You haven’t heard from me for a while, but don’t worry, I’ve still been out there having fun and documenting it - I’ve just been real shitty at sharing it here. This summer I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend 15 days on the wild and wonderful river that carved one of the seven wonders of the natural world. I’m talking about the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. But first I had to get there, and that in itself was quite the adventure.
I met up with my traveling companions in Penfield, PA. I would joining my brother Jim, and one of our best white water paddling buddies, Nate, on this road trip. We packed and repacked our gear numerous times to make sure it was all there, and hit the road on the afternoon of July 27th. Our destination was Flagstaff Arizona, Via the beautiful state of Colorado, where Nate was scheduled to photograph a wedding in a few days.
With three drivers, we decided to take shifts, and drive straight through the midwest until we reached Colorado, where we would find a place to camp for the night before heading to Telluride, where Nate had a hotel room waiting for us thanks to his photo gig. Nate took the first shift, with me taking over around 11 pm. With the help of caffeine I was able to power through until 4am, then Jim took over until the sun came up. Nate’s truck was well suited for this trip, with enough room in the backseat for some one to actually lie down to sleep. Nate again took the wheel after sunrise and by 12:30 PM MST we were 1400 miles in and had reached Kansas.
We had a late lunch as soon as we hit the Colorado line, and hopped back in the truck to find the mountains. I took over the driving duties, and we found our selves in Pueblo, CO by early afternoon.
We filled the tank in Pueblo, and got back on the road heading west to find a place to camp for the night. With the aid of modern technology (smartphones, gps and laptops) we were easily able to find public lands to rest our road weary souls. Multiple stops later, we had everything we needed for the night, mainly beer and ice. We drove a road that followed the Arkansas river gorge, quickly gaining elevation, and losing the warmth of the plains. As we got closer to our destination, we realized we should find out about the fire restrictions, as large forest fires were already burning in Colorado. We lucked out, and fire was still allowed in our area. After a brief and severe rain/wind storm in Salida, and a few phone calls to family members, we turned off pavement onto a gravel road to head up into the pines to camp, for free, thank you Colorado.
We got to our campsite just as dusk was setting in, and were able to scavenge some wood, and get our hammocks set up before again digging into our stash of food. Cold cuts and chips for dinner, along with some delicious Colorado brews.
The wind kicked up considerably that evening, and it made for a somewhat restless night, although it was hands down better than sleeping in a crammed moving vehicle for sure.
We were up early that day to tear down and repack all our gear, I grabbed a few shots of the entire ENO set up, which is something they sent along as well, although will probably only be used at kayak festivals where there are no trees, as it is a bit to complicated and restrictive for my liking.
After some sort of breakfast from our bin of food, I don’t remember what, we were back on the road by 930. We hopped back on Route 50, known as the loneliest road in Colorado, to take the scenic route to Telluride. Along the way and without and prior knowledge, we passed the Gunnison River White Water Park, and quickly did a U-turn. Having just hauled 3 kayaks 1753 miles, we decided to put the playboat to good use. Jim suited up first, and we all took turns surfing on a few of the features before lunching in the sunny parking lot.
After our lunch, we put the show back on the road to get to Telluride in time for Nate to do his job that evening. Along the way we passed the Blue Mesa Reservoir, where the Gunnison River had been dammed up. This is the largest lake in the state of Colorado, and as much as I hate seeing rivers dammed up, it sure was pretty.
We got to our hotel about 5 PM, and were finally able to take showers after 50+ hours of driving - they were well deserved. Nate had to head to the rehearsal dinner, and while Jim and I were invited, we opted to explore the area a bit. We met up with a friend of a friend who just happened to tend bar at the hotel we were staying at. He hooked us up with some drinks and beta on where to go, what to see, etc. After a quick drink, another serious rain storm and amazing display of rainbows - Jim and I climbed back into the truck for more scenic driving.
We scored some delicious hotdogs, buns and local beers in town, and headed up the mountains to a camping area known as Alta Lakes to take in the scenery and have some dinner. We were surprised to find the camping areas up here completely full on a Sunday night. With no free campsites, we set about chatting up some folks who seemed friendly, and they soon invited us to share their campfire so we could cook our dinner. It turns out most of the crew here were also employed by the hotel we were staying at, and were friends with our bartender from early that evening, a few of them were even from a town near where I went to college, small world. After a few beers, and lots of stories of the past years terrible lack of snowfall, Jim and I said goodnight to our new friends and headed back into town to crash for the night.
