Running the San Rafael River

by | Jun 7, 2023 | Reflections & Celebrations, Travel

    There are some years that the San Rafael River is not always runnable, in fact it is often only runnable in early spring around the beginning of June.  However, the runoff of 2023 recharged many rivers in Utah including the San Rafael bringing it up to an average of 859 cfs (cubic feet per second) the day that we ran it in the second week of June. 

   It was a 17 mile (approximately 6 hour) journey from the put in at Fuller Bottom to the take out at the Swinging Bridge.  The river was quite windy a lot of the way and required some technical skills at this flow rate with various obstacles that could arise around each bend such as strainers and rocks at the river’s edges.  Not a lot of white water necessarily, but there were eddies swirling in multiple areas and overall, the journey was quite lively requiring consistent rowing due to the twists and turns of the river.  There were some stretches that widened out and felt more relaxed scattered throughout the journey which were welcomed! 

   We floated this river in one-man inflatable kayaks and we did it in one day.   One of our party members ran into a rock on one of the turns and lost his boat for a stretch until we were fortunate enough to find it again less than a mile downstream up against a bank of reeds.  Everything worked out in the end, however it wasn’t without its challenges.

  Even though this run was fairly demanding, it was also rewarding and as always, full of beauty!  The plant life along the river was lush with a vibrant butterfly population.  We saw a beaver in the river swimming along with us for a time.  The red canyon walls have their own story to tell, with layer upon layer of sedimentary banding.

   This river journey was not only impactful in the moment for me, but it went on to inspire me for weeks afterward.  When I laid down to go to sleep the first night of rafting the San Rafael, I felt like I was still on the kayak.  I felt as though my body were still bobbing up and down with the current of the river.  And behind my closed eyelids, I could see the water of the river stretching out before me bending this way and that.  I dreamed that I was kayaking for the next several nights.  The river had infiltrated my being and seemed to inform my character over the coming weeks. 

   I had a massive project that I was involved with at the end of the month that required a lot of time, effort, and energy, but I stayed the course, much like the river taught me.  In the end, everything worked out beautifully! 

   One of my favorite things about nature is the endless opportunity to turn to her as model, mentor, and measure.  When an element, plant, or animal speaks to our hearts, we simply know it, feel it, and become more of ourselves.  We begin to reach for our human potential as relatives on the planet earth along with millions of other life forms, embracing our own inclusion into nature.