My favorite time came after dinner when the guides recounted stories of explorers and river runners, folks like John Wesley Powell, who went down the river with one arm, wood boats, scarce and spoiling supplies, and no surfeit of determination and courage. We would listen appreciatively, our bellies digesting brownies fresh from the Dutch oven, sparks from the campfire drifting up to join the stars.

Our existence mirrored the river's, and the river, in turn, proceeded like life, long spells of quiet interspersed with wild bouts of feverish activity.

Because, yes, there were the rapids. Again, floods of words have tried to define the Colorado's rapids - infamous torrents like Crystal, Hance, and Lava Falls. I will say only this: Those rapids, and others you've never heard of, are a force of nature that should be met at least once in your life. For the 19,000-plus folk who proceed down the Colorado each year, the rapids are a wet and wonderful Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. But they have meted out injury and death, too, which, of course, adds to the thrill.

We each came to these rapids with our own style. Just before a rapid called House Rock, Dennis Striegel turned to me. "Every time after we go through one of these, I wonder, 'Do I have my hat, do I have my glasses, do I have my teeth?' "

As we floated deep into the Canyon, the river began to take on a decided cant. We could actually see the river dropping away, an odd sight that leads one to better understand the trepidation of ancient mariners convinced they would drop off the edge of the world.

The Colorado's closest approximation to this is Lava Falls, 179 miles downriver from Lees Ferry, and the granddaddy of them all. As its name implies, it begins with an attention-getting spillover. Then all hell breaks loose.