The Gunnison River – Delta to Whitewater, Co

Water Clarity – 5+

Natural Quality – 8+

(VGPS – 530 Gunnison River Dr, Delta, CO)

Class I and II

35 Miler

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Thanks to Eric and the ‘Western Paddlers’ group for allowing me to tag along with them along the Gunnison –  it wasn’t long at the landing before I recognized the folks as excellent paddlers familiar with the waters of Colorado, comfortable and prepared with for any conditions that they might encounter.

We met at Confluence Park in Delta on Saturday morning for a 35 mile overnight paddle, truthfully I really wasn’t sure what I was getting into but as long as it involved paddling and water I was ready for the challenge. Not sure what these more experienced area paddlers thought with this open cockpit eastern logic sitting along side – but I suppose that it was along the lines of  ‘cheap entertainment’ (an ‘expendable’) – if that indeed was my purpose – the opportunity was certainly worth it for me.

To the left in the picture above is Jerry, Eric’s Dad and an accomplished champion paddler, Jerry was full of valuable information and tips for us all – plus he was our main shuttle for the vehicles – as the weekend progressed and through simple conversation with Eric it was easy to understand the positive influence that this father has provided his son.

It was a simple start after being all ‘revved-up’ by too much coffee from the restaurant, but soon we settled down into the best part of it all – simply paddlin, ridin the river and taking it all in.

The other paddlers were Paul, a CEO and long-time paddler that continues to enjoy the ‘get-away’ of it all – he knew the river well through prior travels and had also paddled the Current River, one of my favorites.

Mat, whom as I watched during the entire paddle handle his canoe much as I imagined a ‘trapper’ of a hundred years ago would have.  Both canoeists Paul and Mat were independent and quite adept with their handling skills, they were each very much at ease on the water.  The manner in which they manged those vessels convinced me that canoes can be as maneuverable and agile as any kayak.

In her kayak and also very comfortable and adept on the river was Pam, always upbeat and full of conversation which helped shorten some of the river stretches – she made it look effortless.

– and then there was Eric, very involved with ‘paddlin’ and always helping folks get the most out of their paddling technique.  He also has many other interests one being petroglyphs and sharing this primitive rock-art of record keeping with other paddlers.  Aside from those interests Eric instructs paddling while sharing his knowledge of places to paddle with others.  Eric can be found at Western Paddlers, or Canoe Colorado, great information (and patience).

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Of course there was me and ‘traveller‘ bringing up the rear and feeling just a little out of place with these ‘peers,’ but I was on the water too – common ground.  I was happy to contribute so I did leave Eric with a few pictures that he will be able to utilize in his paddlin classes (for improving student skills).  Over the years I have provided many examples for other to learn from (I didn’t say they were good) – my contribution.

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In breakfast conversation I think we agreed that one of the neat things about paddlin was the ability to ‘slip up‘ on wildlife, so after passing these cows at water’s edge (they wouldn’t budge for a train), I just had to pun the so-called wildlife that we had just ‘slipped up’ on.  During the weekend I did see a couple of hawks, abundant heron, a beaver, an Owl, and some big-horn tracks….(and the cattle).

Plenty of interesting things to ponder along the way, in one conversation it was brought to light the Tamarisk plant – which was an invasive species of plant that had taken hold along the Gunnison shores, an ongoing effort to re-establish the Cottonwood trees was in progress.

But the day was about other things too, where I had ran the same 35 mile distance on the Current River a month earlier in one day (without trying), now I was learning how to stop and enjoy more along the way.

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This was all part of the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area – and the next stop was for lunch where Jerry joined us.  We took a walk and ogled a few petroglyphs along this canyon wall.

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A little climbing was involved, but there were unmolested petroglyphs to be found, interesting stuff.

Soon we were back on the water, doing what brought us together in the first place,….

Paddlin.  I think it was just after this smaller set of rapids that I provided Eric some of his best ‘improvement’ shots, me without a ‘skirt’ going through the ‘Hail-Mary’ rapids – no, I didn’t flip but I did come out with a half a tub of water…..

I think later Pam described the scenery the best, ‘Fascinating.’

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And that word stuck – to see the ‘mechanic’s’ of change and how these mountains continue to evolve through years of weather and climate change was simply fascinating… I didn’t mind ‘bringin up the rear,’ I was fascinated by the landscape.

We stopped to camp for the night at the Dominguez Canyon wilderness area, a ‘well-used’ camping spot for the many seasonal paddlers, but only us on this night.

It really was a beautiful canyon, more of which I would see the following morning.

The evening it was full of simple conversation and sharing a few smiles.  Somewhere in it all I was asked if I had read the Western Paddler rules? “no” – but I guess I hadn’t broken any yet because I still remained among them..(still plenty of time I thought).

Actually in more discussion we talked in general terms of what many paddlers expect from a ‘group adventure,’ and I liked what I heard – this was not an ‘outfitter,’ but a group of paddlers.  A group of experienced paddlers do not want to ‘hold others back’ or to burden others experience with their personal or paddling issues – so independence is stressed (and expected) – everyone manages their own world, no ‘sheep.’

This subject of course did not come up because of anything I lacked, I was prepared (with exception of a ‘skirt’ for the kayak) – I even had my own ‘cranberry drink prepared (which they likely recognized after my ‘oh-crap‘ story’).

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I have been a lone paddler for the most part, mostly because I can paddle when others can’t – to be included with this group of paddlers was a good experience,  fun conversation and early to bed.

The next morning everyone broke camp and kayaks were readied without a word, from there we took a mile walk up the canyon.

It had all the ingredients and colors (except forest green).

and more petroglyphs, some a mere hundred years or younger and possibly peyote inspired (which I stepped-up and tried my early 70’s interpretations to).

I found it all interesting, the petroglyphs, the abundance quartz in the rock, the older and improvised habitats among the rocks,

and this old (but not ancient) holding pen preserved through isolation from another period of our western history – folks making do.

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with a little time we got back to the river….

and plenty more interesting landscape along the way.

and in too short of a time, Whitewater landing came to view.

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It was a great paddle with these folks, comfortable and educational.  Even though we live in different areas of the country we found ourselves sharing time through the simple act of paddlin.  Our jobs and back grounds differ, yet somewhere inside we found similarities within the respect that each held of our natural surroundings.  We each valued nature, but did not wish to intrude – just wanted to spend some time with her.

Paddling is a ‘value’ that we share, either alone – or as part of a group..

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On a side note – when I returned to Pagosa Springs the grandkids had prepared a special glyph for me;

A ‘trailoglyph’

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