The following morning the three of us grabbed breakfast at a local spot, Baked in Telluride, which was amazing. We parted ways as Nate left for his adventurous drive over Black Bear Pass, where the wedding was taking place. Jim and I set out to get fishing licenses and then to a trailhead outside of town that would lead us to an alpine lake, supposedly teaming with trout.
We certainly weren’t super late getting to the trailhead, but a lot of other folks seemed to have the same idea we did on this bluebird day. As we began to slowly pull out gear for hiking, which of course was stashed all the way in the front of the truck bed, about a dozen more cars arrived. We finally were ready to hike the trail by 11 am, and since most everyone had beat us to the trailhead, we were happily alone on the trail.
As we got close to our destination, we began passing the folks who had made it there early that morning, and 95% of them asked us why we had fishing rods. We were informed the water was super low, and fishing wouldn’t be any good. Finally we stopped and chatted with some women who gave us the tip to skip the initial descent into the lake bed, and take a secondary trail to the outlet of the lake, where no one would be, and the fishing should be better.
We made our way down to the water, and had a much needed snack/lunch before busting out the fishing gear to disprove all the folks we passed on the way up. As usual, I lost interest quickly after not catching fish and turned my attention to photography. When I can see fish everywhere, and none of them care what I throw in the water, I am easily frustrated. Jim did manage to catch a cutthroat of course, not on the tenkara, but with his spinning rod.
After a solid 3 hours of hanging out and fishing, we decided it was time to head back down, but we were going to make our own trail instead of going back the way we came, so we carefully picked our way down the boulders until we linked back up with the main trail before heading back below the tree line.
We hiked a total of 5.5 miles, and by the time we got back to the car, there were only 3 cars left in the parking area. It was about 7 PM, and we decided to find a fire ring in a campsite, cook up some grub, then go fish in a lake we had passed on the way in, aptly named trout lake.
After dinner, we made our way back to Trout Lake, and tossed the kayaks in the water to try and catch a few fish. We figured it was going to be a cake walk, as we could see hundreds of fish rising any where we looked on the water. We got skunked, but had a nice paddle anyway. I did manage to raise a fish on the tenkara rod, but of course forgot how to set a hook.
We finally gave up as dusk was setting in, and made our way back to Telluride to meet Nate, and get some rest. Our time in Colorado was over, and the next day we made tracks for Arizona and the real reason we made this road trip - the Grand Canyon. We were up early to once again pack the truck, had breakfast together and Nate talked us into checking out Bridal Veil falls at the base of the Black Bear Pass, it was worth it.
We were on the road out of Telluride by 830, and hit the four corners (where CO, NM, AZ, UT meet) at 1230. As advised by multiple people we kept on driving right past this tourist trap. Jim and I had been to the Grand Canyon back in 2012 while visiting AZ for our good friends wedding, but Nate had never seen it. So we decided to take a little detour to the south rim and take a look at the mighty Colorado from above. As we drove south, the mountains quickly gave way to desert canyons, and the landscape became an overwhelmingly brown tone. Along the way we hit up multiple beer distributors to begin our stock pile of beer for our 15 day river trip. We stopped at the Cameron trading post, where Highway 89 crosses the Little Colorado River, we were blasted with heat as we stepped out of the truck. 101 was the current temp, and we knew this was something we needed to get used to fast.
We got to the south rim entrance around 4pm, and spent the next few hours stopping at the multiple pull offs to take in the views from above. It finally hit me that we were about to experience something that most of the other tourists staring into the canyon with us never would, and the stoke was high.
We made our way through the park quickly and into Flagstaff, where we would meet up with the rest of our crew for the adventure that lay ahead. But first, we spent the night and following day with a good friend from PA and his wife, who put us up for the night and made us an amazing dinner and breakfast. We spent the night catching up, and the following day ran around Flagstaff like crazy, buying last minute items, and beer, lots and lots of beer.
Up next, you’ll finally get to see what this whole trip was about. Coming Soon.