FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Hualapai tribe has shelved a plan to run rafting trips upriver in the Grand Canyon after it ran afoul of the National Park Service.
The tribe’s reservation in northwestern Arizona extends for more than 100 miles along the Colorado River and includes the only road to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. But the National Park Service governs the waterway, and its regulations prohibit upriver travel on most of it.
Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said the agency learned through a news release of the tribe’s plan to take passengers about three miles upriver from Diamond Creek year-round. The Hualapai’s plan to launch five boats upriver per day also would have exceeded the limit on river trips.
“This is a regulation that applies to all river users, and it would be in direct violation of the regulations in the book,” he said. “We’d rather not get to that point of trying to deal with enforcement but actually convincing them this isn’t safe, and it isn’t a good visitor experience.”
Dave Cieslak, a spokesman for the tribe, said last week that the tribe would hold off on its plans until it talks with the Park Service.
“For decades, the Hualapai tribe has worked closely with the National Park Service to provide an unforgettable experience for thousands of visitors to the Colorado River,” he said. “We respect the Park Service’s concerns and will postpone the launch of these new tours while we review the regulations and discuss our various options.”
The Hualapai’s daylong whitewater rafting trips that launch downriver from Diamond Creek are unaffected.
Hualapai River Runners manager Earlene Havatone said the tribe has done upriver excursions in the past and simply planned to reintroduce them March 15.
The tours were billed as a cultural experience. Passengers would leave from a tribal lodge in Peach Springs and travel down a primitive road to the river’s edge where they would board a motorized raft and travel upstream about 20 minutes to a lava cliff with petroglyphs. Havatone said passengers would learn about the Hualapai’s encounters with the U.S. cavalry, traditional trading partners on the river and other cultural tidbits.
“A lot of people don’t have that opportunity,” she said. “It’s an authentic experience.”
The Hualapai’s announcement of the river trips baffled groups representing both commercial river trips and self-guided ones. John Dillon, executive director of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association, said upriver travel above Separation Canyon, where two tributaries enter the river from the north and south about 40 miles from Lake Mead, clearly is prohibited by the Park Service.
“We’re not allowed to deviate from that plan,” he said. “We can’t just think of an idea we’d like to do and do it. I think that’s where everyone had pause.”
Tom Martin of River Runners for Wilderness said he’s not entirely convinced that the Hualapai’s plan won’t resurface. He said it would create danger in having motorized rafts and nonmotorized rafts coming at one another in a stretch of the river that already is congested.
River trips launching at Lees Ferry near Glen Canyon Dam either can take out at Diamond Creek or continue to Lake Mead in Nevada.
Everybody has to “play by the rules, and if you’re not going to play by the rules, we’re going to have to respond,” Martin said. “So when we see a statement that says ‘we’re going to postpone this,’ we’re still very, very concerned.”