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NCSE Grand Canyon Raft Trip FAQ

Welcome to the FAQ for the NCSE Grand Canyon 2015 raft trip, which will run from July 2-10! All Grand Canyon trips include spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company of people excited about science. 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's 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.

Join us for this wild adventure, July 2 — July 10, 2015.

Key Dates

  • July 2, 2015: orientation meeting at 7 pm at the DoubleTree Hilton, in Flagstaff, AZ.
  • July 3, 2015: early morning bus ride to Lee's Ferry launch site
  • July 10, 2015: land at Diamond Creek (river mile 225) and transfer to bus to Peach Springs, AZ. Transfer to bus to Flagstaff, arriving in afternoon. (Late arrival means many will fly out the following day.)

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 over a dozen times in past years, 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 (newton@ncse.com) or Josh (rosenau@ncse.com).

Frequently asked questions about NCSE's Grand Canyon River Run

How much does it cost?

The 2015 Grand Canyon Raft Trip costs $2,760. This includes a small surcharge to cover NCSE's expenses related to the trip, so that we are able to break even. To reserve your place, contact NCSE and arrange to send us a deposit of $500. The remaining $2,260 is due by April 30, 2015.

Teacher scholarship

We all love and want to support science teachers, but unfortunately it is financially difficult for many teachers to ever experience an educational rafting trip in Grand Canyon. NCSE is doing something about this, and you can help.

We would like to ask you to consider sponsoring a teacher’s trip with NCSE on the Grand Canyon, by adding a tax-deductible donation to your ticket; if every rafter donates $185, that would cover a teacher's costs. Helping a science teacher have a once-in-a-lifetime experience and enrich their teaching and the lives of their students, is something NCSE thinks is worthwhile, and we hope you will, too.

What if I need to cancel?

If you have to cancel before April 30, 2015, 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.

If you have to cancel after April 30, 2015, 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 in past years.

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 2 to the afternoon of July 10 (8 days on the river).

When and where do we meet?

We will meet at the DoubleTree Hilton in Flagstaff for an orientation on July 2 at 7pm. (Details from AzRA’s logistics page can be found here: https://azraft.com/trip-planning/logistics/full-canyon-logistics/.) Please plan to arrive and check in prior to that time. 

AzRA has a deal with the DoubleTree for booking at $104 plus tax (928-773-8888). There are also other hotels nearby as well, though we will have the orientation and pickup at the DoubleTree. If you are driving to Flagstaff, the DoubleTree can accommodate long-term parking. 

What happens after we get the Doubletree Hilton in Flagstaff on July 2?

We will have an orientation meeting with AzRA at the Doubletree in Flagstaff, at about 7 PM on July 2. We will receive:

  • one large dry bag, into which we will repack our clothes and gear
  • one smaller dry bag, for use on the raft during the day
  • coffee mug
  • waterproof river guidebook
  • NCSE t-shirt

Another dry bag containing a sleeping bag, bag liner, and tarp will already be loaded on the boats when we arrive. AzRA also loads the boats with tents (one per couple, or one per individual).

AzRA has kindly offered to store duffels and suitcases for us while we are on the river.

On the morning of July 3 we will be picked up at the Doubletree at 6:45 am and transported to Lee’s Ferry (about a 2 hour drive), where our boatmen and boats will be waiting for us. From our launch on July 3 to July 10, we will enjoy one another’s company as well as the beauty and natural history of Grand Canyon.

What happens after the trip is over?

We will camp as usual on the night of July 9, and at about 10 am on July 10, 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 back to Flagstaff. AzRA estimates arrival at Flagstaff between 3-7 pm, so plan accordingly for return flights. Many people prefer to fly out the next day.

What does the cost cover, then?

The price you pay for the trip, $2,760, covers transportation from Flagstaff to Lee's Ferry, the river trip beginning at Lee's Ferry on July 2 through take-out on July 10, and a shuttle back to Flagstaff. All meals on the river will be provided, but you may choose to bring additional beverages (such as alcohol or soft drinks).

