By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/19/2020
Occurred: 8/30/2013
Topics/Keywords: #SaltRiver Page Views: 3525
My friend Keith and I float down the Salt River during questionable weather.

My friend, Keith, with whom I've done a bit of outdoorsing lately, had never done a Salt River float trip. (He's from New Mexico, and hasn't been in the Valley all that long.) So that was our next adventure.

We had planned this trip almost a week in advance; but it's monsoon season here in Central Arizona and it's pretty much impossible to predict the weather. So it was with more than a modicum of trepidation that we parked our cars (the Jesusmobile at take-out, Keith's at put-in). We decided to make the longer trip, putting in at Blue Point and taking out at Phon D. Sutton. But already the sky was becoming dramatic, with massive gray clouds and featureless sections that promised heavy rains. Would we be able to make the trip despite the weather?

Keith takes his float to the water's edge.

I had brought two pool floats and some bungee cords; and since there were only the two of us, we attached the floats side-by-side.

And there were only the two of us—on the river. There was just one other car parked at Blue Point, and no other people in sight. (Later we spotted some kayakers behind us, but they took out before we did so they never got close.)

Presumably, the place was deserted because of the weather. Although there were patches of blue in the sky, above us was an irregular blanket of heavy gray.

Photo by Keith Jim. Selfie by Keith Jim.

Blue Point is where most of the weekend floaters put in. This was Friday, the day before Labor Day weekend. It's possible that also contributed to the absence of others; they may have been waiting for the big weekend.

Still, as we floated along, the clouds overhead got more and more impressive.

Keith, being Native American (and having been raised in the Navajo culture), doesn't waste much time on small talk. And I'm one of those people who generally chatters on rather than allow a moment of silence. But I am trying to overcome that trait, which I don't admire in others, either. So Keith and I floated along, mostly in silence, which allowed us to hear the movement of the water, the wind in the branches, the calls of birds.It takes about two hours to drift from Blue Point to Goldfield (where the commercial tubers take out) and another hour-and-a-half or so to continue to Phon D. Sutten. We'd gotten a 3 o'clock start, so the sun was heading for the horizon and, occasionally, a bit of muffled sunset would break through.

Directly overhead, the sky had become featureless except for a few birds. One, I am sure, was an eagle—one of my totem animals.

But then other birds came along, and I was tickled to see they stacked themselves, the way jets waiting to land do, to avoid collisions. The birds in the picture below were clearly at three different heights.

On most of the river floats I've made here, I have been treated to a sighting of at least a few of the local wild horses. But this time, perhaps because Keith and I weren't making any noise, we came upon the first of several horse families in an area that, tomorrow, would be so crowded with tubers drinking and playing boom boxes, it would never see a horse. Yet, today, there were three!

For a few moments, it looked like the sun was trying to come out.

Then we encountered another natural zoo: On the left bank; egrets…

…and, on the right, another horse family!

The stallion was the only one who made note of us at all. His mares kept browsing on the river kelp as we floated by, and he didn't seem stressed; but he was certainly alert to any danger we might suddenly pose.

As we floated, we sometimes faced forward; sometimes, back. It appeared the weather had moved from the east, where we started out, to the west, where we were heading.

However, the way ahead looked gloomier than ever, and I started mentally making contingency plans in case we were caught in a cold downpour. (Get to shore, and use the floats to make a lean-to until it passed.)

We floated past the small cave which, on busier days, is always filled with guys showing off for their girlfriends by jumping from it into the water (about a 20-foot drop). Today, it was eerily abandoned.

I should mention that, except for possibly exposing Keith and myself to death by exposure, I loved the weather we were having, simply because it presented this river, that I've floated so many times, in a completely different light.

Even though we were now being serenaded by constant thunder, and could see sharp bolts of lightning moving in our direction. And then, a few drops of rain fell—just a few—but there was still no guarantee there would be no more.

Not running for shelter were the horses, another family of which we floated by.

Just as I took the above shot, Keith and I heard splashing right behind us. "Look!" Keith whispered, pointing over my back. "A couple of horses are crossing the river!"

And they were! Frantically, we paddled to rotate our floats. Two horses had waited for the current to take us past them. Having seen countless thousands of floaters through the years, they have learned that we never float back upstream.

Meanwhile, (cue dramatic music here) the sky continued to darken, the clouds seeming heavier and heavier, though it was hard to be sure since the Sun was also setting behind them, anyway.

Not everything of interest on the river is alive. We passed any number of fascinatingly-shaped rocks, cliffs, and even interesting pieces of driftwood.

The river bank was teeming with water birds, especially blue herons and egrets.

The horses didn't spook easily, but the egrets must have decided that Keith and I had come too close, for all three of them took wing.

Then the heavens let loose…not on Keith and me, fortunately, but someone not too many miles from us was getting drenched.

Thus I was happy when we came to Coon Bluff, a landmark that is just about a mile upstream of Phon D. Sutten. There was a sizable horse family on the bluff, but by the time I could get the camera ready only one horse was visible, the others having become obscured by bushes.

That final mile drifted past surprisingly quickly. There was no one at Phon D. Sutten, which meant the surprise rainbow behind the car was meant for only us. This was also the dimmest rainbow I've ever seen.

And then, with a sudden exuberant burst, a final sunset swept the sky.

Keith and I stared at it, forgetting to continue loading the floats. But then we finished up, and I managed to get in one last shot before the sky went completely dark on us.

As we drove back to Blue Point to pick up the other vehicle, I said to Keith, "I've made a lot of trips along this stretch of the river, but this was the most beautiful—and the most productive, from a photographic sense." I added that our quietness was undoubtedly why so many horses had felt safe in our presence.

And that is why I am going to continue to try and cure myself of filling every moment of silence with small talk. This will be hard for me, though, after a lifetime of being my chatty mom's son.

Perhaps I can start by just filling every other moment!