Wild Wild West

Boaters tackle the raging Rio Grande in New Mexico     Photo: Grayson Schaffer

Thanks to one of the worst droughts in a century, the Southwest's most thrilling boating of late has been a motorized trip to Cathedral in the Desert, the reemerging sandstone amphitheater in Utah's man-made Lake Powell.

Well, times change, and so does the weather. Suddenly, the big news isn't the drought—it's the flood. New Mexico and parts of Southern California are coming off their wettest winters on record, and the snowpack in Arizona, Utah, and southern Colorado is well above average. As a result, the Southwest is enjoying its wildest whitewater in decades. In April, outfitters led the first worthy commercial raft trips on Colorado's Dolores River since 1998. A snowpack 170 percent of normal is currently supercharging California's Kern River, and the hugely popular Arkansas River, in central Colorado, will have Class III to V rapids into August.

So is the drought over? Perhaps, but river runners aren't taking their chances. "Now is the time to get out," says Mark Hammer, owner of Buena Vista, Colorado–based The Adventure Company. "You never know what next year's going to bring."

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