Whitewater Rafting Colorado's Upper Animas River - Page 3

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Rafting the Upper Animas River in Durango, Colorado
Rafting the Upper Animas River in Durango, Colorado  (Mountain Waters)
The rustic Needleton Bar and Grill is not just another riverside watering hole. For one thing, there is no electricity, so no dangling Christmas lights hang in July. For another, rather than the chalkboard announcing drink specials, some old-timer has scrawled a message on the board indicating that he’s off hunting for moose. A black bear has been sniffing around, the note concludes, so keep your eyes peeled. In fact, despite the many beers drunk here, the Needleton Bar and Grill is no bar and grill whatsoever—instead, it’s the kitchen of the camp that Mountain Waters maintains for its clients on the Upper A.

We arrive in the late afternoon at Camp Needleton, a park-like area leased from the U.S. Forest Service by rafting companies. Everybody is charged up from the day on the river, and we toast the guides and give thanks that beyond Ten Mile Rapid our boat saw no further accidents. The semi-secluded camp is in the Weminuche Wilderness near a couple of private inholdings that date back to when miners dug into the hillsides. The neighbors have erected small A-frame cabins but are not visiting today, so we have the area pretty much to ourselves. Just upstream is a little suspension bridge that allows explorers to catch the Durango & Silverton railroad across the river from camp. The train stops at Needleton, which has access to a couple of trails in the shadow of Pigeon Mountain, one of the local “fourteeners.” It is a popular stepping-off point for travelers headed to the backcountry, including around 10,000 hikers and the occasional all-terrain skiers who find their way into the wilderness annually. For whatever reason, the crowds do not put in an appearance during our overnight visit. As if on command, a rainbow appears over the mountains as the sun begins to fade. Stars will soon appear, as will a gibbous moon.

But before the lights go out, I string a fly rod to see if the deep pools of the Upper Animas hold any fish. Feisty mountain cutthroat trout, none more than ten inches, dart after the black woolly bugger at the end of my line, and I manage to catch and release a half dozen or so. My thirst increases with each success.

After a nightcap by the campfire, I find my sleeping bag and drift off with a full belly, sore muscles, and my mind awash in serotonin. In the morning, we wander the meadows near camp and feed on wild strawberries. With another day on the river, we meet successfully the last major challenge at Broken Bridge Rapid, another Class V. If dreams come that night in camp, they don’t register. The sights and sounds, however, replay for weeks, then months—something the right mix of fear and fun will always do.
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