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Sand Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Grand Canyon

By Brannon • October 21, 2021

Ask anyone who has been on the river to name things that are difficult to deal with in the Grand Canyon and 9 out of 10 will have sand on the list somewhere!

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. My first professional outdoor job was guiding sea kayaking trips in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. I learned very early how important it was to keep sand out of my world. I got good at it. Really good at it. No sand in my tent, no sand in my duffle bags, and no sand in my camera. I was unaware that I was playing with single A-level ocean sand. In the Southwest, we have major league, hall of fame sand. When I moved to Arizona I was humbled by the wee little grains that became a part of my adventures, my gear, and me.

Where Does the Sand Come From?

To fully appreciate the sand in the Grand Canyon (and the Colorado Plateau as a whole) we need to get just a little bit technical. Hundreds of millions of years ago, all of the sediment that came to make up the Grand Canyon was already very fine-grained. That’s what happens when the local environment is made of slow-moving water (deep seas and swamps): All the tiny particles that have been carried by rivers and ocean waves can finally settle on the bottom and not be disturbed. Through time and pressure, those small grains, packed together, turned into the majestic layers we see today. Now, add in the modern day erosion from wind and water, and those minuscule grains of sand are washed into the Colorado River, made even smaller, and they eventually make up the beaches we camp on today.

How to Deal with the Sand

Much like the stages of grief, I have moved through denial and anger to accept Grand Canyon sand. Here are some very important things that I have learned in my adventures that you can use to live in harmony with our fine-grained builders of beaches:

Use your cot: Your cot is your best defense against the sand. The mesh allows the sand to run through and shake off easily. Set your duffel bag on top of your cot so you have a sand-free place to go through it or change clothes. We also provide a tarp you can lay down next to your cot to give you a less sandy place to stand and store items.

Don’t get overwhelmed: Take a moment each day to shake things out. Once the sand is EVERYWHERE it can take a long time or be impossible to eradicate. This is a daily chore to take seriously.

Embrace it: You can’t get it all. I’ve tried. Nothing works. It will be in your duffle bag, it will be in your water bottle, it will be in your food, it will be in your sleeping bag, it will be in your hair, it will be in everything. That’s ok. It’s part of being in one of the most magical places on the planet.

Be Extra Careful with Electronics and Gear with Moving Parts: Sand is a much bigger risk to items like cameras and electronics with ports (power, headphone, speaker, etc.) or moving parts such as lenses, switches, and buttons. Be vigilant to keep these items off the ground. It’s a good idea to keep sensitive items in their own case that zips or rolls closed when not in use. Keep a clean cloth and/or a small brush handy for cleaning out the cracks and crevices. When in doubt, leave it at home.

The sand is just another part of a Grand Canyon trip that makes it Adventurous & Exciting!