The San Juan River

Upon arrival at Recapture Lodge in Bluff, Utah, the gang and I were drawn to the two pianos, bongos and guitar that were in the lobby. This trip had music everywhere we went in some shape or form which was grand. After playing many a tune that filled the building we took a look at our plan for the next day. At 9 AM we depart on a 26 mile journey down the San Juan River, the mightiest river in the Southwest. With great anticipation and suspense I thought about the glorious plan for the next day, rafting and kayaking one of the biggest and fastest rivers in the Four Corners regions.

At the launching point the next morning we learned the ground rules for the trip from Marcus the guide, a true Navajo in every sense of the word. Along with Marcus was Louis and Greg, and these they sure knew their history and a great deal about their ancestral homeland part of the country.We made our way onto the San Juan and the current was so strong that paddling wasn’t necessary, sometimes paddling against the current so not to get far ahead of Marcus’s raft. There were three big sky blue rafts and four dark blue Duckies, kayaks made with rubber like the rafts instead of wood or plastic. My amigo James and I were in a two person ducky kayak for the first stretch of the journey.

After about 4 miles of a beautiful trip down this powerful river, we pulled off and landed on the right side of the river and hopped out. From where we stopped, we walked about 50 feet through the trees and up a small hill up to the canyon face. On a long flat stretch of the face of the canyon wall were hundreds if not thousands of petro glyphs all over 800 years old. Each image had its own significance and story, and they were all incredible works of art for the primitive technology used to carve them into the sandstone wall. I will put up pictures of some of them as soon as possible because they are truly magnificent.

Continuing down the river, I admired the canyon layers, the geologists dream, and in watching the scenery slowly pass by that I was uncertain I would ever see again made me savor it even more. The trip to this point has been so fast paced and we were always doing as much as we could fit into the time we had, and at this moment floating down the river, time completely stood still. It wasn’t like the Animas river of Durango with its huge waves and crazy rapids; it was more serene and peaceful, even when it kept you moving at a good clip. Even few miles we stopped to view more petro glyphs, each more surreal than the one before. Never in my life have I seen such raw and tangible evidence of the presence of ancient cultures. Their artwork represented symbols of their society, spirituality, community, and what they held most important to them. They depicted everything from long horn sheep to their own hands and feet. Standing where they stood, close enough to touch their markings from centuries ago was very special to me because you felt the presence of the people that used to live in the San Juan valley for multiple generations living off of the land.

Everywhere I go, I find myself looking at things and wondering how they got there and what was involved in the making and changing of them. On this river, I look at the canyon walls, the oldest part about 127 million years old. This river has been carving out this canyon for an unfathomable amount of time, and you can see the stages of time in each layer of rock. It’s on the top 5 sites for geologists to visit in the world because of how far back in time you can see. If you will, let’s look at a broad example of how things came to be.

You are walking down a city street, surrounded by tall buildings, walking on a cement sidewalk, next to sighing automobiles on a hot asphalt road. This is the kind of urban environment over 50% of the world lives in, completely built by man, complete with sparse trees strangled by more sidewalk. Everything around you is made of natural resources, but is doesn’t naturally occur without the intervention of mankind.

Nothing we do as humans is really “unnatural” because we are a part of the ecosystem we live and we have simply labeled ourselves as separate; humans are spectators second to prospectors of the natural world much to the demise of our recently estranged mother. Back to the thought, you cross the aforementioned street and see a building under construction next to a building being demolished. Upon looking at the latter, you see the bare bones of a strong structure made to support millions of pounds of material within and atop itself. This structure will soon look like its clean cut neighbor next door that currently towers above the sapling skyscraper. Looking at the former, you see a building being demolished. The barebones look like those of the one that is being created, yet all that effort and ingenuity that went in to creating the building is all for naught as it pulverized into oblivion.

Let it breathe for a moment.

I look into the petroglyphs and picture the people who made them steady at work right in front of me chipping away at the wall for hours on end. Consciously or subconsciously they are making something that they want to be around forever. They are leaving their mark and passing on their traditional beliefs and cultural values in a visual realm. This can be said about the Navajo Nation and many other tribes of Native Americans. From passing their ways down through the generations, they are trying to make something last forever just like a strong house that weathers the storm. Back to our example, a building is being destroyed to make room for another building. The building in question might have had a few flaws, but it still had structural integrity. However, when outsiders wanted to have the land where that building stood, it was time to tear it down. To spell it out, the building under construction can be seen as the European colonization of the “new world”, and the building being demolished is the Native American societies, cultures, and structural integrities annihilated just to make their land available.

After an unbelievable 18 mile float/paddle down the San Juan, we set up camp on the river. I made my spot around the bend from the main camp in a place where I could see a half mile down the river and the greatest stretch of canyon. I watched the sun set on the Canyon, and one by one the stars began to wake up for the night. As we sat around the campfire, Louis and Greg, the other two guides who were hilarious and great friends to have, told some horrifying stories of the Skin Walkers of the Southwest and the dreaded La Chupa Cabra. These scary campfire stories were not for the faint of heart I’ll say that much. After stargazing and contemplating the universe for a few hours I hit the hay, ready for the remaining eight mile ride the next day.

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