An Adventure on the Gunnison River: Southwest Chapter Trip

Article by Susan Roebuck. Photos by Stuart Schneider.

Photo by Stuart Schneider

Dawn in Montrose found us loading the truck, and soon we rumbled over to Highway 50. The destination was “Escalante Canyon Road” six miles beyond the town of Delta, Colorado. There, we left Highway 50 and took a slender, well-engineered gravel road into dry mesa-and-canyon country. Finally, we arrived at a river similar in character to the Colorado—a great and welcome contrast to the dry territory through which we had just passed. Of course, we knew the river would be there, we didn’t discover it, but it was fun to think about what it would be like to come across such a river in this desert country. Standing on the banks of the Gunnison were Stuart, John, and Zeke to greet us, and our party of six was complete.

Photo by Stuart SchneiderA shuttle was set and before long, Stuart’s green Old Town canoe, John’s yellow canoe, Zeke’s red kayak, Keith’s blue raft and Rob and Susan’s green raft were loaded with gear and poised to float. Being a backpacker who weighs each item, I marveled at the abandon with which river travelers choose their items. We were going to be comfortable in camp tonight! Our plan was to float from the Escalante Creek put-in to Escalante Canyon today, about 12 miles, and from the canyon to Whitewater the next — two day-long floats. The weather was perfect for our first day. However, the forecast called for wind and rain the next day. Zeke had floated the second stretch in the past, and recommended we cut the second day’s float short and get out at Bridgeport instead of Whitewater. This meant the next day’s float would be only about a mile and a half instead of 12 or so miles.

Photo by Stuart Schneider

We hauled the loaded, colorful crafts down the bank, and introduced them to the water’s surface, where they rocked and jigged about with an apparent eagerness to sail. Clambering, we settled ourselves in, took up paddles and oars, and were drawn out onto the smooth, wide river. Here the river is more swift than lazy, but with no boulders or rapids. Its colors are rose, mauve, green, and pale gold. In a few breaths, silence and space becomes our world. The river flows through low dry mesa and canyon country. In canyon walls, rock layers tell of geologic time.

We find a nice spot at Dominguez Creek, set up our tents and enjoy our meals and some drinks as evening unfolds and stars appear. Ah! The luxuries we can take on a river trip! Chairs and tables, spaghetti and wine for dinner. In the morning it is apparent the weather is not perfect. But it’s nice enough for a hike and we view many petroglyphs, cliffs, and an intriguing mix of volcanic and sedimentary geology, festooned with autumn flora. On the river again we float against the wind, blowing grit and poor visibility, but our take out is only a mile and half away. Our original plan would have had us fighting the wind for 12 miles to get off the river near dark. I’m glad Zeke had the prior experience and suggested the earlier take out. Good call, Zeke! Thank you, Stuart, for another wonderful RMS river trip!Silence, space, and time expand, and I always notice this magic of a river trip: it becomes your life and it happens not long after you start. Treated to all this, I gazed upon the flora along the river’s banks, each type of plant growing with others of its kind in groves. Groves of green and gold reeds start at the water’s edge, then a band of tall grasses in tan and gold, with sunlit, translucent plumes, beyond them dense willows in shades of russet, rose, and silver, and finally beyond these, golden and green cottonwoods rattling in the breezes, against the bluest of skies. We floated along. The canyon narrows, evening approaches and we look for a camp.