On Colorado’s Yampa River, a whitewater rafting adventure for the whole family – The Washington Post | Gmx Pharm


It is almost silent as our flotilla meanders west to the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers. Aside from the sounds of oars cutting through the water and the chirping of songbirds from the lush vegetation lining the banks of the river, we – 21 guests and six river guides – are utterly silent as we glide past vast sandstone canyon walls. Even the children seem transfixed, their eyes fixed on the glassy river surface or the cliff walls, brought to life by the light of the sun rising into the sky.

We have spent the last five days Rafting the last undammed tributary in the Colorado River Basin. So far our journey has been anything but quiet. There was the plunging of Class III and IV whitewater rapids and cheering screams as those rapids sent invigorating river water into the boats. The children, seven in all, pestered the guides with questions, laughed until they fell out of their camping chairs, played loud games of tag and hide-and-seek and asked for a second dessert. You have not been silent. They are between 10 and 16 years old and bonded quickly on the first of our five travel days. Since then they have become a close-knit cohort and their energetic bond has extended to the rest of us, seven middle-aged parents and seven elderly folks. We started the river cruise as strangers, but within 24 hours of setting off on the Yampa, we’ve become a team of like-minded adventurers.

Admittedly, the river guides are in charge of our adventure. Not only are they tasked with getting us safely through the myriad of rapids and hauling us onto the boat in the event one of us falls out, but they are also responsible for feeding and drinking us while telling the history of this remote, breathtaking Prehistory teach place.

A river guide explains the do’s and don’ts of rafting etiquette

Of all the rivers in the Colorado River tributary, the Yampa is the last without dams. In May and June, the melting snow from the Colorado highlands swells the Yampa and makes for world-class boating conditions. We’re here in early June and the water levels at Deerlodge Park, the boat ramp in Dinosaur National Monument where we begin our journey, feel sporty.

I wanted to bring my family to the Yampa because it is free flowing. The river’s location within the monument protects it, but one of the guides explains that it remains under threat from upstream diversion projects. I’m a novice boater and fascinated by the view of an undammed river to the west. I’ve read enough by environmental activists like Ed Abbey and Marc Reisner to know that rivers have sparked enormous controversy. As Mark Twain allegedly said, “Whiskey is for drinking, for fighting water.” That the Yampa has resisted efforts to build dams along its scenic stretches seems like a small victory for nature.

I also chose the Yampa for its beauty and history. On this journey we travel through time as we journey west through the magnificent sandstone canyons of the Yampa. Dating to the Jurassic Period, which ended about 145 million years ago, the rock is part of the Morrison Formation, a unit that stretches across the entire western United States and often contains fossils of dinosaurs, among other creatures, according to the National Park Service .

There is also a wealth of cultural relics left by the nomadic indigenous people who used the gorges of the Yampa for some 1,000 years. Our guides promise early on that we will see petroglyphs, pictographs and a huge natural dome that inspires as much awe as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Then there’s the actual act of floating. The Yampa is known as a playful river with several large rapids leading to a mighty one: Warm Springs. Created by a massive landslide in 1965, this rapid ranges from Class III to Class IV, depending on the water level. Before we plunge through the wild, raging section, we walk along the river bank, on and over rocks, to escape Warm Springs from the to explore the safety of solid ground.

I admire the power of water so wild it looks alive. I don’t have the knowledge to know exactly which line we’re looking for, and that makes me particularly grateful for our guides, die-hard river rats whose rowing maneuvers and navigation through tricky stretches of river seem effortless, even when the situation is tricky. This becomes clear about 45 minutes after exploring Warm Springs when one of the guides gets stuck in a hole near the end of the rapid. Your boat will pitch up in a motion known as “high siding.” She is the last boat to negotiate the rapids and those of us on the downstream side watch wide-eyed as she manages to right her raft and free it from the rapids’ grip. It’s an act of strength and expertise, and her composure is remarkable even when she later acknowledges the difficulty.

On a calm river, paddlers immerse themselves in a different kind of current affairs

On the other hand, most river lovers are pretty laid back, albeit with a passion that borders on fanaticism when it comes to whitewater. You are unlike any other enthusiast I know. River dwellers rave about voyages of decades past, and each winter dutifully apply for coveted permits, awarded by federal agencies on a limited lottery basis, to navigate the country’s wildest rivers. If they’re lucky enough to get one of these permits (and few have), they plan expeditions that require navigational skills and massive amounts of gear. They rave about the freedom of the river and how time changes on the water. They call it “river time” and speak of the sublime beauty of leaving everyday life behind and becoming one with the weather, the water, and nature. Her circle of friends revolves around other equally enthusiastic boaters, and many pass on their love of the river to their children through multi-generational voyages.

I think of that on our final day, during the silent portion of our float. I’m not the type of person who usually thinks camping with 17 strangers for a work week would be fun. And yet I stand here on our last day and am saddened by the prospect of having to say goodbye. This journey — and the camaraderie between us all — has helped ease the anxiety I’ve accumulated over the past few years. Pandemic Fear. Mourning the death of a loved one. My own fears of aging and complicated emotions as my children grow older and more independent. Every day on the river, under the sun and in sync with the movement of the water, I relaxed in a way I didn’t even know I needed.

And it’s not just me. In conversations with others on this journey, I feel that we are all processing big things – at least the adults. The children paint their nails, wrestle in the sand and jump over stones. But adults are grateful to be disconnected from cell phones and the news, from the pressures of home, society and family. Being on the flow is an exercise in being present, and with each passing day it becomes easier to be in the moment.

As our flotilla rounds the final bend on the Yampa just before it enters the green, we enter an area known as Echo Park. A guide breaks the silence by hitting the water with his oar. The sound bounces off the sandstone walls and circles back. Another leader hits an oar and another roars. The echoes come back, inspiring the rest of us to unleash our own voices.

It could be a cacophony. But instead, the sounds weave together as we strangers have weaved our own lives over the past few days, returning something more melodious than nothing.

As we round a corner, I look back at Echo Park and call out. But we’ve crossed the sweet spot. No echo answers me. I only see the sandstone walls and calm water. Above is the hot sun and a high blue sky. The momentum of the river propels us forward. Ready or not, it’s almost time to go. And when the time comes and I reluctantly step off the raft and onto the boat ramp, I better understand why some people turn their lives upside down for river cruising. Because one ride on a beautiful, wild river just isn’t enough.

Walker is a writer based in Boulder, Colorado. Find them Twitter and Instagram: @racheljowalker.

Oars has been operating commercial river cruises since 1969, offering a number of cruises throughout the United States and elsewhere. Yampa River trips take place in May, June and early July, after which time the water level drops too low for a viable raft trip. Yampa trips can last four or five days and prices start at $1,349 per adult.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning a trip. For travel health advice information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map of travel advice by destination and the CDC’s travel health advice website.

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