Remember the walk that Luke, Tommy, Rhett and I took yesterday morning, day 5? Well, lucky for us, Luke has photographic evidence of it! That’s Rhett up there paying attention and me astounded that I’m actually on top of that rounded red rock face.
On this, our last day, coffee was hot and the tents came down. We all scrounged for the last of the good breakfast eats (and there was plenty of it). Bags were packed and stacked to be loaded. Soon enough, it was time to move out.
I had my stuff packed up as I’d been trained to do, sitting around while the guys all worked. I sure didn’t want to get in their way! My camera and I kept an eye out for a few more memorable photographic objects, like this little one!
Another you-have-to-remember-this-one was an amazing piece of driftwood – looks like a root to me – that I know Tommy really wanted to take it home. A portion of it looked just like a brain! Whose brain I’m not quite sure.
Luke broke out the best hat (much better than my sacrificed one) of the trip – with hair! He looked just like someone I used to work with in a San Francisco medical clinic…and I was cracking up!
We entered Arches National Park on our way to the Moab take-out beach landing, sailing through our last day on White’s Rapids – woo hoo! I read in the river guidebook that in the late 40’s and early 50’s, John Ford filmed two of his movies, Wagonmaster and Rio Grande right here off the river on White’s Ranch.
Another 20 beautiful miles – loving life – enjoying every minute of it.
We had a cool breeze on the river and the sun followed us down river. My lips, for the past few days now, were sunburned and stinging — of all the sunscreen lip balms I had on me — I was using the one with not one drop of SPF! And didn’t realize it until it was too late. Now that was stupid!
When it came time to put out in Moab, the river was not giving much room in the eddy to pull into the pull out ramp. Fred and Tommy were able to row their rigs in all right, but darn if Rhett didn’t miss it, ending up twenty feet downriver on a muddy, weed swollen sandbar.
Rhett and Luke grabbed hold of the boat and pulled it to the ramp where it was supposed to be. We each took turns helping to get the boats onto the trailers, where they were hoisted into place for the drive home. We said our good–byes with handshakes and hugs and Fred and I went our merry way out of the canyon and the drive home with some fine tunes playing on the car radio.
Kudos to all the river trippers – Rhett, Tommy and Luke – and especially to my brother Fred, my real live life saver! Happy Birthday – I love you!I admit I had an empty feeling, being off the river with the trip at an end. Does everyone feel like that when the ride ends? It took me a while to get my bearings.
Thanks for the trip of a lifetime!
And I get to go with him this time! Along with his hand picked fellow rafters and river guides, Rhett, Tommy and Luke. A few other besties were scheduled to join us and had to bow out for other more important things that came along in life. I’m glad that wasn’t me.
I originally posted much of this material on my Facebook page and decided for continuity’s sake I should write it up as a blog. So if you didn’t see my “6/6/19 – Fred’s Annual Birthday Trip – the Big 7-O!” album you’re in for a treat!
The day before leaving for this big adventure, we spent a few hours – we meaning mostly Fred – building a boat! We worked at Fred’s place right there on the Roaring Fork River. And it was roaring!
I was perfectly capable of lugging stuff to the appropriate pile on the ground near the boat, but Fred’s the only one who could stow it where he wanted. You know how it is. Everything in its proper place, right where it belongs and where it can be found when you want it!
On our appointed day to hit the river, we head out in the pick-up truck to Fruita. Some blue boat and trailer kept following us the intire way. lol. We stop a few places to pick up those last minute supplies – foodstuffs, ice, more beer, more ice and other essentials for the trip. The tequila was safely stowed away.
It wouldn’t last long.
The river is “high water” now, approximately 34,000 cubic feet per second, and not to be taken lightly. Between Fred and his boat-mates, they figured they have about 140 years of experience on the water; I was completly relaxed and confident that all was well. And it was.
Our journey started in Ruby Horsethief Canyon, eventually moving into Westwater and Skull Rapid – now that was a day! More on that later…
We put in at the ramp in Fruita at RimRock Adventures. Each boatman had his own way of doing things, each put-in was a bit different. I got to meet our fellow adventurers – Luke and Rhett, and was reacquainted with Tommy Myers whom I’d met on an earlier trip to the Colorado River to boat with my brother.
