Paddling Through the Desert - Page 4 of 5

[Breakfast at canyon camp.]   [Cliff dwelling at Jasper Canyon.]
Breakfast at "Canyon Camp" in the mouth of Horse Canyon (mile 14.4). John looks like he's having a "bad hair day".   We stopped at Jasper Canyon (mile 9.4) to inspect a well-known cliff-dwelling, a relic of the ancient Native Americans.

[Cliff dwelling at Jasper Canyon.]   [River view from cliff dwelling.]
Here's a closer view of the excellent cliff-dwelling.   This is the river view that the cliff-dwellers had – they must have enjoyed scenic vistas, just like we do.

Day 5, Thursday, March 18, 1999

According to my notes, we didn't have a lunch stop this day. We did have a rather frustrating and stressful afternoon, due to the difficulty of maneuvering the raft. The scout kayak had selected a couple of decent landings/campsites, but each time the raft was swept past by the current before it could successfully reach shore. There were several problems at work here. First of all, we had decided to make the trip comfortable and convenient by bringing lots of gear, like a car-camping trip rather than a backpacking trip. Unfortunately, kayaks are not very good at carrying lots of gear, especially big bulky items like an ice chest or a portable toilet. This required us to pile lots of gear in the raft, making it heavy and difficult to maneuver. The raft itself was actually an inflatable dinghy that would normally be propelled by an outboard motor, so the oars were really just "toy" oars. On top of that, Ben had no real experience as an oarsman, so he had trouble with tricky maneuvers.

In retrospect, it might have been better to use big cargo canoes instead of kayaks and a raft. Two big canoes could have carried the four of us and all of our gear, including the big bulky items. The canoes would have been easier to load/unload than the kayaks or even the raft, because you would have lots of open linear space. You wouldn't have to make a big pile like a Chinese puzzle like we did on the raft. Gear would be easy to secure by running lines from gunwale to gunwale.

Another big advantage of canoes over kayaks is that they would carry two people, either of whom could step out at a moment's notice. Due to the tricky landings (narrow, muddy ledges), it was frequently difficult to enter/exit a kayak. With a canoe, the stern paddler could simply nose into the bank and hold the boat in-place while the bow paddler quickly and easily stepped ashore and grabbed the mooring line.

In my opinion, a big advantage of kayaks is that they are faster and easier to paddle. On this type of trip, though, the river does most of the work for you. You can paddle now and then if you want to, but you don't really have to. You only need to paddle to keep from running aground and to maneuver towards landings, so paddling a big heavy canoe wouldn't be that much trouble. If you do use canoes, get big sturdy backrest chairs for the canoe seats since much of the time you're just relaxing and back support would be very desirable.

While we're on the subject of boat carrying capacity, here's how I packed my Klepper. The Klepper doesn't have hatches, so everything has to go in/out via the cockpit. I used a paddle blade to place things at the ends of the boat, and tied light lines to those items so I could retrieve them. In the bow, I had a collapsible camp chair, my Thermarest pad, and a spare take-apart paddle. Just forward of the cockpit, I had a big dry bag (with all my clothes and fleece), two water bottles, and the collapsible canvas bucket. Along the sides of the cockpit, I had four water bottles, a map and pencil in a ziploc bag, two squeeze-bottles of sunscreen, a small sweat towel, a bailing cup, and a dry bag I carried in my lap (with camera, film, binoculars, bird book, compass, wool hat, gloves, etc.). I always wore my PFD, which had a strobe light / flashlight, leatherman tool, and my wristwatch. Behind the seatback I had my rainsuit (top and bottom), windbreaker, daypack, small plastic tarp, two mesh bags, and bilge pump. Aft of the cockpit I had a gallon jug of water, a fairly large first-aid kit, two ziploc bags with my shoes and socks, a medium-size dry bag (with my sleeping bag, bivvy sack, camp pillow, and toiletry kit), two water bottles, and another collapsible camp chair. I didn't carry any deck gear.

[Overall view of campsite and river.]   [Overall view from higher up.]
A view from the cliffside overlooking our campsite, looking upstream (about mile 7.0). Our campsite is in the clearing in the center of the picture.   A view from higher up the cliff; our campsite is in the lower right corner of the picture.

We camped at about mile 7.0, at a sharp bend in the river. This was the location that had a great campsite but a poor river landing – just a narrow ledge that was swept by the current. The campsite was fabulous, with many large flat areas that could accomodate three or four small groups. There even was a tree with a branch at just the right height for a hanging shower bag.

John broke out the fishing poles and he, Ben, and Peter had some luck catching river catfish using Velveeta cheese as bait (they released the fish). Meanwhile, I wandered around taking pictures. There was a trail leading up the rocky talus slope to a low point on the cliff. I climbed about 3/4 of the way up and was rewarded with spectacular views, but I had to quit due to approaching darkness. While climbing, I heard the clattering of a nearby rock fall in an adjacent mini-canyon.

At this campsite, we were late getting situated and dawdled before dinner, so we wound up cooking dinner in the dark. There are more pictures from this campsite ("Fishing Camp") on the next page.

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