Remote wilderness camping without another soul in sight? Check.
Cliff jumping? Check.
Extreme Bocce Tournament? Check.
Gourmet cooking and a new campsite every night? Check, check.
If this sounds too good to be true, you have never been on a multi-day river trip in the high deserts of the American West.
Whether you are rafting, canoeing, kayaking, or stand-up-paddleboarding, spending time on the river is unlike any other adventure you can find.
Colorado, Utah and Arizona are famous for their whitewater opportunities, and remote, multi-day float trips that wind through desert spires or red rock canyons. The Colorado River is known for Westwater, Cataract, and Ruby-Horsethief Canyons, and the Green boasts of Lodore/Whirlpool, Desolation/Gray, and Labyrinth Canyon. Wherever you choose, the experience will leave you dreading that first sight of 'civilization' after days of clear, sunny skies, and nights of endless stars, campfires and stories.
Many of these stretches of rivers are by permit access only which limit the number of visitors in wilderness areas and reduce the impact on the fragile ecosystem of essential riparian zones. If you are a first-time river adventurer, it is best to either go with a guided company or to join a permit with an experience boating friend.
However you choose to get out there, the experience will be totally unique and probably challenge you in a few ways you weren't expecting. Check out Bold Betty gear for the best packing lists, but here are a few more tips to keep in mind.
1. You will not tan in the desert, you will go straight to crispy!
Be smart and bring a wide brim sunhat, long-sleeve sun shirt (the more garish, the better, trust me), and a vat of sunscreen. Not only will you block harmful UV rays, but you will find yourself with far more energy at the end of the day to participate in the excellent camp scene that is the long summer evenings of desert rafting.
2. Another basic- water and electrolytes
Again, desert life is not easy on your body. It can be a blast, but you can't treat it like a Spring Break trip where your hotel and its AC are just a hop away from the pool. So this means drinking at least two or three liters of water every day. In the arid air, you lose moisture every time you respire and dehydration can ruin the best day. Of course, you also need to be replacing salts and electrolytes so keep handfuls of healthy trail mix, chips, or fruit to keep your body in balance within easy reach on the boat all day.
3. Mysterious Lady Parts!
If you are going a trip longer than a few nights, you can expect your period, whether or not you were expecting it. Something about the dramatic change in environment, diet and exertion seems to bring on the majesty of ovulation at the most inconvenient times. It takes a little extra prep to stay sanitary and discreet, but is easily doable.
Most river trips use a 'groover,' a sealable river toilet, which is set up every evening a distance away from camp. The view is usually excellent! This toilet cannot process anything besides waste, however, and so you must dispose of sanitary products in a ziploc bag. Bring a paper bag along, and place the sealed ziploc inside it, and this provides for more discretion when disposing of your pads or tampons in the trash.
4. Expedition Mentality
This is the single most important mindset you can give yourself to have a safe and awesome trip. Understood by backcountry enthusiasts of all types, it simply means that you realize how far away you are from the world. Choices you make at home in the 'front country' carry consequences, sure, but you are only three digits away from an ambulance visit, antibiotics and IV fluids. Most river trips take participants far away from the nearest road and cell phone reception is, thankfully, rare and spotty.
Listen to the experts on the trip who have spent time on the rivers and gained the wisdom taught only by hard experience with natural consequences.
When it comes to protecting yourself from the elements, imbibing wisely and not putting yourself in unnecessary physical risk, the stakes are much higher in these remote areas not only for you, but for everyone on the trip who would need to put themselves at risk to help you if something went wrong.
River rafting in the desert is the kind of adventure which will bring you into a universe of new experiences. You will never be the same.
But be warned, one is never enough, and the moment you come around the last bend and see your shuttle vehicle waiting at the take-out, we guarantee you will already be planning your next trip!
P.S. Spontaneous costume parties are a real thing on the river. Be prepared.
Checkout Bold Betties Women's Vision Quest in Utah! It will be an unforgettable experience!
So there I was, in the middle of a crazy, freak rain storm that came up out of nowhere, standing braless and bedraggled in front of the park ranger.
