The
last article I wrote for
The Eddy
Line
was a primer (of sorts) on
river safety. The incident which prompted the article also caused a
five month hiatus in my winter creekin’ (i.e., I didn’t do any).
Anyway, I was 13 weeks post-op when Will’s Salt River permit was
valid. So, I “asked” my orthopedic surgeon if I could take
a little rowing trip and he said O.K. (he didn’t have a clue what
either 3,000 cfs or class IV meant).

The
Salt river begins high in the snow covered mountains of Arizona. As
the spring meltdown commences, millions of gallons of ice cold silty
water rush forth to flow into the ever thirsty city of Phoenix.
Before the Salt is swallowed by a series of dams and diversions, it
runs free through several spectacular canyons in the high Sonoran
desert.

Spring
run-off usually lasts from mid-March to early May. Flows depend on
winter snowfall and can vary dramatically. Snow melt decreases in
the evening and the river starts coming up around noon. Hard boats
can run the Salt as low as 250 cfs and rafts can begin doing it at
around 600 cfs. The best flows are between 1,000 to 7,000 cfs.

Seasonal
averages are around 1,500 cfs but may be as low as 200-300 cfs or as
high as 60,000-90,000 cfs. The monsoon season begins July and ends
around September and at this time the river is completely
unpredictable. One hundred cfs one day can be followed by 50,000 or
so the next, and due to flash-flooding, volume can increase several
thousand cfs over a few hours.

I
can’t begin to do justice to the geology or natural history of the
Salt River Canyon. The Canyon crosses the Transition Zone of central
Arizona. The Canyon runs through 3 quite different sections. The
Upper Section (miles 60 to 45) is middle-aged with young Precambrian
sedimentary rock. The Middle Section (miles 45 to 18) contains old
Precambrian Ruin Granite and rocks from the Redmond and Hess Canyon
Groups. This section is the oldest and lies between the Canyon Creek
and Cherry Creek Faults. It is uplifted relative to the Upper and
Lower Sections.

The
difficult technical rapids are all in the Middle Section where it
cuts to bedrock. Ecologically the riparian community bordering the
river has mesquite, tamarisk, willow, seep willow and cottonwood
trees. It is spectacular largely because there is considerable
diversity in the short 50 mile trip. Spring has incredible
wildflowers and flowering cacti. Beginning just below Cibecue Creek,
the Salt River Canyon also has one of the most extensive stands of
Saguaro cactus in the U.S.

We
left Atlanta on March 23 in three vehicles and miraculously arrived
at the Hwy. 60 put in within 2 hours of each other. It’s about a
2,000 mile trip and most of day two was spent driving through a snow
storm or fighting a head wind. The trip included Will Reeves
(Moskito canoe), Tommy Price (Cascade Canoe), Brian Postalwaite
(Mohawk Rodeo canoe), me rowing the Yampa with all the gear, Barbara
Reeves and Danger Bob Montague (swampers). Oh, we also had some
kayakers, Clint Rinehart (Migo Kayak), Jerimy Orr (Sleek Kayak), and
Kevin Thomas (Rocket Kayak).

The
Salt requires a permit from the Forest Service, which is gained
through a lottery system. The easiest put-in is at the US Highway 60
bridge in the Fort Apache Indian reservation (river mile 59.8). This
allows a leisurely 2-day 20 mile trip through the reservation to
Gleason Flat (where the Forest Service permit portion begins). A
separate permit is required to paddle in the reservation. It’s
$10.00 per person per day, you can buy it at the store near the
bridge, and they automatically charge raft supported trips for two
days. We got a little extra for our permit fees. As we were
staging, a Fish and Wildlife Ranger drove up and asked if one of our
hard boaters could ferry a line across to recover a body from Apache
Falls.

We
got a late start on the 25th but found an excellent camp site about 2
miles from the put in, river left at Mule Bend. We made eight miles
the second day because we stopped to hike up Cibique Creek in search
of the waterfall (it’s about a mile). We camped on river right at
the Salt Banks. Actually, this is not the best camp site, we should
have gone around the bend and stopped on river left before Walnut
Creek Falls. No matter, the Salt Banks were fascinating. There is a
small orange colored spring reminiscent of Grand Canyon’s Pumpkin,
and right next to it a 40′ or so travertine falls. Day three began
with the Ledges rapid. This is an important one because a series of
cliff dwellings are just below it on river right.

Days
three and four had the best rapids. Rat Trap, at mile 46, is
followed right around the corner by White Rock and then Granite.
These are all solid class III drops and at 3,000 cfs contain
interesting holes. Eye of the Needle (mile 38.5) and Black Rock
(mile 37.5) are both rated class IV and we scouted them. Eye of the
Needle has a healthy size hole on river left that even Will avoided.
About half a mile downstream is a sharp right hand turn at which the
river drops 6′ or so through Black Rock Rapid, best run river left.
We camped just above Hess Canyon at mile 35.

Day
four we finished the middle section and ran the best rapids; even the
unnamed ones required attention. Brian spent five minutes
side-surfing an unnamed hole at the mile 34 bend and we finally had
to get him out with a rope. I discovered my favorite name for a
rapid (Pendejo de Diablo) just downstream. As an oarsman on a fully
loaded Yampa, miles 31-30 in Jump Off Canyon provided the most
challenging technical stretch I’ve done yet. It includes Lower
Corral, The Maze and Pinball. In this mile the river narrows way
down and drops about 40′ through a magnificent boulder garden (it’s
also a hydraulic garden).

Jump
Off Canyon ends with the Quartzite Falls/Corkscrew Chute combination
at mile 28. The Salt was once infamous for the heinous day long
portage around Quartzite falls. Now, since an illegal and infamous
dynamiting, the river has become much easier to float. Still, the
Forest Service rates Quartzite class V and it really must be scouted.
It’s a double falls that drops about 15′ and contains a major hole.
Immediately downstream is Corkscrew Chute, a class IV which funnels
into a hole, The Sleeper.

The
difficult white water ends with The Sleeper, but white water is not
the only reason to run the Salt. We camped our last night at Chalk
Creek (mile 15) just before a major Southern Bald Eagle nesting area.
Day 5 involved a six mile row to the Arizona State Hwy. 288 bridge
take-out.

by
William C. Reeves (The Hawk)
From The Eddy Line, July, 1997