Updated: May 29
In the morning, I mainlined one more dose of 21st-Century news - people shooting each other, politicians insulting each other, heat waves or tornadoes wreaking havoc. Oh, how sweet to think that nearly five days will pass where none of that impinges on my consciousness. (Even though the payment will come when I must review 450 emails to extract a dozen or less worth reading.)
On the docket: a wilderness rafting trip down the Colorado River,
including Cataract Canyon -- a series of rapids so violent and churning that John Wesley Powell (commissioned by the government to explore and map the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869) portaged the whole canyon.
The river crew picked me up at 8:15 as I finished packing for the raft. My suitcase and roller bag (see you later, laptop!) would bide their time in the outfitter's office. I filled the red bag with my cell phone (only for taking pictures), water bottle, sunscreen, snacks and the like, with all other essentials in the larger blue bag.
It took half an hour to drive us and the boats to the Potash put-in.
We four 'guests' lingered at the picnic table (or made use of the last actual outhouse we would see for five days) while Owen, Alex, and Sav prepared the rafts. Soon it came time to board, and we dutifully climbed aboard the oarboat.
Our expedition consisted of two boats - a 22' J-rig with two pontoons and an outboard motor, and an 18' oarboat. All us tourists chose the oarboat (for today, at least), and it set off in the swift current with Alex at the oars.
Time immediately melted away. Red rock canyon walls surrounded us on both sides as we leisurely floated along with the debris washed downstream (mostly various branches and logs). After a few minutes, Alex let Bryn try her hand with the oars on the flat water.
Traveling with the current through Meander Canyon would take more than the five allotted days for this trip. Thus, it came as no surprise when we heard the motor and turned to see Owen and the J-rig bearing down on us.
The guides quickly coupled the boats, and the J-rig pushed us along. The sound of small waves lapping against the raft replaced the silence of the canyon.
Red rock walls, green shorelines (partly underwater), side canyons,
distant viewpoints - they all slipped by our rubber vessel. Easy banter flowed on the boat as the guides pointed out notable sites. "Up there is Thelma and Louise Point. Remember at the end of the movie, when Thelma and Louise drove off the cliff into the Grand Canyon rather than face the police? The film crew drove four Thunderbirds off the cliff there to get the right shot."
I had to ask the question, though I'd already guessed the answer. "Yes, the production company had to remove the wrecked cars before they finished."
At some point - with nothing to mark time, I couldn't say when - we pulled over for a short hike. The guides initially aimed for the right bank, but the high waters had left any possible landing spot choked with brush. On the left bank, a spot welcomed us. Owen led us a short distance on a bluff above the river
to what I dubbed the Meander Museum of Guide's Rocks. On a long flat stone, random guides had set rocks collected from nearby - fossils, cherts, flakes of petrified wood, and more.
Nearby, Owen pointed out petrified logs.
Despite the arid land, we hit it while flowers colored the landscape with blooms.
Back on the boat, we'd float awhile, get pushed a bit, and float again as we watched millions of years of geologic history pass by. Alex - not needing to row - pulled out his guitar and strummed a bit, then handed it to Bryn (who was studying music in school) to provide theme music for our passage.
By early afternoon, we'd covered seventeen river miles, through a panorama of cliffs and clouds (thankfully, no clouds overhead).
The crew landed us at a beach that would normally be ten feet or more above the river. The site featured numerous flowering prince's blooms, a spiky yellow flower
that indicates selenium in the soil. As the guides prepared lunch, two large boats from another company aimed to land at the same beach.
Adhering to the unwritten rules of the river community, the new crew asked permission to share 'our' beach, and our guides invited them ashore. The guides introduced themselves on both sides, and Alex traded his company shirt for the equivalent from one of the competitor guides.
After a river hour the other boats moved on. Our crew then got to work setting up the Groover (the camp privy). With that sanitation detail settled, our group set off for a longer hike. Owen had heard of a trail heading up the side canyon to the White Rim, so we set out to find it.
Along the hike, we often saw a new flower or plant, wondering what it was. Craig had an app called 'Seek' for that; he would pull out his phone, train its camera on the plant, and an answer would pop up.
Our path mostly followed a dry wash with a few short detours. As we climbed away from the river, the canyon narrowed. Eventually the hike devolved into a series of boulder scrambles as the wall squeezed us. We continued until the terrain turned impractical, then retraced our steps back to camp.
How lond did we go? An hour, two? Again, I had no measure of time.
We enjoyed an easy evening on the beach. The crew assembled a taco bar and served strawberries and whipped cream on a custard cake for dessert.
The sun sunk out of sight, saturating the cliffs with a red glow. Before long, the glow faded, leaving the sky filled with stars.
So who are these people I found myself floating with? Over the five days we tackled the river, I got a chance to truly meet the cast of this expedition, and ask them about their background and motivations.
Meet the crew/SAV:
I heard her talk early on about her time abroad. "I lived in New Zealand around age 20 and loved it there. I had a tourist visa which I kept renewing every few months, staying for two years. I finally looked into a resident visa, but that would've meant I must stay for another seven years without leaving the country. Too much going on for me to commit for that long a time."
She returned stateside, and soon found herself in Salt Lake City, which she didn't like. In April 2016 she moved to Moab, getting a job at NAVTEC, another outfitter, where the rafting bug infected her. "I drifted over to Kings River in California and worked on the river, but I missed Utah." She returned, running the river on private trips before working again.
"This is a place of such calmness and serenity, and it's really given me confidence. Problems out here are basic and elemental, more meaningful than the 'crises' we manufacture in the city. Water is where I'm most comfortable." She lives in Moab half-time and will enter culinary school in the fall.
Meet the guests/CRAIG:
The canyon country landscape fascinates him: "Truly, you see the bones of the earth, millions of years old, filled with beautiful color. So different from where I came from [in Maine]."
The romantic idea of coming into this wild place and making it work has captured his imagination. "I'm impressed by the way ancient people could find their way here, despite the harshness." An architect for 35 years, he retired five years ago. He now fills his time with local acting and has done a handful of commercials. His hobbies include boogie-boarding and spending time at the beach, doing nothing.