Thursday, September 04, 2008


After getting a taste of Colorado boating and just how generally gorgeous it is there in the summer, I was excited to head back again this year. Though I’d intended to only go out for a quick week long trip, it quickly turned into a much longer adventure once Jeff and I started planning everything we each wanted to do. I wanted to head to the mountains, he wanted to see the desert.

“You’ve turned my boating trip into a desert trip!” I joked. “You turned my desert trip into a boating trip” was the response. Of course it turned into a wonderful compromise of both. We packed up the car and headed west on Friday of Memorial Day weekend for an awesome three week adventure.

Great Sand Dunes

We arrived at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, just west of Colorado Springs, mid day on Saturday. The dunes are the largest in North America, rising up to 800 feet tall. I is basically the country’s largest sand box! Despite rather windy conditions we had a great time hiking up the steep sand. The wind was so bad that despite not having rolled up my cotton jeans high enough while crossing the creek and getting them quite wet... I was completely dry by the time we reached the top. At moments it felt a bit like being sand blasted but the scenery was more than worthwhile.

Great Sand Dunes: photos

Wolf Creek

We made our way to Durango driving through Wolf Creek pass. Jeff insisted that a trip through Wolf Creek was not complete without getting snowed on... and of course it did. We were surprised to see just how much snow was at the top and the fresh snow on the trees. Though quite scenic we both agreed that Wolf Creek itself was mankier than either of us cared to take on so we continued on toward Durango stopping in Pagosa Springs. We took a few minutes to check out the San Juan River and the hot springs.

Snow on Wolf Creek pass

Fresh powder

Wolf Creek


Even cuter


The view from Wolf Creek Pass

Treasure Falls

Wolf Creek

Jeff checks out the cliffs at Wolf Creek Pass

phew.... sulfur

San Juan River in Pagosa Springs

Wolf Creek photos

Mesa Verde

Upon arrival in Durango we started off by checking out Mesa Verde NP just outside of town. Jeff’s brother David and his wife Carolyn proved to be excellent hosts, taking us on a great tour of the ancient ruins.

Messa Verde: photos

Lower Piedra / Vallecito

After getting settled somewhat it was time to get some boating in. We chose the Lower Piedra as our first run, a lovely class III/IV run in a gorgeous deep gorge. David and Carolyn kindly ran shuttle for us. Afterwards we drove up the Valecito Creek.... just to look. The creek flows through such narrow walls and is so deep that we weren’t actually able to see any of it as the trail lay far above. Nonetheless it was a beautiful hike.

Boofing to the confluence
Putting on on the west fork
Jeff on the West Fork
Piedra: photos

Vallecito is down there.... somewhere : photos

Lower Animas / Durango

The next day I decided to check out the local playpark in town on the Lower Animas. I demoed a playboat from the local shop and floated down. Though surprisingly scenic for a play run, it lacked more than a few easy rapids and my dislike for playboating was once again reconfirmed. But a nice sunny day made for a nice float.

Me in a playboat. *gasp*: photos

We spent the rest of the day hanging out in town. Durango is definitely a super cool place with lots to do and see. We’re both looking forward to heading back for another visit in September.

David and Carolyn's kitty: Quatt

Glen Canyon

Though we were having a blast in Durango it was time to head on. First stop: North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Aside from our drive out from the east coast, this was the longest time spent in the car. We were both surprised to find it incredibly interesting. Along the way we saw amazing scenery and stopped at the Glen Canyon Dam (the monstrosity that dewaters the Grand Canyon).

Grand Canyon

We spent that evening and part of the next day checking out the breath taking overlooks and doing some light hiking down into the canyon. Words cannot describe and photos cannot convey the true beauty of the Grand Canyon. You just have to go and see it for yourself.

Grand Canyon: photos

Snow in Arizona, in June. Who would have thunk it?


Next we headed to what would be one of the main highlights for me, Zion National Park. The geology, animal and plant life in Zion’s canyon is amazing. The variety here is just incredible. We started off with an eight mile round trip hike to Observation Point at the rim of the canyon (the panorama at the top is the view from here). The scenery along the way, animals and plant life were wonderful. The next day we donned our drysuits and did the best hike I think I’ve ever done... into the heart of the Zion Narrows.

The North Fork of the Virgin River carves its way through the soft sandstone of Zion, forming a deep and narrow canyon. In the Narrows the walls are scarcely 20 feet apart in places and 1500 feet high. The sights are simply stunning. We spent most of the day making our way up the river. At flows above 140 cfs you are allowed to paddle it, but unfortunately it was only in the 80’s. Just the same, the hike was fantastic. You spend about half the time wading through very cold water and it amazed me to see so many people doing it in shorts. I was quite happy to have my drysuit on as the water was usually above my knees and several times came up above my waist. Well worth the time for sure!

Narrows: photos

Bryce Canyon

From there we headed on to Bryce Canyon which provided still more spectacular scenery and photos.

