On a warm June morning, my husband and I departed our little Ozark homestead, bound for western waters. We had had several months to prepare for our adventure. We had made several trips to the big city–Little Rock–in search of the best non-perishable food. We had purchased new gear–cots, to keep us off the hot sand; a breezy, bigger tent; high-floatation PFDs (personal floatation devices, as in life jackets) in extra-bright yellow–and crammed what would be our worldly possessions for four weeks into our car and trailer.
I departed home with a sense of trepidation. I like summer in the Ozarks, and I knew I would get a bit homesick. I also knew that some of the most dangerous whitewater that rafters regularly run in the US awaited us. I had already gotten assurances from my husband that I could walk two rapids, Crystal and Lava, but I knew I would be seeing other big rapids up close too. (And my dreams of walking Crystal and Lava eventually were dashed, but those are stories for later dispatches.) Meanwhile, I felt a little reassured by our friend’s 17-foot cataraft, more suited for the Grand Canyon than our 14-foot raft, which the friend had happily taken to smaller water. I was not reassured by the fish-tailing of our trailer, but a bit of re-loading at a highway interchange straightened it out.From the back of the trailer you can see the army-green, waterproof rocket boxes, re-purposed for carrying food, ashes, and, um, poop (yes, you’ll learn more); milk crates, which make great places to secure large propane bottles on rafts; dry bags for personal gear (seen in red to the left and yellow to the right); the raft pump (gray); the upside-down oarsman seat; and other items too numerous to mention.
Our destination this day was to make it as far as we could, which turned out to be Elk City, Oklahoma. Elk City has such great billboards and is on historic Route 66, so I had high hopes for staying there. I was a bit disappointed. Still, we pushed further west the next day until we reached Gallup, New Mexico, which is a delightful place. We split a big Navajo taco (taco fixings on fry bread) at the legendary Earl’s (no, they’re not paying me). Gallup is famous as being the filtering point for up to 90 percent of the American Indian crafts that find their way around the world, and I’d read that Earl’s was where the traders went to eat after their day of trading. Imagine my surprise when I found out that they trade at the store, including while you’re eating. I bought. I wish I’d bought more. Prices are ridiculously cheap for really high quality jewelry. I’m no jewelry collector, but these pieces made me want to collect.
The next morning we were back on the road, headed for Flagstaff by way of the Petrified Forest National Park. We were lucky to arrive at a puebloan ruin a few days before the summer equinox, enabling us to see when a shaft of light hit a petroglyph, signifying the longest day of the year.
The petrified trees were huge, laying as if some giant woodsman just felled them.
But we couldn’t stay long at the park. We wanted to reach Flagstaff by noon, and that we easily did. Over the afternoon, a caravan of other rafters showed up at our hotel (which I would recommend–and, no, they are not paying me either), some rafters with boats already rigged and inflated and almost ready for adventure.
We still had to finish our grocery shopping for our most perishable items (deli meat and cheeses, bread), so we hunted out Flagstaff’s health food store and whole-grain bakery and then came back to meet almost everyone with whom we’d spend the next twenty days. I’ll tell you all about them and rigging for launching at Lee’s Ferry in my next post.
Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader. including photographs.