My dog Jessi is upset. And because she’s my best friend I’m pissed on her behalf.
Once again discrimination is rearing its ugly head on our public lands. Sadly, the U.S. Department of Interior is continuing its crusade against man’s best friend on our public property. Because of that, my dog Jessi is howlin’ mad.
The most recent development of doggie discrimination comes out of Utah’s office of the Bureau of Land Management and affects one of the most beloved river runs this side of the Continental Divide. Sadly, our canine companions are no longer welcome on the fabled stretch of the Colorado River we whities call Westwater.
Westwater Canyon is a stupendous stretch of the Colorado River. In the blink of an eye the canyon surges through eons of human history, epochs of geology, and gallons of adrenaline. Located just on the other side of Colorado’s border with Utah, Westwater ends as abruptly as it begins, downriver at an outpost called Cisco Landing. With walls that burst from the soil and stretch straight up to the sky, Westwater is home to the infamous Skull Rapid and the feared Room of Doom.
To run the 17-mile stretch boaters must obtain a permit through the BLM. You check the dates online and just call in to get an available date. It’s tough to get weekend days during the high-season, but who wants to go then anyway? I often call in for last minute trips when I see an open permit, usually in the middle of the week. Even though I often call last minute the rangers always do a great job of getting me on the river. For me it’s always been nice and easy. As far as customer service goes it is as good as it gets.
The permits limit the number of people allowed to flow through the canyon on a daily basis. The permits help stop the canyon from being overrun, as well as making sure the people going down can handle the formidable rapids following the deceivingly flatwater intro. The permits also bring in a little money to help pay the rangers and keep up the facilities and other amenities at the put-in and take-out. Permitted boaters may either run the canyon in a day, or spend a night within its walls, depending on availability and desires. Users must carry a collection of safety gear, as well as things like portable toilets and firepans to help guard the riparian environment from the ills of civilization.
Located just a couple of hours outside the Roaring Fork Valley, Westwater is an escape for local whitewater enthusiasts, as well as assorted thrill seekers. Many of those folks are dog lovers who like to bring their best friends with them on their adventures. Unfortunately, as of March 1, dogs are no longer allowed in Westwater Canyon.
Apparently, the BLM has been monitoring the situation of dogs on the river for the last couple of years, the BLM decided it was time to put down dogs on Westwater.
I’ve taken my dog down Westwater a bunch of times over the last few years and not once did any of the rangers ever mention anything about there being a dog problem. And this was when I was the permit holder and when the ranger went to check out our gear my dog was sitting right there in my boat. I know she was there because as soon as the boat is off the trailer and in the water, Jessi is in her spot waiting for me to put on her life jacket. It’s like opening up a car door: she jumps in and she’s not leaving, unless she’s getting in a raft.
Not wanting to speculate about the new canine crackdown I called the good folks at the BLM in Utah to get some insight into the situation and I spoke with Jennifer Jones out of the Moab BLM field office.
According to Jones, complaints had been piling up and there were two bites and a nip in the last year, a dog lost from a boat that was recovered, dogs charging people, and dog droppings at the put-in, camp sites and other areas along the river. The more we talked it seemed like it was the typical situation where a few bad apples seem to have spoiled it for the rest of the bunch.
As previously stated, I mostly go through Westwater during the off-season, in the middle of the week to avoid the crowds on a last minute permit. Which is maybe why I was not made aware of the ongoing debate about dogs. But it doesn’t matter. When you dare to enter a canyon like Westwater, you put your life on the line. A dog bite or stepping in some crap is the least of your worries when entering Westwater Canyon.
Admittedly, I know the Westwater Ranger Station, which is the put-in for Westwater and the take-out for the upriver run known as Ruby Horse Thief, is hectic on almost every weekend and can be completely crazy, but this is no reason to ban dogs from the entire canyon and the experience.
That’s the beauty of Westwater. Because of the permitting system you hardly see anyone else down there. I often stop in at the miner’s cabin or the outlaw cave and I’ve never had any problems — at any of the campsites either — with anything having to do with dogs. I must be the exception and not the rule.
But it’s not just Westwater where the BLM has banned dogs this year. On the Green River, the BLM has also banned dogs on through Desolation and Gray Canyons. They were allowed during the shoulder season but are now banned year-round. Westwater didn’t even have a test period. It went immediately to an all-out ban. You can shoot guns down there but you can’t bring a dog.
This is on top of the banning dogs at Conundrum Hot Springs a couple of years ago. In this case, there was too much fecal matter in the springs and of course dogs took the blame. Jessi loved to hike up to the hot springs with me, but she would never get in the springs. Even in the winter they must have been too hot. Of course the dogs get blamed. It’s not all the people who camp and crap above the springs or the hippies who passed out and spent the night sleeping in the warm placenta-like liquid.
Out at Conundrum the Forest Service now is talking about blowing up some cows who got trapped in the cabin up there. That’s sure to shower the landscape with plenty of bovine fecal matter.
The one thing I can say about the ban on dogs at Westwater is that it is going to cost taxpayers and our government revenue which we desperately need. I found out about Westwater’s ban on dogs because I was looking to book a permit in the next couple of weeks. There was plenty of availability during the week that will now go unused because I’m going to somewhere else that is more wild and just as scenic. In fact, I’ll even save money because the place I’m going is fee free. And I know I’m not the only one who will pass on Westwater trips because of the ban. Westwater may be full during the summer season but it’s dog lovers like me who fill up the calendar during the off-season. Of course, I’m not boycotting Westwater, it’s too great a place. I just won’t run it nearly as much.
Maybe people in the know are aware of this because fees for individuals on Westwater are set to increase in 2013 from $7 per person to $10 per person.
I’d like to tell you where I’m going instead of Westwater, along with all the great places where dogs are still allowed on rivers, but they’re getting to be so few and far between I don’t want to unleash the haters on the hounds.
With so few great raft trips allowing dogs it is terrible to lose Westwater. This decision seems a bit rushed and a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction to some bad experiences over the last couple of years. This decision should have been slowed. It seems that most of the problems appear at the take-out and the put-in which are open to public access. The problems are not so much on the river as they are in areas which are areas open to the public and not under the domain of the permits.
Besides, Westwater is truly a deep, dark hole in the earth. There’s a reason outlaws hid out there. There’s a reason there is a rapid called Skull and an evil eddy called Room of Doom where dead cows float and bloat. There’s a reason the walls of the Vishnu Schist exposed in the deepest darkest regions of that canyon are as black as Satan’s heart. If you can’t handle dogs, you have no reason to be in Westwater anyway.
However, there is good news. Service dogs are still welcomed in Westwater and as I’m not on the medicinal marijuana, I can feel my Glaucoma growing. I just might need Jessi to guide me down the canyon.
Contact Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org .