At 15, I had the opportunity to join a three week rafting trip down the Colorado River, under the crimson canopy of the Arizona sky and through the majestic red castles of the Grand Canyon. I jumped off 60 foot cliffs, slept next to white scorpions, photographed black condors from a few feet away, and watched in terror as one of our adrenaline-hungry rafters handled a rattle snake. It’s hard to describe in words the river’s emotional, spiritual, and intellectual stimulation.
Left: Grand Canyon,” in pen and ink, 18” x12”, by Cedar Attanasio.
Last Sunday, I relived my trip by watching Grand Canyon Adventure, which has amazing rafting footage, vividly depicted in 3D Imax. The movie features great commentary by Wade Davis and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who narrate the rafting adventure with information on the Colorado River and its exploitation for hydropower and agriculture. I needed Davis and Kennedy’s commentaries, because rafting the Grand Canyon–only a short section of the Colorado River’s 1,500 mile path–didn’t teach me everything that I needed to know about freshwater rivers.
All travels inform the spirit and the mind in some way, but for the geographer, they also serve as nodes of understanding, starting points in a wider web of cultural and biological systems that can only be understood through study (which usually means the abstraction of studying maps or reading books, both of which are summarized or paraphrased expressions of what exists in the field).