In between the time that Tommy, Fred and Rhett pulled in to the ramp, backing their trailers to the river’s edge to get the boats into the water, other guys and their trailers and their people pulled in and I’m sure, innocently enough, messed with our own operation. We were just glad later on, that “those guys” weren’t camping close to where we were! Rhett’s two sisters Cathy and Lisa were on hand to send us off and away we went.
Just down the river aways, I got this first day lucky shot of a great blue heron keeping an eye on us. No matter how much I wanted it, I never did get a shot of one in flight, or of an eagle in flight, either. Each time a great bird flew over us, my damn camera was in it’s case or in some other not-in-my-hand place.
I order a copy of one of Fred’s Guidebooks: River Maps: Guide to the Colorado & Green Rivers in the canyonlands of Utah and Colorado. There is a wealth of information about turn of the river, so to speak. The history of the river’s path, millions of years of geology in the making, the people who came before – I’m loving all of it.
High water was definitly one of the defining factors on our trip. The entire length of the river, low water eddies and campsites were missing or under water – a lot of water and not anything to mess around with. Out of curiosity or need, (I’m not sure which) one or another of the guys would check on his phone or some other electronid device for the cfs (Cubic feet per second) each day we were out. They read the currents and adjust their path through the water based on their many years of experience.
The out of this world – really part of this world – natural landscapes, geological formations grabbed my heart and won’t let go. I can’t read enough about it, my curiosity has the best of me and I’m looking forward to learning more about this neighborhood.
It seems I’m continuously shaking my head, sighing and awestruck with the beauty of it all. It’s a leisurely first day and I try not to miss any of it!
I’m starting to learn the routine now. Doesn’t take long. Open your eyes, Kathy. Put in to a campsite, take it easy for a time – river time – and then grab my gear to get my tent put up and my stuff inside of it.
This first night, the guys enjoy themselves, laughing if you can imagine, as I attempt to put up my borrowed-from-Tommy tent. What?!
“I could watch you all night trying to do that…but no…” Tommy says, he and Fred giggling, “they snap on like this!”
I’m warned not to leave anything outside that a nasty little scorpion – about this big! they say – could crawl into – so I leave nothing outside! Each night, I rifle through my zip locked belongings in the dry bag, removing this shirt or another and packing it all back in the next day. My toke bag, water bottle, head-night-lamp and my glasses are always in a certain left corner of the tent. One pair of glasses “for on the river with that little croakie tied on”, and my fav newly minted glasses I wear on land.
My new sleeping bag and softer-than-soft-socks keep me warm all night long. I never wear the socks outside – I don’t want one bit of sand in at least one thing I’m wearing – my pair of night socks!
We settled our first night in Bull Draw camp after a wonderul first day on the river, five hours and counting. The scenery is such I can’t look away.
Fred is the chef tonight. I find myself thinking of other chefs in my family, starting with Dad’s Dad who was a cook in the Merchant Marines, then Dad, who was a chef himself, and then my oldest son Rob, a trained chef and author.
Menu consisted of salmon patties grilled and loaded with guacamole, sliced sweet onion and tomatoes! Yummmmm. The next day was his breakfast duty – french toast, bacon and fresh fruit. Tasty indeed!
Dinner was over, dishes washed and drying and it was time for some story-telling and tequila! The story-telling on the trip is the best!
I notice Rhett didn’t make the cut in photos today. Either the camera was stowed or he was out doing a fine job of scouting just the right place for the groover.
And yes, I found the groover and it’s a spectacular view! It’s just a short walk from my tent below a canyon wall with no little crawling bugs. Or at least I don’t see any of them.
And then it’s time to call it a night. I’m in early my tent-home and I can just barely hear the laughter and voices of the boatmen in the camp kitchen. Good nite!
Each day of this trip would bring an amazing array of waterscapes, landscapes, changing skies, animal life, flora and fauna, joking, wonderful conversation, peace and joy. By the end of the week, my eyes and lips were fried by the awesomeness of it all!
