The barely audible tale of the Yampa River
July 3, 2001
It was begrudgingly that I embarked on a canoe trip with one of the editors from our newspaper last Friday. I had been promised free use of a friend’s canoe and our editor was eager to hold him to it.
I, on the other hand didn’t feel the need to put all the effort into something that had the chance to take all day.
Not the least hindered by my reluctance, my friend grabbed for a phrase made famous in states such as North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa, “What else are we going to do here?”
After enough persistence and a quick trip to pick up the canoe, we were on our way to float along the smooth waters of one of America’s last unbroken rivers – the Yampa River.
We set out on the Yampa about 10-miles east of Craig, at the Colorado Department of Wildlife, recreation area.
It was nearly 3 p.m. by the time we put in, so there is no need to elaborate on how hot it was.
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Heat, though, on a day with nothing else to do is actually welcoming.
We had brought along our fishing poles, in the event of a section of backwater or an inviting eddy cropped up, where perhaps a record northern pike might be hiding out.
Within an hour of disembarking, the poles were touched a precious few times.
The same went for the oars, which were more likely to be seen lying across our laps or stored beneath our seats. Reaching our destination behind the Yampa Valley Golf Course, was not our primary concern.
In the place of rushing, hurrying and completion our journey was the enjoyment that the moment created.
One of those moments came for me as I listened to the nearly silent tales the river had to tell, as I lounged back on an unworn life jacket.
The dry air rustling through the cottonwood leaves on the trees that bordered the banks, singing songs of the long forgotten residents of the Yampa Valley.
Joined by the chorus of rushing water still proclaiming the freedom of this land.
In between the verses of the river’s songs, a history can be heard and seen, if you are careful and observant enough to recognize it.
The sounds of the Yampa Valley’s original inhabitants, the Utes, and those who came before them and have no names, can be heard at the river’s edge. The sound of vessels filling with clear water in the river’s clear water sections. The sound of the river’s bounty, the trout and the pike minnow being harvested, when no laws told them otherwise.
Echoing off one of many sand cliffs overlooking the Yampa’s bends can be heard the snap of steel jaws.
Another beaver collected by a Frenchman, the first white inhabitants of the river valley.
The shallows of the river, with the coarse bottom tells the tales of cattle and sheepmen driving the herds across the Yampa river, where the mud wouldn’t suck them in and the water wouldn’t wash them away.
The final tale the river told me in its three-hour story, is one often untold. The story of silence, of floating down the half-mile stretches were the water moves so slow that it almost seems to be static.
The story of simpler lives than the ones we live today; our modern lives filled with the Jones’ and how to keep up with them.
The silent story of understanding, formed from the melting of the Flattop’s snow, and the valley’s twisting landscape.
Few places in the world are left in this pristine shape, especially a river.
Along the majority of the river’s length, man’s touch is remains unfelt.
The soft story of where the Yampa Valley comes from is told, for infinity, and can not be drowned out by the shrillness of an automobile or the music of a radio.
The story makes an outsider of the Yampa Valley pray pray that this generation will not be the last to hear the river speak.