It is fitting that Bert Loper was born on July 31, 1869 – the same day that John Wesley Powell discovered the confluence of the Colorado and San Juan Rivers on his famous expedition of what was then uncharted territory in the Grand Canyon.
Known as the “Grand Old Man of the Colorado,” Loper was a whitewater rafting pioneer in the west and died on the river on a boating adventure at the age of 79.
Born in Missouri and on his own at the age of 13, Loper ventured west and worked as a ditch digger, a muleskinner and a hard-rock miner before making his way to the San Juan River in 1893, where he developed a love for the water. Though jobs and military service in the Spanish-American War took him away, he eventually returned.
In 1916, with Ellsworth Kolb, Loper was the first person to boat through Utah’s Westwater Canyon. In 1920, Loper served as the lead boatman on the USGS survey mission to find a suitable place to build a dam in the Black Canyon, which was the future location of Hoover Dam.
Nearing his 70th birthday in 1939, Loper joined Don Harris and became one of the first parties to run every rapid in the Grand Canyon. The trip was such a rush that Loper and Harris pledged to duplicate the feat 10 years later.
For the return trip in 1949, Loper constructed a new boat called The Grand Canyon. He started the trip on July 7, three weeks before his 80th birthday, leading Harris and two additional boats. The next day, Loper’s watercraft flipped in the 24 ½-Mile Rapid in the Grand Canyon’s Marble Gorge. He was last seen motionless, floating downriver. That evening, Loper’s group found his boat and dragged it high on the shore near mile 41, where it lies today.
A monument to Loper and accomplishments on the Colorado remains at the site where his decaying boat rests.
Adventure seekers today can encounter areas of the Grand Canyon that can only be seen from the water – like emerald pools, hidden waterfalls, colorful flowers and thriving wildlife. Grand Canyon Expeditions offers eight-day motorized boat tours and 14-day to 16-day Dory boat trips on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
The guided tours include hiking remote areas of the canyon, learning about the natural splendor and scintillating history of the area, swimming in side canyons and running class IV whitewater rapids.
The Grand Canyon features a diverse and majestic geological extravaganza. It stretches for 277 miles, measures from four to 18 miles in width, and averages a mile in depth. Covering more than 1.2 million acres, the semi-arid canyon consists of raised plateaus, steep-walled canyons, desert basins at lower elevations and forests at higher elevations. Canyon walls provide wide-ranging fossil specimens, a vast array of geological features and rock types, and numerous caves.
Though the Grand Canyon is a desert, it is teeming with plants and wildlife. Cactus and wildflowers dot the riverbanks as well as cool glens with tumbling waterfalls and ferns. Grand Canyon Expeditions passengers might see bighorn sheep, mule deer, coyotes, and ringtail cats along the riverbanks and in tributary canyons. Hawks, golden eagles, falcons, great blue herons and egrets fly overhead.
The eight-day excursions cover the entire 277 miles of the canyon, beginning at Lees Ferry, Arizona (in Grand Canyon National Park) and ending at Pearce Ferry on Lake Mead. During the adventure, passengers will negotiate nearly 200 exciting white water rapids in safety and first-class comfort.
For people who want to experience the grandeur of the river and the canyon at a more leisurely pace, Grand Canyon Expeditions offers the 14-day to 16-day Dory trips. Sturdy wooden vessels that are designed to withstand the rigors of whitewater, Dory boats allow passengers to see the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon much like Powell and his men.
To make reservations for any Grand Canyon Expeditions tour, visit www.gcex.com, e-mail [email protected] or call 800-544-2691.
Before embarking on one of the tours, guests can get a preview of the Grand Canyon’s splendor at the National Geographic Visitor Center. Located at the south rim entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park, the Visitor Center is home of the IMAX film, Grand Canyon: The Movie and the famous Condor Encounter Live Bird Show.
The National Geographic Visitor Center and Grand Canyon Expeditions has teamed to offer an eight-day Grand Canyon rafting trip for two. To enroll for the contest, visit. http://explorethecanyon.com/contest/.