The April 2012 Bluff to Mexican Hat San Juan River Trip

April 20th-22nd                                                   *underlined bits are links!

This float is a neighborhood favorite, one we first did in a canoe (aka DIVORCE BOAT) before children, then in a borrowed raft, and finally many times in our own floating dirigible.  Kid 1 came along and we strapped her tiny screaming butt into a straight-jacket PFD or into a car seat hog-tied to the front deck, noting happily that, with every consecutive year, the screaming seemed to decrease.  Five years later I was talked into kid 2 and we started the process all over again.  Now they’re both Cool, content to run off and play with their other boater-trash kid-friends, wallowing waste-deep in putrid river quicksand for hours at a time.  The dues have been paid; please pass the gin.

The Kid Crew on the Windy Trip – hardy little farts, these kids

This trip starts in Bluff, Utah, a tiny outpost at the edge of the back of beyond, destination for the San Juan Expedition of Mormon settlers who had an almost surreal journey of suffering to reach that remote corner of the universe.  Once they got to Bluff, starving and exhausted, some of their crew was told ‘Sorry, you’re not done yet – you actually have to get all the way to Montezuma Creek.’  Local people will feel the pity in that one.

A memorable moment on the river a few years ago was sitting at Cottonwood camp one night while a member of our group read from the journal compilations of that journey.  There, around a fire, in the shadow of Comb Ridge a quarter mile away from where the Mormon trail was hacked into the sandstone in the last push up and out of the canyon..well, it’s humbling to be so close to such a heartbreaking story of sheer determination.  Anyhoo…

No suffering here – I did note that the stuffed animal brought rafting was 1/4 the weight and size of the stuffed animal that came BACKPACKING

We are lucky to live in a time where visiting Comb Ridge and the San Juan river involves no suffering beyond keeping kids full of granola bars and piloting non-aerodynamic watercraft through 60 mph headwinds (which we have done and survived with minimal suffering, not that it is something I would outright recommend).  Happily we seem to have filled the karma cash register on that trip and enjoyed sheer weather perfection this time around.  And hey, there was only one large dead (or very sleepy) animal on this stretch.  Things were peachy.

River House on the River Juan – I can hear the Ancient One Mom now – IF I HAVE TO TELL YOU KIDS ONE MORE TIME NOT TO PAINT ON THE WALLS

With Todd’s mom along we had three generations of crazy in the boat and a second boat filled with the fabulous Baldwin family.  Good company makes for happy times.  The river can be run as low as 400 in a raft – we have run it anywhere from 500 to 5000 but on this day it was 600 cfs, an easy flow with no winds to battle, a flow that floats you upstream Lewis and Clark-style with winds whispering by at 10 mph.  Again, we lucked out with the most windless 3 days I’ve ever spent on the San Juan.

Lime Ridge camp at sunrise

We made a stop at the always lovely River House and then floated down to Lime Ridge camp where the children immediately immersed themselves in spa-like mud treatments and set up a Kids Club where Parents Are Not Allowed.  Perfect.

I hear stinky river quicksand muck is great for the pores

Ok, you two create a diversion – Maisy, go zip your head in the tent! and we’ll grab the donut holes. Meet back here in 5.

The kids are so used to this trip and each other that there was shockingly little to report in terms of Testy Moments.  Oh, except when Maisy started wailing as the sun was setting.  I held out hope that she was just super-sad that the sun was leaving for the day.  No such luck –  I looked over to see her standing in the tent, asked her what she needed and she hollered that she needed ME.  Now.  Turns out she had zipped her head quite effectively into the tent zipper.  I successfully resisted the urge to take a picture.

More bling than Mr. T

It was a great trip for animal sitings – the usual suspects were there – blue herons, bighorn sheep, lizards everywhere…but also lesser-seen animals this time around – a white-faced ibis (or a black curve-billed bird, anyway), egret, a big toad, snake, a  flock of turkeys and best of all a herd of wild horses that were gridding the area around our camp.  At one point they went galloping past full tilt.  I know that wild horses cause ‘resource damage’  or whatever but it really is something mystical to see wild horses being wild horses.  Kelly got a great video of them tearing past camp.  I love Zane’s reaction – WOW, so cool.  Man this is a good sandwich.  Awesome.

I call this one if the Pringles run out

the pure darkness of a new moon night in SE Utah

The kids all but put themselves to bed after having over-expended all of the energy gleaned from piles of garbage food only found on rafting trips.  We adults settled back in our chairs to gape at the new moon night sky.  It never gets old, even living in one of the darkest corners of the country.

Day two was a leisurely float in perfect conditions once again, just hot enough to jump into the icy waters, screaming like an injured peacock every time.  It takes a great deal of bullying and insult-hurling to get me into the water when that water is 50 degrees.  But the sun was hot, even if the water definitely was not.  The kids?  I have no idea what temperature water would start to affect them.  Something way lower.  Maybe with ice floes floating past.

Todd employing the Baldwin Escape Pod

The inner canyon  is a lovely place to waste a day as the walls rise up and close you into an inner world of of tranquility only broken up by the unmitigated volume of children engaged in mortal water combat.  The boats bumped along, exchanging smallish passengers back and forth as we searched for bighorn and headed for 8-Foot camp to start the hunt for where happy hour was to be held.  The 8-Foot neighborhood was totally deserted so we set up our migrant camp and within minutes had the place looking as though we’d been living there for months.  Immediately a bunch of bighorn came down to see what the ruckus was about; they lingered, surprisingly, for half an hour, posing for pictures and seemingly immune to the murderous shrieking of four happy kids.

the river tribe

Evening at 8-foot is always lovely, the gin and the bats came out (what is it about bats that you unavoidably picture one flying into your hair?), the children slowed down just long enough to get them into dry clothes, stuff them full of non-junk food for dinner and pack them away.  They sleep.  And sleep.  And sometimes sleep until I have eaten a leisurely breakfast and had two cups of coffee and packed up everything in the tent that they’re not on top of.  A good sign that life has been had to its fullest.

sleeping in at 8-foot

All that was left to do was float on through the narrows, have Todd bully me into rowing the World’s Heaviest Oars through Ledge ‘rapid’, polish off what was left of the Pringles and go through the anti-climatic process of disassembling the mess for the ride home.  It was one of those weekends that makes you appreciate how lovely life can be, at least until the groover clean-out.  🙂

Mexican Hat – the end is near

Lovely claret cup, official flower of the Desert in Spring


Categories: Rafting, Rafting with Kids, Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “The April 2012 Bluff to Mexican Hat San Juan River Trip

  1. Erica M.

    We did the Sand Island – Mexican Hat stretch end of March. We saw the “sleepy” animal. You saw it weeks later. Tres nasty… But still so fun 🙂 Did you guys stop at Fossil Stop?

  2. we didn’t do fossil stop this time but have many times before. yeah, the sleepy animal was pretty ripe when we went by…they’re planning a release for this weekend so it’ll probably get washed down the river then. blech!

  3. That was a simply DELICIOUS post! Loved the pics. And the sense of adventure. I would have loved to see the head-in-the-tent, though. Too bad “good Mommy” prevailed. LOL

  4. Melanie Marsden

    Made me laugh so hard, I almost wet my pants – this is a great trip – we are about to take it next week! Where is the fossil stop?

    • fossil stop is as you’re exiting the canyon on the right. you can probably google where exactly it is in terms of river miles…i’d have to hunt down my map. we are going to be on the upper again too in about 2 weeks!

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