Plot Summary: Glenn goes on a 18-day river-rafting and kayaking trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with a group of experts including newlywed world-champion kayakers Richard Fox and Myriam Jerulsami. Other team members are Nolan Whitesell, Woody Callaway, and Kirk Baker, as well as team leader Mike Boyle. Along the way, they comment on the environmental dangers to the area such as the Glen Canyon Dam, the Navajo Generating Station, and uranium mining. They also share information about the Grand Canyon's history, composition, and animal/plant life, and explain some aspects of kayaking, canoeing, and rafting.
Part Description: Glenn narrates and scores this documentary. His compositions include some versions of past work, some instrumentals that would later appear in some form on Strange Weather (such as, obviously, the basis of the song River of Dreams), and some pieces heard solely on this program.
When he begins, he's a total novice, but eager to learn from the experts. He introduces his fellow teammates to the audience with a sense of awe. When the team starts out at Granite Canyon, he first watches the others, narrating their trip with information about kayaking, squirt boats, canoeing, and what exactly the experts are doing in them.
Glenn is introduced to white water travel at Granite Canyon himself in a paddle boat. He is lead paddler, and confesses to being scared as well as excited. Indeed, after a slow start, they really get going and take those rapids at a fast pace. Glenn does a great job and looks to be having a blast.
The team takes some time to look at an early version of the squirt boat from 1911 beached by the rapids. It was used in filming a silent movie! Glenn narrates the differences between older boats and today, and the progressions of small boat types from simpler canoes made of animal skins to the modern forms.
After this, Glenn takes a leisurely ride with Regan Dale, head of the "Oars" boating company. He gives Glenn a lesson on the history and composition of the Canyon. When Glenn is told that some estimate the canyon is about 1.8 billion years old and mankind only 60 million, he contemplates man's insignificance in the world. Additionally, he narrates the history of the early Indians as footage of an Indian granary is shown.
The building of the Glen Canyon Dam is recounted with dismay. The cold water lake it created to contain flood water killed wildlife, and the fluctuating flow of the water causes erosion. Without sufficient sediment, the environment suffers greatly.
We hear about Civil War veteran Maj. John Wesley Powell who climbed the Canyon in 1869. Then, as footage plays of the experts boating, Glenn talks about how it looks easy but is really extremely difficult because of the power of the water and the dexterity required to manipulate the crafts. Even the experts sometimes get overturned.
We then move on to talk about the humpback chub. It is a virtually extinct fish species studied by researchers and found only in this region. The chub is being harmed by the changes of environment caused by the dam. However, Glenn admits that the full effects of the dam are hard to determine because environments are constantly changing regardless of what man does.
Glenn gains an appreciation of nature and wildlife, and speaks of the "song of the river." Its remoteness from modern life moves him. In addition to the serious moments, a lot of fun is had. At one point, Glenn rides the oar boat down some rapids. He's in the bow holding on with one hand as it bucks, the other in the air, doing his "John Wayne impression."
In the next scene, as Glenn floats along the river, he emphasizes how important it is to teach conservation to children so that places like the "stone cathedral" of the Grand Canyon are protected. "This is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and if we, as Americans, can't protect this, what can we protect?" He continues:"One long-range solution to some of these problems is for us to start raising a generation of environmentally-conscious children, and making conservation and environmentalism as big a part of a child's education as math and reading."
We discover that the Navajo Generating Station is also a problem because of the pollution and haze it causes. Dave Wegner, the project manager for Glen Canyon environmental studies, tells us that the problem is that Glen Canyon Dam and the Navajo Generating Station are essential to powering a large area, so they can't just be shut down or done away with. They help ensure water deliveries and electric power to parts of Arizona, Nevada, California, and even Mexico. The people who run these projects have the unenviable task of trying to figure out how to minimize ecological damage without damaging the economy. As the general manager of the Rural Electric Association tells us, the costs of dealing with the ecological problems are very high - in the hundreds of millions - and energy prices will go up accordingly. If that happens, what will financially struggling irrigation farmers do? What will the people on fixed incomes do? The response from the environmentalists: people should be willing to sacrifice their money in order to preserve their surroundings.
Glenn is given basic lessons on double kayaking and gets into one with Kirk, which allows him to go down the challenging Little Colorado tributary. Since he's in the front, he can imagine himself to be plummeting down the rapids alone, and loves it. Over the next few days, Glenn continues to have a great time seeing the sights, taking more trips down rapids, and "living the river life." Images of the Canyon and the team boating are shown as"Livin' Right" plays.
Finally, the biggest adventure is ahead: going down the Lava Falls, next to which everything else was a "cake walk." The night before, legends of the falls are told by a campfire. We hear about the disappearance of a newlywed couple, a guy falling off a boat (he survived), etc. Fun stories, but not helpful for Glenn's nerves!
Since Lava's water level was running low due to the dam, rocks are exposed and provide an additional danger for the team. After the experts make some solo trips, it's time for the team to descend in the raft with Glenn. Glenn looks a bit scared but performs well and enjoys himself, even as he gets thrown around in the boat and slammed with water. There is a moment when a pontoon hits a rock and blows out, making the boat hard to steer, like "a car with a flat tire." They manage to paddle over to safety, however, exhilarated. Glenn dramatically declares that it doesn't matter that the boat is damaged because "we're all alive!"
At the end of the trip, looking rugged and outdoorsy with his unshaven face and water-slicked hair, Glenn quotes Edward Abbey: "The Great Canyon endures. The Canyon endures the trifling busyness of humans as it does the industry of ants, the trickle-down erosion of snow and freeze, the cascade of floods, the transient insult of Glen Canyon Dam. These things shall pass; the Canyon will outlive them all."