Vail Daily Travel: Silver singing river
Vail, CO Colorado
SOMEWHERE NEAR THE COLORADO/UTAH BORDER – On one side of the mighty Colorado River, black, angular rock faces formed a stair-stepping pattern up to the mid-afternoon sky. On the other, red-striped, wind-worn bluffs closed in the canyon to the south. And dead ahead, a bright-yellow giraffe pointed the way for a snaking wagon train of rafts.
I woke up at 5 a.m. to six inches of snow blanketing my home in West Vail. With a large, stupid grin on my face, I pulled some sweats over a T-shirt and shorts, loaded up my car with all of the essentials (caribeaners, sleeping bag, dry bags, head lamp) and quasi-essentials (margarita mix, iPod, flag pole) and headed west to warmer climes. My destination: Fruita and a three-day rafting adventure through Ruby, Horsethief and Westwater canyons.
A few hours later, our group of nine was throwing last-minute items into our rafts and launching them down the silver singing river.
Two things are constant on our rafting adventures: ridiculously good food and ridiculously silly boat trappings. For the most recent saga, a large, happy-looking giraffe pinata dubbed Jorge served as masthead for one of the three, 16-foot rafts in our fleet.
We tied the boats end to end, Jorge strapped safely to the middle rig, and lazily rowed down the first section of the Colorado toward the canyons. More than a few shoreline fishermen gave us strange looks when we floated across their paths, but Jorge just ignored them and smiled on.
The weather started off a little breezy but warmed up toward the evening. It was a wholly fantastic, uneventful day of sluggishness capped by a campfire and a delicious dinner of homemade chili with mole sauce. I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept like the dead.
The next morning, after stuffing our faces with breakfast burritos, we loaded up the boats and set out for the Westwater ranger station, the mid-point of our journey.
Horsethief and Ruby canyons are incredibly scenic and offer only a few small wave trains as opposed to actual rapids. This proved to be advantageous, as one of the members of our posse was hit with a bout of the flu and spent the better part of the day with her head over the side of the raft.
Upon our arrival at the mouth of Westwater Canyon, the ranger took stock of our gear (groover: check, patch kit: check, first aid kit: check, Jorge: check), and we ate a simple lunch of BLTs and potato chips. Meals so far: three. Meals so far involving bacon: three. A pretty good statistic considering our meal planner doesn’t eat meat.
As a testament to our attentiveness, we overshot our campsite at Lower Little Dolores. One by one, we waded into the river and slid over rocks and through beds of thorny brush, dragging our boats up the eddy to the shoreline and lining them up side by side.
In a flurry of bowlines and cam straps, we anchored the rafts to fixed points on the shore and unloaded our personal gear.
Two collapsible tables popped up in the middle of the campsite and were immediately laden with all of the bits and pieces to assemble kabobs. Skewers were set to soak in a tub, while a crew diced and sliced colorful peppers, sweet pineapple, fresh mushrooms, beef and chicken.
A fire was lit in the firepan and burned until smoldering. The grill rack was balanced on top and loaded with a dozen skewers. We cracked beers and fried up some bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers to tide us over until the kabobs were done.
Once sated, it was time to explore our surroundings. We took off on a hike along a cliffside trail that followed a tributary away from the river. The last section of the path hugged a rock wall before spitting us out near a pond at the base of Little Dolores Falls.
Due to the spring runoff, the waterfall had swelled to a muddy torrent that rushed through a hole in the rock and into the pond below. A lone beaver dipped below the surface, precariously close to the bottom of the rushing screen of water. We sat on a spit of grassy turf near the water, relaxing and enjoying some companionable silence for a few moments before making the turn toward camp.
Loose footing on the return trip led to a few bumps and scrapes and one very large bruise that consumed my left elbow over the course of the next few days. No matter; add it to the bevy of scrapes criss-crossing my shins and forearms from hauling the rafts up the channel and the sand that seemed to creep into every nook and cranny from our hair to our toes. It was just a part of the whole experience.
The time had come for Jorge’s demise. Foregoing the ski poles and paddles we had stashed in the boats for this purpose, we grabbed a large stick out of the wood pile and pummeled our paper mache companion. Honestly, a pinata is just as fun when you’re 27 as it is when you’re 5. He never stood a chance. We scooped up handfuls of candy from his spilled guts as the river hummed by and munched on the sugary snacks as we all pulled up chairs around the fire. Folk-rock danced out of a portable stereo into the night air as the stars winked on one by one. We told stories about past trips and laughed, and it occurred to me that there aren’t many things in the world better than a campfire, a beer and a group of amazing people.
Staff Writer Krista Driscoll can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2912.