Summer heat got you down?
Looking to find a place to cool off that’s a bit different than the same pool you’ve been swimming in for years?
The Stanislaus River is the answer.
Hotels and water parks all over the world have copied the idea of the “lazy river” – where floating peacefully along a slow current is isolated into an attraction all by itself.
Nothing, however, is quite like the real deal – meandering around curves and feeling the breeze blow through the shallow canyons while soaking up the sun.
But before you grab your inner tube and head to the river to put in, there are a few things that you probably should know so that you don’t end up spending six hours trudging through two feet of water and praying for blacktop to finally appear.
Keep these tips in mind:
• The river is low – While this current can rip during certain times of the year, the lack of water at points above has slowed the amount of water being released to a trickle. Floating is fine, but eventually you’ll hit a beach where there’s nothing but sand and dirt and rocks for 300 yards and you have no other option but to trudge through and keep going. This also means that trees and branches and bushes that wouldn’t otherwise be an issue are sticking up and out nearly everywhere. This can be dangerous because the current, when flowing into a turn, can take you straight into a place where you don’t want to go.
• Know your surroundings – When you’re lying on your stomach or sitting in a tube, every single bend and cliff and cluster of oak trees makes you think that you’ve arrived at your destination. Even if you scout out your exit point earlier in the day before heading up river to push off, there’s still a good chance everything will just blend together after the first 90 minutes in the water. Learn where you are and where you’re going and what you can do before hitting the water.
u Give yourself plenty of time – We were supposed to be at a staff meeting on Wednesday at 4 p.m., but when I checked Google Maps, Managing Editor James Burns and I were only halfway to the point. So naturally, we missed said meeting. And for the next three hours we worried about whether we had gone too far and were going to end up at the confluence of the Stanislaus and San Joaquin Rivers – the one place I didn’t want to end up. Eventually – five hours later – we got to our destination. It wasn’t that we were getting in over our head, but we didn’t think that half of the river – maybe even more – was going to be ankle deep either. Leave early and make sure people know where you’re going.
• Be smart – We counted 27 abandoned and popped inflatable rafts on the stretch of river that we floated, and according to Ripon Consolidated Fire District chief Dennis Bitters, the problems occur when people don’t think – they shun the life jacket and jump in with a group of friends and start drinking at 3 p.m. So if you’re planning on going, think about things before you go – where you’re going to put in, where you’re going to get your life jackets and what your contingency plan is if things go wrong. I know that young people think that they’re invincible. I also know that nature has a funny way of reminding us that it’s in charge and can throw curve balls that seem like they’re completely hittable. A swing-and-a-miss isn’t a big deal when you fall off of the floatie in the pool, but missing the last beach because you don’t know where you are – or ending up stuck on the water after the sun goes down and the mosquitoes start biting – is a completely different story altogether. Plan ahead, and make sure that not breaking off a much bigger piece than you can chew.
The bottom line – the Stanislaus River can be a wonderful recreation opportunity and a gem to those who want to get the outdoor experience without having to drive all the way up to the mountains to get it. But, no matter how close it might be to your front door, it’s still the outdoors and needs to be approached as such.
Know your surroundings, give yourself plenty of time and be smart.