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The Lower Colorado River
A fun, inexpensive place to stay cool in the summertime
Lori Stofft may have moved to Yuma on April Fool's Day 18 years ago, but she's no fool when it comes to staying cool in the soaring summertime temperatures. Like many Yumans, she tubes, kayaks and canoes down the lower Colorado River with friends and family for fun and relaxation.
"It's just a great, low-cost way to get out and kind of connect with nature and feel comfortable in the hot environment and enjoy the natural features that Yuma has," she said.
Whether the vehicles of choice are canoes, kayaks, inner tubes or a combination of each, most people "put in" upriver from Gateway Park at the confluence of the Colorado and Gila rivers, or even farther upriver, she said. Then they float, or paddle and glide downriver to "take out" places such as Gateway Park or West Wetlands, depending on the desired length of the trip.
She and whatever group she's recreating with usually spend three to four hours on the river. She has gazed at stars while paddling down the moonlit water with husband Michael Miller during a full moon. And she has decompressed after work with friend Lisa Reilly on a sunset trip.
More often, however, Stofft and her friends and family paddle downriver by day. Typically clad in shorts, white T-shirts and/or bathing suits, river shoes and hats, they paddle then rest while the kayaks or canoes glide with the current.
But they are always mindful of the need to stay hydrated and to protect their skin from the sun's harmful rays. Someone in her party usually pulls an ice chest containing water and light snacks in a small inflatable boat behind them. And on a recent tubing trip, friend Cynthia Marshall kept spray-on sunscreen cool by dragging it in the river in a netted bag tied to her inner tube.
Whenever anyone needed more sunscreen, they dried off with a towel, floated up to Marshall and asked her to spray their arms and backs. "It felt so good and cool," Stofft said.
Floating and paddling down the river is a great way for friends to catch up with one another because it's quiet and relaxing, she said.
"It's a good time for conversation."
The refreshing scent of the cool river water complements the natural and historic scenery along the way. Tall, green reeds flank the riverbanks, and sunlit leaves dance from the branches of cottonwood trees.
Since the river played a significant role in Yuma's past, river vehicles naturally drift past the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, under the historic railroad and Ocean-to-Ocean Highway bridges and past the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park.
Sometimes the sights are humorous. Stofft recalled one time when she and her group floated downriver, and a homeless fellow stepped out of the reeds, carrying toothpaste and a toothbrush. He applied toothpaste to the brush, dipped it into the river and proceeded to brush his teeth while he smiled and waved at them, she said.
Other times, the sights are inspiring.
"We've seen Native Americans on the Winterhaven (Calif.) side with a sweat lodge, doing drumming and traditional singing. And then when we paddled by very quietly, trying to be respectful, they stopped singing and said, ‘Hi!' It was very sweet.
"And then you see egret and crane and owl and beaver and a lot of birds I could never identify. In the shallows, you see little tiny fish, too."
Since there are always opportunities for great photos, she and others in her party usually take along their cameras in a Ziploc or other types of waterproof bags.
On the weekends during the summertime, there are "wall to wall" people at Gateway Park, at the confluence and at a sandy beach in between the two locations, which locals call "The Tree," she said. They pitch tents, set up barbecue grills, splash in the water, romp with their kids and dogs, toss footballs, play loud music on boom boxes and just generally have a good time, she said.
When it's that crowded down on the river, tubers, kayakers and canoers need to be patient, as getting their gear into and out of the water can be challenging, she said.
"But you'll see a lot of paddlers ... You might see some Jet Skis, but it's not dangerous. It's not like there's tons of motorized vehicles. This is actually just the perfect river for family-type kayaking and canoeing because it's not fast, it's not dangerous and it's a great way to stay cool in the summertime."
Stofft and Miller have been taking their 8-year-old daughter, Mary Stofft, canoeing since she was 18 months old. Of course, she always wore a life jacket, and they kept a very close eye on her. "But once she became an even mildly proficient swimmer, we felt comfortable with her at the river," Stofft said.
Mary still wears a life jacket, which Stofft said is required for children by law. "If you have little kids, you may also want to tie everybody together, but it's not like the current is so strong you're going to drift away, especially if you're paying attention. If you have paddles, you're fine.
"Kayaking and canoeing are great for young people to learn how to do because it doesn't require a super ton of agility or even strength if you're in a kayak. Kayaks glide along the water real easy. It is repetitive motion, and some people might disagree with me, but I think you use more muscle strength in a canoe than you do in a kayak. But the great thing about it, you're on a river, so it's drifting anyway. So you just take a break. You just paddle for a while, then you rest, and the current‘s carrying you along with your party."
However, if children are off the boat and in the channel, they can drift away from adults very quickly, she said. "You've got to keep an eye on them. If your kids are going to get off the boat at all, they have to be pretty good swimmers."
Adults should wear life jackets, too, she said. But "the great thing about the river is, if you just understand how to find a shallow part - if you paddle perpendicular across the river, you'll find a part that's only six inches deep, and then you're safe."
There are practically no parts of the lower Colorado River where there is a deep channel bank to bank, she said. While perhaps one-third or less of the width of the river may be a deep channel, the rest of the width is going to be shallow, she added. "So even if the channel is carrying you down, if you could just make your way over to the shallow part, you could stick your foot out and stand up."
The exception is where the river narrows, such as an area upriver from Gateway Park, she said. "Wherever any river narrows is going to be deep, so you'd want to pay attention to that."
Want to try your
hand(s) at paddling?
The city of Yuma Parks and Recreation Department offers affordable canoe and kayak trips, complete with transportation, life jackets, equipment, instruction and tour guides. Private trips, which require a minimum of eight people, cost $16 per person per canoe and $19 per person per kayak, said David Luquin, program coordinator.
For people who wish to participate but can't raise a party of eight people, open trips are also available. Individuals or groups smaller than eight can sign up for an open trip, and when enough people have signed up, the trip goes. Anywhere from eight to 26 people can participate in an open trip, Luquin said.
The city picks participants up at West Wetlands Park, shuttles them to "Backwater 33," a put-in place located east of Gateway Park and west of the confluence, he said. Before anyone gets into the water, they don life jackets and receive safety instruction as well as instruction on the use of kayaks or canoes.
"It's just basics," Luquin said. "It's really a beginner's course. There's no whitewater." Two tour guides accompany each group of participants on the trip downriver to the West Wetlands, which may take about three hours, depending on the current, he said.
"There are different themes for open trips. Sometimes we lunch at the midway point, or we do it at the East Wetlands or the West Wetlands, depending on what the trip is."
Participants should dress comfortably and bring drinking water, hats, eye protection, sunblock and insect repellent, Luquin said. "Snacks are OK, too." Six years is the minimum age requirement.
"It's just a fun trip," Luquin said. "Depending on the time of day, we get to see a lot of wildlife. It's really relaxing. It's a nice, lovely float down, canoe down the river. I've never had any complaints. Everybody loves it. It takes you away from your worries. It's just you and the river. It's really soothing."
Trips are scheduled year-round, and reservations are required two weeks in advance. For reservations or more information, call 373-5243.