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Kayaking Upper San Juan Class II
By Wanda Gayle
| Wanda Gayle, Gretchen Siegler, and Steve Susswein launched from Sand Island in two IKs and a small cataraft. The river was at 958 cfs and the weather was sunny and pleasant. But smiles turned to frowns when 25 to 30 mph winds developed around noon.
The group made it to lower Chinle Creek despite the wind and set up camp just in time for a big gust to deposit sand and dirt in everything. But by 5 PM the wind departed so Gretchen and Wanda hiked into Chinle Canyon while a herd of curious mules watched. The canyon was cool, green, and peaceful and the rock art and cliff dwellings impressive. The serene mood ended abruptly, though, when Gretchen came eyeball to eyeball with a red bull munching on leafy sprigs in a tamarisk grove on the way back to camp.
Day two begin as a frosty morning. When the sun got over the rim and warmed us up, we rigged for another day on the river. Everyone navigated Four Foot, Eight Foot, and Ledges rapids with no trouble. Mysteriously, after Eight Foot rapids, Gretchen and Wanda heard a loud, low bark. A party of rafters had pulled out on the beach behind us so we thought their dog made the sound. We went on to Mexican Hat camp for the night, de-rigged, and set up camp in the warm afternoon sun. Wanda and Gretchen hiked up the ridge for a view of the river, Mexican Hat Rock, Valley of the Gods, and glimpses of Monument Valley. We could look down on the other raft party at Pourover camp and Gretchen spotted a dog on the beach there. Back at camp we enjoyed dinner and a friendly visit, but as the temperature dropped precipitously in the darkening evening, everyone crawled into their tents under a star-speckled sky and a full moon.
Wanda woke up at 5 AM to investigate a bright light shining through her tent. It turned out to be the moon but there was definitely something wrong with the picture. It was a lunar eclipse, awesome sight to witness and the perfect parting gift from the river grandmothers.
Day three begin with rigging our boats and the other river party floating by. Gretchen asked about the boating dog. The answer: We don't have a dog! Hmmm....
With only a few river miles to go, our group leisurely ambled downriver to the Mexican Hat boat ramp. High cirrus clouds formed a stunning backdrop to swarming flocks of black geese twisting and turning in the blue sky. When they flew over the cliffs their white undersides reflected the colors of the rock.
Before getting off the river, some Chinese tourists with cameras and telephoto lenses took a lot of photos as we floated by. By now those pictures of Wanda, Gretchen, and Steve are somewhere in China, looking like the hard and seasoned river rats who made it 27 miles down the San Juan River.
Respectfully submitted by Wanda Gayle