An Arizona River Cruise

 This column by Gerry Niskern appeared in the Arizona Republic a few years ago, but  it seemed appropriate to reprint it given the hot weather we are having!

Is your family looking for a way to spend a Sunday?   May I suggest a river cruise? Observe the safety rules for tube floating and get ready for a great day.

Unlike the mandatory fashionable wardrobe for an ocean trip, let me describe the proper attire for a river cruise.  No matter what they call a river in your area, you will need a bathing suit, a pair of cut off jeans; (to keep your backside protected from submerged logs and sharp rocks.) You’ll also need some old tennies, sun block, sunglasses, and a hat.

We took our cruises on the Salt and Verde rivers here in Arizona. Grandma’s Rommel-style straw hat had a bill. She wore it like the general when she directed the launching of our summer river cruises. Grandpa couldn’t swim so he didn’t join our floating party. He trucked the inner tubes to the river and met us down stream at the end of the day.

In the middle of July, it wasn’t necessary to be a good swimmer, just a strong walker. You were always glad you had your tennies on when you had to swing your leg down inside the tube and push off against the rocks if you were grounded. In no time at all, you would be bobbing along with the current.

Our kids, along with their cousins, wiggled into their tubes, clomped down the muddy bank and with a whoop and a holler, were on their way.  They delighted in the heady freedom of being allowed to go on ahead of the grown-ups.

The water was pure and cold. It felt like melted snow against our hot skin as we floated away, one by one.

We cruised the low, clear river over water sculptured rocks in ever changing moods and colors. As the desert glided by, we passed mesquite, palo verde and an occasional stand of giant cottonwoods, their green and yellow foliage hanging over deep green pools.

Invariably, as we floated by, we were ambushed by a band of river pirates dropping from the branches above. Waves swamped our river craft and grinning kids who looked familiar popped to the surface.   Sooner or later, one of the river pirates  asked grandma for a safety pin to hold up his bathing suit; or another needed a Band-Aid. Grandma provided the items without fail from her waterproof plastic purse. You name it, she had it.

We floated on past little hidden pockets of lush vegetation. Blue herons swooped above the trees and settled on their skinny legs in the shallow water. Meanwhile, the strong, sentinel mountains held the brooding July thunderheads at bay.

Later, we sailed into a deep, green pool. Shouts and splashes echoed from the nearby cliffs as kids cannonballed off huge rocks. Tiny rainbows arched through the sprays of water.

Uncle Eddie always took along Sparky, their family dog. On one trip, he decided to let the little pug enjoy the river because “all dogs know how to swim”.  Sparkly immediately sank like a rock in twelve feet of water. While Aunt Ilene screamed, Uncle Eddie abandoned ship and dove repeatedly, saving the drowning dog. Later, when it was time to drive home, he realized that now, instead of Sparky, his car keys and billfold were at the bottom of the river.

In late afternoon, we rounded a bend and saw the orange sunset reflecting off grandpa’s glasses as he stood waiting at our rendezvous point. The river moved swiftly there, so the men hauled themselves out of their tubes and waded us in.

Soon the smell of hot dogs sizzling from supple sticks filled the air. Damp towels hung like limp capes from kids’ shoulders while we listened to the ripple of the river, chirps of crickets and an occasional owl.

The moon rose cool and bright. Reluctantly, we packed up to go home. We knew we would be back to celebrate another day on the river that enticed us again and again.

So, have you been on a water journeys lately? How soon can you pull your wardrobe together for a river cruise?

Gerry Niskern is the author of Don’t Throw the Bread, a memoir, available in the ScottsdaleTrails Amazon Store. She grew up in Phoenix and is a monthly contributor to the Arizona Republic. You can see Niskern’s watercolors at She can be reached at
Niskern’s column “Sounds of Summer” was reprinted on ScottsdaleTrails earlier this year.

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