River rookie: Awakening to the joys of Moffat County’s rivers | CraigDailyPress.com

River rookie: Awakening to the joys of Moffat County’s rivers

An Adventure Bound raft captained by Dean O'Connor makes its way into the top of one of Ladore Canyon's most exciting and tumultuous rapids, Hell's Half Mile, during a four-day excursion down the Green River earlier this month.
Lauren Blair |

How much do you know about the Yampa River? How about the Green?

Surely you know the Yampa runs through Craig, and that it supports our local agriculture in Moffat County and perhaps even that it begins in the Flat Tops Wilderness?

But if you’re one of those people who’s never tubed the Yampa, or who has never stepped foot in Echo Park where the rivers converge or witnessed the Green River as it enters the Gates of Lodore, let me let you in on something: the rivers here are magic. They’re like a portal to a whole new way of seeing and experiencing this beautiful corner of the state we call home.

Because despite our occasional obliviousness to them, the Yampa and the Green rivers are always moving, always changing and very much alive. They feed both our modern practical and recreational needs as well as reveal our place in the human and geologic history of the region.

Once you get your feet wet, the rivers open up a world of curiosities to explore, from the petroglyphs of the Fremont peoples, to more recent homesteader histories, to the extraordinary geological processes that formed the countless distinct canyons from Cross Mountain to Yampa to Lodore canyons.

If you’re anything like me, that all sounds well and good and doesn’t truly mean much until you’ve let yourself be carried away by these rivers. Literally.

This month, I had the good fortune of hitting the rivers not only for the first time, but three times over — starting with tubing the Yampa in town, then floating it from the Dorsey boat ramp to Craig and finally rafting the Green in Dinosaur National Monument. The rivers invited me to move at a different pace, to let go of my busy-ness and to-do lists if only for a couple hours and to give myself up to the sun and water and wildlife and most of all, the sheer fun of playing in the river.

As efforts ramp up to bolster our community’s recreational economy, with the river at the center of so many possibilities, have you tapped this incredible natural resource yet?

Tubing: Family-friendly, affordable fun

The lowest bar to entry is tubing the river. I mean, how much easier could it get?

Step 1: Borrow a tube from a friend. Or rent one for $12 from Red Coyote Adventures in Craig or just buy one. They don’t cost more than a large pizza.

Step 2: Park a car at Loudy-Simpson Park.

Step 3: Head to Pebble Beach behind Yampa Valley Golf Course with some friends or family, put yourself and your tube in the river (with a cold beer in hand if that makes you happy) and let all your worries float away for the next couple hours.

Floating the Yampa between Hayden and Craig

The stretch of river from the State Wildlife Area (also known as Dorsey and located between Craig and Hayden) to Craig appears highly underutilized given the absolute treasure trove of birds of prey lining its banks.

Thanks to the Northwest Colorado Chapter of Parrotheads, I had the joy of floating the meandering Yampa by raft earlier this month while learning about the invasive leafy spurge.

The mellow water made for a perfect photographic adventure as we kept our eyes peeled for the countless bald eagles, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and osprey that swooped to and fro across the river banks, which are lined with beautiful cottonwood groves in addition to the problematic but benign-looking leafy spurge.

Rafting the Green

The beauty of dipping into the Yampa near town is its accessibility: it requires very little time, money and preparation to the reap soul-satisfying benefits of a few hours on the river.

But let it be known: some serious magic happens when you spend three or four days embraced by canyon walls that render your phone useless but your senses refreshed and spirit uplifted.

The feeling of sore muscles, the look of tanned (OK, burned) skin and the sense of exhilaration after navigating a raucous stretch of rapids is just the balm I needed to soften the grip of life’s stresses.

Sitting and contemplating the raw power of water rushing over rock at the rapid known as Hell’s Half Mile left the blood in my own veins feeling churned and enlivened. And the magnificent beauty of the endless canyons, from red rock walls 2,000 feet high to multi-colored layers of rock bending, arching and stretching skyward, inspire awe whether or not you can actually remember anything from your middle school geology class.

The point is: get out there.

Once you do, you might even be more blown away to know that our little old Yampa is responsible for contributing nearly a fifth of the total water that flows through the Colorado River system, a key resource depended on by 40 million people, according to Patrick Tierney, co-author of “Colorado’s Yampa River” with photographer John Fielder.

So let our rivers stir your curiosity and woo you with their delights. But don’t let my words convince you. Go out and experience it for yourself.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

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