Coyote's Corner

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A first timer’s perspective of Westwater Canyon

by Alison Anders

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Westwater was my first river trip.

I had heard stories of the class 4 rapids along this stretch, like Skull, Funnel Falls, and Sock-it-to-me. I was intimidated by what I did not know and excited to see what was around each corner. Getting on the river is hectic, so many loose ends to tie and gear to double check. It is shocking how after all that fluster and work to prepare, you just push off and begin smoothly floating down the river.  

This was our first training trip as apprentices with Canyonlands Field Institute. New people, new river, new mode of transportation. Quiet strangers soon filled the canyon with echoes of laughter. Working together we paddled through overhanging sandstone shimmered with bouncing light while eagles judged from above. The herons watched us paddle by, wondering why we would need so much stuff. Going down a river for the first time means every meander and rapid is new. This uncertainty is exciting and intimidating. How can this place just so happen because of water and gravity? An incomprehensible number of individual raindrops and snowflakes falling, flowing, and moving canyons’ worth of sediment.  

We camped above the Little Dolores rapid, and slept to the sound of whitewater. A current of anticipation ran through each of us as we packed up camp and the early morning light moved down the canyon wall. Waiting while the boats were rigged, the guide trainees wandered around desperate to be helpful. Then there was nothing left to do but go.

The black rock in the chaos of Westwater makes me think that a rapid is not inherently disorderly, but human’s interpretation of order is inaccurately centered inside of our comfort zone.

Guides discussing the line for Skull Rapid. Photo: Alison Anders

Westwater canyon is a sculpture. The ancient black rock swirls and loops just like the river that carves it. Tiny and massive eddies burrow intricate details and chambers. Passing beneath the black canyon walls, it is impossible not to reflect. The black rock in the chaos of Westwater makes me think that a rapid is not inherently disorderly, but human’s interpretation of order is inaccurately centered inside of our comfort zone. What is disruptive to us is a logical and ancient system within the natural world. Is the roar of a river chaotic? Or is the combined sound of each water molecule hitting rock methodical?

No time to reflect for long though, rapids are just around the corner!