Whitewater Rafting in Colorado

Living in Colorado, we have the opportunity to take part in a variety of outdoor activities.  One of the things that we’ve been able to do several times over the years is to go whitewater rafting on the Arkansas river.  It is an exhilarating feeling as you bounce over the waves between the huge canyon walls, but make no mistake, it definitely has risks.  When our children were young, we had gone on what is called a “float trip”, where you don’t have to paddle and the currents are only strong enough to carry you down the river at a mild pace.  As they got older, we took them on the more adventurous trips where the degree of difficulty ranged from a class 3 to a class 5.  Class 5 is the highest degree of difficulty and therefore danger.

On the first trip through the Royal Gorge area, it was the two of us, our son, who is the oldest, and our youngest daughter.  It was a wonderful trip and ended without any incidents.  Definitely one of those wonderful memories that we look back upon with fondness, but not the nearly the same as our last whitewater rafting trip.  Our second time rafting down the Arkansas river and under the Royal Gorge Bridge is something that we will never forget and might likely be our last whitewater experience.

Our First Whitewater Rafting Trip
Our First Whitewater Rafting Trip

On this trip, we were taking our two daughters and our youngest, who played soccer, was nursing an injured ankle.  We knew that the conditions of the river could change based on time of year and the amount of runoff from the mountain snow, so we called the guide the morning of our trip to ensure that it would be okay for our youngest daughter to go since her ankle was wrapped in an ace bandage and sore.  They assured us that the water levels were down and that the river was more at a class 3 than a class 5.  We would later find out that they lied to us and that although the water levels were down, it was running fast and the lower water levels meant a higher degree of difficulty due to more exposed boulders in the water.

Despite our trepidation, we decided to go (always trust your gut intuitions).  The rafting trip started out normally with the typical thrills, but no spills.  Then as we approached one of the more difficult waterfalls that we would traverse during the trip, it was clear that this was going to be challenging.  There were several rafts within our tour group as well as other tour groups on the water this day and the rafts would go through the falls and then stop at the bottom until all of the boats were through the falls.  It was also the “photo shoot” spot where the tour companies took pictures to then later sell to you when the trip was over, so the pictures you see in the post are all ones that we purchased and obviously not ones we took ourselves.  Our raft was the “rescue boat”, which meant we would go down last and were poised to rescue anyone should the worst occur, but all of the rafts before us made it down without incident.

Before heading into the waterfall, our guide explained to us that we would be making an “S turn” through the falls, first heading to the right of a large boulder, then turning the boat to go in reverse as we went to the left, and then we would switch back to going forward as we made our way down the final section of the waterfall.  We made our way through the first section just fine and then started the backwards run through the second section.  This is when things went horribly wrong.  In what is apparently an extremely rare occurrence, as we passed below the boulder, the raft was grabbed by an eddy, an upstream current, that pulled the back of the raft up towards the rock pushing the front of the boat, which is now in the rear, down towards rushing water.  From this point forward, everything happened in extreme slow motion.

As the front of the raft was pulled down into the white water of the river, the water immediately overflowed the sides of the raft and Peter and our youngest daughter were sucked out of the boat and dragged under water.  Still in the boat, Dona and our oldest daughter were doing as instructed, which was to get as high on the raft, called getting high-side, in an attempt to stay in the raft as well as to hopefully keep it from flipping.  At this point, the guide did as he had been trained, which was to abandon the raft and swim towards shore.  You can’t save anyone else if you don’t save yourself first, this was something that we were all instructed prior to starting our trip.  Dona and our oldest daughter were flung into the swirling water as the raft did indeed flip over.

Our Raft Immediately After Flipping
Our Raft Immediately After Flipping

Once in the water, everything became very disorienting.  Peter’s sandal had gotten caught on a rock and he was trapped, being pushed face down by the rushing water.  Dona slammed against rocks as the water pushed her away from the raft.  Finally, after a few terrifying moments, Peter’s sandal ripped due to the force of the water dragging at his body and he was freed to pop up to the surface.  Now we were both above water and finally able to take in just exactly what was occurring.  We both immediately looked for our daughters, but there was no sign of either of them.  We weren’t aware of it at that moment, but they had been pulled by the same eddy that had grabbed the boat and pulled towards the boulder and were now underneath the flipped raft.  We can’t describe the terror of coming to the surface, both of us having barely been able to rip ourselves from the current, only to have no sight of our daughters.

At this point the guides on the shoreline were throwing ropes out to pull people to safety.  In addition to the four of us, there was another couple on our raft with us, so a total of six people.  The other couple had also come to the surface and then, suddenly, our daughters emerged from underneath the raft.  At first there was a sense of relief, but that only lasted a moment.  As they emerged, the water started pulling them down towards the waterfall.  The guides tried throwing rescue ropes out to them, but they were unable to grab them.  So, as we were being pulled toward the shore, we watched helplessly as our daughters were swept out of sight and over the waterfall.  We had been told at the onset of the trip to be sure to hold on to our paddles as they were needed to help guide us through the rapids and if you look carefully at the photo of our oldest daughter, you’ll notice that she still has the paddle in hand as she heads down toward the waterfall.

Our Oldest Daughter Emerging from the Raft
Our Oldest Daughter Emerging from the Raft

Hearts racing, we swam to shore and then walked down along the river to the bottom of the falls where all of the other rafts were waiting.  We didn’t see our daughters at first, but finally we saw that they’d been pulled into other rafts.  Our raft had made its way over the falls as well and our guide now assisted us and the other couple into the raft as there was only one way to get home, to continue on the river in our raft.  At a calmer section of the river, our daughters were transferred from the rafts that had rescued them and back into our raft and we were finally reunited.

