Cataract Canyon Rafting

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For my 36th birthday trip, I reserved a spot on the OARS Cataract Canyon trip – 4 days rafting through Canyonlands National Park from Moab, followed by a sweet Cessna ride from Lake Powell back to Moab. The rafting trip started on a Tuesday, so I had plenty of time to drive from Illinois to Moab.

Overnight Stop in Silt, Colorado

On the drive to Moab, I stopped at the Holiday Inn Express in Silt, CO. What a nice surprise! If there’s one thing I love, it’s having a balcony in my hotel room. This room had a large balcony overlooking the Colorado River….the same river I’d be rafting in a few days! The only downside to this place is there is NOTHING there – I had to get back on the Interstate and go up one exit to Rifle for dinner, which I brought back to enjoy on my balcony.

Arches National Park

Now that the long miles were out of the way, it was time to slow down and start enjoying the scenery. I still had two days to explore Moab before reporting for my rafting trip. I had a campsite at Devil’s Garden Campground in Arches National Park for the next two nights.

Site #4 at Devil's Garden campground in Arches National Park.

This was my first visit to Arches, and being solo, I had planned several short hikes instead of any longer ones. First, I took the short (paved) trail to Windows Arches.

North and South Window Arches from the primitive trail that goes behind them.

Then over to Double Arch

Double Arch

And then on to world famous Delicate Arch – you’ve no doubt seen photos of this one before. There was a shorter hike with nice viewpoints of the arch. Seeing the hordes of people at the arch itself, I declined to hike all the way out. I guess the good photographers must come in the off season…or just Photoshop all the people out!

Delicate Arch

After this, it was back to camp to make dinner and rest up. After washing my dishes at the bathroom, I came back to find my tent….missing! It had blown up into a nearby juniper tree. Staking out a tent in the desert doesn’t quite work the same was as it does back in the Midwest. Too tired to re-stake everything, I crawled into the car (all my cars get the “sleep test” before I buy – can I comfortably fold down the back seats to sleep?)

Fiery Furnace Tour

I reserved a spot in advance for the ranger-led tour of the Fiery Furnace – a maze of sand spires and canyons. It’s highly recommended to go on the ranger tour, as navigation here can be quite tricky! Before this, I had a short window of time to explore the Devil’s Garden trail. The Devil’s Garden is an easy walking trail that takes you past several arches and sandstone formations. I didn’t have time for the whole trail, but what I saw was so beautiful!

The Fiery Furnace tour was incredible – it is like being on another planet. I don’t know how many times it would take to learn the trails like the ranger – I would definitely get lost if I tried this on my own!

Fiery Furnace - the downside of a ranger tour is hiking with 25 other people!

After the Fiery Furnace tour, I wanted to check out nearby Canyonlands National Park. I was surprised, it looked a lot like the Grand Canyon! This small glimpse from the visitor center got me very excited for the Cataract Canyon rafting trip!

Canyonlands National Park (cell phone photo)

Cataract Canyon Rafting

The night before the trip, we met our guides and fellow travelers in Moab, got our OARS-issued dry bags, and received final instructions for the next day. In the morning, we all met at the OARS warehouse, enjoyed one final flush toilet and then packed into a van that took us to our put-in on the Colorado River. I can’t even begin to describe the excitement and butterflies I had leading up to this trip!

At the put-in, we got some basic paddling instruction and hung around the beach while our guides got everything loaded up and ready to go. I was surprised to see that we’d be using a motor for parts of the trip. It makes sense, as it’s not 90 miles of all rapids, so the motor was used on the slower parts, including most of Day 1. We started out with our 3 boats lashed together and had a relaxing float for most of the day.

We stopped to hike at "The Loop" and the boats left to pick us up on the other side

Each day on the trip started with  a yummy breakfast, taking down camp, loading the boats, usually a stop for a hike somewhere along the way, another stop for lunch, and then finding a campsite with plenty of leisure time before dinner.

On the hikes, we saw pictographs, like these:

Ram, sun, rainbow?  Note the handprints on the left - kind of creepy like a ghost left them.

The campsites were quite large, with room for the kitchen, a living room area where we would socialize (no campfires, though!) and tents scattered around. Another important location was the bathroom – we had a few very scenic groover spots (Groover is what they call the toilet on the river)

3 perfectly aligned, symmetrical tents

Camp 3

I can’t even describe how good the food was on this trip – I know, everything tastes better outdoors, but the guides were amazing – cooking outdoors, using whatever they had packed in the boats and we had 3 delicious meals each day. Even the quick lunches they threw together on the beach were delicious! One night we had salmon, wild rice and veggies, followed by a delicious dessert of strawberry shortcake. Another night we had bacon wrapped filet mignon, mashed potatoes and caesar salad. And did I mention the 3 hot men doing all this cooking and cleaning for us?

