Paddling the Colorado River provides unique view of red rock, mountaintops

Rachel Sauer paddles a kayak on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

Rachel Sauer and Melinda Mawsdley paddle kayaks on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

Rachel Sauer and Melinda Mawsdley paddle kayaks on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

It was the best turkey sandwich of my life. Even fellow features writer Rachel Sauer noted that her homemade Nutella and peanut butter sandwich was better than normal.

In terms of who, or what, deserved credit for our overly enthusiastic view of everything, including our picnic, on June 6,
there is the desert sun, Moab, Utah, scenery and a day outdoors, as our Adventuring Out series continued with a day-trip rafting the Colorado River.

Before water levels drop and it gets too hot to be outdoors for prolonged periods of time, I contacted Doug Freed, general manager of The Nickel, Fruita Times and Palisade Tribune, who also happens to be a die-hard rafter. Would he take Rachel and me whitewater rafting, arguably one of the most iconic experiences of the region?


Because we were only going for the day, because Rachel and I were inexperienced, and because we couldn’t get a permit on such short notice, Doug suggested we float a 14-mile stretch of the Colorado northeast of Moab for its mild rapids and scenery.

(FYI: Before putting a private raft in any area river, check to see if permits are required to raft. As a general rule, if campsites are established along the riverbank, permits are required. We didn’t need a permit on the stretch we floated.)

Doug brought two 12-foot Hyside inflatable kayaks, so Rachel and I could each have our own kayak. He brought a 14-foot Hyside self-bailing raft for himself and to haul gear.

Rachel and I were amazed. Doug had everything. Including the kayaks, he had two coolers, waterproof boxes for valuables and life jackets because watching people get into moving water without life jackets is one of his biggest frustrations.

We all left Grand Junction at 6 a.m. to get to Hittle Bottom Campground launch point off Utah Highway 128 before, as Doug put it, “the commercial guys got there.”

(Commercial rafting companies abound between Glenwood Springs and Moab. Doug had glowing things to say about these trips, particularly for people without quality gear, permits or knowledge of what they are doing.)

We weren’t floating commercial, however, so Doug wanted to get everything set up and in the water before the commercial rafters’ buses showed up.

Our timing was perfect. We got to Hittle Bottom shortly before 8 a.m., and had everything set up about an hour later.

We pulled out of the parking lot — we had to park Doug’s truck at the takeout point 14 miles downstream — about the same time the Moab commercial trips arrived.

Honestly, the setting up and taking out part of whitewater rafting is tedious, so it’s pretty essential to go with people who know what they’re doing.

We put in shortly after 10 a.m. We took out shortly before 4 p.m.

What happened in between was one of the most fun days of my life.

The rapids — none too technical — were staggered throughout the river. Rachel and I were instructed to paddle aggressively through the rapids so the churning water didn’t toss us around. That was about the extent of our work.

When the river was flat, we stopped paddling and let the current push and pull us along. We listened to insects, songbirds and the sound of running water.

The scenery around Moab is majestic when driving, so imagine how beautiful it is while floating in a kayak that randomly turns itself in the current, offering panoramic views as if you’re head is on a swivel.

I couldn’t have loved this trip more.

We stopped for lunch at noon. I thought it was 2:30 p.m. We took out at Takeout Beach — yes, that is the name — at approximately 4 p.m. I thought it was 6 p.m.

Time meant nothing on the river. And it didn’t matter. Where else did we need to be?

We just relaxed in the sun, paddling occasionally, smelling like coconuts thanks to the sunscreen Rachel brought. (Tip: You can’t drink enough water and apply enough sunscreen when spending that many hours under a cloudless, desert sky. I got a deep tan, and I had at least six layers of sunscreen on.)

We enjoyed the day from a unique vantage point: the middle of the Colorado River, one of the country’s major arteries, staring at canyon walls, far off mountaintops and red rock arches.

It was a superb Western adventure.

Get going: The 14-mile stretch of the Colorado River between Hittle Bottom Campground and Takeout Beach is accessed off Utah Highway 128.

To get there from Grand Junction, take Interstate 70 west to the Cisco exit (exit 202). Follow the signs for Highway 128. Hittle Bottom is on the right-hand side of the road, as you enter Professor Valley.

Takeout Beach is approximately 14 miles downstream also on the right side.

Take plenty of water, a wide-brimmed hat and suncreen. The sun’s rays are intense in the desert.

In fact, when we got to our vehicles they were so hot that they could barely be touched. 


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