Loma, Colorado to Cisco, Utah
The Colorado River makes its entrance into canyon country in Horsethief and Ruby Canyons. This 26-mile-long stretch is swift flatwater, rated Class II (small, easy rapids) that marks a transition point for the Colorado. Until this point the river has been gathering cold, clear water from the Rockies. Now it begins to slow, picking up major inflow from the Gunnison River and sediment from desert soils. As the water warms, it becomes ideal for highly adapted native fish, and the venerable riverside cottonwoods provide good shelter for another endangered species, the bald eagle. Average annual flows now range anywhere from below 1500 cubic feet per second to above 30,000 in a given year. We will probably have our usual summer flows around 2000-5000 cfs.
Here the river begins to cut into the layered sandstone, hallmark of the Colorado Plateau. Railroad tracks, but no roads, follow our route until we reach Westwater. The canyon deepens as we float through small rapids beneath sheer cliffs. The Rattlesnake Monocline marks a bend in the river and our approach to “Black Rocks” – a very special place. The hard rock, sculpted by river water begins to swirl and boil in fascinating eddies and riffles.
Westwater gets its name from the ghost town near the west end of Ruby Canyon on the Colorado River. The Colorado border is eight miles east. After mining and railroad construction in the region declined, the town was abandoned and the area was used for grazing. Today, a Bureau of Land Management Ranger Station is based at the head of Westwater Canyon; we sign up for an assigned campsite for our last night. Westwater Canyon is a 17-mile Class IV river trip with rapids like “Funnel Falls,” “Skull,” and “Sock-it-to-Me” to thrill even the veteran river runner. We will enjoy a fun last evening together “dress up night” that usually promises humor and surprise. We run the rapids the last morning, have a wonderful celebratory lunch and share final thoughts.