In our latest Mountain Dispatch: A Father's Day River Adventure through Colorado's Iconic Dinosaur National Monument
My father’s love for the river started back – way back. By the time I was born however, his river days were largely over. It was our small family trips, combined with his epic, wild stories that led me to start rowing my own boats — both as a guide and on my own adventures. Some of my happiest memories of the last ten years center around floating the rivers of the Southwest.
Last June, my friend Anna and I invited my Dad along on a one-day trip through the Split Mountain section of the Green River. This nine-mile stretch through Dinosaur National Monument that marks the end of longer trips down the Yampa and through the Gates of Lodore. (Information on these one-day permits– as well as permit information for multi-day trips – can be found on the Dinosaur National Monument page, or by clicking here). My dad was last on this stretch of river circa 1980. This time, though, Anna and I were in charge.
Fittingly, our trip was on the summer solstice, just after Father’s Day. This also meant that the river was cranking through Split Mountain at 15,600 cubic feet per second (CFS), just below last year’s peak. For perspective, the average flow through this section hovers around 4,000 CFS, and often runs even lower than that in July and August. I was nervous, not for Anna and myself, but because I was taking my aging father down a high, cold, stretch of river. Never mind the fact that he once swam Lava Falls in an orange life jacket with metal buckles.
Anxiously pumping everyone I knew for river beta, I fastidiously cataloged each detail in preparation, down to each individual oar stroke. I was acting like I was about to swim Lava Falls. Here’s the one piece of beta, however, that not one person thought was pertinent to share with us. If you take nothing else away from this story, remember this: The Rainbow Park boat ramp is literally one of the buggiest places west of the Mississippi. The rapids were fine. The mosquito situation was dire. None of us brought mosquito repellent. In a moment of desperation, I turned an extra-large dry top into a pair of pants, and we literally begged our neighbors for just a little squirt of their sweet, sweet 99% Deet bug spray.
The mosquito situation was dire…
We passed the afternoon running the world’s longest shuttle (definitely hire someone to do this for you – I’ve heard River Runners in Vernal does a great job). Dad stayed behind in his mesh tent, looking sweaty and miserable in his brand-new, all-black rain gear. We drove up out of the river bottom to cook and eat in a pathetic attempt to escape the bugs, and went to bed long before dark. Ostensibly there are some really cool petroglyph panels near Rainbow Park, but we were all too miserable to venture past the sign stating, “Petroglyphs.”
The primal panic caused by too many mosquitoes all over one’s face and hands largely replaced my anxiety about running the river. However, our bug-spray rich neighbors did tell us that they had been lapping Split Mountain for three straight days, and had had an epic, two-boat flip in “SOB” rapid the day before. Stay off the wall, they cautioned. Perfect, I thought. If Dad doesn’t die of heat stroke in that black rain outfit, he’ll get crushed.
It is possible to get both day permits for Split Mountain (especially mid-week), which could be very worthwhile, particularly when the water is high. Bear in mind, however, that the run, takes 2 hours at least at peak runoff. Hiring a shuttle would almost be mandatory to do two runs in a day, unless you wanted to spend the majority of that day ruining your suspension on rutted dirt roads.
Morning came, and Anna and I psyched ourselves up to do the fastest boat rig in the history of all river runs. Dad stood and watched, all crazy-man hair and black rain outfit. He clearly wanted to help, but realized he no longer knew how. This would have been kind of a sad moment, except Anna was throwing things into the boat and smacking my back while I hastily put only enough air in the raft so we could push it into the water.
And then we did, and the moment our oars cut the glassy surface of the early morning river, we forgot all about the bugs, and the heat, and the long shuttle. We found our life vests, tightened the cam straps, and indulged in one of the greatest of river pleasures: a floating breakfast. It was a big, fast, clean, great run. I needn’t have worried. Anna and I rowed, Dad paddled, and I saw in his face a glimmer of the young river rat he once was. His pride in Anna and me was palpable.
I was the lucky winner of a Gates of Lodore permit for this July, and Dad will be tagging along again. I’ll be honest that I wasn’t immediately sure that he should come; in addition to his age and not-perfect health, my dad has always walked the fine line between “eccentric” and “crazy,” and as he ages he toes the “crazy” side progressively more. In other words, the man drives me nuts about 85% of the time. And yet… he gave me the gift of the river, and it is my turn to give it back.
Find out more about rafting the Green River
- Commercial guided trips are also available on this stretch of river. Click here for more information.