The most stunning river in the nation demands an American original: the human-powered wooden dory. Stern, graceful, and guaranteed to deliver a visceral, feel-the-river-in-your-bones thrill, the dory has been a canyon icon since John Wesley Powell captained a proto-version down the Colorado River in 1869. No disrespect to reliable, bouncy rafts, but when you hit any of the Colorado’s 47 major sets of rapids in a dory, its rigid, narrow prow rides the froth like a spooked bronc under the steady control of an expert oarsman (a dory rower will apprentice for nearly a decade, longer than any other guide in the canyon).
Happily, the boats are also extraordinarily maneuverable, which may explain why pioneering river rat Martin Litton still paddles one. Even better: A trip on a dory is the slowest and longest of Grand Canyon river journeys, 15 to 18 days. That means time to debark and hike to places like Vasey’s Paradise, a ferny oasis where a waterfall tumbles into the canyon; rest in solitude inside Red Wall Cavern; climb to Anasazi granaries 1,500 feet (457 meters) above the river. You leave all sense of ordinary time behind, and life is reduced to the basics: Float. Eat. Drink. Gape. And hold on!
Need to Know: The Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association has an up-to-date list of dory guides.
Originally published in the March/April 2009 edition of National Geographic Adventure magazine