Tuesday on the Boise River
The air itself seems to shine, as the nearly cloudless sky offers no resistance to the Sun’s steady stream. People in a wide selection of swimsuits, t-shirts, and shorts stand in line to purchase a bus fare for later, all while checking the weather reports on their smart phones to have the facts repeated to them -- it’s hot. Just a short distance away in the nearly-burning sand, the heat beats down on the necks, backs, and hands of the people bustling around the air stations. They’re racing to get a flock of colorful, inflatable boats, tubes, and pool toys as seafaring as possible.
Or, in this case, riverfaring.
When it’s hot here in Boise, you have about two choices. Take off all of your clothes and stand in front of the freezer (and risk melting the ice cream), or join hundreds of locals as you ship off from Barber Park into the snowmelt Boise River. The water is leisurely during the first leg of the journey, and you can feel the refreshing water lapping at your legs and fingers as they trail in the water.
After a while, you may look down into the water. The water is only ever slightly murky, and in most places you can see straight down to the bottom, a kaleidoscope of browns, grays, and reds. Was that a rock worn smooth by the current, or a dark fish patiently waiting for food? It’s never easy to tell, unless...Yes! It moved!
In the 102 miles of the Boise River, the fish have had plenty of room to live and grow. The river is teeming with rainbow trout, specifically the redband variety, some of which have grown over twenty inches long! In spite of the fact that this body of water runs straight through the middle of the city, these redbands are elusive and hard to catch. They are a great challenge to those who want to catch them. But if you're worried about being nibbled by these scaly creatures as you float, don’t worry! Redbands tend to avoid human visitors, and live predominantly in the reedy areas that border the river.
But while you’ve been contemplating local piscines, you missed the obvious -- the water in front of you is dropping away! You paddle feebly upstream, but the effort is fruitless. You’re going over the edge! As your brave flotation device starts to speed down the rapids, you can feel your pancreas fly into your throat…
And then its over.
Well, save for the giant slap of water that wakes you up from your stupor. You wipe the water from your eyes and look back at the small waterfall, the first of many tame rapids in the Boise River. These rapids are based on a class difficulty scale of 1 to 6, where 1 is the easiest and 6 is too extreme for even some of the best. The Boise River is a solid 1 in rapids; occasionally fast moving, even choppy, but generally safe. But Idaho has rapids up to the Class 5, and up to 3,100 miles of whitewater miles in total. This is the most of any other state in the continental United States.
After that bit of excitement, you’ve been cooled by the water enough to enjoy sunning again. On either side of the river are huge trees, who thrive on the alpine waters that run through their root systems. Further along the river, the trees become more and more dense. Still, as you take in the rays and listen to the hushed rustling of the cottonwoods, it’s difficult to imagine that you’re less than five minutes from a home or highway.
In various parts along the river are small sandbars or beaches, where people can pull off the river for a moment. Some of these areas have been outfitted with a benched table or two, and are ideal for having a packed lunch or stretching your legs. Pack up all your trash, or stop at at least one of the four officially designated rest stops with trash receptacles. These are the River Quarry, the Marden Bridge, and Julia Davis Park exits.
The fourth stop is truly the exit of the traditional float -- there’s a dam just a little ways down the river, after all. This exit is the Ann Morrison Park, on the left bank of the river. This 153 acre park is an impressive green space in the middle of Boise, and has the facilities for bocce ball, tennis, cricket, horseshoes, and softball, among other activities. A shuttle runs between Ann Morrison and Barber in order to transport floaters back and forth between the parks.
As you pull yourself away from the river, you notice two things. Firstly, it’s cooler. Suddenly the sun’s rays don’t seem so unbearable or unwelcome, and you relish the warm air after the almost imperceptible chill of the river water. Secondly, however, is that you can’t seem to wipe the smile off of your face. Floating the Boise River may not be the only way to beat the heat, or even boredom, but it sure is one of the best.
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