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NCSE Grand Canyon Raft Trip FAQ

July 3 — July 11, 2014

Welcome to the FAQ for the NCSE Grand Canyon 2014 raft trip! All Grand Canyon trips include spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. But because this is an NCSE trip, we offer a special twist for science fans.

Our NCSE trip features a unique "two-model" raft trip, where we discuss the creationist view of Grand Canyon, contrasted with the normal scientific interpretation. For example, we examine major erosional contacts, and explain how creationists think these formed thousands of years ago during Noah’s Flood, while scientists take a different view.

NCSE Josh Rosenau delivers a tongue-in-cheek presentation of the creationist view, as well as expounding on the natural history of the Grand Canyon. The standard scientific view of the history of the Canyon is presented by NCSE’s Steve Newton, a trained geologist.

If you’re ready to sign up now, please call at (800) 290-6006. If you would like to see pictures from past Grand Canyon trips, click on one of the "Grand Canyon [year]" links at the left.

Having run this trip twelve times in the past, we find that potential participants have similar questions. Below are the most commonly asked questions. If you have any other questions about the trip, please email Steve ( or Josh (

NCSE’s Executive Director, Eugenie C. Scott, will also accompany her colleagues.


Frequently asked questions about NCSE's Grand Canyon River Run


How much does it cost?

The 2014 Grand Canyon Raft Trip costs $2,550. This includes a small surcharge to cover NCSE expenses so that we are able to break even. To reserve your place, send us a deposit of $500. The remaining $2,050 is due by April 30, 2014.


What if I need to cancel?

If you have to cancel before April 30, 2014, you will forfeit your $500.00 deposit. If we can replace you, we will return your $500.00 deposit. In the past, we have been able to replace people from the waiting list, but we cannot guarantee to be able to do so. But so far, so good.

If you have to cancel after April 30, 2014, you will forfeit a $1,000.00 deposit. As before, if we can replace you, we will refund your deposit. So far, so good: we’ve been able to refund everyone’s deposit in full.


Who is the outfitter?

We use AzRA (Arizona Rafting Adventures), one of the oldest and most highly respected outfitters running the river.  With AzRA, we can all but guarantee a safe and enjoyable experience for all. The boatmen are skillful and knowledgeable. Hard to beat.

How long does the trip last?

The trip lasts a total of 9 days, from the evening of July 3 to around noon on July 11 (8 days on the river).


When and where do we meet?

showing the Marble Canyon Lodge

Everyone will meet for orientation at the Marble Canyon Lodge in Marble Canyon, AZ, before 5:30 PM on July 3, the day before launch day. Transportation to Marble Canyon from Las Vegas is included in the fee, so most people will meet at the McCarran airport at noon on July 3.

From McCarran Airport, AzRA provides transportation by van to the hotel at Marble Canyon; this is at least a four hour ride. Because this pickup time will at noon, and any morning flight delays will pose a problem for this pickup, we advise that you plan to fly into Las Vegas the day before, July 2, and enjoy a night in one of the numerous inexpensive Vegas hotels.

If you wish to travel directly to Marble Canyon yourself, you will need to hire someone to shuttle your car to the take-out site, Peach Springs, AZ, at the end of the river trip on July 11. There are companies that do this. We have had good results with Arizona River Runners, which has provided reliable service for several years. You can find details of cost and how to arrange a shuttle at, or email them at Carpooling obviously saves money here.


What happens after we get to Marble Canyon Lodge on July 3?

After we have all arrived at Marble Canyon, at about 5:30 PM, we will have an orientation meeting with AzRA. We will receive our waterproof river bags and one smaller, carry-on waterproof bag into which we will repack our clothes and gear. AzRA has kindly offered to store duffels and suitcases for us while we are on the river, and deliver them to Peach Springs, where we meet the bus to take us back to Las Vegas.

At your own expense, we will have dinner and spend the night at the Marble Canyon Lodge (or you may stay at a nearby campground, if you prefer), and the next morning have breakfast and meet at 8:00 AM for departure to the river. From July 4 until July 11, we will enjoy one another's company, as well as the beauty and natural history of Grand Canyon.

To make a reservation at the Marble Canyon Lodge, call 1-800-726-1789 or 928-355-2225. NCSE may be able to help coordinate roommates for solo travelers.


What happens after the trip is over?

We will camp as usual on the night of July 10, and at about 10 am on July 11, we will take out at Diamond Creek. We have found that ending our trip at Diamond Creek rather than Lake Mead allows us to go a little slower and spend more time in the more scenic and geologically-interesting parts of Grand Canyon. AzRA will arrange for transportation from Diamond Creek to the town of Peach Springs, and from Peach Springs to McCarran airport in Las Vegas. AzRA estimates arrival at McCarran by 4 pm; flights should therefore be booked after 5 pm on July 11 if you are flying home on that date. Some people prefer to stay a night or two in Las Vegas. If you drove your own car to Marble Canyon, the shuttle service will have left your car at Peach Springs for your pickup.