You may be wondering how I let myself get in this predicament in the first place, but in my defense there were no threatening clouds on the horizon and no telling change in temperature. It was just a sudden downpour; which caught me off guard and wet in a thin, gray tank top…
We were a handful girlfriends with various levels of camping experience who had trekked to the prairies of South Dakota to see the infamous Mount Rushmore and search for herds of buffalo. We drove from Colorado, enjoying the road trip, open windows, and blaring 90’s chick music. We were pumped about the time to spend away from our children, husbands and jobs. All of the essentials for car camping were crammed into a borrowed SUV and we were ready for our adventure. Our big cabin-style tent took up most of the trunk. It was huge and boxy, but suitable for housing both our sleeping area, a card table, and possibly a small army. We had just purchased it for the purpose of this girls-weekend. Our battery operated lanterns, air mattresses, and boxes of wine were neatly tucked into all the empty space and the weekend spread promisingly in front of us. All the things you can’t take with you when you’re backpacking we added to our collection of stuff: board games, cozy pajamas, and fluffy pillows topped the packing list.
We were definitely taking advantage of the space and convenience of driving to our campsite in Custer National Park. On the day of the storm we had planned to spend the morning hiking, but when one of my comrades turned her ankle we decided to spend the late morning having a long lunch in town instead, in a rustic saloon. It had a dirt floor, swinging saloon doors, and a barkeep named Mac. (Everything you look for in a Wild West dive bar.) As we trekked back to our campsite along winding dirt roads we admired the big blue, never-ending skies.
Life was good. Spending time with women I admired and loved was a beautiful way to unwind. There’s something about girl talk and doing things on my own that fuels my soul.
I built up a campfire upon our return and fished some pre-made foil packets of food out of the cooler. Making foil packets is my pre-camping specialty. We had par-boiled potatoes before our travel and cut them into pieces along with cooked sausage for that evening’s meal. It’s so simple to just toss them into the hot coals and allow them to warm up, with very little effort involved. (FYI, add spices prior to travel too, that way you don’t have to pack them!)
As the food cooked, it slowly started to sprinkle. Tiny, silver rain drops sizzled on the coals. We ignored them. That was our first mistake because then it came: monsoon style rain and wind. So much wind. We sat huddled in the car watching the lightning streak across the sky and counting the seconds until the rumbles of thunder. It was hard to believe that only a few hours ago the brilliance of the blue sky was almost blinding, and now that same sky was swirling with the most intense storm I’d ever seen. We watched in awe as the wind lifted our giant, impractical, tent into the air, snapping tent poles and ropes as it went.
I didn’t even think about it as I sprang from the car into the rain. I grabbed the corner of the flapping tent and clung for dear life as it thrashed about in the sky like a giant box kite in a tornado. Images of Ben Franklin’s key flashed through my mind as I struggled to contain the tent and willed my friends to join me in the rain. They didn’t!
As the storm finally blew over and the gals piled out of the car to assess the damage, I found myself standing there, holding up one corner of our tent: a human tent pole in a wet t-shirt contest.
I was dripping, my shirt was translucent, and our tent was a crumpled mess. We pulled out our soggy sleeping bags and wrung them out to dry. Our car, packed to the brim with camping gear, did not have a single thing in it to repair the damages. We had no tarp or extra rope. We had eliminated those items to make room for our giant, brand new tent. That’s when the ranger pulled up.
He was a kind-faced, older gentleman, coming to check on the women he knew were camping alone. He had the best of intentions, of course, and wanted to see if we were alright and inspect the grounds. He stood awkwardly as we assured him he was unneeded despite our appearance. He tossed us a roll of duct tape making a distinct effort to keep his eyes at eye level, and went on his way.
We made a makeshift rope out of the duct tape. (You can do this by just folding it in half lengthwise for the length you need, or twisting it into a cord. It can be made stronger by braiding these together.) Then, used said rope to tie our mangled tent back up into something resembling a childhood blanket fort.
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t dry. It wasn’t what we had in mind. But, we had wine and each other and really that’s all that mattered...
They say all heartbreaks, no matter how devastating, can be cured by the sea; that nature is good for the soul; that time heals all wounds.
And I agree.
These days, I love to enjoy the outdoors with my daughter, my friends, and my mom. You might even say that being outside has become my prescription for overcoming almost any disappointment. I’m regularly drawn to Bar Harbor, Maine, where the crisp ocean air, and beautiful seaside vistas act as an antidote for my soul.
But it wasn’t always this way.
There was a time when I couldn’t even imagine spending an entire afternoon outdoors, much less an entire weekend; a time when camping or hiking, especially by myself, was way out of my wheelhouse.
You see, I grew up in a tiny town where cows literally outnumbered people and the daily grind of farm life overshadowed the possibility of exploration. It was the type of town where everyone secretly wanted to get away, but no one ever did. It was like we were stuck in a time warp.
