July 18th – Epic Nature is Epic

Seemingly just as we’d gotten to sleep, the alarm I’d set on my phone began to sound. We inhaled some oatmeal, and rode out to catch the bus to our rafting adventure, praying they would sell some sort of caffeinated beverage at the Canyon Voyages headquarters.

People were milling about outside, getting fitted with life vests before being shuffled onto buses, which were pulling trailers full of rafts and kayaks. Our prayers were answered, and we chugged a 5-hour energy while we changed from our riding gear into swimming gear. We’d been told we could bring a 6-pack, but as neither of us really drink, we’d opted to pack a small bowl and a little green instead, in case there was an opportunity along the way. We may have been the last ones on board the bus, but at least we made it. Go stoners go.

Marco, our guide for the day, was a friendly, muscular long haired guy full of interesting trivia and corny jokes. He went over some rafting basics and gave a little history lesson on the area on the drive upriver through the canyon. He explained that there would be several large rafts with a guide, and several smaller 2-person kayaks for those already familiar with rafting. Perhaps 45 minutes to an hour later, we arrived at what looked like a state-maintained boat landing and park. There were several family groups that lay claim to the guided rafts, and we ended up in one of the inflatable kayaks. I would call both of us rather inexperienced in rafting, though this wasn’t a first time for either of us.

As we set off down the Colorado (the real one, not the one down here in Austin), it became apparent that the small kayaks moved much much faster than the large rafts, and we would have to back-paddle quite a bit just to keep pace with the guides. The cool water felt amazing in contrast to the hot sun. About an hour in, we were directed to pull over to a sandbar. There was a land feature to see, though I can’t actually remember what it was. As everyone unloaded from the boats, the guides walked around handing out snacks. Marco came up to us, telling us if we wanted to smoke some pot, to just duck off the side during any of these snack breaks. Apparently he never goes on the river unprepared. Suspicions confirmed. My stoner radar rarely leads me astray.

We pushed off from the shore some 30 minutes later, and this time we made more of a point of floating close to Marco’s raft so we could hear the amusing tidbits falling from his lips as we floated onward. We came to learn that he used to have dreadlocks, and had cut them off somewhat recently. We talked for a bit about familiar reactions to them, laughing about how upset the grandparents got. Most of the float involved staring at magnificent sandstone formations. It’s a great way to experience the natural splendor of the canyon. The rapids we went through were nothing dangerous at all, but we did get completely soaked, and it was a nice refreshing burst of adrenaline to break up the peaceful float.

Another couple hours passed, and we pulled over on another sandbar to let off the people that had not paid for the full day experience. We took the opportunity to get on Marco’s raft. Some other people were just joining the party, having only signed up for the afternoon portion of the trip. Our raft mates turned out to be some bikers from Colorado, so naturally the conversation turned to motorcycles, and 2 wheeled adventuring. I knew when we left that our excursion was ambitious, but it was still interesting to have that confirmed by virtually everyone we encountered. Even seasoned bikers expressed how hardcore it was to do 2 months of camping with 2 people on 1 bike. Evidently most rides are from hotel to hotel, and few are bold enough to do the sort of minimalist camping that the motorcycle requires.

Another short jaunt down the river and it was time for lunch. We ducked off behind some river grasses and rocks to smoke a bowl. Halfway through our smoke, one of our biker raft mates walked around the corner, and offered us a hit off of his bowl. I was surprised for a minute, then I remembered they’re from Colorado. This trip definitely reinforced my belief that marijuana transcends all cultures and social boundaries. Here was this 40 year old biker sharing some very high quality smoke from his friend’s medical grow in Colorado. Feeling good, we wandered back over to the main group to find an elaborate lunch buffet of sandwiches and sides had been set out. We hadn’t eaten anything since oatmeal for breakfast, and the couple light snacks provided along the way. Between that and the influx of cannabinoids to the brain, we were hungry as shit, and set upon the sandwich fixin’s like coyotes on a hen house.

Our bellies full, we set out for the last leg of the journey. The boat was quiet as we all sat stoned, staring in awe at the artistry of wind and water. Marco pointed out some cowboy glyphs, also known as bullet holes, in some rocks along the shore. We finally reached our destination and paddled the boat up onto the shore. While 90% of the rafts had no difficulty with this, one of the 2-person kayaks just couldn’t seem to make it over the relatively short distance to the shore, and went floating on down the river some more instead. Marco jumped in a raft, and paddled after them while the rest of us drank some water and waited for the buses to arrive.

Weary and sun-baked, we napped a bit on the bus ride home. While everyone unloaded back at HQ, we approached Marco, and offered to smoke him out. He didn’t have time right then, but invited us back to his place in an hour or so after he got off work. It was a small RV trailer in a park just outside town. He and his fiance were very welcoming. We smoked a couple bowls and swapped travel stories, before heading out for a hike through the canyon.

There is a public hiking park through the canyon in Moab, providing roughly the same function as the Barton creek and bull creek greenbelts here in Austin. I have to say Moab’s 100 foot sandstone cliffs are much impressive than our creeks. Clouds were forming overhead, threatening to storm any minute. My mind flashed to the tent, hoping the rain-fly would hold. Eventually, it began to rain pretty hard. The thunder rolled through the canyon, echoing on for almost a minute sometimes. An interesting thing happens in these canyons when it rains. Water pools up on the tops of the cliffs, and then comes pouring down over the side in dazzling 100+ foot waterfalls, sometimes dozens at once. Though this can sometimes cause dangerous flash floods, we were with an experienced wilderness guide familiar with the area, and made attempts to stick to high ground. The waterfalls vanished as quickly as they had come, but it was almost overwhelmingly beautiful to experience their effervescent glory.

We eventually hiked our way up to a more permanent waterfall in the area where people were diving off cliffs into the presumably deep pool below. We made some new friends in what was obviously a popular gathering space, and shared the peace pipe once more. Soon, we wandered on to a parallel section of the creek that must have been much further down. The water here is fed by nearby snowmelt flowing down the Colorado River. The amount of time the water has been exposed to sunlight directly determines the temperature of the water, so water further upstream is cold, and water further downstream is much warmer. While the water we had just been splashing about in was actually quite chilly, the water in the new section of creek was almost warm. We sat around for a little while, enjoying the warm water until we heard the distinctive buzz of a billion insects waking up for the night. We hiked quickly back through the canyon to their car, trying to outrun the astonishingly vivacious mosquitoes which inhabited the region. I have smacked one of these bastards full force against a picnic table, just to see her fly back off a couple seconds later. Big, tough motherfuckers that can stab through thin clothing and actually hurt when they prick you. I know DEET causes cancer, but seriously, fuck these mosquitoes.

By the time we made it back to their RV we were incredibly hungry, and it looked like it might rain again soon. We took off on the bike, again experiencing the thrill of climbing the canyon in a building storm. Evidently Monsoon season was coming a couple months early to Moab this year. The sky blessed us with an hour to eat before we began another night of weathering the epic desert thunderstorms.

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