Monday, June 22, 2009

Verde Wild & Scenic

Allow me to first say these photos were taken by Nick Borelli, Shaun Riedinger, and Bill Tuthill as well as myself, and my poor file management has left me unable to properly assign each photo to its creator.

Dramatic storm lighting in the desert, Wild and Scenic Rio Verde

One of the joys of self support kayak trips is that you can visit places that aren't easily accessed in other ways. Sometimes that means a low water trip with a canyon to yourself after the high water crowds have left. Other times it means running streams that just aren't amenable to larger boats. The Rio Verde in Arizona is such a river -- difficult to plan for, rarely runnable, and mostly unspoiled.

Verde putin at Beasley Flats

Nick Borelli, Shaun Reidiner, and Bill Tuthill came together on short notice to put this trip together. We ran the Beasley Flats to Horseshoe Reservoir section, a total of 60 miles of river. To make things easy as possible, we flew into Phoenix then rented a car for the 90 minute drive north to the putin.

Putin advice on surviving a wild river

We had a moderate low flow of 200-odd CFS, which was generally plenty of water but is not a fast moving flow. Once shuttle had been arranged and boats were rigged, we set off to see a new canyon.

We quickly left signs of civilization behind. This upper section of 30 miles or so is the most remote and unsullied section of the Verde, with little road access or signs of habitation.

First named drop, Off the Wall. It is class II.

This first day of floating offers the biggest drops on the Verde: Pre-Falls and Verde Fallsas well as the mini gorge below the falls, the Foul Rift. We made the classic blunder into Pre-Falls, then stopped to scout Verde Falls proper. It could have used a little more flow, but Bill was willing to unrig to run it, and cleaned the ledge.

Looking back up at Pre-Falls after boat scouting it.

Bill scouts and runs Verde Falls with an empty boat.

Camp I below Verde Falls, above Palisades

We found a few other class II and III rapids on our way into camp above the Palisades. We camped at an acceptable but marginal beach, however, there is an excellent camp right at the base of the Palisades that I would recommend as a camp 1 selection.

Bill boat scouts Palisades

Shaun, running Palisades and happy to be boatin' again

Nice camp just below Palisades on river left

Day two was a short day again, as we intended to do some hiking to some cliff dwelling ruins located not far off the river. We had a bit of a route finding adventure in the oppressive heat, but found our quarry in the end.

Desert scenery along our hike

Three miles below Palisades is a blind, technical III drop called Punk Rock or sometimes Turkey Gobbler. The drop starts innocuously and features a simple lead in, but you must get left at the bottom and many tricky guard rocks make this difficult.

Nick the turkey is punked at Punk Rock. Gobble gobble!

I hate to call carnage out like that, but those are the only shots I have of one of the trickiest drops on this run. It would hardly be fair to deprive you, the dedicated beta junkie, from such critical photographs just because of someone's embarrassment at swimming class III, wouldn't you agree?

The nest few miles offered some fun with Bushman, Big Pink, and Black Rockrapids. We pulled in to an excellent camp river right below White Flash rapid.

The camp, fire, and main course at camp 2

Storm clouds over the Verde River

Day three was filled with class II and III rapids, great scenery, and a stop at the main landmark on this run, Verde Hot Springs. This is the site of an old resort, which has burned to ground and is now nothing but a hot springs nestled into the canyon wall. We found a few soakers in situ who had driven in, forded the river, and hiked to hot springs. Shortly below the hot springs is Child's Power Plant, also a river access point. Many car campers were enjoying the spot.

Cottonwoods on the Verde

Verde Hot Springs

Nick prepares to fight through a massive 200 cfs hole, Child's Play

Shaun is a bit more relaxed in this rare rapid that had plenty of water

Lunch stop at the confluence with EF Verde. Nick and Shaun filtering water in the distance

Fun class III on the Verde

Red Wall

About this time I hit the wall. Dehydration or perhaps a touch of flu, it's hard to say; but I was tired and had lost my voice. We made it camp and I crashed hard, while the crew fired up Pecos Pit BBQ without me.

Camp III in the morning light

Verde Canyon wall

Bullrushes often obscure the desired line. This is a very common site

Day 4 on the river was really an amazing day. We had entered the wilderness section of the run at Childs, and now we had scattered thundershowers which really put on a show -- all while leaving us unscathed by the weather.

Verde bedrock, lichen, and saguaro

Rain in the desert -- ephemeral, fleeting, and gorgeous

Approaching the wilderness boundary

We encountered a small group of paddlers who had launched at Child's. Two Alpaca rafts and an NRS MaverIK. Great to see folks out on a run like this. We boogied down to camp and chatted with them when they floated by.

This was an excellent camp, and we even went so far as to harvest, season, and grill some fresh prickly pear to go with our dinner.

River otter right in camp

Camp 4

Prickly pear -- it's what's for dinner!

Looking back at camp 4, which is against the upstream side of that red rock bluff

Our final day would take us past the river access at Sheep Bridge, then across Horseshoe Reservoir. We were glad to make it dry land after a 2 hour wind-fighting push across the reservoir.

The backside of the reservoir. Slack water, but still riparian zone

Looking back across the reservoir. The white ridge in the top right is the other side of the cliff in the photo above.