14 Oct HIGHLIGHT OF MY INTERNSHIP – Suzanne El-Haj
Before my internship at the Grand Canyon, I never thought I would get the opportunity to river raft, especially not through the famous Colorado River. The purpose of the river trip was to monitor the effect that Glen Canyon Dam has on the riparian zone of the river. The dam has created fluctuating water levels which allows for growth of plants along the river shore. Some of these plants are invasive and some native, but all of them have a negative impact for boaters wanting to camp on the shores as well as impacts on protection for cultural resource sites. While on the river, I also contributed to my own project, monitoring for milkweed and monarchs. Over the course of the trip there were no milkweed sightings, however there were monarchs present, about 30 butterflies in total were spotted.
My river experience started by hiking down from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch and meeting up with the Vegetation crew. Over the course of 10 days, we traveled about 200 miles through the river and stopped every couple hours to work. Our work consisted of clearing vegetation and managing weeds via hand pulling, digging, and herbicide along the shores. The work was labor intensive and conditions in the canyon were extreme. However, to my surprise, I enjoyed every bit of it.
We did not only work, we also had time set aside to explore side canyons, hike to waterfalls, and swim on the beach. The entire experience was grand! We had expert boaters guide us through the river and prepare our meals and set up camp every evening. It definitely was a go with the flow type of experience because every campsite was different and weather conditions were unexpected. For the most part it was hot, like really hot where you could easily get heat exhaustion. So cooling down in the river was essential, however you could not swim for too long before getting hypothermia! In general conditions were extreme but I never felt unsafe or unwell. As long as we took care of ourselves and each other, everything turned out fine.
My favorite part of the experience was the rapids, cowboy camping, and the people. Prior to my river trip I was terrified of the rapids, expecting worse than they actually were. In the end I realized the rapids are like fun water roller coaster rides that occasionally splashed cold water on you! It did help that we were on a 37 foot long boat so not once did anyone fall out (as long as they held on tight to the boat straps). Cowboy camping was fun and new to me, I usually always set up a tent because of the fear of insects or animals. However, in the canyon we camped on cots and sleeping mats under the stars. It was beautiful and relaxing to see the bright stars and moon fade into the sunshine every morning.
My peers on the trip really made it what it was. This NPS crew had some of the best characters I have met. Everyone was so bright, enthusiastic and hilarious! I am so grateful that my supervisors allowed me to participate on this river trip. White water rafting through the Grand Canyon was an unforgettable experience that I will always cherish.
To end my internship here at the Grand Canyon I will be writing an article for the Boatman’s Quarterly review about my experience river rafting and the importance of monarch conservation on the river. I will also be collaborating with Antonio and he will be including his river experience as well. Our article is expected to be published in the Winter edition of the Boatmans Article, I can’t wait!