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Sophia Prestipino, Qamar Carter, Stella McCune-Albright, Matthew Albright enjoying their day on the river

"To the river!" we shout with our paddles clacking and raised to the sky as we launch. That's our traditional take-off river salute over many years of rafting our gorgeous Four Corners rivers. Memorial Day weekend transported us into two more uniquely memorable river days with family and good friends. Saturday our crew included the captain, my son, Matthew; Dante, our river-loving buddy from Durango, his 11 year old daughter, Sophia; my granddaughter Stella, 11, and my grandsons Qamar, 14, by now a confident River Rat, and Damian, 7.

In Aztec we entered the chilly Animas River, flowing at about 2400 cubic feet per second, about half the volume as same time last year. It was running fast enough for excitement even against a headwind, but mild enough to relax and take in the incomparable scenery. But, river law number one is always: stay alert and expect the unexpected. So, before we shoved off, Dante gave us a "safety talk," emphasizing that if anyone accidentally went in the water, "keep your feet up," allowing the safety vest to perform as intended, to protect feet and legs from the rocks. Additionally, he said, "grab the rope not the throw bag, which we'd toss in.

Boy, did Damian take off with those two words, yelling over and over, "safety talk, safety talk - rapids up ahead," as he stood holding the throw rope, riding the waves at the bow. I named him "First Matey." Children and adults of all ages deserve to savor the natural beauty and the thrill of riding the waves,

As we shoved off, we saw a cute little doe sipping on the opposite shore, then a heron, followed by a hummingbird greeting us and hovering just above the water. The wind and water carved sandstone cliffs, vibrant, green shades of lush vegetation and trees never fail to impress. But one non-native variety presents an ever-present danger. Those pesky Russian Olive trees can puncture a raft, as we learned the hard way years ago. As we leisurely floated past beaver dams, old cars beefing up the bank, fallen cottonwoods and cattle fences drooping in the water, we were greeted by children running and waving. Those fortunate adults who live on the water are always friendly too.

Another river law to heed is: tie everything down, including the dry bag with extra clothing; ice chest filled with water, beverages, food and snacks. Hats, long sleeves and sunglasses help to protect from low-hanging branches and intense sun and wind. Wear a knife, take a rope and extra bandanas; and make sure the phone is in the dry bag if not fully waterproof.

No need for young kids to have paddles which might end up floating downstream and difficult to retrieve. And one more rule for fun: leave the blame game at home - or better yet - in the water. There's always potential danger on the river, but fear should be replaced by deep respect for the awesome power of water and weather. Take a fun-loving attitude based on cooperation and camaraderie to insure a journey like no other.

Easily a raft can drift into unadvised territory, but it's simple to correct with a little teamwork. "Give me a few on the right or paddle hard up front," Matt occasionally bids. Sometimes a 360 works best and they're easy and cool to perform. Water depth is typically not the danger factor, it's the giant boulders and random debris.

We knew the dangerous diversion dam at Penny Lane in Flora Vista had been re-engineered to allow a thrilling whitewater slope. It was a kick, enjoyed with gusto by all. Thanks to the City of Farmington for the fact that we no longer had to portage around the damn dam, where a few have perished. Also, thanks to the Outdoor Program at San Juan College for the excellent fifteen foot raft and equipment, reasonably priced for a weekend rental.

The rapids at River Reach in Farmington gave us another rush of water in the face just before we exited the river. Here's where our transport crew, my daughter, Danielle and Matthew's wife Kasey, really helped, as we all carried the inflated raft to the nearest parking lot and loaded it on my little Toyota pickup. It looked like a giant turtle!

Strangely, not that many people raft here. Dante would point out to them, "get out and try it ... it will change the way you look at life and the way you look at the world. You can only see so much from the road. To truly see and understand your community, you need to experience it from the middle of the river."

As usual, we got a rather late mid-afternoon start, but we saw no other boats that day. It takes planning, organization and extra effort, but the rewards are extraordinary. "People are like water - they always take the path of least resistance," declared Sun Tzu. Maybe that's why so many miss out on the glorious river! "To the river, the rocks ... and the trees," I say.

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