Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Monday, May 17

I woke up early and started a 12x16 of the river meandering downstream. The sun wasn’t hitting the walls of the canyon yet and the air was still cool. The right wall of the canyon was illuminated from reflected light somewhere farther down the canyon where the sun was shining. I had a coffee in hand and about an hour before the rays of the sun would hit my easel. The glowing orange of the sandstone was really popping out and made an excellent contrast to the blues reflected in the water.

Morning View down River 12x16

Several of the researchers had gathered behind me to discus the merits of a straight river verses one that meanders in the painting. I told them in my opinion it keeps the viewer from racing down the length of the river and makes for a better composition. My comment was translated into added stimuli for the cognitive mind to process, and off the conversation progressed in the background. Matt was taking notes.

Soon we were on our way. Breakfast was finished off and the gear packed onto the rafts. We had a shorter day today, about 12 miles to our next camp site at Slickhorn and the last major rapid. We had been warned by the ranger that Government Rapid had become much more difficult with the low water level. At the present level of 1200 cfs, “cubic feet a second” large boulders became visible and changed the topography the rapid into more or less an obstacle course. Until then we had a slow leisurely float down the river.

We planned to stop at John’s Canyon. This part was the deepest in the canyon, exposing limestone layers dating back more than 300 million years ago, back to a time when the area was under water in a shallow sea. Back to a time before the river, a time when Brachiopods and Trilobites swam around. It was hard to believe that now we were just under a mile up in elevation.

John’s Canyon was to be our lunch spot. We just had to negotiate our way around the shallow rocky alluvial field that spilled out for the hanging canyon. In higher water most of the fossil beds would be under several feet of water, but instead the rocks were catching the bottom of the rafts. We pulled in as close as we could get and walked the rest through the angle deep water to the sandy shoreline. The Tamarisk bushes had grown up to the height of small trees and offered the perfect shade from the hot afternoon sun. With all the rain southern Utah had this spring, the wild flowers were out in abundance. This included the Sphaeralcea ambigua, commonly known as Globe Mallow with its bright orange flowers. It was worth a painting.

The research scientists grumbled, “How long will this take?”

John’s Canyon 12x16

Within a short while most of it was finished and the pressure was on to move forward to Government Rapid. It was though that we might be there a while.

From half a mile away we could hear the roar of the white water smashing its way over rocks. We pulled over to the left side at the top to scout the rapid. This is where you walk along the shore, studying the rapid for your best route through the maize. I noticed that Dave was not coming over to the left side of the river, meaning that he was just going to go for it from past experience. Chang had his cameras ready. I yelled out, but it was to no avail, the roar of the river was deafening. His raft followed the main flow on the right side of the river; there the water was glass smooth at the top. It then crested over what seemed like a straight line at the top and plunged down a steep incline through the rocks and churning white water. The raft followed the current and stopped dead still atop a massive boulder. The right oar had hung up on a rock and broken out of the oarlock. I watched as the force of the current then grabbed it and sent it floating down through the bubbling water, until it then disappeared out of sight. The flow of water then pivoted the raft 180 degrees. He was still standing there perfectly still in the middle of the rapid.

Dave looked around to survey the situation and shifted his weight a little backwards; just enough to shift the mass off the center of the rock. They slid off the backside and continued the rest of the way backwards through Government. He managed to get the raft over to the right side with one oar. He had a spare one tied to the side of the raft.

I was next with Chang, who decided it best to put his camera in a plastic bag for safe keeping. After watching their ordeal I made a mental note to try and pull to the left to avoid the same fate as Dave. Chang sat down low with his camera pointing over the bow of the boat. I wasn’t sure how much a plastic bag would help if the entire thing fell in the water. We lined ourselves up and went off the edge. The current was strong and left little time to move any direction. I managed to get one stroke in with my oars, enough so that we hit the rock, but didn’t high center on it. We grazed by and heard it scraping against the side of the boat. We were still facing forward and continued unscathed through the rest of the rapid. Art and Matt followed behind in the Ducky, hitting the same rock. They pulled up beside me. It was now time for the canoe.

Several of our group lined the shore line to offer assistance and photograph the inevitable. I was at the bottom by the shore line, waiting in the inflatable kayak in case they needed to be pulled to shore. I had a feeling it would be a repeat of Ross Rapid.

What happened next puzzled me from my perspective. I saw Paul and Todd setting up for the rapid and watched as the canoe mysteriously moved sideways across the smooth water into the rocks over on the right side at the top. From what I found out later, a gust of wind had hit the side of the canoe and pushed it laterally right across the water. The canoe slowly sank and dipped on its side out of my view. There I waited for several minutes hoping they would empty the water and continue on down through the rapid. I saw them both hopping up and down on what looked like the surface of the water.

Arms were waving up in the air from the members higher up along the shoreline; a signal for me to join in the conference. When I finished hiking back up I saw what had happened. Paul and Todd were standing on top of the canoe that was on its side under water and wrapped tight around a large boulder to the right of the main channel. The force of the water had bend the boat in half along the keel and it now looked like a permanent fixture pressed flat against the rock.

It was decided that Art and I should attempt to paddle across the top of the rapid to reach the other side and offer assistance. We made it across and tied up the Ducky around a rock to survey the situation. The canoe basically had the same contour as the rock with several tons or water pressure pushing against it. We tried in vain to move it a little, but moving the three ton boulder would have been easier in the end. I saw Dave back on the other side and made the hand gesture of a slice across the neck “The canoe was dead.” He nodded, the canoe had been with him for many a year and it was like losing a loved one!

We salvaged what we could off the submerged craft and the three hiked up the right bank to a waiting raft at the bottom. I said my farewell to the canoe and took off in the inflatable down the rapid, hitting the same rock as before. At the bottom Matt and Chang wanted to interview the group over the loss of a loved one, instead we toasted with beers. At least Paul and Todd were able to walk away from it all. If anything, it would make for a good river story.

Three miles later we were pulling into our camp site at Slickhorn Canyon. We reveled over the days events with box wine and dinner.

The sky was beginning to cloud over.

Richard Boyer

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