It’s my last unspoken-for day in Moab before moving to Canyonlands National Park; peak river flows draw me inexorably onto the Colorado. I walked into Navtec Guides the day before with cash in hand, plunked it down, and said, “I know your river trip tomorrow costs more than this, but you’ll be going with or without me, and is it enough?” Of course their answer was Yes. This made me happy.
Westwater Canyon was named by National Geographic as “The West’s Best Short Whitewater Rafting Trip,” due to peculiar geology: a short, narrow, extremely scenic cleft which the Colorado River has gouged and polished through an ancient uplift of black Precambrian schist. Soaring red sandstone cliffs cap the jet-black schist, providing a striking and unlikely contrast. Twelve sharp, technical rapids with names like Funnel Falls, Sock-It-To-Me, Surprise and the infamous Skull challenge one during this seventeen-mile trip. With only 75 total commercial passengers in the canyon per day, I knew it was going to give me a feeling of being “out there” that is different from local rafting.
18,000 cfs (cubic feet/sec) is moderately big for this section, and plenty of Class III and some Class IV rapids awaited us today. The weather was perfect: low 90s for air temp. I had rented a wetsuit due to the 55-degree water temp.
Ten paying passengers, two guides, and two rafts headed upriver about 90 minutes. One is a 16-ft paddle raft for the group of six friends from Oklahoma, and the other is an 18-ft oar raft (rowed by our guide) for the other group of three young Salt Lake Citians plus myself.
It was while we were waiting for the boats to be rigged that I detected a problem. Chris, one of the Salt Lake trio, was agitated and annoying. He was gesticulating wildly and making ridiculous statements to nobody in particular. He railed against the government, cops, and rules. He pointed out with pride how rebellious he was, and I’m not talking about your typical 21-yr-old. He was over the top. I meandered away and breathed deeply.
After a life jacket check we clambered aboard, having secured our belongings in drybags that would be clipped to the boat. The first seven miles are mainly flat water and small riffles, where we would learn the geology of the canyon and a few things about the river’s history. The bald eagle nest (with a pair on it) near the beginning let me know we were indeed off the beaten path.
And then Chris proudly announced to our boat that he had taken psychedelic mushrooms to enhance his rafting experience.