Picture this. It’s the 3rd week in June, it’s 10:30 AM, and our party of six and our guide shove off into the cool waters of the Arkansas River Bighorn Sheep Canyon. The 15 minute ride from the office to the departure point was light-hearted and filled with anticipation. The guides added to the excitement with their friendly banter.
After the guides unload the rafts from the bus top and the trailer and the rafts are put into the water, the group gathers around at the river’s edge. Casey, our guide, runs through the safety rules and the worse-case emergency situations with the final question, “So, are you scared yet? Good! Then let’s go.”
Within the next 2 to 3 minutes we practice our left back paddle, right paddle, and all paddle 3 commands. By the end of the rafting trip two hours later, we are just beginning to feel like a team that can respond to our guide’s commands and ride victoriously through the river’s challenges – any challenge. We might at this point be a little over confident. As first-time rafters, we may not know the subtle differences between class II-III rapids and those farther down the river through the Royal Gorge.
Somehow, from our beginning skill level of zero, we manage to ride the rapids, maneuver successfully around the rocks jutting up in the middle of the river (most of them!) and around the rocks that the current drives us toward, and with Casey’s expertise and adventurous spirit we ride down a few rapids backwards.
With some gentle persuasion after I have been well washed with a few soaking rapids, he obliges my request and we meet the next rapid’s challenges with the opposite side of the raft, for my wife’s benefit. She has stayed all too dry up to this point.
How can I describe it? We point the raft straight toward the rapids. “All paddle!” Casey shouts. We all paddle forward. As we hit the first rapid, the front of the raft hardly takes any water. We seem to skim over the troughs formed by the rapids, from top to top. Sometimes as I stroke forward with the paddle to pull it back, I pull air. Only the trough is below us. I can’t reach the water. Then the next wave crashes into the raft, soaking us all, the two leaders in front gasping a breath through the streaming water. From someone in the raft erupts a shout, “Yeah! Wow! What a ride!” And we’re through that set of rapids.
During the more quiet moments, some of the younger boys in one of our neighboring rafts jump in for a swim. We take some pictures, and trade stories, fully enjoying one of nature’s challenging forces, fully enjoying our newly-found unity and purpose as a river rafting team. Seldom in my life has the sky seemed more blue, the water more inviting, or the adventure more satisfying. The two-hour trip is all too short, and I loathe getting out of the river and back on the bus. I am ready to do the Royal Gorge and its class IV-V rapids!
RIVERRUNNERS can host your entire family (8 years of age and older) for an exhilarating, unforgettable rafting excursion on the Arkansas River through Big Horn Sheep Canyon. Now during early summer is an ideal time, but don’t write off late summer thinking the water level will be too low. For the family the entire summer is a great time. RIVERRUNNERS offers a variety of half day or full day trips from easy to demanding even for the experienced rafter. In addition to Royal Gorge and Bighorn Sheep Canyon, the company offers trips through Browns Canyon, the Numbers, and Pine Creek. Their Utah based ADRIFT ADVENTURES offers daily, 4-day and 5-day rafting vacations through the Yampa River Canyon, Green River, Lodor Canyon, and Dinosaur National Monument. Indeed, there is a trip and an adventure for everyone.
The staff is experienced, requiring 100 hours of rafting experience before being allowed to guide a raft. The equipment is kept in excellent repair, and the company’s attention to detail, including each participant’s personal needs and limitations, is admirable. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip with RIVERRUNNERS, and our next full-day rafting trip, including the Royal Gorge and class V rapids, will be with them. Get ready Casey, because we’re requesting you for our guide.