Back in 1924 a young man named Bus Hatch built a small wooden boat and began to explore the Yampa River, the Green River and the canyons of the Colorado River in a way never attempted before. Stories of his fabulous trips got around, and soon friends were begging to go along. As time went by Bus's four sons joined him in what had become both a hobby and a business. Two of the sons, Don and Ted—both schoolteachers in the winter, are still at it as headmen of an enterprise known as Hatch River Expeditions.
The Hatches are now able to send off as many as 15 separate river expeditions at one time. Their craft are pontoon rafts, some of them 16 feet to 27 feet in length. Hatch River Expeditions take from 600 to 1,000 trippers down the fast rivers of the West from late spring to fall. Regular runs are scheduled on the rivers of Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and British Columbia, with a few Mexican waterways thrown in for good luck.
One reason for the increasing popularity of river trips is that they are the pleasantest way, and in some cases the only way, to see the most dramatic wilderness areas of the West. It is impossible to forget the feel of absolute solitude one gets, or the smell of a pi�on-pine campfire on a beach once known only to prehistoric Indians.
Camping out on a hidden sand beach in a mile-deep chasm of the Salmon River, one is completely isolated from civilization, sealed in by the rapids in a spot so untouched that it is hard to believe that anyone has set foot on it. So engrossing is the experience that the end of it comes as a distinct shock. It seems incredible that the outside world has continued on its way while one has been involved with river current and hidden rock, mountain sheep and soaring eagle.
The inflated, compartmented, unsinkable pontoons undulate through the rapids like giant black caterpillars. A passenger feels the exhilaration of danger, though personal hazard is not likely to exceed the possibility of a good drenching and a few cactus spines in the feet. When it is really perilous, as in high water at Warm Springs Rapids on the Yampa, the river guides discreetly suggest that their charges hike overland and photograph the rafts from overhanging rocks. They drop logs in the water first, to study their action, then they put in the boats. The boats bounce skyward as one watches, heart in mouth. A long view of a just-vacated raft executing a crazy dipsy doodle through roaring water, twisting end to end until it crashes on a rock, is a heady experience.
When Bus Hatch shoved his little wooden boat into the current more than 40 years ago his idea was solely survival. He gave no thought to creature comforts. His sons' rafts allow room for 35 pounds of gear per rider and permit surprising luxuries to turn up like magic out of insulated containers. In 100� heat deep in the canyons of the Colorado, Don produces ice cubes. At the rare approach roads, rafts pull in to shore to meet supply trucks bearing such improbable treats as fresh fruits, New York-cut steaks and chilled drinks. Guides cook superbly over open fires. Everything but personal gear is provided—sleeping bag and air mattress, trout rod and reel, binoculars, camera and so on—secured in splashproof duffel bag and plastic sack. It soon becomes perfectly logical to conduct all of living out under the open desert sky. Frequent stops permit fishing, exploring, climbing, swimming and floating on air mattresses in quiet gooseneck stretches.
Costs are surprisingly moderate, running about $30 per day, children under 12 years of age at half price. The weekly special, through Dinosaur National Monument, down Canyon of Lodore of the Green or the cleft of the Yampa and Green rivers, leaves Vernal, Utah every Thursday morning—a four-day trip, complete, at a bargain $78 per person. Transportation is provided from meeting place to put-in point on the river. Cars are stored, or driven to the end of the line for a fee. Planes are met, and charters can be arranged for scenic fly-outs. Life jackets go along for everybody aboard and are required through rapids.
The Hatches think of everything and meet all problems of safety and comfort. They have acquired a reputation for never goofing, even in the smallest detail. But they are human, after all. Once they met a charter party of VIPs at the put-in point for a run through Cataract Canyon on the Green River. While the guides loaded the pontoons, a member of the party who had made previous trips with the Hatches began to extol their expert river work over the roar of the river. The neophytes listened, fascinated and reassured, and finally set up a bravo for such excellence.
That night, at first camp-out, Ted was appalled to discover that it finally had happened—somebody had forgotten to pack the tableware. There was no way of returning, nothing to be done but to whittle crude forks and spoons out of bits of driftwood picked up along the riverbank.
"That was one of the best trips we ever made," remembers Ted.