On Memorial Day weekend, I joined a small group of friends on a canoe trip down the Gunnison River.
Water levels were high, and immediately after launching in Delta, we were bouncing on swells. It took us a few miles before we became comfortable with the boats. Fully-laden with all manner of gear, they were hard to maneuver. The first day was also windy, which made life difficult for Lara in her inflatable pack-raft. For the most part the first day’s float was relatively uneventful. The exception came in mid-afternoon, as we rounded a bend to find the entire river filled with whitecaps. It was a difficult Class II rapid, and our open canoes were right at the limit of what they could handle. We got several large waves breaking over the bow, and it took a lot of bailing before we were ready for the next rapid. As afternoon turned to evening, we looked in vain for a campsite. We stopped three times before finally finding a designated BLM site. It was a late night by the time we grilled our salmon and drank our Chardonnay.
The next morning was a shorter float. We stopped at a large ruined building before proceeding to the mouth of Dominguez canyon. We arrived right as a pair of backpackers were leaving, so after running a short rapid, we pulled into a perfect riverside campsite. That afternoon we hiked up the canyon, before returning for another restful evening- this time steak and Cabernet. Canoe camping is rough living!
On our third and final morning, we got up before the sunrise and hiked back up Dominguez Canyon, visiting a set of petroglyphs and a wonderful waterfall. Like nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, the geology of the canyon is fascinating- Mesozoic sandstone atop pre-Cambrian Gneiss. Red and black made for an interesting contrast.
Another interesting aspect of the trip was that a railroad paralleled the river for almost the entire route. Our paddles and slumbers were often interrupted by the horns and roars of the railroad coming through the canyon. The ground shook with the weight of the coal-laden trains. I gained a certain amount of notoriety the first night when my snoring resumed before the train departed. I still woke up- honest!
After returning to our camp, we completed our paddle, taking out at Whitewater. The section immediately below Bridgport may have been our favorite. The canyon walls were tall and filled with the nests of swallows. Much of the boat traffic took out at Bridgport, leaving us in solitude, floating by red-rock alcoves and reflecting on a weekend on the water.
Here’s a photo album.