Earlier in the year us river rats discussed floating the Yampa and the Gunnison rivers. But, as the Colorado spring remained fairly dry, and work and personal schedules made June trips difficult, it became clear that those rivers just weren’t going to work for us this year. So, we headed back out to the Colorado River for a float through the Ruby-Horsethief Canyons section, west of Fruita, Colorado.
We arrived on a hot, August, Saturday evening, stopping for dinner at El Tapatio restaurant just off of I-70 at Exit 19. This is very convenient as it is right across the road from James M. Robb State Park which is where most of us were camping for the night. The food was delicious, though a little pricey, and I think everyone was satisfied with the choice. I could see it being the place to eat next time we do this trip. We stayed at the walk-in camp area at the state park and there were plenty of open sites. We made reservations anyway, just to be sure we had a place for the night. We left the boats on the trucks in the parking lot over night.
Some years ago we launched at the bridge in Fruita, but the raft is easier to launch from the ramp/sandy area at Loma, so that’s what we did again this year. What we do for the vehicle shuttle is take all three vehicles to the takeout, leaving the vehicles most capable of carrying canoes and kayaks and also able to haul the raft trailer at Westwater, Utah, then return to the put-in at Loma with the remaining vehicle.
About an hour into the float we stopped for lunch at Rattlesnake canyon. Years ago we saw some river otters here, but not this year. Instead, we saw four on the final day, a couple miles downstream from Blackrocks. Those are always fun to see.
The water level was lower than normal so navigating the water involved some narrow passage ways. That’s part of the fun. I did bump the bottom of my Chesapeake Light Craft Mill Creek 13 on some rocks. Nothing cracked, so . . . just keep on going.
We stayed at Cottonwood 3 again this year. The camps at Cottonwood 4 and 5 are nicer, but year-after-year those camps are reserved and yet nobody stays there. We’re beginning to wonder what’s going on as it is very frustrating.
To cool down, we put on our PFDs, waded out into the current and floated downstream to Cottonwood 4 or 5 where we got out and walked back to do it all over again. I’m so glad I did this relaxing and refreshing float.
As is now the norm, I brought along two single-burner camp stoves. I use one for boiling and one for cooking. This year’s choices were a 1945 Prentiss Wabers M-1942 MOD stove and a Coleman 502 stove, which is my birthday stove. It was made in 10 of 1963.
On the river again we floated down to MEE Corner for lunch. This is a nice spot with lots of Cottonwood trees. If you’re camping there for the night, it is a nice hike to the top of the ridge behind camp.
Later, we entered the Blackrocks section. This is an area with weird currents due to the narrowing of the river. I’ve heard the river is very deep there. Above the rocks are places to set tents, but you can gather on the sandy areas along the shore. Before dinner, and with a desire to cool down, I handed my rescue throw bag to Marty and slid into the river upstream. The idea was to have anybody who wanted a chance to practice throwing the bag out to someone in the river for rescue. This was a fun way to cool down and practice. Eventually, others joined in, either in the water or throwing the bag or both.
Last year it rained during dinner while we were at Blackrocks. Thankfully, we had a Kelty Sunshelter which worked well as a rain shelter and we were able to cook and eat while is was raining. This year, John also brought one so, with two Kelty Sunshelters we could accommodate all nine of us in the sun and if it rained. Nice!
Tuesday morning was a beautiful morning. The early sun is blocked by the ridge to the east so there was no reason to get up too early. Eventually, I remember that I’d prefer to have my tent packed before the sun gets hot, so I packed up and headed down to the beach to make coffee and breakfast. This morning would be pancakes and ham.
As is typical I’ll have someone else paddle my kayak on the last day. This year Troy gave it a go. I think everyone likes paddling the Mill Creek as it is a pretty stable boat and easy to maneuver.
As for me I paddled the Old Town Penobscot which, after paddling the kayak, felt really tippy for the first 20 minutes or so. Eventually, I go comfortable riding in the bow seat. I was still able to see the otters and some bald eagles. Paul was piloting the boat this day.
We arrived at the Westwater, Utah boat launch takeout in early afternoon. After we had the boats were out of the water we heard people yelling and soon an ambulance arrived. What we found out later was that a man was flying a small plane in the canyon above the river and crashed it into a canyon wall where it ended up in the river. Some rafters pulled the guy onto their raft and paddle as has as they could to Westwater. So far, it appears that the man will survive. I guess you never know what you will encounter on a river trip.
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