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Wandering Minds: Spring Boating Daydreams in the Middle of a Dry Winter

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The River Wild

If you’re a boater, winter storms take on twice the significance: deep snow in winter means big, fast run-off in spring. We don’t know any boater than doesn’t secretly smile in gratitude for the “two-fer” present of a fat snowstorm. With the lackluster snow season we’re having so far, a few western classics may not run for very long.

Permit submission season is almost over (typically the end of January-ish) for most of the popular rivers. But some of the sweetest are unpermitted. The window is short to take advantage, so set your bookmarks to BoaterTalk (forums and gauge links) and be excuse-ready to blow off work for a day or two. The boss will understand.

We’re not diving too deeply into creeks because, well, that list could go on for far longer than our attention span. Even without creeking opps, we have two words for you: road trip. Plug in the music, pack the waterproof ipod case, waterproof headphones, grab some road food and hit the pavement in your annual pilgrimage for free-flowing water.


You Wish You Were Here Too.


  • The Salt (Arizona, Class III-IV): Backed by stories of death, dynamite and peyote, the Salt typically has a super short season. Permit apps have closed for 2013, so start nosing around your more organized friends to get an invite on their trip.
  • Taos Box on the Rio Grande (New Mexico, Class III-IV): Not only is this stretch a designated Wild and Scenic River, it’s also about 15-miles of fun pool-drop rapids. It’s also the site of a certain X-1 contributor’s ill-advised first (and only) two-man kayak excursion…but that’s a long story.
  • The East Fork of the San Juan (SW Colorado, Class III-IV): Short and sweet. Thanks to runoff from the reliable Wolf Creek/Pagosa drainage area, the East Fork runs almost every spring.
  • Piedra River and Upper Animas (SW Colorado, Class IV-V): The Piedra is just outside of Pagosa Springs and the Upper A hits stride in Silverton, 50-miles away from Durango. Both are consistent stretches of fun whitewater, long rapids with must-make moves and dramatic San Peaks flanking the river canyons. Much of the land surrounding the Piedra burned in a 2012 fire, so there could be some changes to the river this year since several of the rapids were formed by landslides. Bonus: Run Rockwood Gorge (Class IV) after the Upper A. First rapid is Mandatory Thrashing and the takeout is…mandatory. Don’t miss it.
  • Dolores River (SW Colorado, Class II-IV): The upper reach, Bradfield to Slickrock, of the runnable Dolores is dam release so one would think info would be easy to come by. Not so. Rumors of a release start whispering their way through the Southwest long before any official word comes out. Here’s one time to rely on rumor and hearsay, rather than the official BLM site. Buena suerte!
  • Big Sur at Debeque (Central Colorado,): Can we get an “omm?” It’s too early to tell if Big Sur will run this year. Will the sunset light up the sky at dusk with beauty? Will Kelly Slater win another World Title? Perfection can’t be predicted, but the glassiness of this ideal standing wave will make all the discomfort of getting there inconsequential.
  • North Fork, South Platte (Front Range Colorado, Class IV-V): Okay, okay. It’s a true creek run, but it’s a classic. Besides, if you loop a road trip, you’ll need some whitewater on the east side of the Colorado/New Mexico, Arizona loop.


Cheers to a watery spring. Now, please think snow.