First river trip of the year! The temperature cracked 80 for the first time this season, so we loaded up the ducky and hit the Colorado River. We've rafted a lot of the Colorado River closer to Moab, so this time we decided to try the 25-mile section that goes through Ruby and Horsethief Canyons. Most of the trip is flatwater with a couple riffles -- there's one set of Class II rapids around Black Rocks. The river winds between tall orange cliffs and takes you past rock art, outcroppings of ancient black rocks, and spectacular spires.
We recruited a GV seasonal, Taylor, and made plans for a really mellow, 2-day flatwater trip. And the first day totally worked out that way -- we drank tons of beer, barely paddled, and called it a day at the Cottonwood campground. We knew the next day would be a solid 20 miles, but figured if we got an early start it wouldn't be a problem. Right ...
The next morning we hit the river and got a few miles in, but then ... the wind hit. And it blew ALL DAY. There were times when we paddled all-out and still went backwards! It was rough. It was a big 9-hour day -- my arms are definitely noodles right now. Oh well. It was still a really pretty trip, and if the weather had cooperated it would have been way more enjoyable. Okay, enough griping -- here are the logistics:
If you want to do this trip, wait until the weather looks perfect! The river starts off as calm flatwater. You'll paddle through Horsethief Canyon, Rattlesnake Monocline, and Ruby Canyon. Shortly after you exit Ruby Canyon, you'll hit the only rapids on the trip: Black Rocks. Black Rocks is easy to recognize because it's the only place where the river makes an abrupt left turn and black metamorphic rocks appear. These black rocks are 1.7 billion years old -- about 220 million years older than the rocks that lie directly above them. The gap in the geological record is a great example of a 'nonconformity.' About 1/2 way through this mile-long section, several large boulders form the obvious rapid. Just stay to the left and you'll miss most of it. (Too bad the wind pushed us right into it ...)
Just after Black Rocks, you'll see McDonald Canyon on the right side of the river. If you hike up the canyon for about 10 minutes, you'll see a little Fremont rock art panel. We didn't have a chance to check it out, but the canyon looked really promising.
If you're going to do the Ruby/Horsethief Canyon river trip, there are a couple logistical things to take care of first. First of all, you need a car shuttle. Put in at the Loma exit (Exit 15) just inside the Colorado border. Go south off the highway and make a left at the T. The boat ramp and parking is less than a mile from this junction. Unload everything here. Stash another car at the Westwater ramp. To get to Westwater, travel back into Utah on I-70 for about 5 miles to the Westwater exit (Exit 227.) Travel south off the highway for about 9 miles to the ranger station, picnic area, and boat ramp. The shuttle takes about 45 minutes each way.
You don't currently need a permit to float Ruby and Horsethief Canyons as a day trip. However, if you want to split the trip into two days and camp in the canyon, check out the BLM's website for a camping permit. As of right now, you need to make advanced reservations and pay a small fee if you're camping between May 1 and September 30. We got in just before the start of the busy season, so there was no fee and we just filled out a camping permit at the Loma put-in.
Like most river trips, you're required to bring some gear. Here's the BLM's official list of required and recommended gear. Basically, river runners need to bring either a fire pan or a camp stove. You need a groover or WagBag, and you need to bring PDFs. They recommend bringing a spare paddle, first aid kit, sunscreen, etc.