Our Youngest Daughter Heading Towards the Waterfall
Our Youngest Daughter Heading Towards the Waterfall

There were a couple of close calls as we continued down the river, but fortunately we didn’t get dumped out of the raft again.  As we got onto the bus that would take us back to the parking lot where our car was parked, the guide smiled at us and welcomed us the “Arkansas river swim club”, it was and wasn’t funny.  We’re not sure if it was a blessing or a curse that all of this occurred at the photo shoot spot where it could be captured for all time, but we don’t need any pictures to remember that trip.  Every second of it is permanently seared in our memories and we haven’t been white water rafting since.

The Food of Breckenridge

Like any resort town, there are a lot of restaurant choices in Breckenridge, Colorado. You can also find just about any type of food that you might desire, but the vast majority of them are what we’d consider to be western in style. We consider western style to be a lot of steaks, burgers, and chicken, but also a lot of gamier meats such as elk, duck, trout, and even things like rattlesnake. When people come to Colorado, they associate it with ranches and cowboys, which is absolutely correct, so that is the type of food they often want to eat.

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Fresh Trout
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BBQ Chicken and Chicken Andouille Sausage
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Beer Flight

One thing that you find about restaurants in Colorado, and especially in the resorts, is that they are quite casual even if the food is upscale. When you come to the mountains, you wear blue jeans to any restaurant that you visit, no jacket or tie required. Also, many of them have outdoor seating that allow you to enjoy the wonderful views of the mountains and they use heat lamps to ensure that the scenery can be enjoyed even in the winter months. We really enjoy eating in such a relaxed atmosphere with the views of nature all around us.

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Pizza with Rattlesnake, Elk, and Italian Sausage
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Scallops and Roasted Corn Salad
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Blueberry Cheesecake

We had our fair share of traditional western food, but we also ate a few other things as well. One of our first meals was an American style meatball sandwich that certainly didn’t skimp on the meat and cheese. We ate a wonderful BBQ chicken with spicy chicken andouille and potato salad, very western. Even a pizza in Breckenridge can be a western adventure like the one that we ate with rattlesnake, elk, and Italian sausage with red peppers, onions, and jalapenos. We did enjoy a seafood dinner with fresh oysters (not Rocky Mountain oysters), scallops with capers and a roasted corn relish, and fresh mountain trout.

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Outdoor Patio
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Fresh Oysters
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Meatball Sandwich

Needless to say, since it is Colorado there was no lack for options to quench your thirst. We went to the Breckenridge Brewery where we enjoyed a flight of beers with four different styles. Even when not going to a brewery, every restaurant carried a variety of locally brewed beers as well. A perfect way to unwind from a long day of hiking. Breckenridge certainly had plenty to offer as far as restaurant choices and everywhere we ate was truly wonderful.

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Corn Chowder
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Pretzel Bites and Beer Cheese Sauce
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Relaxing on a Deck with a Fire Pit

 

Family Friendly Breckenridge in Colorado

Breckenridge is a resort town in the Colorado mountains that is quite popular for skiing during the winter and hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities in the summer. With so many things to do in Breckenridge, it is a great place to spend at least several days, if not an entire week. Not only are there plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, but the town also has many wonderful restaurants as well as stores offering collectables, clothing, and art. Most everything can be found right off of main street, which is surrounded by a variety of condominiums, rental homes, and hotels.

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Downtown Breckenridge
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Putt Putt Golf
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Statue in Breckenridge
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Mountain Bikes for Rent
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Families Playing in the Snow

Since we are avid hikers, we truly enjoyed getting out into nature like we did when we hiked Burro Trail. In addition, though, we also enjoyed our time in the town of Breckenridge as well. One of the things that we had heard about was the “Breckenridge Troll”, officially called Isak Heartstone, which is a giant wooden sculpture that has recently been relocated to near the ice skating arena. The creation is the work of Danish artist Thomas Dambo, who came back to Breckenridge to oversee the relocation of the piece of art. It is very large and dramatic.

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Zip Lines
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Shops and Restaurants in Breckenridge
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The Breckenridge Troll
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Historic Museum in Town
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Alpine Slide

We also took the free gondola ride up to peak 8 where there are many activities for the entire family  to enjoy, but especially children. There is a mountain rollercoaster, a zip line, maze, putt putt golf, as well as an alpine slide. For those that rent mountain bikes, there is a chair lift that will take you to the top of the mountain where you can ride down one of the many trails. Even though it was the middle of summer, there was still some snow on one of the ski runs for people to slide around and throw snowballs at each other. There are also a couple of restaurants to enjoy a cool refreshment and get a meal to keep your energy up for the activities.

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Another Historic Building
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Mountain Bikers Coming Down the Trail
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Restaurant on Peak 8
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River Running Through Town
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Railroad Exhibit and Children’s Park

The town of Breckenridge is very walkable with many shops and restaurants along the streets, but there is also a free trolley that will take you throughout the area. Like most places in Colorado, the people are extremely friendly and very welcoming to tourists that arrive from all around the world. Another benefit of getting into the mountains during the summer is that the temperatures are much milder and it can even get a little cold in the evening. We really enjoyed our time in Breckenridge and found that it was certainly a wonderful place for people of all ages.

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Sasquatch Statue Downtown
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Bike on the Chair Lift
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Free Gondola
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Maggie Pond in the Village
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Walking Along the River Walk