These days with my brother was an amazing gift and I’ll cherish it always. I’m so happy this adventurous life never gets old.
Day five and this stretch of river delivers us into the spacious and beautiful Professor Valley and Richardson Amphitheatre, named for Sylvester “The Professor” Richardson, who established a ranch in 1879. A post office was established, a store opened up, and soon enough they had a town. Not just a professor, he was the true Renaissance man, a top-notch physician, musician, geologist, teacher, author, druggist, surveyor and assayer. The town died out a few years after the Professor, who gave up the ghost in 1902, at just 79-years old.
The Moab Daily section of the river begins 3 miles up from our two-day camp. Lots of fun rapids here – and for the professional guides and others who stay in the boat – not anywhere as dangerous as what we had on Fred’s birthday! This 13-mile stretch of river is busy with lots of day trippers and a few over-niters as well. Three of the four Onion Creek campsites were above water, thankfully, and we pulled into one of them.
For miles now, we’ve seen from afar the Fisher Towers aka Colorado River Pipe Organs, but now we’re in the same neighborhood – truly amazing! The tallest of them, the Titan, was first climbed in 1962 by climbing legends Huntley Ingalls, Layton Kor, and George Hurley. And no, I’m not going up there. At least not this trip.
The plan was to stay two nights at Onion Creek, and on the second day, we found more time to relax, not having to take the time and energy to unload and reload the boats in the same 12 hour period. Luke, Rhett, Tommy and I took a morning walk, leaving Fred behind to – do what? I don’t know. We thought he’d make breakfast. The joke was on us! From high on the cliffs we could see far beyond – all along the river valley. It was a totally different view from the one we have down in the boat. Duhhh.
We had potluck dinner and breakfast, as always – plenty of food. We still had fresh fruit, including a nice cold ripe and juicy cantaloupe, sweet pineapple chunks, and watermelon. Hot coffee always hit the spot. I love that coffee pot! A bright and shiny stainless steel four-burner cookstove sits atop the kitchen table – a portable solid wood approximately 2′ x 6′ top with screw in metal legs. I’m a novice – it all amazed me, the equipment (and expertise) that’s needed for these multi-day trips. I do know that these guys invest a lot of money in the best they can buy. Their stuff lasts and is upgraded continually, it seems. One guy has a new this or that, the other guy envies and wonders if wants one of those!
There’s also a fire box, complete with fireproof pad to provide a little campfire or to cook up a big steak.
Ever heard of a groover? It’s a portable bathroom made up of a camp toilet, buckets of pump-on-demand clean water for handwashing, soap, hand sanitizer, and an ammo box (used for loads and loads of things on a boat) stocked with dry toilet paper.
At the end of the trip, the actual groover poop-&-stuff is dropped off at an official groover station. No, I didn’t go there. That was Rhett’s job. At each campsite, Rhett and Luke scouted around and located the best groover spot for a secluded experience – with a great view. They didn’t disappoint. A colorful lei hanging near the groover was the signal that the groover room was empty. Grab the lei and go!
With some time on our hands, we explored along the trails, relaxed, did some reading and threw in a few naps. Climbing over the low hanging cliffs, along slippery trails and amongst the wildflowers was good exercise after so much time spent sitting on my butt in the boat. The rowers, they get plenty of exercise. But other than that short swim I had, the walks at campsites were my exercise. Well, unpacking and packing back and forth was a bit of exertion, but not that much.
The day rolled out easily enough, we each found that spot to relax, do some reading, absorb the scenery and nap – the napping was fine. The challenge was in chasing the shade from the cottonwoods in camp. That darn sun kept moving and so did the shade spots.
The afternoon led into an exciting evening. Which led to storm stories from the guys. the time they rolled through a terrible rain and hail storm. Hail so big they had to put buckets over their heads! Not this time, thank goodness. But we did get a roaring wind! It’s so noisy when the wind roars up the river and through the trees on the banks. I could see a dust storm on the other side of the river where the canyon was open. I think our tents were really glad that we held onto them! “Aunty Emm, Aunty Emm!!”