You additionally will pay for your airfare, lodging, and dinner on July 2, and breakfast July 3 at the Doubletree, and lodging and meals on July 10 if you stay in Flagstaff. Rafters are also encouraged to bring a tip for the exceptional crew who will guide us through the river. 

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 trip

The "S-rig" 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 for blisters!) 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 for an emergency medevac). 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 and the boatmen holler "Hot coffee!" (you will find you quickly adapt to a sunrise/sunset schedule), eating a leisurely breakfast, then breaking camp, motoring down river for a couple of hours and discussing the geology and natural history and human history of the area, 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. It’s always possible to wait at the boats or opt for a less strenuous activity. 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 formation

Yes! We have had people with many different degrees of mobility come on this trip in the past, and the outfitter has been very accommodating. Steve and Josh can help rafters as well. That said, we recommend consulting with your physician before committing to the trip if you have any concerns, given the difficulties of receiving medical assistance should the need arise

One thing to consider is getting into and out of the boats. Typically this involves a large step from a wet, sandy shore onto a cluster of ropes strung near the bow of the boat. Think of this in terms of stepping up onto a chair. If one has painful knees, this maneuver might be difficult, though on past trips fellow rafters have been very willing to assist people with getting on and off the boats. If you have concerns about this, please contact Josh (rosenau@ncse.com) or Steve (newton@ncse.com) to discuss the trip and your abilities.

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 somewhat 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. One good way to regulate your body temperature is to wade into the river during our shore stops, then warm back up when the boats are moving.

Dehydration is always an issue, and we remind you to stay well hydrated by drinking more frequently than you do at home. 

Weather

Although many days will be quite hot, we have experienced the occasional afternoon/evening rain. It is the monsoon season in the Southwest, with occasionally very heavy rainfall. Using one of AzRA’s tents or bringing your own is highly recommended. You can always decide to not use it if the weather is nice, as sleeping outside is a good way to beat the nighttime heat.

What does the outfitter provide?

image of outfitters preparing food

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. 

Drinks

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 Flagstaff. One consideration: glass bottles are not allowed, for the common sense reason that broken glass and rubber rafts do not mix well.

Bedding and camping gear

AzRA will supply a sleeping bag, pad, bag liner, and one tent per couple or individual rafter. You are welcome to bring your own gear, but AzRA’s supplies are excellent.

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?

AzRA will provide a tent (one for each couple, or one per single rafter), a sleeping bag, a ground tarp, and a thick sleeping bad. If you wish to bring your own tent and sleeping bag, that will work, too. 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 provide an NCSE trip t-shirt, and AzRA will provide you a waterproof guidebook.

Clothes should be lightweight, light-colored, and quick drying. Swimwear is best while on the raft; with regular rapids splashing the boats, plan on being wet during the day.

Jeans are not practical: they are hot, and if they get wet, they take a long time to dry. Wet jeans will also rub the skin off of your legs. Avoid wearing cotton against your skin (including underwear or t-shirts), since that can sap body heat on cloudy days. Nylon or other quick-drying fabrics are good choices, as is wool, which stays warm when wet.

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). A pair of sandals also works well for getting around camp. People have not had good luck with Crocs.

Rain gear is of particular importance for occasional downpours and, more importantly, for rapids. The river water is cold (about 50 degrees F) and you will 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 quick succession of rapids. 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 with a neckstrap or lanyard, and (above all) rub-proof, sweat-proof, waterproof sun block.

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, and how little gear. AzRA has a handy packing list. The outfitter will provide you with one river bag (about 3 cubic feet of space) in which you will pack your clothes, and another for your sleeping kit. 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. Many people also clip Camelpaks or similar water backpacks to the boat 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 give you clean clothes for the return to civilization.

Do I need to sign a release?

Yes. A release from AzRA 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 7%-12% of the cost of the trip, which is then divided among crew members. This of course depends on your satisfaction with the trip, but we’ve found that rafters are amazed and how hard our crew work for us, and want to reward them appropriately. At the last night, 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 can also be written to each crewperson. 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!