Jeff makes friends with the locals
My tree throne

Capital Reef

Capital Reef was next on our way to Moab and we spent some time here admiring the scenery. It is kind of a combination of Zion and Bryce geologically, making for some amazing sights. This was probably the most visually stunning of the parks to me. The geology was fantastic and though we only spent a short time there it certainly made an impact. We checked out some Indian petroglyphs along the Freemont River. See more photos

whatcha looking at?

Sego Canyon

Our last stop before Moab was at Sego Canyon. Here ancient people had painted stunning pictographs on the cliffs.

Arches / Moab

Fun with cottonwood

We arrived in Moab to 90+ degree heat. The harsh dessert sun was simply unbearable mid day so we spent our time hanging out in town and decided that since we’d only have a few hours in the mornings and evenings to go hiking that we should spend the hot parts of the day paddling. The Colorado River flows through Moab and it was running at about 38,000 cfs. Mostly fast moving flatwater with a few class II-III rapids it is more than worth the trip. We stopped in at the local kayak shop and asked around for beta. They were kind enough to provide us with a map of the river and suggested best put in / take out options. We chose a five mile section just on the boundary with Arches NP called the Lower Fisher Towers section.

The next day we were surprised to find that the temperature had dropped into the 50’s and it was very overcast and threatening to rain. Since the lighting in the park would be very uninteresting without some sunlight, we chose to save this for later. Jeff quickly biked the shuttle for us and we put on the might Colorado River. Okay so it’s not the Grand Canyon. But it was wonderful anyway and we got to combine the two main objectives of our trip: boating IN the desert! Who could ask for anything more?

From the put in you see several tall red mesas and various other rock formations. The first rapid was a legitimate class III wave train followed by some smaller rapids. The water moved so fast that the five miles took us only about an hour. We took some time to explore a wash that was backed up by the river and had fun playing in the whirlpools near the takeout. That evening we were able to catch a nice sunset at Balanced Rock in Arches NP.

The next day we were once again greeted by rainy (this time pouring rain) weather and chose to spend the morning in town. We also drove around some looking at more petroglyphs. Thankfully though the sun finally came out and we were able to do a fantastic hike through the park including catching Delicate Arch during a beautiful sunset.

Sunset at Delicate ArchFire in the skyThe biggest window i've ever seen

another window
Hanging out at camp
Delicate Arch thru the window, Photo: Jeff Smith

After the sun set the lighting was spectacular.
These are actual colors!
Double-O Arch
Our awesome campsite

Cute mini arch in the back of our campsite
No shortage of pretty out here
Turret Arch at sunrise


Finally it was time to say goodbye to the desert and head back to Colorado. Our first stop was Vail where we met up with Ryan who was hanging out at the Teva booth giving out ear exams. We paddled Dowd chute the first day and checked out some of the Teva Mountain Games events. Josh drove out from Denver to join us for a Gore Creek run.

My ears are in good shape!

8 ball boater cross - teva mtn games: photos

Arkansas Valley

After a few days in the Vail / Silverthorne area Ryan joined us for a trip down to the Arkansas valley. We set up our campsite at the takeout of Clear Creek (which has some of the most incredible free camping I’ve ever seen). I ended up getting in three laps on Clear Creek, the Numbers and we did a great run on the Brown’s Canyon section of the Arkansas. Clear Creek is a great class V- run. Short but very sweet it flows through a gorgeous valley surrounded by 14ers. Brown’s and the Numbers were both great big water runs. We also spent some time doing great hikes, making smores, and watching carnage at the Pine Creek Boater X (check out some shots of the start).

Clear Creek

Ryan relaxing at camp

Getting ready for some high altitude kayak sledding

Jeff cooks a mean breakfast

Old mining town

The most perfect beaver dam

... and the most perfect beaver lodge

Maggie on Clear Creek

First Gorge, Clear Creek

Maggie on Clear Creek

Lake Creek

I really don't want to run anything called Paralyzer

What does it take to live in THIS house?

Brown's Canyon

Staying at Clear Creek provided some of the most diverse scenery we’d seen in any one are on our trip. Our campsite was at approximately 9500 feet, with several 14ers surrounding the valley. Jeff and I did a hike up to about 11k feet and though we weren’t quite able to get above the tree line we got some amazing views. The lush green aspens and tall pines were amazing. We spent some time exploring the old mining towns just up the road. In great contrast, heading back into town and to the Arkansas was very much like being in the dessert again. It was much more arid here and the vegetation changed drastically. Quite amazing!

After a few wonderful days out trip was starting to come to an end. I met up with Hector and Tyler who’d just arrived for a run on the Numbers and then we made our way to Denver. Josh and Sylvia made our last evening in Colorado quite pleasant as we made the long trek back east. We arrived home with many wonderful memories, thousands of great photos, and numerous plans for future trips.

The Numbers

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