Kayaking Down the Dolores River

Monique3The day did not start out promising. We set out to go kayaking the weekend before Memorial Day weekend because Tom from Soft Adventures Rafting in Dolores said the water would get too low if we waited.

My wife, Monique, and I had recently went whitewater rafting down the Tara River in Bosnia and Montenegro, so we were pretty excited about kayaking down the Dolores River.

Unfortunately, the weather seemed to get drearier and drearier as we drove down the Dolores Highway from our house in Cortez. As we pulled into Dolores, it even started hailing and snowing!

I’m not going to lie, I was thinking about backing out of this adventure! Seeing the look on my father-in-law, Vernon’s, face, I had the feeling he wouldn’t be too disappointed if we decided not to do it… However, my wife wasn’t having it! Once she sets her mind to do something, she does it. So my father-in-law and I both decided we couldn’t back out if Monique wasn’t going to.

Why it’s important to have an experienced guide on the Dolores River

As if the cold weather wasn’t enough, Vernon decided to start talking about all the people he either knew or heard about that drowned in the Dolores River! This prompted Janneli, co-owner of Soft Adventures, to tell us why she and her husband Tom started the company. She said they wanted to provide a safe way to enjoy rafting or kayaking down the Dolores River. Hence the name, “Soft Adventures.”

Feeling reassured, I felt even better when I saw that they provided wetsuits and dry gear. The wetsuit fit me pretty snug, but I sure was glad to have it out in the weather!

Practice Round

After we signed some waivers and got in our gear, we headed to Narraguinnep Reservoir to practice paddling and steering. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any colder… boy, I was wrong! The wind was whippin’ and my hands were freezing. It came as very welcome news when Tom told us we didn’t have to jump in the water to practice getting back on the kayak. He explained how to do it and that was sufficient for all of us.

Now the real fun begins

Life is all about contrast, and it sure felt warmer after we left the reservoir and arrived at our starting point a few miles up the river. We packed up some snacks into a larger, trailing raft manned by Mikey, and Janneli took a picture of the three of us right before we took off.

After all was said and done, we had a blast… The weather warmed up a bit and it was a lot of fun going down the river. There were a few rapids that really got us wet and got the adrenaline flowing. One of my favorites was “Little Niagara” (“It’s just a name,” Tom said, after I gave him a sideways glance before we entered the rapid). He was right, but it was a sweet little dip of a few feet or so.

There were several after that gave us a nice bumpy ride, and the finale was right at the end of our journey… a big dip that made it pretty tricky to control the kayak.

Things to keep in mind

If you’re new to kayaking… or even new to the Dolores River, I highly recommend getting the guided trip your first time out. Tom had a great knowledge and understanding of where to go and what to avoid (there are several cars submerged in the Dolores River that can snag your inflatable kayak).

The other thing to keep in mind is the timing… the Dolores River “runs out of steam” as the snow melt gets thinner. Give Tom a call and ask about the best times to ride the rapids. I know one thing’s for sure, I’m making this a yearly tradition!

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