A combination of low water years and no success in the annual lottery kept us away from our second most favorite river in Arizona for 7 years. We had first run the 52 mile Salt River Canyon in 1982, and returned practically every April thereafter for one or more trips. This year, because of the effects of climate change, which had moved the advent of warm temperatures forward by 3 weeks, we put in for a March date, and drew March 20. There is no limit on the number of days one can spend on the river, and we decided on a 6-day trip, which makes for a leisurely pace and at least one lay-over camp (where one spends two nights at the same camp) possible. Our party consisted of my wife Kathy, me, Britt Runyon Huggins (Operations Manager for our river company – New Wave Rafting Co.), my son Ethan and his wife Florence Landau.
Kathy, Britt and I arrived at the put-in, just downstream of the Hwy 60 bridge, in mid-afternoon, and were soon joined by Ethan and Flo, who had flown-in to Phoenix from Alameda, CA. Ethan is a former NWRCo. guide, who also has a few Grand Canyon trips under his belt, but had never run the Salt. Flo had no prior river experience.
There was plenty of activity in the launch area – commercial parties, other private parties and a group training in Swiftwater Rescue. We busied ourselves with rigging our boats for the balance of the afternoon, and were ready to crawl in as it got dark.
We were the first private party to get underway the next morning, and enjoyed a day of exhilarating whitewater on what is known as “The Daily”. It’s called that because commercial one-day trips are made possible by the fact that the White Mountain Apache Tribe Road #1 parallels the river to the Hoodoo River Access, 9.3 miles downstream of the put-in. It’s a great one-day trip.
Our party. From left to right: Ethan, Flo, Britt, Kathy and me. Our boats are behind us: 2 14′ Sotars and a 14′ Aire
Kiss and Tell Rapid, barely 50 yds. downstream from the launch beach (Mile 0.1). The current runs directly into the quartzite cliff and then takes a 90 degree turn to the left.
Below: Video of Kiss and Tell Rapid, Mile 0.1. All the videos shot from the boat were done with a little Lumix waterproof camera that I kept in a pocket of my PFD (“personal flotation device”). Please forgive bouncy videos caused by bouncy rapids!
From here, the river runs 2.7 miles around Mule Hoof Bend, returning to a point 0.2 miles away from this rapid, on the other side of a low saddle.
Below: Video of Bump and Grind Rapid, Mile o.9.
Ethan and Flo, at the foot of Bump and Grind Rapid, Mile 0.9
The shiny surface of this quartzite boulder is a cast of a ripplemarked and cracked near-shore seabed
Below: Video of Maytag Rapid, Mile 1.1.
Below: Video of Reforma Rapid (aka Grumman Rapid), Mile 1.7.
Below: Video of Exhibition Rapid, Mile 5.5
Below: Video of T-Shirt Rapid (aka Mescal Falls), Mile 8.6. This is the biggest hole on the day stretch.
We passed the Hoodoo River Access and continued into a roadless canyon, with the Salt Banks the next stop. The name of the river is derived from this geological phenomenon, a salt spring that has created an overhang and walls laden with salt formations.
Ethan and Flo drift under the overhang at the Salt Banks, Mile 10.0. Mini waterfalls of mineral-laden water spatter the surface to the left of the raft.
Salt Banks overhang, with very small waterfalls
Salt Banks overhang, with very small waterfalls
Salt Banks. Cliff swallow nests occupy some recesses
I had put together, two years or so ago, a draft of an iBook on the Salt, similar to my published iBook on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-grand/id672492447?ls=1). But I was holding off on publishing it until I had had another opportunity to run the river, take more photos and video and see what changes had taken place. And, indeed, significant changes had taken place. The river corridor we saw this March was now hugely overgrown with three invasive plant species. This process had started 20 or more years ago, with the establishment of tamarisk along the shorelines. We had seen this bushy tree take over numerous campsites over the last number of years, and the invasion had continued while we were away. And now, added to the tamarisk were cattails (Typha angustifolia T. x glauca) and Phragmites reed (Phragmites australis, or common reed). The cattails were sparsely distributed, but the reed had taken over the lower canyon, as will be seen farther along. And, the low water years had enabled the tamarisk to both reach farther out into the channel, and establish new islands in mid-channel. Many areas of shoreline were now harder to access (see photo below).
We had to shove our way through the tamarisk to get to the camp. Yes, those are saguaros on the slope across the river
Evening view downstream from our first camp, Mile 11.2
The anticline at Rock Creek, with a paleo-Indian ruin located under the overhang seen in the center of the photo, Mile 11.8. This ruin is now included in a White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT) sensitive area, which forbids entry to the public. Ahead, the river makes a hard left turn at Rockgarden Rapid.
Below: Video of Rockgarden Rapid, Mile 11.9
The river turns to the left below Rockgarden Camp, and runs straight for just under a mile. Then it turns right, and one is now on the approach to The Cheese and Rat Trap rapids.
Below: The Cheese Rapid, Mile 13.3. The river enters the Ruin Granite.
