This could be one of the best seasons ever for river rafting in Colorado – we know!

Text and photos by Andy Yemma

All winter long it snowed and snowed some more in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Then came spring and it didn’t stop. Now with summer just two weeks away, guess what? It’s going to be a heck of a river rafting season.

We know. We just spent five days and four nights on the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument with the premier river rafting outfitter OARS. Take a look at some of our photos:

Putting in on the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument
Putting in on the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument
We soon formed a mighty armada
We soon formed a mighty armada

There were 24 guests and five guides in our group. The average age of the guests was more than 55. The oldest was 79 and youngest was 38.

Stephen 'Doc' Nicholson our 74-year-old Dory driver - retired dentist
Stephen ‘Doc’ Nicholson our 74-year-old Dory driver – retired dentist – Dory driving legend, particularly in the Grand Canyon
Edward Quimby of Bridgeport CT was the oldest member of our group and certainly the most experienced!
Edward Quimby of Bridgeport CT was the oldest member of our group and certainly the most experienced!

Our group of 24 floated in an assortment of four “oar rafts,” one Dory, one paddle boat, four inflatable paddle boards and one inflatable stand up paddle board. Yes, that’s right a stand up paddle board went down class 2 rapids (classes 3 and higher not permitted).

Two 'duckies' (inflatable kayaks attacking some class 2.5 rapids
Two ‘duckies’ (inflatable kayaks) attacking some class 2.5 rapids
Yes you can do stand-up paddleboarding on a river
Yes you can do stand-up paddle boarding on a river
Eileen Ogintz takes notes as our group leader Kyle Waller leads the expedition down the Yampa River
Eileen Ogintz takes notes as our group leader Kyle Waller leads the expedition down the Yampa River

Breakfasts, lunches, dinners – all delicious. Nobody complained. Doc even baked pineapple upside down cake in a dutch oven the first night.

River guide Zach Sam cooking chicken over a bed of charcoal
River guide Zack Sam cooking chicken over a bed of charcoal
Campsite on the second night was on the beach under a 500-foot sheer cliff
Campsite on the second night was on the beach under a 500-foot sheer cliff

The Yampa is a “wild river,” meaning no dams from its headwaters near Steamboat Springs CO, until it merges with the Green River at a beautiful and lyrical spot known as Echo Park. It was slated to be dammed in the 1950s but the Sierra Club fought the projects and saved it for future generations.

The Yampa Canyon walls were often streaked with a phenonemon known as 'desert varnish'
The Yampa Canyon walls were often streaked with a phenomenon known as ‘desert varnish’
A great blue heron (common on the Yampa) just caught and ate a small fish
A great blue heron (common on the Yampa) just caught and ate a small fish
A beautiful bald eagle treated us to a long flight around the Yampa Canyon Walls one afternoon
A beautiful bald eagle treated us to a long flight around the Yampa Canyon Walls one afternoon
A rock that we could only describe as an Ewok
A rock that we could only describe as an Ewok

The baddest rapids on the Yampa came at a place called Warm Springs, which before 1965 was just another area of placid flowing waters. OARS’ founder George Wendt was camping with a group of boy scouts when they heard a huge roar. It was a rockslide that dammed up the river for a full day, then became a series of rapids as the backed up water pushed the dam apart. The scout group was safe but tragically a rafter who was unaware of the new obstacle died at Warm Springs the next day.

A private raft trip tackling Warm Springs, the baddest rapids on the Yampa at class 4
A private raft trip tackling Warm Springs, the baddest rapids on the Yampa at class 4

I had to stash my camera and lenses away in my brand new Pelican 1400 case when we tackled Warm Springs – just in case.

The Yampa Canyon was inhabited between 800 and 1200 AD by an indigenous group known as the Freemont people. On several day hikes we saw well preserved pictographs and petroglyphs from their days here.

Remnants of granary where the Freemont people stored corn when they lived here circa 800-1200 AD
Remnants of granary where the Freemont people stored corn when they lived here circa 800-1200 AD
Petroglyph believed from the Freemont People (800-1200 AD)
Petroglyph believed from the Freemont People (800-1200 AD)

As we neared the end of our journey, we took a five mile hike up Ely Creek to a waterfall that was also known as “Butt Dam Falls.” That’s because visitors (like us) like to play like kids and dam the top of the falls with their you-know-whats — then let go of a torrent of water on a compadre below.

At the top of a 5-mile hike on day four - Ely Creek Falls
At the top of a 5-mile hike on day four – Ely Creek Falls
Layne Lisinbee from San Diego enjoys a frigid showed in Ely Creek Falls
Layne Lisinbee from San Diego enjoys a frigid showed in Ely Creek Falls
The kids at Butt Dam Falls
The kids at Butt Dam Falls

The evening entertainment on the last night was to be river guide Lindsey Mersereau’s ukelele concerto, but back-to-back thundershowers put an end to that. The rain date was the next morning’s breakfast.

Ukelele Lady Lindsay Merseveau entertains us for breakfast on the last day of the raft trip
Ukelele Lady Lindsey Mersereau entertains us for breakfast on the last day of the raft trip
The guests and guides at lunch on the last day of the trip. Thanks so much for the dunking Kyle!
The guests and guides at lunch on the last day of the trip. Thanks so much for the dunking Kyle!

Thanks Kyle, Doug, Doc, Zach and Dexter.

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