and in micro is felt more than seen. The obvious erosive forces of the river itself, and the observation of weathering of the myriad rock types cause a curious alertness to the experience of living in this elemental landscape. One feels bound up in the processes of change, a subjugation to its grandeur and a sense of being an infinitesimally small part of a greater natural order.

Rafting the rapids

Now I see the secret... it is to grow in the open air and eat and sleep with the earth.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)  

John Beatty

John Beatty has been widely acclaimed as one of the most exciting and stimulating nature, travel and adventure photographers to have emerged in recent years. John's work is chiefly concerned with the timeless rhythms of the natural environment, its beauty and simplicity and man's place within it.

In his new book. Wild Vision, John shares his superb images and captivating stories from 25 years of assignments to over 38 different countries. Widely acclaimed as one of the most exciting nature, travel and adventure photographers to have emerged in recent years.

For more information on John Beatty and Wild Vision, visit his website:

The descent of the Colorado river by raft is more than a passage through the geological history of the structure of the earth, more than a going back in time, more the unfolding of an unexpected insight, which is this. That we are dust. That the canyon depths draw out your essence and strip you naked. That the world beyond the surface is dislocated, confusing, wasteful. Here the beauty of stone and water, structure and life, opposing and sympathetic forces are profoundly close. This is a place where nature touches you so deeply, you are simply returning to the earth.

We needed fresh water and continued to Tanner Creek where alluvial gravels formed a broad fan on which Ute Indians once cultivated squashes and corn. There is a spring here, where the canyon lies back, perhaps eight miles from rim to rim. It is getter hotter, the only shade is within the tall reeds that line the creek. We floated on and approached Hance Rapid at the entrance of the Upper Granite Gorge, and the first of a series of grade nine rapids. It is something of a gateway because from here the river has few landing places and flows powerfully beneath solid rock walls for many miles. Hance Rapid in low water can produce complex and dangerous waves. Ahead of us lay the notorious Horn Creek Rapid and the mighty Crystal Rapid, which along with Lava Falls are the most respected and highest graded runs in the entire Grand Canyon.

Floating between rapids there is a silence of space. The cathedral walls accentuate all sound. Midday sun down here can split rocks open bringing rattlesnake and scorpion out to play in the radiating heat. There is a mirage on the river beach at Grapevine. Water polished gneiss like swiss cheese guards the mouth of Shinumo Creek. White egrets overhead, are fishing from bluff to bluff. A mule deer stag is grazing the apache plume in a shady stand of cottonwood trees; a rasp of antler, a clatter of hooves, a trickle of stones from a canyon wall. Grass greens, burnished gold and skyblue streak the surface of the ochre coloured river, and in the distance the ever present deep rhythmical pulse of rapids.

The current increases in strength commensurate with a change of rhythmical noise, the tone of which rises an octave as the raft begins its ghastly and terrifying slide over the lip of dancing spray that has hidden the horrifying falls from our view. And we are in it. Waves upon heavy waves blast over the raft, tearing our grip from the ropework. Total bodyload against the oars as we are sucked down a hole, then heaved up and spat to the left then the right in this great lung of breathing, pulsing, icy water. Gasping and shrieking with fun we collapse in the floor of the raft as the noise abates to our stern and the sun beats down on the sodden. We laugh and twirl in a calm eddy, wipe our faces and drift onward.

In future years I have returned to the Grand Canyon many times to explore new canyons and fabulous waterfalls. In Elves Chasm we were enchanted by leaping and swimming. In Travertine Canyon the overhead light coursing through the slot canyon roof illuminated the cascade spray as if it were liquid platinum. Deer Creek Falls is a narrow twisting slot canyon stream in banded Muav limestone, breaking out in powerful jetting curtains of white spray. To enter the plunge pool below the falls is to feel the sheer hydraulic power of water and air, enough to make you dance. But Havasu Canyon, perhaps the greatest of water features in the Colorado, and home to living descendants of the original Havasupai peoples of old, are the mighty Havasu and Mooney Falls that leap from rims of travertine into turquoise gower pools of immense beauty. Some years ago we made a short expedition here with our small children, hiking fifty kilometres from the Hualapai Overlook all the way to the Colorado river. On the way we endured a violent sandstorm, multiple river crossings, encounters with rattlesnakes and daring unprotected scrambles.

Above all we experienced a profound sense of travelling through an active and living landscape where nature led us into immeasurable wonders.


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