What does the cost cover, then?

The price you pay for the trip, $2,550, covers transportation from the Las Vegas (McCarran) airport, the river trip beginning at Lee's Ferry on July 3 to take-out on July 11, and a shuttle back to McCarran airport.

You additionally will pay for lodging and dinner July 3, and breakfast July 4 at Marble Canyon Lodge (or campground, on space available basis).


What about the boats? How large are they? Do we need to row? Are the boats powered, and if so, how noisy are they?

image of two rafts used on the 

tripThe boats are 34 feet long and hold 12 passengers plus 2 crew. You can sit up front if you want to get wet, or sit in the back if you want to stay (relatively) dry. There is plenty of room overall and they are quite comfortable.

The pontoon rafts are extremely stable and very unlikely to flip in rapids. This is about as safe as you can get and still have fun running the river.

The boats are powered and thus you do not need to help row. The motors are very quiet and you will find that you barely notice them during the trip. The boatmen also frequently shut down the motors during long calm stretches and just float on the current. The motor exists primarily for steering, especially in rapids.












How safe is it? What about medical attention?

Your safety is the outfitter's first concern. AzRA's boatmen are well trained and highly qualified. Generally the trip is extremely safe with minor cuts and bruises or a twisted ankle the only injuries — when injuries occur at all. The boatmen carry a good first aid kit with bandages and similar items. Bringing your own supplies also never hurts (We have one word for you: Moleskin!) In addition to providing water and lemonade at all times, boatmen also carry ion-balancing drink mixes to help with dehydration (don't make them have to use it!) In the case of more serious medical emergencies, the boatmen are trained EMTs. They also carry a satellite phone for emergency evacuations. (This is only used in extreme emergencies, given the difficulties –and expense– of getting a helicopter into the canyon to get someone out.) Be safe and be careful is the best advice.

We also need to know any special medical needs you may have in order to let AzRA prepare for them. Let us know if you are diabetic, have a heart condition, have any mobility problems, require any special medications that you need to take regularly, or have any other special needs that we need to take into account in order for you to enjoy your trip. This is for the safety of everyone else on the trip as well as yours.  in order for you to enjoy your trip. This is for the safety of everyone else on the trip as well as yours.


What about insurance?

AzRA recommends that you contact your insurance company about trip cancellation policies as well as travel insurance. You should also contact your health services provider to ask about coverage while traveling. NCSE cannot provide insurance for participants; whether or not to obtain extra insurance is an individual decision.


What is a typical day on the river?

image showing a boat going through rapidsA typical day will consist of arising at around 5:00 AM or so as the sun rises (you will find you quickly adapt to a sunrise/sunset schedule), eating a leisurely breakfast, breaking camp, motoring down river for a couple of hours, and stopping for a mid-morning hike up a side canyon. We might see a natural formation, hike to a waterfall, take a dip in a stream, examine petroglyphs — there are lots of things to see in the Canyon. The side canyons have a different ecology than the river proper, so there are always interesting things to see. Then we'll reboard the boats, motor for a few more hours, and stop for lunch. After lunch, more motoring downstream, and likely another stop for a side canyon hike or other feature. In late afternoon, we make camp. Along the way, we will encounter rapids and probably get wet, which is pretty nice when it is hot. Dinners are ample, well balanced, well prepared, and delicious. Provisions are made for vegetarians or others with special dietary needs. 

How much physical activity should I expect?

A fair amount of hiking is generally part of the trip. The vast majority of the excursions on foot are relatively easy hikes. Some hikes are more strenuous. The guides know the Canyon well, and can advise us on the amount of exertion likely on a given hike. You don't have to take the Carbon Canyon Death March if you don't want to! But opportunity exists for some real exercise if you want it.

All participants who are able are expected to help to load and unload camping gear and kitchen supplies from the raft each day. .

I am not that physically able; can I still participate?

image showing 

participants climbing carefully down a rock formationYes! We have had people with many different degrees of mobility come on this trip in the past, and the outfitter has been very accommodating. People who are not able to participate in some or all of the hikes wait at the river in the shade and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the river if they can't negotiate a particular hike.




How hot will it get?


Expect temperatures to climb into the 90s and possibly over 100 during the days, with cooling in the evening. You get used to the dry heat surprisingly quickly. The river is always cool and refreshing, if often a bit muddy, and you get splashed a lot during the trip. Dehydration is always an issue, and we remind you to stay well hydrated. 


Although many days will be quite hot, we have experienced the occasional afternoon/evening rain. We recommend a tent, with a rain fly. It is the monsoon season in the Southwest, with occasionally very heavy rainfall. Having a tent is good; and you can always decide not to use it if you prefer to sleep outside.


What does the outfitter provide?

image of outfitters preparing food



The meals for the trip are included; the outfitter provides breakfast, lunch, dinner, and some snacks. Vegetarians are accommodated, but AzRA needs to know if anyone has dietary restrictions. AzRA also provides you with your own souvenir cup, and tableware and cutlery: you needn’t bring any camping supplies other than those listed below. 


