FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Grand Canyon boasts some of the most spectacular views in the world, revealing a rich geological history that few ever see from the Colorado River that formed it millions of years ago.
Those eager to watch rare animals emerge from the cliff sides, camp under the stars and get an adrenaline rush as they soar over rapids must get a permit if they want to lead one of hundreds of the trips available through a lottery each year.
One in eight will get one - a dramatic shift from a system that once had applicants waiting up to 27 years for that chance. While it's a gamble that results in more losers than winners, the National Park Service and rafters say there is renewed hope for those wanting to run private trips.
"Most people have some pretty good hope for this," said Steve Sullivan, river permits manager for Grand Canyon National Park. "In the old way, it squashed that."
Grand Canyon National Park has collected six years of data on the lottery system since it made the switch from the waiting list in 2006 and doubled the amount of private launch opportunities. Paying a rafting company for a commercial trip leads to a much faster launch for those wanting to snake down hundreds of miles of the river, and joining another private river trip could, too.