One Hell of a Mile 3

What inspired another trip into the heart of the Grand Canyon during the desert summer's heat to re-enter an underground tributary to the Colorado? A two dollar wetsuit from the Goodwill. You see, last time my "dry-suit" made from trash bags duct-taped together didn't work very well. I had trouble swimming in it and it leaked causing me to become too cold to continue before I had adequately explored the cave.

Almost immediately upon entering the cave the explorer is taken by surprise. Outside the heat is brutally oppressive, well over 100 degrees, and you've just hiked hours to get here. The cold should be a welcome relief. But it isn't, it's too cold. The river's water is only a few degrees above freezing, having originated in the spring snow melts, it is insulated by the rock it filtered through thousands of feet to get here.

So as soon you step in your muscles protest, cramping, and stiffening. On top of that the river's flow itself is strong and tries to pull you downstream. Nonetheless I started swimming upstream, occasionally diving below the surface to investigate features on the riverbed. The clarity of the subterranean water is stunning, with no light for algae or plants to grow in, I am able to see as far as the beam of my flashlight can stretch: 50 feet or so.

Below the water's surface I discover deep pools, hidden from above, that plunged far out of sight, suggesting untold depths and unexplored frontiers. Also I discover a vast graveyard of broken formations that must have once adorned the ceiling above, now they lie scattered and broken below the churning waves, some in great heaps, some solitary, protruding jauntily from the rippled sand. What massive flood or other force caused this utter destruction? It doesn't seem likely that it was a person; people take the formations they break.

Eventually I come to a great heap of broken rock that emerges from the middle of the river and fills the tunnel; a veritable underground mountain, the river emerging from beneath it. Scrambling to the top, I see that on the other side the river continues upstream and around a corner, out of sight. Although the end has not been reached I am now shaking uncontrollably, teeth chattering, my fingers unable to close fully into fists; I've entered the early stages of hypothermia.

When I finally emerge into the daylight, the sun is beating down on me again in a vast, dry desert. It feels like waking from a dream; just a moment ago to be so cold, swimming in a midnight river, now suddenly thrust into the desert brilliance.

Part 4


Trips to the Grand Canyon's underground river have never been easy, but this summer's was a special nightmare. Before striking camp on my first day down into the canyon, before I had reached the cave, I relaxed in a cool creek that flowed through one of the side canyons. While swimming in the creek I noticed a vulture flying overhead with a bag of dried camping food gripped in its beak. This was a real cause for concern.

The sunken formations reveal themselves, partially buried in the sands.

Hurrying back to my backpack I discovered that every piece of food I had brought was now gone. I had plenty of water but nothing whatsoever left to eat. I decided to make my way back out the canyon immediately, bringing only a small pack with me to carry water. I would retrieve extra food and return the next morning.

I reached the rim of the canyon a little before midnight and ate my fill from my car. Thankfully I carried more than enough food to eat and resupply. The next day I returned to the bottom of the canyon and continued on to the cave.

Since I as exploring the cave much earlier in the summer than I had in the past, the water level was considerably higher. Although I was better prepared for diving on this trip with a warmer wetsuit and fins, I struggled to swim efficiently in the river.

My main purpose on this trip was to retrieve photos of the broken formations that littered the bottom of the river. These formations which are not easily visible from above the waters turbid surface, reveal themselves to anyone who is able to go below and dive among the boulders that mask the sandy bottom.

As I plunged into the bitterly cold water of the subterranenan river and swam down between the rocks in a surge of bubbles I once again glimpsed the fantastic menagerie of hidden formations that waited, untouched for my return.

The water in the cave is so clear that it can be hard to tell what is underwater.

The same river as from the cave, after it has surfaced.


See the world, they
told me...

bayou goula towhead

the sea test

the circumnavigator pt5
the circumnavigator pt4
the circumnavigator pt3
the circumnavigator pt2
the circumnavigator pt1
falling dream
the darkness
one hell of a mile 3&4
he will return
the believers
the horror pt2
the horror pt1
death valley

paradise of outlaws
the mountain climbers 1&2
brought to surface
one hell of a mile 3
the lost world
inner gorge
a ghost story
the riddle
slaying the minotaur
heart of darkness
public lands
organ music
two sought adventure
the virgin river
the road north

steal the world
the end of the world
el dorado
the valley of the kings 2
the valley of the kings 1
one hell of a mile 2
one hell of a mile 1
the mountain climbers rr4
heroes rr3
rainy roadtrip 2
rainy roadtrip 1
the transgression
sinister 2
sinister 1
new chapter

like sedona?
torn in two
bridge to nowhere
the door
hitting the wall
elusive 2
elusive 1
pick up lines

revisited 2
revisited 1
which way?
lost mines
in their footsteps
a dance with death

casting the bones
mountain thief
the deer hunter
strange temple
burial pt. 3
burial pt. 2
burial pt. 1
the apparition
return to hell
the lower depths
underground lake
stretch sewer
the hidden lab
shadow movements
meager rations
sw8: the conclusion
sw7: lost gold mines
sw6: the big tubes
sw5: gold!
sw4: el calderon
sw3: redondo
sw2: ghosts
sw1: westward bound
formaldehyde dreams
the underdark
in the beginning