I’ve been doing all I can to prepare myself for my upcoming Grand Canyon rafting trip. One of the things I’ve been doing (in addition to taking a rowing course on the Rogue River) is investing in reading material for both before and during my trip.
There are a surprising number of books specifically related to or about rafting the Grand Canyon and more still about the Canyon in general.
I know that reading isn’t much a substitute for practical river experience, but some of the reads (the maps, especially) have been a great help in planning my upcoming trip. Whether these plans hold up once we’re on the river is another story.
If you’re only going to get one book for/about rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, make it the Guide to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon: Lees Ferry to South Cove. This river map details mileage with descriptions of campsites, rapids, noteworthy features, and tips, but it also delves into the history and geology of the Canyon as well. Honestly, you should probably have one of these for each of your boat captains on the trip. And if you’ve never seen a river map before, they’re pretty cool (and you get to read from bottom to top).
The Emerald Mile is probably the most popular book about rafting the Grand Canyon (river maps aside). It tells the story of a historic run through the Grand Canyon following massive flooding in 1983. The Emerald Mile (the name of a wooden dory), launched in the wake of this flooding in an attempt to break the all-time record for the fastest boat down the entire length of the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry to Lake Mead (that includes both man and motor-powered boats). If you want to read about an adventure that will almost certainly be more riveting than yours and learn a lot along the way, check this one out.
Grand Canyoneering is a beautiful, full-color book filled with maps, photos, and descriptions of canyons to be explored up and down the length of the Grand Canyon. This book isn’t specifically written with river runners in mind, but there are a huge number of canyons/hikes described in this book that are accessible from the river – sometimes with, sometimes without a shuttle. If you’re interested in making the most out of your layover days, this is a book worth checking out. Did I mention the incredibly rich and detailed maps?
Belknap’s Waterproof Grand Canyon River Guide is a supplement to the aforementioned river maps. This (smaller/more manageable) map of the Colorado River through the grand canyon offers rich and colorful illustrations as it both points out rapids, camps, and features along the river while delving into the history, geology, and archaeology. The waterproofness will help make it a suitable boating companion as well. It’s nowhere near as detailed as the river maps mentioned above, but as a passenger or someone who wants more information as opposed to someone who is doing the planning, this book is great.
Day Hikes from the River: A Guide to Hikes from Camps Along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, besides having a no-nonsense title and looking like it was printed on a typewriter, it’s a useful guide to planning hikes from the river. This, in conjunction with Grand Canyoneering, should give you plenty to fill up layover days or your afternoons on shorter days. The book includes rudimentary, black and white, topographic maps of hikes, but I would say they offer a general overview at best; don’t expect to be able to navigate with any of them. It’s more of a guide for getting to know what/where the hikes are. You’ll have to do some additional planning/map looking if you’re planning on doing most of these.
Over The Edge: Death in Grand Canyon isn’t focused on river running, but it is focused on something that will hopefully not be a part of your trip – death; it’s a tome of a book. Ever see those signs that say things like “KEEP AWAY FROM LEDGE” or “BRING ENOUGH WATER” and then wonder to yourself, “Uh…duh, who are these signs for?” These signs are for the people in this book. Since it’s a collection of distinct incidents, it could be a good one to take turns reading at camp? Or maybe you don’t want to bring that energy onto your trip.
The Complete Whitewater Rafter has nothing to do with the Grand Canyon, but it has everything to do with rafting (and whitewater). This book was recommended to me by multiple people as soon as I began my journey toward trying to figure out this rafting thing. I’m still figuring it out, but this book has certainly helped to reinforce and clarify some of the things I learned in my rowing school. It’s not all applicable to rowing, but it is all applicable to whitewater. If you’re looking to explain to someone (or learn yourself) about how and why water behaves a certain way, this book will help get you there.
The Colorado River in the Grand Canyon: A River Runner’s Map and Guide to Its Natural and Human History
The Colorado River in the Grand Canyon: A River Runner’s Map and Guide to Its Natural and Human History is similar to Belknap’s Waterproof Grand Canyon River Guide. Honestly, they’re pretty similar. Both have colorful, engaging maps of the river with features labeled and plenty of information regarding history, geology, and facts about the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. Belknap is. a bit more detailed on the map side of things, but neither is a substitute for the Guide to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon: Lees Ferry to South Cove.
The Field Guide of Wilderness & Rescue Medicine is neither about the Grand Canyon nor rafting, but it is about safety which I take seriously (and you should too). As part of my preparation for my Grand Canyon trip, I took a Wilderness First Responder course (I recommend this to anyone who spends extended periods in the backcountry). This is the pocket manual I got for use in the course and that I will be taking with me on the Grand. It will at the least be helpful in our safety briefings and to occasionally review so that I’m ready for the inevitable accident or injury that befalls the group.
The River Rescue and Safety Waterproof Field Guide is similar to the above Wilderness Medicine Guide except this one is focused on river-specific scenarios. Need to remember how to set up a Z-drag? How to tie a bowline? How to set up a transport hitch? This pocket-sized guide has everything you need (and more). It’s another good piece of literature to have with you for your safety briefings and occasional reviews.
No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon is another non-fiction account of a trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River, but this time instead of a speed run following a flood (The Emerald Mile), it’s a blind man’s journey to kayak it. That’s right, if you thought you were tough and/or cool for rowing or passengering a boat through the Canyon, you may humble yourself with this story of Erik Weihenmayer’s epic journey (he’s also climbed all seven summits).
It’s easy to take for granted the fact that there are simply rivers in the world and that these rivers are filled with water – because they’re rivers. If you want to learn about protecting our natural resources and be able to have an educated conversation regarding water management, Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River is for you. It can be a bit dry at times because it’s intended to inform as well as entertain, but if you go into it with a learning mindset, there’s no reason it shouldn’t make your reading list.
There’s This River…Grand Canyon Boatman Stories is a collection of short(er) stories from trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. It’s not quite as dark as Over The Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, so it might be a good campfire alternative if you’re looking for a group read. It’s also a great option if you’re looking for something to get you excited about your upcoming river trip or if you’re looking for something to help you to revisit some of the magic from a previous Grand trip.
Sunk Without A Sound tells the story of Glen and Bessie Hyde, who disappeared on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon during their honeymoon (an awesome honeymoon except for the whole disappearing without a trace part). If you love whitewater and mysteries – particularly those (spoiler) without any resolution – then this book is a perfect companion for a Grand trip. Or maybe save this one for after if you’re feeling a bit nervous.
Are there a lot more books out there about the Grand Canyon? Absolutely. However, these (especially the first one) are going to do a lot to get you started on (and excited about) your upcoming adventure.
Rafted the Grand Canyon before? Read any/all of these books? Are any books missing that need to be added to this list? Leave a comment below and let me know!
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