Salmon (3 flavor options) with fresh veggies and wild rice?  So much for "roughing it" this week!

Day 2 and 3 we really started hitting some rapids – no more loafing about the boat – time to put on the helmets and life jackets and paddle for your life! Ok, maybe not…we did have one lady pop right out of the boat in a rapid (she probably weighed 90 pounds) – and our guide, with one hand still on his oar to keep us in the right direction, just reached over and grabbed her with one hand, and plopped her right back in her seat….it was really impressive! I guess that’s what these guys train for. So, lunch stops also gave us a chance to dry out our clothes

The "flea market tree" where we tried to dry our soaked clothes during lunch

Flight Over Canyonlands National Park

Our last day on the river had a sad feeling – it was all ending way too soon. It was another lazy river day with fewer rapids, ending at Lake Powell, where our charter flight awaits.

And here we the river, and a tiny plane awaits us.  Although I was a bit nervous, it was super cool to fly back over all the sections of the river we'd just spent 4 days floating.

I’m not gonna lie, I was terrified of this plane. At one point, I had looked into having my car shuttled down here, but it was too expensive. So I was stuck. OMG, am I glad I did this!  This was absolutely a case of “fake it ’til you make it” – I plastered a smile on my face, kept my eyes glued through my camera viewfinder and took about 400 pictures. It was incredible, though! I’ve since grown fond of small planes.

Here’s Lake Powell:

Lake Powell

And the confluence of the Green River and Colorado River – this was the start of Cataract Canyon and the point at which we had to don lifejackets and helmets on the river.

Confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers - This is the point on the river where we had to stop and put PFD's on

When we landed in Moab, we were shuttled back to our cars at the OARS warehouse. It was such a strange feeling, but I really was sad to see that river trip end. It was easily the most magical 4 days of my life. And I was with a bunch of strangers! I knew this was going to be the first of many OARS rafting trips for me….I was sold! After a short drive, I got a motel room in Monticello, UT for the night.  I hadn’t showered since before the river trip, so I was overdue!

Mesa Verde National Park

The next day I stopped at Hovenweep National Monument and then on to Mesa Verde National Park, where I met my mom, who was on a road trip of her own. We explored various ruins along the Petroglyph trail and then checked in to our room at the Far View Lodge.  We were given a Kiva room, which had gorgeous hand-crafted wood furniture.  We also had a delicious meal at the Metate Room, and watched several bus tours come in and completely take over.  (You may want to call ahead for reservations)

Telluride Blues & Brews Festival

The next day we drove to Telluride, for the Blues & Brews Festival featuring Willie Nelson. What a setting for a festival! I love ski towns, and Telluride was no exception – I would LOVE to go back someday! All the hotels in town were either booked or outrageously expensive, so we stayed in Norwood at the Backcountry Inn. What a gem of a find in this tiny town! I probably wouldn’t want to drive those crazy roads in the winter, but it was a great place to stay close to Telluride.

Willie Nelson did not disappoint; I heard “Roll me up and smoke me when I die” for the first time! I sure do love Willie and hope to see him many more times in concert.

For more photos, click here and here!


Canyonlands National Park

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9 thoughts on “Cataract Canyon Rafting

  1. What an awesome adventure. I haven’t been rafting since childhood, so I think I’d need to start on an easy one day course to ease back into it. I also really want to see the arches park. My boyfriend is a Colorado native, so I am hoping this lasts and I get to spend a lot of time exploring Colorado in the future. There’s so much to see there! Your photos from the plane are so beautiful too. I didn’t even know about the green river!

  2. Whitewater rafting has been on my bucket list for awhile; it sounds so exciting! Though I can’t imagine what that young lady must have felt or been thinking when she fell out!

  3. Hahah that’s what happens. If you want to be in a beautiful, natural, secluded place, you’ll usually have to drive out to get some necessities. But that’s the trade off that is usually worth it!

    Car sleep test hmm that’s an interesting one and something I should really consider since I like to nap a lot.

  4. What an incredible adventure you had! I’m so envious! Moab is way up on my list of places to go, and to see it from a rafting trip – oh my god. I love how you filled the time before and after with some epic sight seeing and even the Telluride festival! This is a dream trip from beginning to end for sure.

  5. What a stunning area of the USA! I love the arches, incredibly photogenic! I can’t believe you did three days of river rafting. I’d have been so cramped up. mind yo, that food sounds better than I could cook. Fillet mignon!? Amazing 🙂

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