Editorial October 1, 1998 Issue

A Different Kind of Charter

Last August, our family took a different kind of boating vacation—white-water rafting on Utah’s Green River. My wife, Andra, loves the west, and tries to get out there whenever possible. Rafting was something she’s wanted to do since college, when a friend of hers ran float trips out of Moab.

With our 10-year-old son, Steve, we flew to Salt Lake City and were picked up by bus the next morning for the drive over the Wasatch Mountains to Price. There, a fleet of single-engine planes picked up our group and flew us over the desert plateaus. We landed on a dirt runaway, more than a half-mile above the river, which snaked through the dessicated landscape below. I don’t know why they call it the Green River, because it sure looked brown—maybe because of the cottonwoods and tamarisks growing along the bank.

After hiking down into the 50-million year-old canyon, our group of 25 met the five guides and rafts, among whom we subdivided ourselves, mostly according to the ages of the kids.

For five days we drifted down the river, bumping over 60 sets of rapids. As the temperature was well into the 90’s, we counted ourselves lucky if the rapids were big enough for the bow of the Maravia inflatable to scoop up cool water and throw it aft. The humidity was so low that even our bathing suits dried in minutes.

Interestingly, these large inflatables—big enough for up to about eight persons, plus coolers and camping gear—are self-bailing, so that water entered and emptied without our having to bail. A good thing, too!

At night, we camped on sandy beaches. The guides set up portable tables and a propane grill—shrimp cocktail, juicy steaks, ice cream.

Tents were optional and most families opted to sleep on cots under the stars. At high altitude, a hundred miles from the loom of city lights, the heavens were so full of stars it was difficult to pick out even the major constellations. Reminded me of night sailing offshore, except a bit better, probably because the atmosphere was clearer.

In the morning, at 6 o’clock, the guides chimed, “Coffee!” Then they fired up the grill and cooked French toast, eggs and chops to serve alongside fresh grapefruit and croissants. John Wesley Powell, who in the last century recorded his observations of Desolation and Grey Canyons, never ate like this.

Wildlife highlights included the small black bear who swam across the river and ambled into our camp. We chased him off banging pots and pans, but he returned several times during the night, once waking us when he bit into a plastic mug scented with the dregs of lemonade. The gaping tooth hole in the mug was a sage reminder that these are powerful, unpredictable animals. Others included the busy beaver who kept chewing at a small tree, even with campers a few feet away. The kids favored the few small snakes we saw, and the lizards and horny toads. One late afternoon, while reading on my cot, nestled under a shade tree, a deer wandered toward me, stopped and stared for several long minutes before turning.

Though we rafted with a big outfit called Western River Expeditions, there were smaller groups also on the river, as well as a few “privates,” who took individual families. And, of course, there were a number of folks doing it alone in their own inflatables. In particular, we remember an elderly fellow with a Santa Claus beard, shaded by a brightly colored umbrella, rowing backwards (face forward) through the turbulent, frothing standing waves of the rapids. Watching him pass I realized that what we were doing was akin to a crewed flotilla charter with The Moorings; the “privates” were small-time operators of their own custom “yachts,” and Santa Claus, well, he was just another version of me and you going somewhere on our own boats, by ourselves, at our own speed.

—Dan Spurr

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