The Australian Looks At White-Knuckled Rafting Ride In Utah
The greatest of these wilderness reserves is Canyonlands, a chaos of spectacular canyons and monoliths and fissures, of faults and buttes and mesas, so violent that it is penetrated by only a handful of dead-end tracks. This is the earth stripped to its contorted bones, displayed in vivid colour. It is a place where you expect dinosaurs to turn up around the next corner, the only creature large enough to match the scale and the primeval character of the landscape.
Through this confusion flow the mighty Green and Colorado rivers, the destination of white-water rafters from across the world. The best of the rapids are Grade IV+. Grade V is about as rough as you can get while still entertaining the idea that you might come out alive. But only a sports-mad Gladiator would write home about the rafting alone. For sheer drama everything here takes second place to nature.
Utah is Mormon country and Mormons are not big on nightlife and fun. But Moab is different, and that difference has made it the focal point for tourist activity on the Colorado River. There are book stores, coffee shops, a string of motels and B&Bs, a visitor centre and, most remarkable of all, two pubs and a winery. The restaurants may not be world-class but if you are a vegetarian you won't have to survive on omelettes.
A strange wind announces the rapids, funneled through 600m-high cliffs. The surface of the river begins to roughen and we feel ourselves being pulled gradually but powerfully towards white water.
One moment we are drifting serenely on a calm mature river, the next we are in the grip of a deranged adolescent torrent: gangly, out of control, falling over itself, unsure which way to go, a chaos of confused impulses. Then we hit the big water.
Astride the pontoons it is like riding a bucking bronco. The whole raft rears suddenly into the air, its bow pointing at High Noon, then just as suddenly it is plunging downwards to bury its nose in the boiling river.
The big waves that hit us head on, washing over the raft and knocking us back on our heels, aren't the chief excitement, but big holes in between the waves that open like watery canyons beneath the bow and into which we drop, leaving our stomachs behind, like bungee jumpers without the bungee. From the bottom of the big holes, the big waves look very big indeed.
We lose count of the rapids we shoot during the course of a wild and wet afternoon. We are in a stretch of river known as Cataract Canyon, and we have hardly stopped laughing and wiping the river out of our eyes when the next big water is on us.
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