Since rain was obviously in the making, the boat guys who usually slept on their boats now decided to put up their tents. With the strong wind, stakes and loading the tents down with our belongings helped keep them on the ground.
This was the first night I put the fly on my tent.
#1 – it was warmer inside.
#2 – I couldn’t see anything.
It was spooky with the wind roaring over me, and then lightning spiked and thunder boomed up our little world. I had no idea what everyone else was doing – and it felt weird being apart from them, each of us in our own tent – wide awake and waiting for sleep. I couldn’t believe I actually did fall asleep with that roaring wind. I guess it was all the wonderful sun and that nice hike! And of course this was the night I had to get up to pee in the night. But by that time, there was that beautiful dark sky, a few clouds, and my old friends, the Milky Way and the Big Dipper
Next morning, waking up, was sunny and warm — beautiful and wonderful and I smiled with delight seeing my brother up and messing around — and the coffee pot boiling on the stove.
We row into the most fantastic cliff formations – almost as if the previous days were just appetizers. The boatmen taming the rapids – and you can bet I was being much more careful to “stay in the boat.” The rapids surely do excite and accentuate the bliss of being on the river.
Cruising about 32 miles that day, we land at Onion Creek for a two-night layover. Put on more sunscreen, drink more water, and bask in the beauty, silence and peacefulness of the canyons.
At low water, it can be busy in this section of the river where there are plenty of places to put your boat in or pull out for a camp night.
At today’s high water, many of those campsites, or at least the place to pull the boats in, are under water. No eddies to cruise into. And it’s much less crowded.
A fault line crosses the river just after we leave Big Horn camp. We see the evidence of it as the rock layers that we’ve seen sloping gradually, now make a big drop of 400 feet – about the height of a 4-story building. The Wingate Sandstone that made the huge cliffs we’d passed the last couple days was, at this point, several thousand feet underground. Talk about earth-movers. The sandstone here and elsewhere create these magnificent hills, towers and what seem to be man-made statues.
This is the day we choose to give Rhett’s motor a chance. There’s a long strip of river that takes a lot of rowing to get through. Flat water, wind against the bow. A while after leaving camp, the three boatmen, line up their boats, one to one to Rhett’s boat.
Fred and I are in the furthest right boat, Luke and Tommy in the furthest left boat, and Rhett in the middle pushing that motor to get us downriver. It was a crackup and I wondered what people thought (we did see a few) of this threesome!
Today’s trip leads us to our first hint of civilization since we left the train tracks a couple days ago. On the south side of the river, state route 128 follows the river, snaking all the way to Moab. As the days go on, we see more and more traffic – everyone wants to get out of town! Other signs of civilization are orchards of fruit trees and farmland established in the 1900’s.
We floated past a crew from Fish and Wildlife Service, charged with protection of the river and the fish in it, who were doing a fish count. They drop an electrified metal ball into the water which shocks the nearby fish who are just there minding their own business. The fish float to the water’s surface – and voila! They’re netted and counted and released back into the mighty Colorado.
The low hills we see on the west side of the river are capped with Mancos Shale, at a mere 80-95 million years old, the youngest rocks in the Canyonlands. The hills to the east are capped with Dakota Sandstone. For the next several miles, we could see the hills sloping up thousands of feet. Remarkable.
Today we passed below the Dewey Bridge, opened in 1916 after a 3-year project. During its time, it was the longest single span suspension bridge in Utah, built to take on 9,000 pounds of freight, three wagons and six horses – all at the same time! A new concrete bridge opened in 1988, putting the wooden Dewey out of business. Twenty years later, a little kid playing with matches started a brush fire which then engulfed and destroyed the Dewey Bridge timbers and a fine piece of history.
Closing in to the bridge, we checked out a line of long steel cables with pointy tips hanging from one side of the bridge to the other – and some of us wondered if Fred’s new bimini would clear the damn things. It did. Barely. Those steel cables originally held UP the Dewey Bridge! LOL
One of my fondest takeaways from the trip is that besides mastering the water, the days – and nights – are made for continued story-telling – everyone has a million of them Adventures past, friends and family, funny, hilarious and sometimes very sad stories – and living life to its fullest every day you can.
