I wiped the water from my eyes. The blisters on my hands hurt more and more every time I gripped my paddle tighter. My boots were filling up with water with every splash. I was wet, cold, thrilled, and in love with the San Juan River.
Our Castleton group of 22 spent four days and three nights on the San Juan River, which ran through the understatement state of Utah. Each day was filled with a new adventure, a new lesson and a new experience.
The first day on the San Juan was welcoming. Sitting on the river for the first time and taking in the moment was powerful. The river was high and moving at a steady pace. Our group headed down the river, some in rafts, some in individual “duckies.” I shared a duckie with a fellow student, Charlotte Malaroche.
“This doesn’t feel real … it is so beautiful. We are so fortunate to be here,” Malaroche said.
I simply smiled with agreement. I was breathless.
As students paddled down the river, we passed wild ponies, blue herons and long-horned mountain goats. Suddenly, Malaroche got a bit nervous.
“What is that?” she asked.
I looked to the head of the raft where there was a large black spider. We did not think much of it, just a spider.
“Just make sure it isn’t shaped like a hour glass,” said Charlie, the river guide. We looked; it was the shape of an hour glass. We suddenly realized it was a Black Widow spider, a very poisonous, dangerous spider. We carefully scurried to get the spider out of the raft, without tipping it. We knew we were in for more surprises.
When we arrived to camp, the students set up and took an adventure to River House, an old Ancestral Pueblo ruin. We were able to get so close to the ruin that some people even ventured inside. There were petro glyphs and graineries within the ancient ruin. I decided to venture up into the ancient house. In there, I met two social anthropologists. They told me about the river, and explained that it is their tradition to visit the San Juan every year.
“It is a beautiful, magical place,” explained the 26-year-old man. “You kids are very fortunate to be here.” I smiled with absolute agreement.
By evening, the sky was glowing with stars. It seemed as if it was painted. It looked unreal. Some students decided a tent would be unnecessary; it would hide the beautiful view. We camped without a tent that night, simply gazing at the sky, and appreciating where we were in the moment.
The second day of rafting was more challenging. White water currents were around every turn, soaking our clothes. The students learned how to scout a river, which basically means how to read a river. It took all of our attention and focus to make it down the white water safely without hitting rocks or tipping the raft.
In the evening, Teresa, the head river guide, shared the upcoming weather news to us; a storm was headed our way. “I am fairly certain there is a doozy coming.”
That night was a picture perfect night. The crescent moon was glistening off the river and stars lit up the sky. Students sat by themselves, recognizing the moment.
“It’s really something, isn’t it?” asked fellow student Benj Spound. “It sure is,” was all I could manage to say back. The night had put a spell on us, and we never wanted to leave the captivating river.
In the morning we were woken by a tent ready to take flight.
“Oh my god, I am not getting out!” explained Morgan Vancore. We eventually opened the tent, and set off for the last day on the river.
It was a windy day, making paddling a job rather than a leisurely gesture. We fought against the wind, arms constantly digging the paddles into the river.
“Look out for Mexican Hat,” explained a river guide, “it is near the landing area.”
As we paddled for a few miles, we finally came upon Mexican Hat. At that moment, it seemed as if everybody stopped paddling and looked around.
Beautiful is an understatement for the San Juan River. Fun is a pathetic word to even try to describe our trip. Appreciation is a word that is never used enough, but was used frequently on this trip. Every single student and teacher walked onto land, and away from the San Juan River feeling inspired by natural beauty and more than thankful for the San Juan experience.