AzRA provides you with coffee and tea in the mornings, and water and lemonade throughout the day. Any other beverages (including alcoholic ones) you must provide yourself. The outfitter has limited space to pack beer, wine, and soda for participants. One nice feature of this trip is that the guides hang drinks in a mesh bag over the side of the boat, so the drinks are quite cool when we camp. Cold beer in the wilderness is a nice treat!

If you are interested in BYOB, you can purchase it in Marble Canyon (not as cheap as at Costco, mind you, but buying it there aids the economy of Marble Canyon!). One consideration: glass bottles are not allowed, for the common sense reason that broken glass and rubber rafts do not mix well. The gas station at Marble Canyon knows this, and has a wide variety of beer brands in cans. 

Camping Equipment

You can arrange in advance to borrow tents, mats, and sleeping bags from AzRA at no cost; the tents easily accommodate two people. Many rafters bring their own (see below under “What do I need to bring?”)

How about bathrooms?

image of portable toilet set up in an attractive locationFor sanitation, the outfitters bring al fresco portapottys for solid waste. (Here is a photo of a portapotty site; these have to be the most beautiful views from any toilet facility one can imagine). Usually two portapotties are set up on opposite ends of the camp, some distance removed from tents and the kitchen. The spots are quite private, and AzRA uses an easily understood signaling system to let you know if the portapotty is occupied. AzRA also provides good hand-washing stations near each portapotty. Urine goes right into the river. (Additional warning to the women — avoid tight shorts/pants....) If you decide to go on this trip, we will have a number of useful hints to pass on to improve your comfort on the river.

What do I need to bring?

You need to have a tent, sleeping bag or sheet, and sleeping pad. As noted above, you may borrow a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad from AzRA. You will also need water bottles and clothes. You do not need cups, utensils, cooking equipment, etc.

A detailed list of suggested gear will be sent to all participants. We and AzRA both provide a trip t-shirt, and we also provide you a waterproof guidebook (Belknap's Grand Canyon River Guide).

Clothes should be lightweight, light-colored, and quick drying. Jeans are not practical: they are hot, and if they get wet, they take a long time to dry. Boots are not necessary (unless you have bad ankles or some other reason to need sturdy support); a good pair of sneakers is probably all you need for the hikes. A pair of Teva-like sandals or boat shoes will be the best on the boat (in fact, Tevas were invented by a Grand Canyon river guide). People have not had good luck with Crocs.

Of particular importance is rain gear for occasional downpours and, more importantly, for rapids. The river water is cold and you get absolutely soaked in some of the larger rapids, making rain gear a must. Raingear is not so much for keeping you dry as keeping you warm after you are smacked with ice cold water in a rapid. It is difficult to believe, but you can suffer hypothermia — even in 95 degree heat!

If you wear glasses, be sure to have a lanyard for them so you don't lose them in the river. Hats should also have some sort of cord to secure them to you. It’s not a bad idea to bring spare sunglasses.

The sun is bright and can be brutal; make sure you have a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and (above all) rub-proof, sweat-proof, waterproof sun block.


What if I don't own a tent or a sleeping bag?

If you do not own a tent or sleeping bag, these can be borrowed from AzRA. The AzRA tents, bags, and sleeping pads are of decent quality and the tents are easy to set up. Information regarding this will be distributed to participants. 

How much should I pack?

image showing the size of 

bags provided by the outfitter

Space is limited, and conditions are primitive; travel light. You'll be surprised at how few clothes you need. The outfitter will provide you with two river bags (about 3 cubic feet of space each) in which you will pack your clothes and sleeping bag. These will be stowed during the day and you will not have access to them. You will be also be given a smaller waterproof day bag that goes on the boat with you; in it, you will generally put your camera, rain gear, and anything else you want to stay dry and accessible to you during the day.

AzRA can store your duffels or suitcases while we are on the river, and deliver them back to you at the Peach Springs pullout, so one plan is to keep clean clothes and items you might use off-river in your luggage. This can help minimize what you bring on the river. And you can have that snazzy outfit clean and ready when you hit Vegas after the trip! 


Do I need to sign a release?

Yes. A release will be sent to you. You will need to sign it and return it to us prior to going on the trip. No release, no participation, no refund.


What about tipping?

It is customary to tip the crew 5%-10% of the cost of the trip, which is then divided among crew members. This of course depends on your satisfaction with the trip. At the end of the trip, NCSE staff will collect the anonymous donations in an envelope which then is given to the senior boatman, who divides it among the crew. Cash is preferred, as it is easier to divide up, but checks written to each crewperson can be written. There generally are four crew members, two per boat. Some people have brought blank checks and filled them out with names and amounts at the end of the trip. Otherwise, there is no reason to bring money on the trip — there is nowhere to spend it!