Six Days on the Dolores River
Imagery from an extended rafting trip down the previously unraftable tributary of the Colorado River
Floating, gazing silently as the rock walls change slowly above me, I fell in love with the Dolores River.
Less than a month earlier I had been invited on the rafting trip. Even before I knew the date, crew, or where the Dolores was I said yes (and later learned it's in Utah and Colorado). Coming from Minnesota I was no stranger to water. Paddling across the lakes was a past hobby of mine. Though after moved to Yosemite I had exchanged the paddle and portage for a backpack and climbing shoes. This would be a chance to return to my hydroponic roots and extend them into the whitewater.
A tributary of the Colorado River, the Dolores has not raftable for years, thanks in part to years of drought but even more so because of the McPhee Dam. A river that used to rage with spring runoff had been reduced to a small trickle of what it once was. But now, after a strong winter showing, the Dolores River was back at it again. Flows were exceeding 1000 cubic feet per second (nearly double usual flow)! The extra water was flushing out built up sediment and entertaining fish and paddlers alike. Closed for years of rehabilitation the river was once again opened to the public, allowing its beauty to be seen again.
Every evening became a simple routine. First we had to find a campsite—we had several maps and each contained a few marked spots on the river. Then we’d carry stoves, lanterns, and dishes to the shore. Tents were quickly erected and dry clothes put on. Two of the rafts carried large coolers which we dug into for beers and fresh vegetable to prepare dinner. Paco Pad's were thrown across the ground for comfortable lounging arrangements as we listened to the river and ate luxurious dinners.
Large Wingate Sandstone cliffs lined the shores. Some parts were dotted with mining infrastructure, others covered with gypsum or the green of uranium. The shores filled with beautiful tamarisk and cottonwood trees. Banks, now overgrown after years without rafters, made for a primitive feeling.
The trip lasted six days and covered 96 of the Dolores' 241 miles. It was a wonderful experience to say the least, and given the chance I'd do it again without hesitation.
want more rafting content? check out Thomas Woodson's packrafting trip down the Escalante