The first time I visited Rocky Mountain National Park in the 1960s, I fell in love. It was the first of many parks I would visit in my lifetime and it left quite an impression.
It wasn’t just the snow-capped peaks and the bridal veil waterfalls … it was the snow in June, the Aspen trees at high altitude, the purple flowers in the mountain meadows and the chipmunks that would eat peanuts right out of my hand … and for a 7-year-old—THAT was a big deal. During a visit to the park this June, I wanted to take a deeper dive in the Rocky Mountains and for me, that meant a river trip with campfires, good food, great friends and some challenging rapids to run in my vintage Colorado River Dory.
We set up camp on the banks of the Upper Colorado River just outside the park.
Even though we had great canvas tents, the weather was so perfect, I slept under the stars every night and woke up covered in a thin layer of frost—which required a little air-drying for the Pendleton blankets.
Frost on the boat each morning made for a chilly start to each day on the river.
My UltraLite Cot and winter bag beside the rough-hewn log fence next to Colorado….The food on our river trips is usually as memorable as the scenery and I must say, on this trip we outdid ourselves.
I love running rivers in old-school wood dories and a good friend, boat builder and river runner brought his handcrafted “Florence” down from Montana to run the Upper Colorado with my Portola.
Mark Stuber is one of best river runners around and we played follow the leader for miles and miles on the Upper Colorado.
Something about wood on water just seems right.
The original Portola made its debut on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in 1962. Built by an Oregon boat builder named Keith Steele in the style of the McKenzie Drift Boats, it solved a number of “big water” river running problems and became the preferred boat of a famous oarsman and environmental activist named Martin Litton.
It was Martin and David Brower that led an initiative to enlighten the world about how special the Grand Canyon is from the river “up.” Because of their efforts and the boats they used, the story went “viral” and led to the defeat of two dams in the late 1960s that would’ve buried the canyon under thousands of feet of water.
I built a replica of Martin’s boat, the Portola, and retraced two of its most famous trips on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on the 50th Anniversary—in 2012 and 2014.
It was a special boating experience to run the river a thousand miles upstream from where my Portola had last been on a river. To complete the whole experience, we hiked up to the headwaters of the Colorado River and did a little fly fishing.
It was a deep dive into one of my favorite National Parks and I will never forget it.