When we were first invited to join Alex’s family on the San Juan River trip, we both figured it was in southern Colorado. Hearing ‘San Juan,’ we assume ‘San Juan River in the San Juan Mountains.’ Lucky for us, we were wrong. While the San Juan Mountains are quite dramatic and beautiful, a river running through them would have been much. Southern Utah, on the other hand, is very, very hot in June, and this is where the San Juan River is.
We left Fraser on Friday after work, at about 6pm. We turned on the music and drove and drove. I was ecstatic to find Coke in the bottle at City Market in New Castle, Colorado; For us, Coke in the bottle signifies vacation. America doesn’t sell Coke in the bottle often, but I remember sipping on one while waiting for buses in Costa Rica or washing down some Tanzanian rice and beans with one. So, we were officially on vacation! We drove on into the night, turning off of I-70 at the Moab exit. Through Moab we went, admiring the cute stucco-sided restaurants and patios lit by white Christmas lights. The night was so dark out here that we couldn’t even make out the shadows of all the rock formations we knew lined the side of the road.
Finally, at about 2:30a.m, we reached Mexican Hat, Utah. You could almost miss Mexican Hat if you looked down for a moment to change the radio or yawn or check the time. Not knowing exactly where our group was camped out, we followed a small sign to the boat launch. As soon as we turned off the highway, a creature pranced across the road.
“A fox?” I asked Alex.
“I think it might have been a ring-tailed cat,” he said. “That’s cool.”
“A ring-tailed lemur?” I asked, giggling.
Late-night digressions aside, we found our group and slept in the back of Alex’s Subaru for the next 4 hours until the sounds of morning woke us. The temperature was climbing toward 100 degrees, and a few hours later we were on the river. We were to spend the next 5 days soaking up the sun, swimming in water as warm as any heated pool, and burying our toes in the sand on the shore. Sounds like a typical beach vacation, right?
But we also did things that you probably wouldn’t do on a typical beach vacation, like having mud fights, going through whitewater, and pooping on a small, portable toilet called a Groover. And instead of palm trees to shade us in the heat of the day, we sought shade from the red canyon walls. Coming home a little crispier, wiser in the subjects of geography and watershed, sweaty, and covered in sand, we knew that this was one idea of a beach vacation.