Grand Canyon Experts | A conversation with Gary Ladd Part 1

Q  Let’s talk about river trips on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. You have experience with this as I recall?

A  I have been on over 40 river trips on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. I’m at 38 or 39 full trips and some 45 trips of all types [upper and lower half of the Canyon]

I recommend doing the whole thing – the entire way through Grand Canyon – because it

Grand Canyon River

Photo by Gary Ladd

takes a few days, sometimes a week, to get away from your former life and just become a river runner. You want to be someone who is just focused on Grand Canyon, and sometimes that takes a week on the River. Being on the River gives you a chance to become a new person – if you allow it. I suggest that you even consider changing your name during a River trip – it seems radical as an idea – but it gives you an opportunity, makes it a little easier, to become fully involved in this new world. I don’t like partial River trips and I know the boatmen don’t like them. The boatmen have to retrain a new group, say from the people who walk in to Phantom Ranch and do the lower half.

Q. What do you notice about this transformation in people when they float the Colorado?

A.  The things you are concerned about totally change. What you are focused on is completely different under these circumstances of a River trip. Instead of cell phones, computers and electronic gizmos, you are focused on being careful about drinking enough water, being safe on the River, and in Grand Canyon’s rugged terrain, just having a great time.

Q  Let’s get back to the different type of River trips for a minute. If you had to choose between running the upper or lower half what would you recommend?

A  If you can’t do the whole length of the River in Grand Canyon then I would recommend the upper half. I like the way you gradually descend. You can watch the various rock layers rise up out of the River and the rapids in Marble Canyon (the upper half) start out easier and eventually reach a crescendo.

Q  What about taking photographs in Grand Canyon?

A  As a photographer I prefer the upper part of the Canyon along the River corridor. I can

Grand Canyon River

Photo by Gary Ladd

get pictures of the River and the River corridor in the shade. I don’t like real contrasty pictures – and that’s what you get out in the sun. But if you pay attention in the mornings and evenings you can get great images when the River and surrounding canyon is in the shade.

Also in Marble Canyon you have younger Paleozoic rocks – there is a lot of red rock with sunlight reflecting onto red cliffs and the River is in the shade. I really enjoy the red rocks in the upper Canyon. Also in the upper Canyon the River is generally headed north to south and that helps photography. Between say River Mile 11 and 77 you are almost always surrounded by cliffs that are red. I really try to pay attention and take pictures of the River corridor with sunlight bouncing off those red cliffs – red light on red cliffs – the Supai and Redwall rock formations – that warm light on already red rocks produces a super red. The color contrast is really striking with the green river (because of algae in it when it’s running clear) and the red rocks.

Q  What do you consider some must stops along the Marble Canyon or the upper part of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon?

A  Well, I particularly like North Canyon because you have pools of water and red rocks. In

Lake Powell Grand Canyon

Photo by Gary Ladd

the morning and evening you have the reflection of red light down into the Canyon.

I really recommend the Nankoweap area too. And, I know that many other people would and do say the same thing. But the granaries at Nankoweap – it’s such an awesome view downriver from those granaries. The River camps around there are also beautiful. In particular what boatmen call the main camp is an astonishing place. There – in the right conditions – the cliffs are reflected in quiet water in the early morning right from camp. Also the Nankoweap downstream camp, also called the Point Camp, is very nice.

Q  What things have you noticed that stand out when you’ve done photography in Grand Canyon?

A  Well in my recent 15 years of doing photography workshops I’ve seen a lot of cameras smashed on rocks. Sometimes weird group dynamics swirl around, but this is really the exception and not the rule.

Also, I don’t really like what’s happening to photography. When you can use PhotoShop to change a person’s shirt color or remove telephone poles – I find those and other manipulations disgusting. I don’t like what’s happened.