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Rafting 2: More River Time

Updated: Jun 4

Wherever we look, there is but a wilderness of rocks; deep gorges, where the rivers are lost below cliffs and towers and pinnacles; and then a thousand strangely carved forms in every direction; and beyond them, mountains blending with clouds. - John Wesley Powell

Canyonlands NP, day 2

Up before the sun reached the canyon floor, I watched the sky brighten as I sipped hot tea, lulled by the current lapping against our boats.

River days quickly fell into a rhythm. Minutes, hours - those arbitrary units no longer had meaning. Our lives now marched to the tune of launch o'clock, or camp o'clock, or ...

After a leisurely breakfast (embellished by the entrance of the ultra-light rider),

we got moving down the river, floating some, motoring some. More side channels cleaving the cliffs, more greenery poking out from the flooding waters. Mid-morning, we stopped for another adventure hike, at a river bend with verdant brush that had attracted ancient tribes to settle here.

With the standard mooring spots under water, Alex and Owen settled on an open patch of shoreline requiring us to climb over a rock to reach land.

The first part of the walk took us across a lush (for the desert) plain dotted with flowering plants and cacti,

and we could see Puebloan remains clinging to the cliffs above. (Today's ancestors of those ancient tribes do not like people calling them 'ruins', since their spirits still inhabit those spots.)

Soon the trail veered to the cliffs and remains, ascending on a narrow ledge.

The Park Service allows guides to lead customers there; for other sites in the area, no one is permitted - guides can't even mention them. Don't want any uncouth tourists to deface the ruins or pictographs!

More floating, more scenery. Around one bend a narrow band of white stretched along canyon walls well above the river - a gypsum deposit (or a racing stripe?).

After fourteen miles along the river, we reached our campsite at Indian Creek. Again, the high water proved a challenge. Owen guided us into a channel in the trees - likely a walking path up from the underwater beach they normally used - and then waded through the water to pull the boat to the channel's head.

After a lunch of salad and PB&J sandwiches, they took us on the most ambitious adventure hike yet. Two miles up Indian Creek, they promised us, lay a beautiful waterfall. Getting there, though... "We recommend you wear hiking boots."

The first part of the trail, once again, traversed thick vegetation. For the rest, we climbed up, down, and across boulders, scree, sloped slickrock, and other challenges. At points we could look down and see how far the Colorado's flood waters had backed up into this side canyon.

After an hour of hiking/climbing/scrambling, we received our reward: views of water cascading over a 50' drop in a narrow chasm.

A hundred yards further, we got the real reward. There we found a tiny beach where we could doff our boots and wade/dive/sit in the cold water. We cavorted there for half an hour,

shooting a group photo before tackling the challenging trek back.

A raven soaring overhead inspired Owen to share his raven story. "As I worked on a boat, a raven - I call him Raoul - was sitting in a tree watching me, crying his distinctive cry. Amused, I cawed back at him. Well, I must have insulted his mother or something, since he didn't take it kindly. He took off flying and buzzed me a couple times, showing his irritation. Now every trip I take, I see ravens, and always wonder if one of them is Raoul come back to harass me."

Alex chipped in, "Yeah, we always see ravens here. I think the park service assigns one raven to every raft trip down the canyon." I chuckled at the notion.

We enjoyed another delectable meal - pasta and salad, with strawberry shortcake for dessert - seasoned to perfection by the canyon desert air. As he did yesterday, Owen took a few minutes after dinner to let us know what to expect tomorrow. This time, he warned us that we'll probably hit the first five rapids (out of 29) in Cataract Canyon hear the end of the day.

And Alex provided theme music for the evening.

Last night my tent had proved the outlier, with everyone else sleeping under the stars (and trusting that rain would not come). Tonight I would follow suit, throwing my sleeping pad down on a spot of sand between dunes. I, too, would sleep under a heaven full of stars (slightly offset by the smokey haze from distant Canadian wildfires).

Ready or not, here comes Cataract!

Meet the crew/OWEN:

While still unsettled on his career path, he attended National Outdoor Leadership School, learning mountaineering, climbing, rafting, and canyoneering. "A mentor gave me good advice. He said if I wanted a nature job, I should learn my rafting skills while still at home in Maine." Once he got a background, thoughts of the grandeur of the Utah desert canyons enticed him - "But how would I find a place to stay in Moab, which is so expensive?"

He tried it here for one season, then found an opportunity in Idaho. After a few years there, the pull of Utah proved impossible to resist, and he came back.

"It seemed like a fun summer job, but with a season that lasts from March to November, I decided to make it my only job, and take three months off every winter."

This is his twelfth year of guiding, his sixth in Utah. For anyone interested in a job like his, he had one piece of advice: Just do it! "Anyone will hire you; you can live in a tent while cutting your teeth. There is only one requirement to make it: show up and work! Just listen to the river - it'll teach you everything you need to know."

One thing that most people wouldn't know: "Most river guides are terrible swimmers!" He added that most states don't certify guides, but they require outfitters to log the river miles that their guides cover.

Meet the guests/PAM:

"A cousin suggested that I take this trip with them, then they couldn't come. My other daughter dearly wanted to come also, but she's taking an online course right now, and there's no connectivity here." The allure of the trip included the chance to get away from the city, from people.

"I really like to explore new places, like the hikes we've taken to the Puebloan structures, the waterfalls... Of course, I love the chance to spend time with my baby!" In her other world, she works as a software engineer (egads, two of us on this trip!) for a satellite ground station.

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