Day 3: Mathers Hole to Box Elder #2 Camp
Today would be our last full day on the Yampa, before we joined the Green River at Echo Park. The highlights of the day – aside from it being sunny, warm, and dry 😄 – were the Fremont (Uinta Fremont) Culture site in Mantle’s Cave and roaring through Warm Springs Rapid (Class III-IV). Created by a massive landslide in 1965, Warm Springs is the most notable rapid on the Yampa. We were all (sort of) looking forward to the wild ride it would likely offer.
The campsites at Mathers Hole face east, so first light came to us directly. It’s easy getting started in the morning when all your gear is dry and the weather is balmy. The overhang we’d slept under (and the caves we visited) had been carved by prehistoric oxbows of the Yampa as it ground its way down through the strata across time immemorial.
After some leisurely floating, we stopped to visit Mantle’s Cave. Named for the former owner of the property on which it sits, it is a 108 foot (33 m) tall cave used by the Fremont Culture (Uinta Fremont) for storage of food and other perishable materials between CE 550 and 1000. It was not used for residential purposes.
After visiting Mantle’s Cave, we had lunch on the beach and then continued on to what awaited us at Warm Springs Rapid. On the way, we passed Tiger Wall, a towering cliff of light colored sandstone striped with water streaks.
Eventually, we reached Warm Springs. We’ve been down a lot of rapids – like Cataract Canyon on the Colorado – but this one looked like a gripper right from the start. It’s steep, narrow, and – at the high water we faced today – lined with gigantic, raft-devouring holes. The “easy” line is down river right, the sporty (or insane) line down the middle. As our guides scouted the rapid, we watched a National Park Service raft almost get eaten by the Godzilla Hole. 🥺
Well, it was quite the ride but we all made it through. Our raft hit one hole but pretty much stayed river right. The raft that Wayne, Diane, Bonnie, and Jim were in hit every hole – without flipping! – for the wildest ride of the day. Good on them for that, but we weren’t too jealous… 🙄
After this last rapid on the Yampa, it was an easy float to camp at Box Elder, just two miles (3.2 km) from the confluence with the Green River (which we been on a lot in 2019). The day had warmed considerably (despite the cooling drenching we got in Warm Springs), so it was nice to pull into a camp with trees and shade. Tomorrow we’d enter the Green River and revisit some of places we’d seen in 2019.
The Yampa had surprised us. We did it because it was the last naturally flowing river in the Colorado system and because we could schedule it to be with our friends. But the towering cliffs, expansive scenery, cultural sites, and wild rapids were a revelation. So much more than we expected. Definitely a river worth doing – try the 4-day option if you’re pressed for time. 😀