Run Wild. Run Free!

Posted On
Apr 15, 2016

Photos & Story Monique Beeley


The Yampa River. A river that runs fiercely untamed from its source, the great Rocky Mountains, and is one of the last ‘truly wild’ rivers in the country.  

The Yampa flows 250 miles through Northwest Colorado before it joins Utah’s Green River at Echo Park in Dinosaur National Monument.  Most rivers in the Colorado River Basin have been dammed, diverted and manipulated in the last century for water supply and hydropower, while the Yampa remains wild, free and natural.  

The window of opportunity to enjoy the vast beauty of this river is short lived, making it a much sought after adventure.  Only the lower three fourths of the river are runnable during runoff, which in some years may only allow for a few weeks.

I was fortunate enough to fit through that short window for a 5-day, 71-mile trip on the Yampa last June with Dinosaur River Expeditions based out of Vernal.

The sky was a deep blue, with small bits of disbursed white puffy clouds, the morning air still cool as it sometimes is in mid-June. The peaceful sounds of a river flowing over the cobbles filled the air. Morning coffee in hand, I was feeling content while sitting on the river’s edge reminiscing of the activities of previous day, our first on the Yampa.

Day one was filled with the usual river prep, driving to the put-in, launching  boats, meeting fellow adventurers and guides, thoughts of “what did I forget to pack” filling your head….lots of action. Then the day just flies by.  By day two everyone was beginning to get settled into the trip, thoughts fleeing from “life” at home.  One of my most favorite things about a river trip is that feeling of being ‘off the grid’ - far away from the daily distractions of our ever so connected crazy world.  Where the sounds of horns and cars are replaced with singing birds and the river and where I can reconnect with my daughter Kya. This was our third annual river trip and, at this point, this six year old is a seasoned river runner.  Luckily, there were a few other kids on the trip and even luckier that two were girls within a few years of Kya’s age. By the end of the second day she had some new best friends.

The afternoon of day two, following a tasty lunch on a sandy beach, we hiked the Bull Canyon Trail to Wagon Wheel Point. We started hiking as a group listening as Melissa, one of our fabulous guides, filled us in on a bit of river history. Slowly we broke off from the group to explore at our own pace, which usually meant looking for rocks, flowers and, of course, wildlife. I love how easily children are self entertained in nature and this was no exception. We stopped many times along the trail to feel the rocks, smell the flowers and watch lizards as they scurried across the sand.  Two hours later the lead hikers came cruising back down the trail, not sure we made it more than a mile, and we followed them back to the boats.

Day three brought us to Warm Springs Rapid, the biggest of our trip. This section of the Yampa River was dramatically changed in 2012 when a section of Warm Springs Cliff broke away and plummeted into the middle of the river.  The source of the rock fall can be seen nearly half way up the 1,700-foot high cliff face.  Looking up at the impressive cliff walls that surround us, my thoughts imagine the intense sounds that occurred as the rocks came crashing down and how they would continue to echo through the canyon. The colors of the rock vary, the old and the new both on the river bottom and on the cliff face.  Ultimately, the newly created rapid was considerably more difficult to navigate than its former self.

Warm Springs did not disappoint. It was a white knuckle, wet ride. Well, I can’t speak from personal experience since I photographed the action from the shore.  One by one the rafts tumbled, splashed and even disappeared for a second under the hydraulic power of the wild Yampa. Entering the rapids the trepidation of the rafters was obvious; adrenaline flowing, expressions changing from excitement to near terror and then back again as the rafts emerged from Warm Springs.  That night at camp everyone shared their stories. For some, this was their first ever class IV rapid and all felt a sense of camaraderie for having shared the experience together.  

Going with a guide offers many benefits - home (river kitchen) cooked meals, planning, safety, education, knowledge, the list is long and impressive.  They are here sharing with us what they love, evident in the pride and professionalism in which they do their job.  I need to give a very special shout-out and thank you to one of the guides from our trip, Melissa Frogh, who was super sweet with Kya and the other kids, even allowing them to fully bury her in the sand and taking them on secret treasure hunting missions at camp.  Kya could not stop taking about her for several weeks after the trip, and kept asking when would be our next river trip with her new BFF Miss Melissa.

The remaining days on the river were filled with sun and fun while the evenings were as busy or as peaceful as your individual desire. The kids played in the sand, mud and water, fully entertained, while the adults sat around in small group telling stories of the day or from other adventures, some of them perhaps true!  As the sun slowly sank behind the cliff walls on our last night, the stars filled the sky and the sounds of crickets chirping filled the air. Night had fallen. Walking back to our tent holding my daughter’s hand, I slowly squeezed three times. She smiled and immediately repeated…. this is our special, I LOVE YOU hand squeeze.  As I zipped her into her sleeping bag I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace and contentment at this very moment knowing that all is right in our world.

Cheers to the almighty Yampa River that is so wild & free for allowing us to feel its fierce independence, its beauty peace and serenity.