Mighty Colorado at peak provides fast raft passage

floating on the Colorado River to Westwater.

LOMA — The fanatical skier in me finally reconciled itself that the season for riding H2O in its solid state is about fully cooked and, therefore, I might as well get after it in its liquid form.

The Colorado River is officially cranking as it takes our snowpack off to the west. Running just shy of 20,000 cubic feet per second , a speedy float of the mellow but beautiful Ruby Horsethief section seemed like a good way to spend Memorial Day.

More often than not, this section of the river is run over two days to provide adequate time to paddle the 26 miles and take full advantage of surrounding scenery. With the river running so fast and high, we thought we could push on through and do it all in a day.

Arriving at the Loma boat launch, I examined the river from the ramp. The river was heavily swollen not only with snowmelt but with the addition of the heavy rain that drenched western Colorado over the last few days.

The river was big — huge, in fact — and more than a little scary. Water is always a powerful force of nature, but the sight of the mighty Colorado running at its peak was sobering.

As my husband, Chad, and I launched our ducky into the roiling brown water and were whisked swiftly away from shore, I felt as inconsequential as one of the many pieces of deadwood that bobbed helplessly in the current.

Within minutes, we were floating into Horsethief Canyon, watching the swallows swoop from their nests across the debris-laced river. High above us, mountain bikers, like ants in the sky, made their way along the rim. Before too long we were in the more-dramatic Ruby Canyon with its intense red-rock walls towering overhead topped with an occasional arch.

Although we dipped our paddles only to steer, we zipped right on through to Black Rocks in time for lunch. When done as an overnighter, Black Rocks is the main camp spot, being around the halfway point and very scenic. It also has plenty of sandy beaches, rock outcroppings for sunbathing, and a good viewpoint of the small rapid that provides the most excitement of the trip.

This time, high water had washed out the rapid. But regardless of the lack of waves, this section of the Colorado still can be a little tricky and has been the site of several fatalities over the years.

As the river squeezes itself through a narrow section of canyon, the water twists and contorts itself into a series of eddies and whirlpools. At high water, the river boils and surges in a multitude of directions, tugging the unlucky boater off course and into trouble.

We successfully steered a course through the center of the turmoil and landed on the left bank for our lunch stop. The usual soft sandy beaches were submerged, but more than compensating, the wildflowers were blooming superb.

Having enjoyed sunshine for the first part of the trip, we noticed dark clouds quickly building. We cut our lunch short and jumped back on the river in the hopes of making it to the take-out before being struck by lightning or battling brutal headwinds for which the next stretch is notorious.

Despite a few sprinkles, we escaped electrification, sailed over the Utah state line and reached the Westwater take-out in short order. Total trip time was 4 1/2 hours, which, for 26 miles of river and a lunch stop, was a real Colorado River cruise.


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