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The morale of the expedition sank as well, and never fully recovered. The Major had banned alcohol from the voyage. But on an island downstream from Disaster Falls some of the wreckage of the No-Name washed up. The Major was so ecstatic at having recovered his instruments of atmospheric measurement that he uncharacteristically overlooked the contraband and encouraged all the men to have a round of drinks. Today, the river spurts along at a mere cubic feet per second, thanks to the water wardens at Flaming Gorge dam.

Yet, this miserly flow presents its own challenges and unique dangers. The river has been turned into something resembling a pinball machine, a machine with teeth of stone.

Carl Sandburg

Under natural flows, most of these rocks would be safely submerged under several feet of rushing water. Now they are all hazards, each one waiting to trap a foot, rip a raft, smash a skull. We scout the run for about an hour, charting and discussing every possible route. At Disaster Falls proper, the river is squeezed between two large rocks, pours over a four-foot ledge and into a snarling standing wave. Below the falls, the rapids continue for another quarter of a mile through a glistening maze of prong-like rocks.

I love Susette. Susette gets my vote as the best river guide on the Green and Colorado Rivers.

She is a gifted desert gardener and a genuine Reiki master. She is lovely, smart and strong. The exalted Class Six designation, according to Susette, is reserved only for rapids that are always fatal. Emphasis on the always. And, of course, the fatal. With an unnerving directness of intent, we approach the two boulders that guard the falls, boulders the size of Wooly Mammoths. Weisheit thrusts the bow of the raft into the mossy rock on river right, the boat rotates and we slide backwards over the cataract, just like Howlands and Co. Water pours into the raft as the stern dips into the curling wave, then we pop up, slam into a hidden rock.

The raft swings in the swirling water and rights itself. We rattle and scrape through Lower Disaster, a dicey run of swift water punctuated by thorny rocks. Finally we reach an eddy and turn to watch Susette delicately pivot her raft between the twin rocks and down the falls. Susette evades every hazard with the easy precision and grace of a gifted slalom skier.

Four bighorns look down on us from a ridiculously narrow ledge of rotten rock, casual and free from fear. With still no sign of our missing cohorts, we tie our raft to a rock, grab two rescue bags and stumble up the stony shore. Susette, as usual, is ahead of us. She points to a small tangle of driftwood. Weisheit hops over the den of sticks. I give it a wide berth. Only images of dentists with drills strike me with more psychic terror.

Driftwood piles are becoming rarer and rarer along the Green River, especially in this part of Dinosaur. The big piles are all more than fifty years old and loom far up on the banks. Flaming Gorge Dam not only traps water behind its bland concrete arc, but also all of the woody and organic debris that play such a crucial role in recharging the rich ecology of riparian areas: providing nutrients for the river, nesting and feeding habitat for fish in floodtime, and shelter for bugs, mice, scorpions and, yes, snakes.

We wade across a stagnant pool, the surface of which is etched by the trails of waterstriders, and onto a sandbar, desolate except for the stalking prints of a great blue heron. On the far side of the river, the yellow raft is wedged between two rocks. Judy strains at the oars, while Craig, hip-deep in the river, pushes at the stern of the boat. Prudently, Jennifer adheres to the Apocalypse Now! Rule of River Safety: Stay in the boat.

Whatever happens stay in the fucking boat. Craig has long legs, but still he must be careful. Foot entrapment here is a real danger. They are too far away for us to toss them a rescue line.

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Then, with Jennifer giving a forceful tug on the rigging, the rocks release the raft. Craig scrambles onto the boat just as it smacks another boulder and bumps and grinds its way down to the sanctuary of the eddy. We trudge back through a wavy thicket of wild cane. Weisheit tells me to look high on canyon walls downstream at the white planking of rock near the rim, the first appearance of the Madison limestone formation. As I take out my binoculars and scan the distant rim of the canyon, which looks like icing on a cherry layer cake, I am interrupted by a hollow buzzing, an emphatic buzzing, coming from beneath my left foot, which at this precise moment is rapidly descending toward the very driftwood pile that Susette had, only moments before, warned us to avoid.

Man-Eaters of Tsavo

I freeze. I look down. The snake is coiled into a ball not much bigger than my fist. Its tail is erect and is making a declarative statement. You know the one. Not a large snake. And from the stern and unflinching posture of its flat, triangular head with the destinctive loreal pits, not a happy snake, either. And, oh yes, Susette, most definitely a rattler.

Most likely the relatively passive, yet potently toxic, Midget Faded Rattlesnake— though I defer from looking for the distinguishing characteristics that would definitely mark this agitated little creature as Crotalus viridis concolor. Weisheit crunched across the driftwood pile without even pausing. The Riverkeeper leads a charmed life, and long may it be so.

2 Guys and A River - For the love of fly fishing

The man has spent 30 years in the canyon country, scaling slickrock and tackling the worst rapids in Cataract and Grand Canyon, and has never required more than a Band-Aide. So he says. I, however, retreat, scramble down to the river and slop my way through the knee-deep mud to the raft.

We exit the eddy and promptly hit a rock. The raft tilts to the left and down, down into the river. Currents of silver water flood into the raft, creating our own little reservoir and drowning my books, one by one. I clamber up to the elevated side of the raft and gaze down at the churning water and spikey rocks below, which resemble a scene from the illustrated torture manual at Abu Ghraib.

When is the Chicago River dyed green?

Think Waterboarding meets the Bed of Nails. I look back at Weisheit. Our acute encounter with the rocks has knocked the huge-brimmed white hat off his head.


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We bounce on the side of the raft, again and again, in a kind of unison. Eventually, one rock relinquishes its grip and the stern of the raft wheels, pointing downstream. Craig extends his leg from the side of the raft, long as advertised. All it takes is a vigorous little stomp and we are free. Wet and free.