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Student Perspectives: River Life

An Essay by CFI student Will, written about the San Juan River

As the seven days on the river passed faster than they should have, I absorbed more than just the sun and wind, but a few of its teachings along the way. I saw that the desert has an abundance of sand that likes to find its way into our food, and have realized the enormous value in sunscreen. I saw how beautiful nature is. 

When the guides introduced us to river life, I didn’t understand the concept. I simply took it as the idea of enjoying nature and being away from civilization and almost everything else. I like the opportunity to be able to stay on the Navajo Reservation, the left side of the river, but hadn’t thought about much more than the convenience of this fact. I was thinking I would miss my phone, my Xbox, showers, and much more, but the adjustment to river life, and absence of these daily routines was really quite welcome. 

Well, I did miss showering once my hair started to dreadlock, but surprisingly I didn’t miss my Xbox or phone. As the guides led us on various activities, and lots of hiking through ruins and discoveries of broken pottery everywhere, I expanded my view of how others lived and where they lived. I was fascinated to see ruins tucked in south-facing alcoves, and hearing about how they preserved their food. They would light a fire and block any airways so the fire would burn itself out, while sucking the oxygen out of the space, and vacuum sealing their food supply. Growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley, I’m familiar with different types of ecosystems compared to the desert. Pine trees, mountain creeks, vast green meadows, and huge mountain peaks. And I´m familiar with seeing different animals. Bears, Red foxes, Trout, Marmots and many other animals. This river trip of a lifetime, opened my eyes up to a new perspective of nature. We were fortunate to see a 2´ long bull snake, huge desert bighorn rams, the full length of a scampering river otter, and several 2¨-long scorpions and their pint-sized babies nearby.

As river life slowly seeped into my pores, I leisured among new animals, new scenery, and a new climate. Rather than raising my eye to the snow-covered summit of Mt. Sopris, my eyes followed a smaller space between rising canyon walls with ever-shifting geologic features, exposed time periods in layered stone, cactus, sage, and sand. Lots of sand! And wind. Wind breathes upstream, and we sucked in a ton of it! Heat, sand, and wind to last me a lifetime! Instead of waking up to a brisk cold mountain air, we woke up to the sound of river water, and a slight blanket of humidity. Waking up in the morning feeling the cold, almost heartstopping air was incredible.  

Although these times were some of the best I’ve ever experienced, of course all these moments have to come to an end. Six nights on the river and sleeping under the stars every night. Hikes exploring washes and topping out on this butte that felt like we were walking on Mars. Johnny and I walking up the wash, where he fell in all this nasty algae and mud. These moments will not be forgotten. They are memories that I cherish. Besides the adventure and the camaraderie, I appreciate my perspective on nature and how beautiful nature really is, not just in mountains or the desert, but everywhere. 

Besides the adventure and the camaraderie, I appreciate my perspective on nature and how beautiful nature really is, not just in mountains or the desert, but everywhere.

Labyrinth Canyon Canoeing

This trip really opened my eyes up to so many things. The water and how it flows, the sand, the animals and how they live, and the plants that survive in such harsh circumstances, and the cultural beauty of the Navajo side of the river, how long these ruins have lasted in all sorts of weather and are still holding their ground. Over the course of 8 days of sleeping outside, my whole perspective on the outdoors has been changed, and my level of appreciation has grown. 

River life isn’t just an idea of slowing down, it is a reality of seeing more clearly, appreciating more deeply, and enjoying a shift in perspective.