Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

The Year, Part II – A threat to the Grand Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim, Uncategorized by canyoneering on December 19, 2017


The forecast has looked awful all week. This is never a good thing when heading into the canyon lands. You may have gotten a sense of this when reading my last postbut for this excursion it was for an entirely different reason than the fear of a flash flood. Despite the forecast, I am joined by Grand Canyon explorer Rich Rudow into the remote western part of the Grand Canyon on an Arizona Republic/ reporting trip to visually document the hundreds of helicopter flights per day that leave from Las Vegas. They offer tourists a chance to fly into the canyon along the Colorado River and get back to the slot machines in a matter of hours. With the rain and wind however in the forecast would the Las Vegas tourists choose to see Penn and Teller instead? Would the tour operators even still fly? For me it’s a long way to travel to document what the activists are calling “Good Morning Vietnam” if all the helicopters are grounded.

Grand Canyon Helicopter

After a 10- hour drive, followed by an all day off trail hike, dropping nearly 5,000 vertical feet through multiple layers of geology I hear my first helicopter. Clouds fill the sky but the ground remains dry.  We reach the river and set up camp. Helicopters buzz over head around every 15 minutes. Rich comments that the volume is down. He thinks because of the weather. Until now the skies have stayed dry but halfway through my chicken and dumplings Mountain House the weather begins.

Grand Canyon Helicopter

The rains come in heavy and quickly. We haven’t seen a helicopter in 20 minutes and I assume the popular sunset tours have been cancelled because of the storm. Just then I can hear the drone of rotors approaching. A pair fly directly over the river and land on the opposing bank a quarter mile upstream. As I’m being hammered by rain I shoot stills and video of the helicopters. Night begins to close in and the helicopters remain grounded. Red and white lights flashing on their tails can be made out through the thick atmosphere. “I think they’ve found themselves fucked out there,” Rich comments besides me. He elaborates, they are not supposed to be here after dark but the weather may be preventing them from getting out. The winds bring them good fortune and they die down slightly as do the rains. Just before full dark they take off and head back to the lights of Sin City.

Grand Canyon Helicopter

We retire to Rich’s tents and go horizontal. While sharing in the pleasant chit chat of adventures past I notice a warm glow illuminating the walls of the tent. I race outside to see the most amazing Grand Canyon sunset I’ve ever seen. The light show of the Fountains of Bellagio have got nothing on this.

Grand Canyon Helicopter

The following morning, less than an hour after sunrise the noise can be heard before they can be seen. Its a striking juxtaposition to this wild and remote place. Then they start coming one after another and that pristine essence is shattered. Rich and I spend the better part of the day walking along the river documenting chopper after chopper. Some claim it is the busiest helicopter corridor in the world. Though I can’t verify this it wouldn’t surprise me. Long after losing count on the actual number, Rich and I begin the long trek back to the rim. The following morning I have a rendezvous with friends for another nearby adventure. The rain didn’t stop the helicopters, but as you may already know it will stop this one, only creating a different one.


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Creek boating: kayaking, canyoneering routes in flood stage

Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on May 3, 2016

As canyoneers we have wondered what it would be like to be in many of the canyons we explore in flood stage. Cody Howard is one of those people who has seen it first hand, having run first kayaking descents of Salome Jug, Christopher Creek, Upper Salome and others, during super high flows. With the 2016 winter being a predicted banner El Nino I was assigned for my job as an Arizona Republic staff photographer to shoot stills and video of Cody during his creek boating, aka creeking, aka steep creeking adventures around Arizona. I met Cody for the first time at his Scottsdale home so we could get to know each other and get some interview footage. The El Nino never left much of an imprint on Arizona and even after spending an entire day with Cody and his pals searching for white water in the Bradshaw Mountains of central Arizona, I was left with no footage. Fortunately, Cody had plenty of his own video from over the years and I was able to use his it to produce the above video. If you like the video, check out the amazing story “Up a Creek with a paddle: Desert kayakers chase the water” by Arizona Republic reporter Ron Dungan.


2014 Year in Photos

Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on January 5, 2015

Chris and Scott in beautiful light.

Seven years in the sport. This year ventured into new canyons in familiar ground and went out to all together new territory. From Colorado Plateau skinnies to Class C gems to family outings in narrow places it was a wonderful year.


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Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on September 1, 2014



As professional photographers Laura and I are both used to seeing our images published in print. From the pages of the New York Times to the Arizona Republic to USA Today our photojournalism and portraiture is printed on a regular basis. Our canyoneering photography has always been more of just a weekend warrior labor of love, so when we get these images published its kind of exciting. In the last four months we have had quite a few of these photographs published in various publications, including Arizona Highways, Red Bulletin magazine, Phoenix Magazine and the Arizona Republic. Check out the slideshow and in the captions you will be able to link to the trips these images came from.

