Xplorie Story: Performance Tours – Brown’s Canyon

“We booked with Xplorie because we wanted an adventure.”

By Jack Ellingwood

June 19, 2017

This summer, our family booked a vacation to Breckenridge on Xplorie.com. My wife, Lauren, and I love sports and our two teenage daughters, Sarah and Jessica, have tons of energy. We’ve taken countless ski trips and we enjoy trying new things. We’d never been to Colorado in the summer, so we were excited to get outside.

On the third day of our trip, with warm weather and clear skies in the forecast, we called an Xplorie Vacation Specialist to see what options we had for free activities. She immediately suggested a raft trip on Brown’s Canyon with Performance Tours. “This is our most popular trip,” she said. “You’ll love the Arkansas river. It’s the best rafting in Colorado.”

None of us had ever gone whitewater rafting before, so we didn’t know what to expect. But the Xplorie specialist answered our questions and gave us a list of items to bring. She then told us to enjoy the drive to Buena Vista, where our trip would begin.

The views on the drive were amazing. We could see the continental divide and several 14 thousand foot peaks. Before we knew it, we were in Buena Vista. We couldn’t believe the number of rafting companies we saw.

Just a short drive south of Buena Vista, we pulled into the Performance Tours office. They were happy to welcome Xplorie guests and told us how much fun their customers had had the day before. After filling out some paperwork and grabbing life jackets and river booties, we connected with our guide, Colin, a young man from Salt Lake City. Because we were a group of four, we had our own boat.

Before getting on the river, Colin gave us a thorough lesson on paddling and reviewed river safety. He also made us practice his commands. “All forward, means everyone paddle forward,” Colin said. “Left back, right forward, means the left-side of the boat paddles backward, the right-side paddles forward. This is how we turn.” Sarah and Jessica offered to sit up front. “Those are the fun seats,” Colin said.

The first part of the trip was mainly flat water with some class 2 rapids, so we had plenty of time to get used to the boat and to Colin’s commands. Both Jessica and Sarah were natural paddlers, and Lauren and I followed their lead. Colin pointed out wildlife along the way. The water was clear and the banks were green. It felt like we were floating through the set of an old western movie.

After about 45 minutes, Colin told us to get ready. We were about to enter Brown’s Canyon. “Canyon Doors is the first rapid,” he said. “It’s a horizon drop. And there’s a fun wave with a good hit at the bottom.”

Soon, the river narrowed and the canyon walls rose above us. “All forward,” Colin yelled as the raft moved swiftly toward the rapid. We all paddled as hard as we could and the raft surged over the falls and into the wave. Water sprayed over us like a fire hose. “That was awesome,” Colin said. “Here we go.” We all looked at each other, soaked in wild water, and began to laugh. This is going to be fun, I thought.

After Canyon Doors, it was non-stop action. Pinball rapid required lots of maneuvers, and the girls did a great job paddling up front and getting us around the big boulders. Then it was onto Zoom Flume, a steady stream of powerful whitewater with three consecutive drops. Though we didn’t know it, there was a photographer taking our photo as we surged through the canyon.

The middle section of Brown’s Canyon was full of rapids. Around every bend, there was another drop or big wave. We made our way down the Seven Staircases, seven consecutive drops with big pools after each one, and through the Graveyard, a rocky section of river that required teamwork and lots of paddling. Toilet Bowl, a section of the river that seemed like a giant whirlpool, sucked the side of our raft under water, but a few hard paddle strokes pulled us out.

Before entering the biggest rapids of the day, we pulled into an eddy for a break and some cliff jumping. “How’s everyone doing?” Colin asked. He then pointed to a rock that resembled a diving board. “If you’re feeling brave, this is a great spot to jump into the river.”

Lauren, Sarah, and Jessica all climbed out of the boat and ran up the bank. Colin followed them and showed them where to jump. Colin jumped first, throwing a big back flip. Jessica jumped next, and giggled as she came to the surface and swam back to the boat. Sarah and Lauren held hands and jumped together. Though I didn’t jump from the rock, it was nice to stretch my legs, and I took a quick dip in the eddy to cool off. When we all got back in the raft, everyone was smiling. What an adventure.

If we hadn’t had enough fun already, Colin told us that his favorite rapid, Seidel’s, was next. Before running Seidel’s, we stopped and walked down the bank to scout. From the banks, the water looked intimidating. But Colin assured us that it would be no problem.

When we all got back to the boat, I could feel our anticipation. We all put our paddles in the air and gave a cheer. As we entered the rapid, I could see snow-capped peaks framed by the canyon walls. “All forward,” Colin yelled above the noise of the raging rapids.

We nailed the run through Seidel’s. All of us were completely soaked. My arms were tingling from excitement and exhilaration. We waited in the pool and watched other rafts plunge through Seidel’s. “Let’s do it again!” Sarah screamed.

During the last part of our trip, Brown’s canyon opened up, and we all took it easy. The river got wider and Colin pointed out the Bighorn Sheep who had come to the river banks for a sip of fresh water. Soon we were at the take-out, where we loaded up the boats and headed back to the Performance Tours office.

Back at the Performance Tours office, we grabbed some snacks and reviewed the photos of our run through Zoom Flume. In two of the shots, Jessica and Sarah are completely covered up in a big wave. We thanked Colin for an amazing day on the river and loaded up the car. As we drove out of Buena Vista, Sarah and Jessica fell asleep in the back seat, and Lauren and I spoke about our next Colorado vacation. The sun had lowered behind the mountains and the light across the continental divide was magical.

The rest of our vacation in Breckenridge was tons of fun. We even got on the water again for a day of paddle boarding. Since returning home, however, all Sarah and Jessica keep talking about is our run through Brown’s Canyon. We loved Colorado in the summer, and plan to return next year. Xplorie gave us the adventure of a lifetime.