A good 40 miles from the nearest shopping mall or McDonalds, our tiny farming community was the kind of place where most children grow up to take over their parent’s farm or small business. Few people go to college and even fewer move away. And I always imagined I’d be one of them.
But when I suddenly found myself in the final chapter of a ten-year relationship, jobless and moving back in with my parents, I finally let wanderlust take hold. I needed to relax. I needed a stiff cocktail.
I needed to transform my life.
So I packed my bag, my meager savings, and my crushed hopes and dreams into my tiny Toyota and headed anywhere but there.
I found myself driving north, to Maine. Even today, I don’t know why I chose it. I didn’t know anything about Maine, but I knew I needed to go somewhere.
One long road trip later and I found myself following a windy road onto Mt. Desert Island, then onward to a local KOA campground. For those who aren’t familiar with Kampgrounds of America (KOA), it’s like “Camping for Dummies” with hot showers, electric sites, and evening arts and crafts.
Sleeping alone, in a tent, as a young woman was a nerve wracking experience all by itself. There were no doors to lock or alarms to set, and although there were people all around, it set me on edge quite a bit. Every voice I heard was a would-be attacker, every footstep was someone headed my way, every twig cracking was the stuff of nightmares.
But I was determined to push the boundaries of my crumbling life. And that night in a crowded campground was the first baby step into taking back control.
Although I admit I may have needed a glass of wine or three to reduce my nerves and allow sleep to come, this night was the first in a series of events I like to call “The time I finally got my S#!t together”.
My point is, stepping out into the wilderness looks different for everyone. For me, it was the beginning of something much bigger. My adventures that week led me to a new identity. Years later I’ve become an avid camper, hiker and fisher-woman. I own a kick-ass pair of hiking boots and a plethora of tattered trail maps. I can’t remember the last time I camped for any length of time in a campground with paved roads and kiddie playgrounds, but I will always remember the first time I lay my head on my borrowed sleeping bag and breathed - really breathed – and felt stronger for it.
Today is international women’s day and I feel on fire with hope and strength because of a small start up company I found at just the right time. After three years in a new city I was losing hope of ever finding a community like the one I had back home. I used to run trail marathons, rock climb and camp EVERY WEEKEND. I was often teased for showing up to the gear shop I worked at with leaves still in my hair.Read Full Article Here →
As a member of an outdoorsy family, I’ve been camping since I was a kid and have had many incredible camping experiences. While being in nature has its discomfort, the experiences have always been rewarding. I knew that I could learn and grow from this experience as well. This particular trip is what I refer to as “type 2” fun, and did end up being an unforgettable experience.Read Full Article Here →
The Betties found me in my last term of college. That awkward point where you’re overqualified for half the jobs and under-qualified for the other half… I was feeling down on myself and insecure about my abilities for not landing the job. You know THE job. Ya, that one.Read Full Article Here →
" Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread." – Edward Abbey
Along the trail, we made some John Muir quips, updated each other on our jobs, our boyfriends, and what we’re doing with our lives. But our longest discussion was how important our time in the wilderness was to us...Read Full Article Here →
Being a mom of a four-year-old, super cute, super smart boy and being an entrepreneur leaves little room for extracurricular activities. I do my best to uphold my new-year resolutions: take the stairs instead of the elevator, do yoga, run, walk, jump, hike, etc. But I have to admit, I had yet to do anything BOLD. Until this past Sunday! My family and I were at the #DevilsThumbRanch for the weekend. We rode horses, fed them, hiked in snow and enjoyed the beauties of the ranch and the surroundings. But I must admit, it wasn't until I decided to snow-tube (this is after years of not having done it) in a child-size tube, that I remembered how much fun it is to face your fears and to re#DiscoverYourBold. Okay, I know, you are probably thinking that is not much of anything. Well, okay, maybe! But for me, letting myself be completely out of control (I am usually calm, cool and collected) and looking like a novice in tubing of all things was BOLD! And Fun!
And hence, we will be offering Snow Tubing experiences on our site, inviting all of you to Tube Your Bold Out! Stay tuned!
For most of my adult life the holidays have been tough time of year, and I tend to have moments where I am sad and go down a negative path, feeling stuck or at least not where I thought I would be at this point in my life. But the end of the year is also a great time for reflection, gratitude and an opportunity to recognize the awesome events that have happened over the last few months.Read Full Article Here →
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