Summertime in the
Mountains, Part I
My theory on adventure travel is simple. When the snowflakes are flying thru the Ozarks in February, unlike some who will head to the ski slopes, I am headed for white sand and palm trees.
And by early July when deerflies and horseflies have invaded the Ozark streams, I daydream of semi-arid mountains and the cool night-time mountain air of the Rockies.
Here are a couple descriptions of the best whitewater floating in Colorado, queen of whitewater states next to Alaska, closely followed by West Virginia. In part one, we will cover the Colorado River, originally called the Grand River until it joins the Green River in Utah.
If a couple of good drivers leave home gassed up, loaded and well-rested at dawn, you can be making camp on the upper Colorado by dusk. Remember you gain an hour crossing into the Mountain Time Zone.
Take I-70 West to the western slope. About 70 minutes west of Denver and 10 miles west of Avon, turn north on Colorado #131 to the Colorado River at State Bridge. The gravel road upstream takes you to the Pumphouse. The first gravel road to the west, as you head north on #131, will take you downstream to Alkali Creek and Dotsero. You can sleep in on the first morning at Pumphouse BLM Campground because your only duties on this day are to run the shuttle to Alkali Creek BLM campground and to let your body get acclimated to an altitude of 6600-6700 feet elevation.
Day one – upper Colorado River: Pumphouse at the end of Gore Canyon (Expert Class V – stay out!) to Alkali Creek, 25 minutes through Red Gorge and Yarmony Canyons, mostly Class III water, not for the novice floater; suitable for rafts, inflatable kayaks, kayaks, and canoes with flotation. This is a very long tiring day.
Be especially careful of all bridge abutments at high water, and be alert for rattlesnakes at Alkali Creek, especially after dark.
Day two – upper Colorado: Alkali Creek to Red Dirt Bridge, 17 miles through Red Dirt Canyon and Jack Flats.
A beautiful class III run through several short red-rock lined canyons. Again, all bridges should be considered dangerous.
Day three – upper Colorado: Red Dirt Bridge to Eddie’s Garage BLM Parking Spot, 12 miles through Horse Creek Canyon. Fairly easy except for one rapid.
The final day is an easy day and an easy Class II river run except for Horse Creek Rapids and Ripper Rapids, both fairly easy Class III rapids.
This 54-mile run of the upper Colorado, although bounded by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad on one side and by a gravel road, except through canyon stretches, is very scenic and adventurous, and almost wild.
On week-ends, you will encounter a lot of commercial raft and private boat traffic, but during the week you will almost own it. Be respectful of private ranch take-out roads, NEVER use them without permission from the owner.
After several days of rolling around in red sand and dirt at riverside camps, follow the now-paved county road about five miles to Dotsero and I-70 (birthplace of the famous and now retiring longtime, respected area Plainview School bus driver Mark Jones).
Continue west on the special canti-levered I-70 bridge through beautiful Glenwood Canyon for about 10 miles (a Class III and IV run at most water levels) to Glenwood Springs, 8 miles. The highway through Glenwood Canyon is an engineering marvel in its own right, as there was not room to put four lanes side by side here. At Glenwood Springs you can pay a fee and shower, and then soak in the Glenwood Hot Springs pool. Or, you can try to find a parking spot and go down to the Colorado River by the downtown “BP” station and soak and wash off the week’s grime in the “hippie pools” formed by some large boulders at the overflow outlet from the Hot Springs pool (no fee here).
And, you can jump in the icy cold Colorado River and then climb into the hot pools that stay around 99° and wave at passing Amtrak trains that pass twice a day in each direction.
Note: West Virginia floods –– A bunch of us old river rats have in years past loved to hang out in West Virginia. We have floated many times on the New River Gorge, the Cheat Narrows, Gauley, Meadow, and the Greenbrier. All of these streams have experienced historic, unheard of levels, wiping out small towns, and highway bridges that connect them.
Although it’s been a few years since I last floated with Tom Girdion and his wife Jenny at the New River Gorge, I have been worried about them.
Tom and Jenny reside in Rainelle, West Virginia, in a mountain side home high above the headwaters of the Meadow River. Thankfully, I recently learned they were okay, but the bridge-crossing on their lane by a small side stream was completely washed away by the floodwaters, as well as most of Rainelle, West Virginia.
My special prayers go out to the Girdion family and the rest of the good people in West Virginia. I understand Rainelle, a town about the size of Mansfield, was basically wiped out, and there were several deaths.
Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozark outdoors!