“Coffee!” The finest words ever heard after a night’s sleep on the trail.
After a hot breakfast of coffee, eggs, potatoes and sausage, and sides of orange juice and fresh fruit, we headed out from Black Rock 6 camp sometime after 10, on our way to checking in with the Ranger at BLM Westwater Ranger Station, just after passing into Utah.
In a normal river run this time of year, there might be 5 private boat trips running Westwater as well as 5 commercial trips led by professional experienced guides. The Ranger expressed a bit of surprise we would be taking the trip, as no one had done so in the past several days. The high water and risky water in the canyon were holding people back.
Fred’s only been down this canyon a hundred times, either on his raft, or rowing a raft, and more or less, 35 of his trips were on on his birthday. The other guys also know the river like the back of their hand. We were all excited to be running this trip for Fred’s Birthday!
Just past the Ranger Station, the river crosses a fault zone where the Wingate Sandstone is thrust hundreds of feet. That, combined with the 200 million year old Chinle Formation, create the gneisses and schists that squeeze the Colorado into the tight “Granite Canyon of the Grand River”, aka Westwater Canyon.
The rock art continues to amaze, and I find myself shaking my head, and sighing, in awe. Goats lounge around on the bank.
We sail past several areas known for their rapids. Marble Canyon Rapid, at the mouth of Marble Canyon, marks the point where the channel narrows for the next couple of miles. Lots of broiling and churning water, high swirling waves and changing water holes right in front of the boat.
And then we come onto Skull Rapid, also called Whirlpool, Big Whirlpool and Cisco Bend Rapid, the highest rated rapid in Westwater. Especially at high water, which now was about 34,000 cfs. This famous rapid is formed by a series of boulders just above a bend in the river, that drives the water toward a huge rock – the Shock Rock. The boat will either swirl right into an eddy in the Room of Doom, or breaks off to the left downstream. Surging high streams of water rose up to meet us in a perfect storm.
I was sitting and holding onto my seat at center front of the boat, Fred was pulling and working the oars. Before we came to this point in the river, we’d stowed everything and tightly tied them down. The camera in its watertight case, my water bottle, anything that could fly out of the boat. During this trip, I reverted to my previous pair of glasses and had them tightly over my ears in a little string of croakie. I noticed later the time stamp gap between when we stowed the camera and when it was safe to bring it out again.
I wasn’t looking up at the canyon formations, I was looking at all that rushing water, waves like the sea, watching down and ahead, glimpsing at Tommy and Luke in their boat ahead of us.
All of a sudden the boat lurched downward in front of us and I brilliantly pirouetted into the air in a dive up and out of the boat. I spluttered water, opened my eyes and saw that I was just to the right and a little to the rear of where I’d been seating. And I was able to touch the boat! My personal floatation device brought me right to the surface and miracles of miracles, I was facing Fred, who was hovering over me in the boat. On his feet, he’d had to let go of the oars to get me back to where I was supposed to be.
He yelled for me to grab onto the extra oar locked onto the boat – I was grabbing onto anything I could find! Fred was glancing to the left of us at a big wall he didn’t want to crash into. He had hold of my left arm, yelling, “You’re okay! You’re allright!!” He grabbed my life jacket with both hands and swiftly jerked me back into the boat.
“Hurry, get back up there…” he yelled out over the roar of the water. “We have to move!”
I crawled my way back to my seat, gurgling fresh Colorado River water, and held tight to the bow straps while Fred maneuvered us out of the worst of the day’s rapids.
I later learned that at high water, Skull is rated five and a half to six (highest rating), partly because of the possibility that someone will become a swimmer. Like Fred’s sister.
We all had a good laugh later – more than one – and acknowledged that we were definitely scared to death at the time I took a dive. Luke and Tommy had been watching the entire episode then, ready to grab me up if Fred hadn’t been able to do so. Rhett was upstream watching. I felt like such a dork!
Fred told me before we ever got in the river that he had three rules for me:
#1 Stay in the boat.
#2 Stay in the boat.
#3 Stay in the boat.
Instead, I went swimming!
