I open my eyes and see what I imagine the inside of a running washing machine must look like. I reach toward the bubble-filled light and pop like a cork to the surface. I see my husband, Dave, ahead of me, scanning the churning water as he bobs through the rapids downstream. My alarm turns to relief as soon as I meet his gaze. OK. I guess I’m not going to die, I think, as I bump through the river to our wide-eyed friends and kids collecting paddles, the inflatable kayak, and even Dave’s sunglasses along the way. (My sunglasses, I’m sorry to report, became permanent property of the river.)
My maiden voyage through the Green River’s Joe Hutch Rapid occurred last July during a five-day rafting trip through eastern Utah’s Desolation and Gray Canyons. A single overnight was the longest I’d spent on a river prior to then, but Dave had often reminisced about the multiweek kayaking jaunts he’d taken in his bachelorhood. So last spring, when friends landed a permit to run the 84-mile stretch of the Green River and invited my family along, we jumped at the chance. And I’m so glad we did.
All of the rare joys Austen Diamond recounts in this issue’s feature about his Green River rafting trip through Dinosaur National Monument (needs link) are genuine, and then some. My family’s days on the river took on a soothing rhythm of rowing, swimming, eating, and drinking. Setting up camp, hiking side canyons, cooking, and kibitzing on sandy beaches occupied our evenings. On very few other occasions—and particularly after the spill at Joe Hutch—have I felt so engrossed in nature and completely in the moment. “Rivers are magical,” says Bob Ratcliffe, the National Park Service’s chief of conservation and outdoor recreation, in Diamond’s story. “You are literally immersed in an environment that you can’t get to unless you float through it.”
By now you’ve likely heard that 2016 marks the NPS’s centenary. Utah is particularly blessed with its availability and ample acreage of public lands. Within the state’s boundaries are 5 national parks, 7 national monuments, 6 national forests, 31 wilderness areas, and more than 40 state parks, just for starters. Whatever your getaway plans this summer and fall, I encourage you to make getting out there a part of your itinerary. Whether you embark on a weeklong, five-star commercial river trip like Austen did or simply head up to the Uinta Mountains for a few hours of water play on one of the many lakes up there, I’m sure you’ll agree that the hours spent in nature constitute time very well spent. Just make sure you bring a spare pair of sunglasses.