The Cheese Rapid leads directly to Rat Trap Rapid, which is seen ahead as this video ends. Why didn’t I video this scenic and interesting rapid, you may ask? I had intended to do so, but the camera battery ran out with no time to change! The Cheese and Rat Trap rapids begin the White Granite Gorge. A short ways below the latter, the river turns right, and immediately drops into White Rock Rapid.
Below: Video of White Rock Rapid, Mile 13.6
On river-left, just downstream of White Rock Rapid, is a gorgeous display of fluted and polished granite. It’s worth a few minutes examination.
Sculpted Ruin Granite, Mile 13.7
Sculpted Ruin Granite, Mile 13.7
The White Rock Gorge continues with delightful Class 3.
Below: Video of Class 3 whitewater, with Ethan followed by Britt, Mile 14.
More sculpted granite is seen on river left, opposite a granite island, at approx. Mile 14.5.
More sculpted Ruin Granite, just upstream from the former Boatpatch Beach, Mile 14
same as above
Brittlebush, saguaros, ocotillo and sotol
Next up is Canyon Creek, on river right at Mile 16.0.
Below: Video of approaching Canyon Creek, Mile 16.0. The video ends as we head for the eddy, which now has a grove of tamarisk growing in it. These are, however, handy for tying off to … but one can easily foresee the tamarisk eventually filling the eddy completely.
Below: Video of the approach to Canyon Creek, Mile 16.0.
Gleaming Ruin Granite at the mouth of Canyon Creek, Mile 16.0
Ruin Granite at the mouth of Canyon Creek, downstream view, Mile 16.0
Fairydusters, at Canyon Creek
Group of rafts heads downstream from Canyon Creek towards Granite Rapid
Don’t miss the short hike up Canyon Creek, to a deep pool surrounded by beautifully sculpted granite rocks.
Long deep pool on Canyon Creek, downstream view
Eddy at Canyon Creek, a few yards upstream of the mouth
Below: Video of the mouth of Canyon Creek, Mile 16.0.
Granite (aka Hades) Rapid is located just downstream of Canyon Creek, at Mile 16.1.
Below: 2 videos of the very scenic Granite Rapid, Mile 16.1
Crested saguaro and ocotillo
Camp #2, Mile 16.6
Camp #2, Mile 16.6, with first light on Canyon Creek Butte
Just below the mouth of Ash Creek, downstream view, Mile 16.8. Canyon Creek Butte is seen ahead.
Small rapid at the mouth of Ash Creek, Mile 16.8, upstream view
Granite monolith, Mile 17
Saguaro, in Gleason Flat, Mile 18
The Black phoebe, a flycatcher, is the most common bird seen along the river corridor
Rapid in Gleason Flat, Mile 19
There is 4 WD road access to both sides of the river at Gleason Flat. The Salt River Canyon Wilderness begins downstream of those accesses, at Mile 19.3.
Gleason Flats ends at at Mile 21.2, as the river enters a canyon of the metamorphic Redmond Formation. Eye of the Needle Rapid is found a short ways downstream.
Below: Video of the approach to Eye of the Needle Rapid. Watch out for a large hole on a bend to the left. Then stay left for the slot that is the “eye”of the rapid.
Below: Video of Eye of the Needle Rapid, Mile 21.5
The excitement continues with Black Rock Rapid, less than a mile downstream, at Mile 22.2.
Brittlebush, at Black Rock Rapid, Mile 22.2
Below: Video of Black Rock Rapid, Mile 22.2. This video was shot with my good camera – a Nikon Coolpix P900.
Below: Video of Black Rock Rapid, Mile 22.2.
After Black Rock, the canyon opens up and runs straight for just under a mile. You pass Hess Canyon, on the left, at Mile 25.5. About a half-mile below Hess, at a hard turn to the right, you encounter the channels and islands seen below.
Bedrock channels and islands, Mile 25.8
Screwdriver Rapid, Mile 26.4
Below: Video of Devil’s Pendejo Rapid, Mile 26.6.
Lower Corral Rapid, Mile 29.2
The start of the Pinball stretch, Mile 29.4
Britt enters The Maze Rapid, Mile 29.8
Below: Video of The Maze Rapid, Mile 29.8.
Notice the big rock to the left of the raft, at 30 sec. into the video. This rock fell into the rapid at some un-determined time in the last few years. Here, for comparison sake, is a photo of this rapid (at a similar water level), before the rock fell in. This rock added to the maze-like nature of the rapid.
The Maze Rapid, before the big rock fell in
Mid-stream bedrock obstructions, below the Maze, Mile 30
The White Ledges run along the ridge top seen downstream. Mile 30.5
The White Ledges are a very unusual and striking geologic feature. They are formed of the White Ledges Quartzite, which is an extremely hard and erosion-resistant rock unit. The softer rocks found both beneath and above the White Ledges have eroded away to the degree that the White Ledges are often seen to stick out from the slope, such as in the photo below.
Just before Blackjack Camp, sycamores grow along a hillside spring. The White Ledges, which the river cuts through at Blackjack Camp, are seen just overhead, Mile 29.9.
Day 3 ended at Blackjack Camp, Mile 31.0, where we had to battle our way through the reeds to gain access to the campsite, which we intended to occupy for two nights.
Part 2 of this post will cover days 4-6 of our Salt River trip.