It turned out the river gods didn’t want me at all. My wide-brimmed hat was the only sacrifice that day.
In looking at my pictures for the day, I saw a long gap between the time I stowed the camera and when the water settled down enough to pick it up again. It was definitely Fred’s miracle birthday. Things could have gone so wrong. But they didn’t – and I’d go again if given the chance – you can count on that.
A 21-miler day – we arrived in good speed to Big Horn Camp. The guys set up the kitchen close to the boats, just exactly as it should be. After a few beers and tequila shots, we later ate a hearty fine feast. More red wine out of a plastic bag and chocolate chip cookies for dessert! The desert heat is feeling mighty fine and the skies are in our favor. For now.
Hundreds of pictures on my 16g card tell part of the story of my week on the Colorado River as well as millions of years of geologic history tell the story of the Colorado River Basin. I find myself reading more and more about this natural masterpiece, the Colorado River Canyonlands.
Our second day on the river continued in Ruby Horsethief Canyon. Quiet water (about 9 miles an hour) interspersed with riffles, eddies and rapids leave me in awe. I’m learning from the guys how the water changes – duh – with the volume of water flowing through the channel basin. They chat about how this or another spot on the river, how it looks different, how they remember the water looking on previous trips. They know their stuff – and that puts me at ease.
We covered just about 5 river miles that first day, about an hour and a half. First day out involved a lot of travel from home to the put-in ramp, so that made for a later start and earlier end to the first day. These rafts are packed with more than a thousand pounds of gear, including water, ice, food, clothing, camp kitchen equipment, cameras, propane tanks, the mandatory river guide map and everything else needed for a 6-day trip. Most of it comes off the boat at night, and back onto the boat in the morning. Mornings, and evenings, are on river time, and never hurried.
Day two we rafted 13 miles through Ruby Horsethief Canyon, three blissful hours, passing many potential river camps that are washed out with high water, and no eddies at the edge to easily slide into anyway.
The coolness of being on the water was wonderful; I was never chilled. My wide brim hat helped shade my face from the hot sun, tied under my chin to hang on through rapids in the water and gusts of wind.
Today I had my first look at the local big horn sheep, a little family of three. We rolled past miles of black rock formations. These really old Precambrian period rocks started out as limestone and shale, some sandstone, about 1,700 million years ago.
Later on, about 1,400 million years ago, there was a big upswelling of magma. I’m told the “black rocks” in the canyons here are a mix of schist, amphibolite, metamorphic gneiss, and intrusive granite rock. I don’t know what it means, either. Look it up!
I just bought my own fascinating river guide book complete with introductory geologic & geographic lessons, history of the west and the people who populated it.
The tamarisk trees along the river’s edge are non-native and detrimental in that they can choke off the rivers. About 15 years ago, tamarisk beetles were introduced to kill those pesky trees – and you can see these dead trees all along the river. The healthy ones are quite pretty with pink flowers. Rangers periodically cut out the dead trees, and quickly pour poison in the roots before the tree closes itself up and grows two more. Cottonwood trees are abundant, their beautiful shimmering leaves catch the eye, and at this time of year, small tufts of cotton float in the air.
Our river day ended at Black Rocks 6 camp, west of Moore Canyon, a difficult pull-in at 30,000 csf and our well-trained guides made it with ease.
Camp was plenty big for two tents, mine and Luke’s, as the boat owners (Tommy, Fred and Rhett) slept atop their boats that night, and many other nights as well. But not the last night!
We had plenty of time and space in which to roam around and explore!
The wildflowers surprised the heck out of me when I zoomed in on them with the camera! So much activity…
Fragrant juniper bushes with their dark purple berries grace the landscape her. The sun was feeling real good, the company was great, the food plentiful. Rhett’s turn to cook up a yummy London broil, served with two types of potato salad and a box of red wine in a plastic bag. There was an abundance of beer and tequila; we were living large.
After this last picture was taken, long into the night, I woke and crawled out of the tent to gaze at the sky. There she was, the Milky Way – I recognized her and was so excited to see her again. The millions of stars just above this little planet were all I needed to see before laying my body down. ‘Til the next night!