Lower Animas River - SUP First Descent

This last weekend I attended the Lower Animas River Float sponsored by the San Juan Citizens Alliance. SJCA put together a fantastic overnight trip on a section of river that has, until now, been largely ignored. 

For a long time the Animas River in New Mexico has been pretty hard - if not impossible - to paddle. Most of the land along the river is privately owned (read: no access) and there were several low-head dams that pose a significant risk - including the Penny Lane Dam that has been responsible for several deaths since its creation in the mid 80's. 

In 2017 the Penny Lane Dam was reconstructed to eliminate the deadly hydraulic and allow the safe passage of boats. Coupled with some great community outreach by the SJCA and the River Reach Foundation, we were able to take a group of 25 boaters down the Class II Lower Animas River from  7 river miles upstream of the Aztec Ruins National Monument all the way down to Penny Lane Dam near Farmington. 

11' NoSnow board loaded on a cataraft to go to the put in;; Riverside safety talk;; Launch!;; Donna and Kota catching the eddy for lunch;; Kent Ford - Kent played a huge role in getting this area cleaned up, he also paddled all the way down from Durango, CO (starting the day before);; Lunch chat on one of the few pieces of public land along this stretch.

Saturday night we camped right off the river at the lovely Ruins Road Campground and had a delicious dinner of Pulled Pork Sandwiches (and beer, of course). 

Sitting around the (gas) campfire after dinner. Picture from San Juan Citizens Alliance on FB.

Sitting around the (gas) campfire after dinner. Picture from San Juan Citizens Alliance on FB.

Sunday morning was breakfast, coffee, shuttle and then launch again!

Riverside parking at the Ruins Road Campground in Aztec, NM.

I didn't have as many photos from day 2 - A quick couple shots of the group and then photos of Casey and Curt (or Kasey and Kurt, or you get it - sorry guys!) trying out the NoSnow board (and doin' well!).

Here’s a quick ReLive video of day 2 (I forgot to turn my tracker on for day 1).

So we made it all the way down to Penny Lane Dam. The dam has been reconstructed with a low-angle ramp and adjustable steel plate to control the shape and flow of the water at the bottom of the dam. This allows the engineers to dial in the wave to reduce recirculation. A few of us took our craft down for a spin! The water on the ramp is very shallow - maybe 1.5 inches, so I had to take out my center fin and set my course at the top of the drop. The Wave was surprisingly chill for how large it was. The water basically pulls you through the wave and spits you right out!

So what's with the "First Descent?" Well aside from being a personal first descent of the Animas River for me, I checked with the locals who have been working on opening this stretch of river and paddling it for the last year, and as far as they know I'm the first person to paddle this stretch on a SUP! 

Curt was able to take some great photos along the way, once he gets them posted I will share them here as well.