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As an outdoor enthusiast who has navigated countless rivers, I’m always on the lookout for a new rafting location that offers both scenic beauty and an adventurous ride. One of my favorite destinations is Ruby-Horsethief Canyon, located west of Grand Junction, Colorado, on the Colorado River.
Its gentle rapids and diverse wildlife make it an excellent choice for rafters of all ages and abilities.
Ruby-Horsethief Canyon: A Spectacle of Nature
Rafting down the Colorado River through Ruby-Horsethief Canyon is an experience like no other. As you float downstream, you’ll encounter majestic canyons of desert sandstone and an array of wildlife. If you visit in the spring, the river banks will be adorned with a vibrant display of wildflowers.
Your Adventure Begins: Getting to the Put-in
Starting your trip is quite straightforward. From Grand Junction, take I-70 west to the Loma exit, cross the highway, and follow the road towards the river after taking a left at the BLM sign.
Be sure to stick to the left fork at the junction to avoid private property. This road will lead you down a steep hill to the Colorado River and the beach that serves as the put-in.
On the River: Experiencing the Canyons and Rapids
Once you set off from the put-in, the river quickly flows into stunning desert canyons that continue almost all the way to the take-out point. The journey includes minor ripples but no named rapids, making it suitable for canoes and inflatable kayaks, in addition to rafts.
Depending on the time of year, water levels, and how much time you spend exploring, fishing, and camping, the trip can last anywhere from a few hours to several days.
Camping is a popular option, with numerous sites along the river. However, be prepared to share, especially on weekends when the canyon’s popularity soars. Sign up for a camping spot at the put-in, but remember, space can be limited.
Exploring Ruby-Horsethief Canyon: Sights and Activities
One must-visit location in the canyon is the Black Rocks, where the river winds its way through Pre-Cambrian rocks nearly two billion years old. It’s a favorite spot for boaters to leap off the rocks for a refreshing swim. However, caution is advised during high water levels, as the constriction of the canyon can cause sudden whirlpools, creating hazards for boaters and potential dangers for swimmers.
Adding some historical perspective to your journey, take a short hike to McDonald’s Canyon to view the Native American Indian Pictographs, easily spotted from the river. Located 17 miles from the put-in, this trail offers an enriching look into the region’s ancient past.
If you’re up for a more challenging hike, head to Rattlesnake Canyon near the start of the trip. Here, you’ll find Rattlesnake Arches, home to one of the largest concentrations of natural rock arches outside of Arches National Park. However, due to the steep ascent and high temperatures in summer, this hike is best suited for experienced hikers. Close to the river, there’s also a small petroglyph panel that’s worth the short hike.
Discovering Ruby-Horsethief Canyon: Nature and Wildlife
Near the start of the trip not far downriver from the put-in, is Rattlesnake Canyon and the trail to Rattlesnake Arches. The Rattlesnake Arches area contains one of the largest concentrations of natural rock arches outside of Arches National Park and is definitely worth seeing.
However, it is a long, steep ascent from the river to the arches and may be difficult to do in one day except for the hardiest of hikers. It is not recommended to attempt this hike during the summer due to high temperatures and the strenuous nature of the hike.
There is also a small petroglyph panel located not far from the river, and is worth the time for the short hike to the panel.
As you journey down the river, you’ll notice the variety of sandstone layers and formations, including the Wingate and Entrada sandstones, as well as the Rattlesnake and the Black Rocks Monoclines and the Bull Canyon Canyon Fault.
Birdwatchers will appreciate the regular sightings of Bald Eagles, Blue Herons, and Turkey Vultures. Some riverbank areas are even closed to camping to protect these bird nesting grounds. If you’re lucky, you might also spot Desert Big Horn Sheep and Mule Deer.
The adventure concludes at Westwater, Utah, approximately 25 miles downstream from the put-in. Should you wish to continue your adventure downstream past Westwater, keep in mind that permits from the BLM are required, and the river gets considerably more challenging with Class III and IV rapids.
To summarize, a trip down Ruby-Horsethief Canyon on the Colorado River is more than just a float trip; it’s an immersive journey into the heart of nature. With its stunning canyons, historical sites, and diverse wildlife, it provides an unparalleled rafting experience, whether you’re there for a day trip or an extended journey.