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River Floating: A Current Affair

Why huff and puff to get to an isolated campsite? Simply grab a paddle, then let the current carry you to a secluded riverside trailhead.

Upper Colorado River, Colorado and Utah

The water: Paddle the long, peaceful stretches of the upper Colorado River and you’d swear you were on a whole different waterway than the one of Grand Canyon fame. The 27 miles between Loma, Colorado, and West-water Ranger Station in Utah is a splendid float with a few small rapids that can be negotiated even by beginners. Enter Horsethief Canyon and look for a fine campsite that’s at the mouth of Rattlesnake Canyon, on the left (river left, in water lingo). After about 10 miles of river, Horsethief gives way to Ruby Canyon and the openings of Mee, Moore, and Knowles Canyons, all on river left. Watch for Black Rocks Rapid at mile 17, where the river surges through a narrow channel. In June’s high water, you might want to scout this one first. The last few miles of river run through more open land. Take out at the Westwater Ranger Station, unless you have a Bureau of Land Management permit and the skills required for the spicy Class IV rapids of Westwater Canyon.

The hikes: Mee and Knowles are canyon systems, easy to find on the topos and seldom visited, with enticing side drainages that run deep into the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness Study Area. Although only 8 to 10 miles long on the main canyon floors, these systems lead to magically balanced rocks, towering spires, marvelous rock formations, and deep pools of water. Exploring them can involve several days of backpacking.

Season: Accessible all year; spring, summer, and fall are best.

Experience level: Easy to moderate paddling and easy hiking.

Logistics: Take the Loma exit on I-70. Turn south and almost immediately east for a short drive to the launch site. The take-out is farther on I-70 at the West-water exit. Follow the dirt road west to the ranger station. The route is runable by canoe, kayak, or raft. Sign up for a guided trip, or rent canoes and arrange a shuttle with Rimrock Adventures (970- 858-9555; www.rradventures.com).

Guides: USGS topo maps are Mack, Ruby Canyon, Bitter Creek Well and Westwater. Check out The River Runners’ Guide to Utah and Adjacent Areas, by Gary C. Nichols (University of Utah Press, 801-581-6771; www.upress.utah. edu; $14.95).

Contact: BLM-Grand Junction District Office, (970) 244-3000; www.co.blm.gov.

-B. Tilton

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