Climb atop the great, twisting snake of the Colorado River as it slithers and strikes through the Grand Canyon's depths and take The Ride of Your Life.
It is a place where day and night arrive in their own languid time. Where all is sky, rock, and river. Where sun and moon touch rocks 1.7 billion years old, where water moves with a force that can pretzel steel, and the creak of oars is the loudest sound. Where bighorn sheep follow your progress while perched on ledges little wider than a pin, and within a mossy nook, if you turn your head just so, a waterfall creates a gauzy rainbow the size of a fingernail.

These are just words, and when it comes to rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, words fail miserably. Numbers, too. Between Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Mead, the Colorado River flows 277 miles. The river's average depth is 35 feet; its average speed is 4 miles an hour; its tem­perature, coming as it does from the depths of Glen Canyon Dam, 50 degrees. There are more than 160 rapids within the Can­yon's confines; in some, the river's speed increases appreciably. "I was told rafting through the Grand Canyon would be the best experience of my life," a woman once told me. "And rafting the Grand Canyon would be the second best ex­perience of my life, and the third …"

Such whispers had reached me for years. So I decided to take the only possible course. I went to see for myself.

Here's the best thing about rafting down the Colorado. Unlike other grand adventures - climbing Everest, meditating with puff adders - pretty much anyone can do it. Choose to sign on with a professional river outfitter (the waiting list for private trips is currently 15 years, though cancellations can make the wait shorter), and most companies require only that you be at least 12 years old for an oar trip and 8 to ride in a motorized craft. Other than that, you just have to adjust to a single pertinent reality.