One footnote, the story in the Arizona Republic was about the 50- year anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act. Arizona alone has 90 wilderness areas at over 4.5 million acres. Arizona Republic reporter Ron Dungan and I explored what lead to the United States becoming perhaps the first nation to designate land to preserve it solely for its wild character. We also looked at the conundrums of wilderness today and why wilderness is important for future generations. To read Ron’s story, a video I produced on four perspectives of people deeply connected to wilderness and a slideshow of my images highlighting Arizona’s magnificent wilderness click here.


2013 Year in Photos

Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on January 6, 2014

Eric, Mark and Cody traverse a ledge in the Temple Butte narrows in Olo Canyon.

Another year. Six years now actually that I’ve been lucky enough to partake in this sport and the amazing places that it allows one to witness and experience. Along the way some new partnerships and friendships have been forged. Highlights included: a multi-day trip into the tight slots of Ticaboo Mesa near Lake Powell. An overnight backpack with Laura and my son, Wyatt, in Aravaipa Canyon. An all business four day trek through some of the best technical slots of the Grand Canyon. Getting to share with Laura one of my favorite descents in Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park. And a 45- mile paddle filled with fun and relaxation down the Green River through Labyrinth Canyon. The year ended right with back to back cold, watery descents in the final two weekends of the year in the Mazatzal Mountains. Before leaving for the final trip, Wyatt, now three asked me, “You going canyoneering? I want to go too.” Another year. Here is a look back.


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2012 Year in Photos

Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on February 4, 2013


2012 was a very special year in the canyon lands. Crossing the Atlantic for our first international descents to a successful run at Poe Canyon may have been the highlights but there were many other equally special moments in between. Below is a collection of those moments in our favorite photos of the year. We hope you enjoy.

– Laura and David


2011 Year in Photos

Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on January 13, 2012


Another year. This one was strikingly different from those before. As 2010 came to a close and 2011 began, our son Wyatt was just a month old. While this effected the number of canyons we got out to explore, particularly for Laura, it did not effect the quality of exploration ranging from pushing hard, physical and technical canyons in new territory to venturing into the canyonlands with Wyatt, along. We will see you in 2012!

2010 Year in Photos

Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on January 5, 2011


I may be a little late in posting this but give me a break, I have been busy. On 11/26/10, the day after Thanksgiving, Laura gave birth to our son, Wyatt Aaron Segall Wallace. This is not a baby blog so I’ll let you watch the show, but stay turned for an upcoming blog post on Wyatt’s first canyon exploration. Oh yeah, 2010 was an amazing year exploring the canyon lands.

David & Laura

24- hours in Wilderness First Aid

Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on October 18, 2010

Several years ago I took a basic first aid class that lasted three hours at a public library. I figured with all of the time that I spend in the outdoors it would be good to have at least a little bit of training in first aid. As could be expected the class did not delve that deep and I did not leave feeling that I would be prepared to deal with the myriad of situations that could arise during the course of my adventuring in the wilds. On a recent canyoneering trip, my buddy, Clint, talked about how he was trying to organize a wilderness first aid class to be taught by the Wilderness Medicine Outfitters.

In late September the class was held over three very hot day days at Roosevelt Lake. Our instructor, Marc McDonald, was excellent during the intense 24- hour course. Just some of the topics we covered were anatomy and physiology, patient assessments, bleeding control and bandaging, splinting, hypothermia, spinal immobilization, bites and stings, legal issues, extrication and what to have in your first aid kit. One of my favorite things about the class were the number of scenarios we enacted and dealt with as if they were real life situations. It was also great that all of the students in the class and our instructor, Marc, are all technical canyoneers, so much of the course was geared towards what we could face. I highly recommend this class, particularly to those of you are out there playing hard in some remote places. Check out Wilderness Medicine Outfitters’ website.


Climbing & canyon rescue practice between canyoneering trips

Posted in Uncategorized by canyoneering on April 2, 2010

Pinnacle Peak Park

On the weekend between two significant Utah canyoneering trips, we decided to leave the wetsuits at home, not fill the gas tanks all the way and head to nearby Pinnacle Peak Park for some climbing and canyon rescue practice. John, Eric and myself worked on haul systems and converting a static rappel block into a lowering system. These would be used for a person either stuck or injured on rappel or if not enough rope was deployed to reach the ground. After successfully working these systems on the ground we worked them with one of us actually on rappel off the ground. It was great practice and we squeezed in a few climbs as well, including a difficult 5.10 crack climb.