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Canoeing the Rio Grande and an Unexpected Swim


A guided river trip seems rather pretentious but it meant we did not have to plan a lunch, own canoes or paddles or full life jackets. It had been a long time since I’d been canoeing and as soon as we sat in those canoes and began paddling I remembered why I enjoyed canoeing so much.  The canyon towers above the river on both sides; Mexico on the left going upstream and the US on right. Reflections of the canyon and the rocks gave a disconcerting perspective looking like a fancy photo-shop mirror effect.

Canoes are rather tippy creatures requiring attention to footing along the keel and a close watch for rapids and river banks. Unfortunately about half-way up the river, we tumped the canoe. The water was quite cold and much deeper than I thought it would be—my feet not reaching the bottom. The canoe whacked me on the shoulder and back of the head as I went under—and being underneath the canoe, I had to exert some of my not-very-expert swimming skills. The bank was within two feet—a sheer rock face but with plenty of hand holds. I held on while Glen righted the canoe downstream; the guide pulled me up the face. Besides being sopping wet and shivery cold and a horrible headache, we were fine. Glen was not wearing his lifejacket—but I always wear mine. Swimming lessons in the college pool while wearing a lifejacket has greatly reduced my fear of unexpected tumps but I’m planning on more swimming pool time when we get back home.

Since we were all out of the water and I needed to dry off, we took advantage of the sunny bank for lunch. Smoked oysters are one of my favorite ‘treat’ foods but my head was hurting too much to eat very much. I changed into my dry clothes but still was pretty shivery.

After lunch we hopped back into the canoes and continued upstream. There were a few more places that we needed to walk the canoes over the rocks. Smugglers cave lay directly ahead of us—a large cut-out spot in the banks in a place that would require a great deal of effort to rappel off the canyon walls, or ropes to clamber up the banks.

Fern Canyon was our final destination. This is a narrow canyon requiring careful attention to footing along the banks. One place called ‘the birth Canal’ involved climbing through a rocky enclosure dripping with water—the guide crawling through first and putting his foot in the small opening that fed the water. We waded through several pools over my knees. Unfortunately my camera was wet after our tump and I have no photos of the last part of the trip. The canyon is spectacular with ferns on the walls and small birds fluttering about the reeds on the shore.

Our return trip was not nearly as exciting—we managed to execute the rock walls without incident and took out a mile down river from our put-in. My lost paddle was located but our hats and my glasses unfortunately became litter in the river. Turtles were sunning themselves along both banks and a Great Blue Heron took wing. A small sanderling nervously scurried around a turtle and the little hoppy wren bird flitted about the shore.

A hot shower felt wonderful as did a handful of crackers and some pain pills. Dinner was at La Kiva where we sampled fried pickle slices—surprisingly good. All of our wet clothes were hung out on the picnic table outside our cabin. Our cameras and gear were set out to dry; Glen salvaged most of my photos—tomorrow we’ll see if the camera still works and I’ll have to get a new hat.

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