I consider myself an expert at many things but river rafting I am not. I live a life that should have many river trips notched upon it, but somehow such adventures have slipped by me. Oddly enough, my husband and I were given a free trip for two as a wedding gift and we never cashed it in. A few months ago, I discovered the gift certificate when I was moving. I decided to see if Holiday River Expeditions would honor it….12 years later. With a shameless plug to write about the experience they did!
Although not as adrenaline charged as Cataract or the Yampa, I’d heard Lodore was the most beautiful stretch of the Green and a great intro to whitewater. Since my husband couldn’t get the time off, it seemed like a great choice to take my 10-year-old son on. After thoroughly packing (making sure we had every item on the provided checklist) we headed to Vernal for a 7:00 a.m. departure. I knew there would be others joining us on the float, however, I was not prepared for the sudden realization when I uncomfortably looked around that I would be spending the next four days and three nights with complete strangers.
I also soon found out that my neatly packed bags would need to be dumped into single compartment waterproof bags—one for overnight items such as sleeping bag, pad, travel pillow, and clothing with a smaller bag for day items like sunblock, camera, etc. I returned to my car and condensed our belongings to fit inside the issued bags. I guess the fact that we would be sitting on an inflatable raft in the middle of a river had slipped my mind.
Three hours and a state line crossing into Colorado later found us at the dramatic Gates of Lodore and the sparkling emerald waters that make the Green famous. Our group, which consisted of three families, myself and my son, Noah, and three guides, all piled out of the air-conditioned vans and into the sweltering heat rising from the ancient floors of Dinosaur National Monument. I eyed the river and longed to submerge myself, but refrained and waited for the call to board the rafts. Lucky for Noah, there happened to be another 10-year-old boy so he was happily unaware of my uneasiness.
Almost immediately, we entered through the towering rock walls that enshroud the Green River in a primeval fortress of millions, even billions of years, of geologic change and prehistoric activity. I had no idea what I was in for, but I most certainly did not expect the breathtaking and overwhelming beauty of the geology. I all but forgot the social situation as the air cooled between the massive canyon walls and my eyes were drawn upwards, pulled by the magic of nature’s miracles and the fantasy before me which echoed of Tolkien.
Eagles soared overhead and swallows swooped by as we gently made our way to a perfect sandy beach for lunch. Guided river trips mean no cooking and no cleanup (for the clients that is) and our gracious guides had a gourmet meal spread out in no time. Over the next few days I learned much about their system, and I will just say it’s a practiced and well-tuned operation. The amount of gear, food, and water which can be stowed away on a single raft is mind-boggling! We were surprised at lunch by a black bear who meandered to the edge of our beach for a quick lookaround. Then, back to the river and an afternoon of rapids over Disaster Falls, swimming, and rock jumping.
My insecurities of hanging out with strangers came back to haunt me when we stopped for the evening to set up camp. I found the farthest spot from the group and attempted to pitch an unfamiliar tent. Misplaced poles, strong winds, and a useless child (he was having fun with his newest friend, Andrew) left me stressed out and not loving my current situation. Without my protector by my side, I slept restlessly with one eye open listening for bears who might come and drag me out by my toes. Noah snored peacefully beside me.
Day two was bright and beautiful and although I was tired, I was determined to have a better attitude. The canyon walls narrowed and we found plenty of whitewater, even with the low runoff. Hell’s Half Mile proved as exciting as it sounds and even merited a quick hike to a viewpoint beforehand so the guides could route the safest course. This also arouses anticipation for the thrill of the river from everyone…especially the children!
Lunch on a serene, sandy beach was followed by the joyful sounds of laughter and newly formed friendships echoing from every direction. More rocks to jump, more swimming, and a little kayaking on the duckies equaled a perfect afternoon. Big Horn sheep, river otters, ducks, and the songs of birds awakened the senses and reminded you that not much has changed since the first explorers and primitive people passed through the same ancient corridor. The Canyon is steep and beautiful and raw. I listened to my guide, Peter Tilton “Tilts”, as he captivated us with the history and the marvels of this sacred land.
We stopped early for camp so that we could hike up to an amazing lookout and a natural spring high above the river. As I gazed out on the winding path of the Green, I thought it would take many lifetimes to explore this expansive wilderness and I was grateful for the opportunity to spend just a moment of the only lifetime I have immersing myself in the grandeur of it all. That evening, my tent was the closest to the boats.
Two of our guides, Jesse Kasten and Mike Quigley, suggested a silent ride as we began our third morning. With the children happily paddling their duckies, we quietly floated past the red canyon walls of the gently rippling river. This section was calm and tranquil and we were able to become one with our surroundings.
Jesse broke the silence mid-morning at the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers at Echo Park with a holler that echoed endlessly around us and in every far-off nook and cranny of the spectacular walls of stone. This was my favorite spot of the entire trip. The scenery was stunning and I plunged in to swim in the warm, shallow waters of the wide river. After a spectacular lunch and huge water fight we rafted to Jones Hole Creek where we hiked in to a small waterfall aptly monikered “Butt Dam Falls.” Here, we could literally dam up the falls with our tushies until the water filled up enough to completely deluge someone standing below. This is when going with a rafting outfit absolutely pays off. They know all the secrets and hidden treasures of the rivers. Prehistoric Indian rock art is found here etched and painted on the sheer limestone rocks that encircle this semi-arid land. It was a precious remnant and reminder of those who came before.
What’s a river trip without a little misadventure? Mike Quigley may not have called it as much but a seriously intense wind storm blew down through the canyon just as we beached our boats for the evening and he was loving every minute of it. After the sands and winds abated, steak, mashed potatoes, and cake filled our bellies and we laughed together as our mutual journey started winding down. As the last shadows gave way to darkness we were all asleep, peacefully dreaming of new adventures.
The final day of our four-day trip was our biggest day on the river. With superhuman strength, our guides rowed through the barely moving waters of Island Park and on through the rapids of the rocky terrain of Split Mountain. Here, the sharp spires and fortresses of the rocks as well as foreboding caves and sandy beaches continue all the way to take out. The dramatic scenery followed us every step of the way and in the end, it wasn’t the rapids of the river that would have me find my way back here someday, but the immense glory and beauty of the Monument.
5 Things I’d do differently
“You have to go to know.” Tilts said this quote to me several times so here are five things I personally would do differently since I had to “go to know.”
1. I was in the river constantly and my clothes cleaned and dried quickly. I lived in the same swimsuit, shorts, and t-shirt basically for four days. Less is more.
2. I was worried about taking a nice camera, but in retrospect I could have easily taken it on this trip (with an extra charged battery).
3. The girl in me would have appreciated some leave-in conditioner and a wide-toothed comb.
4. I thankfully packed a deck of cards but a book, small games, and other items to pass the time on the beach or in the tent would have been nice.
5. Meeting new people and sharing your life with them is a thrill in itself, but I would’ve loved to have a few more members of my family along!
Holiday River Expeditions