About 45 miles north of Silver City, N.M., lies the Upper Gila River “Wilderness Run,” so-called because most of this splendid stretch lies within the half-million-acre Gila Wilderness Area. A friend and I snagged this trip in March a few years back, when we found the tight, twisty stream to be delightfully boat-able after a brief period of snowmelt in the four mountain ranges around it. Starting near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument visitor’s center, the river winds through absolutely gorgeous wilds that few have seen, an area rich in forested canyons, natural springs, boulder garden rapids, and an abundance of birds and wildlife. But not people. If you’re looking for solitude, this is definitely the place to go.
It took me a decade to hit the Dirty Devil window. I drooled over the quadrant of canyon country it scribes through, full of side slots and sandstone slickrock and Butch Cassidy hideouts. Some years it would be a bare trickle, no more. Once it came up, but I dallied one day and missed it. But last spring the snowpack was deep, spring break landed right, the river gauge was coming up nicely. We made the leap, drove 700 miles, and found ourselves in mid-March, camped all alone at the end of a four-wheel-drive road, perched above the braided, murmuring stream running about 220 cfs.
Flowing through some of the most stunning and desolate reaches of Arizona, the Verde is one of the Southwest’s finest whitewater runs, and one of its best-kept secrets. Located midway between Flagstaff and Phoenix, the Verde—Arizona’s first (and so far only) National Wild and Scenic River—tumbles south through three national forests, offering in places virtually non-stop technical whitewater amidst stark, lonely hills, towering cliffs and arid Sonoran Desert terrain bristling with cacti, including the giant, treelike saguaro. Pretty and peaceful pools alternate with long stretches of rock-dodging Class II-III rapids. There’s great hiking up hills and in side canyons with ancient cliff dwellings and pit house ruins. Roaming through the remote countryside are javelinas, river otters, mule deer, coyotes and mountain lions, as well as nearly 300 species of birds.
Google has spoken (or at least its analytics widget has). We tracked the data, looking back at the year that was, and we found the best stories on CanoeKayak.com decided by you, the reader. So here’s our Top 10 Stories of 2011, determined by number of page-views, with a few noted honorable mentions that cracked the Top 25, also listed by number of views.
We paddle through the night, guessing our direction from Orion reclining on the artificial canyon walls. Beyond the last portage in early morning, the water was salt, mussels clung to the rocks and seagulls took to the air at our approach. Beyond the breakwater, the sea pulses with the minute swell of diminishing energies. At this time of the year, titanic storms batter the coastline with 20-foot waves and driving snow. As we turn our tiny canoe north, the Black Sea extends to the horizon in glassy calm before melding with the clear, cold December sky. Fortune smiles.
Leaving Belgrade, we charged downstream on the Danube as the Serbian national police had given us seven days to leave the country or face imprisonment. We had made it past the gate, literally: As we crossed into Romania, we were emerging from the Iron Gates, the Portile de Fier, a gorge that stops and starts for over 100 kilometers, and in places shows 3,000-foot granite faces soaring from the water’s edge.
Located on Delaware River shoreline in the industrial outskirts of Camden, New Jersey, my improvised site was the worst I had ever bedded down in, wedged between an oil refinery and a parking lot, directly under a freight train bridge. Life was not good where I was, 300 miles from the source, 60 miles from the sea. But with a successful run, I would have two rivers down on my quest to paddle the five longest rivers in the Northeast.
Alexander Martin, 25, completed the first modern-day canoe expedition across America last year. This fall, Martin has been reporting from the field on his latest continent crossing — a two-man, 4,000-km journey across Europe. Martin sent in this correspondence from Belgrade, on the Danube River in central Serbia, at Kilometer 2,800.
A passion for the art of solo canoeing is only one of the ways Becky Mason was influenced by her father, the late Canadian canoeing icon Bill Mason. Alone and deftly handling a cedar-ribbed, red canvas-covered canoe on a wilderness lake, Becky is a mirror image of her father. Like her dad, she’s also a gifted painter and visual artist, and a staunch environmentalist who carries on the family tradition of defending imperiled wild rivers. Her most recent creative effort shows that she’s also a skilled filmmaker, following in the footsteps of her Academy Award-nominated father.
A little Kodak courage provided Tennessee open boaters Dooley Tombras and Matt DeVoe the extra little nudge to fire up some of the Colorado high country’s creekboating proving grounds during the recent filming of ‘Canoe Movie 2: Uncharted Waters.’ The film, premiering at Canoecopia March 9-11, also includes the pair’s first canoe descent of Lower Thompson River near Asheville, N.C.
Do you know what a murmuration is, and have you ever witnessed such a dazzling display of avian behavior? The accompanying video shows an enormous flock of European starlings — a murmuration — swirling through the sky in a magnificent ballet that almost seems choreographed.