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Last Half

Allure of Whitewater: a conversation with Andy Neinas Outfitter and Troublemaker




Echo Canyon River Rafting is a local and tourist hot spot.  With features that include the Royal Gorge and raging white waters, it is a great place to get in touch with your wild side.  Echo has more to offer than just rafting.  Adrenaline junkies will surely love this place, and you regular Joe’s can have a good time too while riding horses, zip-lining, or catching a bite to eat at the 8mile bar and grill.  With 27 years of experience on the Arkansas River, Andy Neinas became my go to guy.  Andy is the owner of Echo Canyon River Rafting whose passion for rafting is contagious. 


I’d like to start off by asking what is your job title?

Andy Neinas:  It’s so funny you should ask, because I’ve never believed in titles.  I have an answer for you: Troublemaker.  That’s my preferred title, I’ve been handing it out for a long, long time.  … I do own the company, but I am very happy to say I do not put a title on my business card.  Frankly, titles are not needed if you are capable of doing the job; people know it and they come to you to have questions answered.


So, what exactly do you do at Echo?

Andy:  We’re in the tourism industry. I sell a product, okay? I sell fun and memories. Yes, I know it’s a raft trip, but really, it’s a little bit different than that as far as what we really provide the consumer, the visitor.  So, ya know, there are certain times of the year where we’re very focused on marketing and advertising, putting our campaign together as we head into the new season.  I volunteer extensively through the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, I spend a lot of time on that; I manage the public relations program for the outfitters association. I sit on several tourism boards, so a lot of volunteering; doing what I consider to be the common good for, not just rafting, but again, tourism as a whole… 

P: You seem passionate about tourism, what got you interested in it? 

Andy: This is my 27th season on the Arkansas [River]… I grew up around water, I have always been passionate about Colorado and just really started to get into it in many different ways over time and next thing you know I just found myself in the rafting industry… but, again, it’s the tourism industry…  There’s this local aspect, but then there’s the tourism aspect because, of course, a huge percentage of our visitors are from out of state.  They’re coming to Colorado to experience where we live… we live in a beautiful part of the country…

What parts of the river would you say are easier or harder?

Andy:  …  The Royal Gorge really is the ultimate white water in the state of Colorado, hands down. It’s consistently the most exciting, its fantastic scenery and its world class white water… absolutely fantastic… Bighorn Sheep Canyon is the section immediately above the Royal Gorge, it’s what we call family class white water so it’s appropriate for first time floaters, people travelling with children…  We’re best known for the Royal Gorge.  Bighorn Sheep Canyon is the most popular experience we offer.

P: What can you tell me about the different difficulty levels?

A.N.: … Class one is literally flat water. Class two is basically moving water. Class three is moving water that requires navigation. So it’s the broadest definition. You could argue that everything is class three. But class four is moving water that requires navigation, length and continuous moves challenging drops, etc., etc.  Class five would be considered the limited navigability.  So family class white water really is in that class three range, it’s not necessarily class one. … And then when you get into the class three, four and five, like the Royal Gorge, that’s where you start to see those big drops, big hits, things along those lines. So that’s why I tend to use terminology like family class white water and adventure class white water. …Class 6 is considered un-runnable.

P: What does one need to do to prepare for river rafting?

Andy:  You should ask good questions and you should be darn sure you’re getting good answers…  As you’re having a dialogue with that person, hopefully they are asking you questions like how many are in your party, what’s the age of the youngest participant, are there any medical conditions that we need to be aware of? We accommodate special populations here with regular occasion. Just because we have an individual who is wheel chair bound doesn’t mean we can’t take them rafting; we most certainly can. But we need to have that conversation to make sure we are providing the right experience…  

P: If I wanted to go rafting, how many people do I need to bring?

Andy: One.  Quite honestly one, we don’t get a lot of singles…  Any number is appropriate.  We can put 6 or 7 guests on a raft, so if there’s 2 or 3 of you odds are there’s going to be other guests with you and that actually is a lot of fun, you get to meet unique people.

P: Assuming someone gets tired of rafting, what other activities can they do at Echo?

Andy: I don’t wanna come off as cocky, but we have the nicest white water rafting facility probably in the western U.S.  … The 8mile bar and grill is available here on site, we also have the Echo Canyon campground that is immediately across the road. Also, we have full hookups for RV’s, pit camping, and cabins.  We then have a plethora of other activities and package trips that we run, zip-lining, horseback riding, visits to the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park…  

P: Does someone have to be in shape to go rafting?

Andy: We battle the misnomer that we’re an adventure class activity. Sure, we have that, yeah you betcha. But most of what we do is, again, moms, dads, kids, first-time floaters. It’s about scenic beauty and some fun white water along the way.  You don’t have to be a super athlete to enjoy a river trip. That’s why Bighorn Sheep Canyon is our most popular section, because that’s what the general public tends to gravitate towards.

P: What is the Battle of the Bighorn?

Andy: Sunday July 7th of this year, we will be running another Battle of the Bighorn event that we run in conjunction with the non-profit Fremont Adventure Recreation. Half of the proceeds from Battle of the Bighorn go to Fremont Recreation, Echo Canyon makes no money on this trip at all… This is a really cool, very silly team event.  We need teams of 6 and what we are going to do is we are going to race through bighorn sheep canyon, but this isn’t a typical race.  … We start with the bucket toss, that determines who gets to go first, whether you get a 6-inch barrel pump or a one minute head-start. There’s then the puzzle memory test, we’re going to give everyone a puzzle that you will be allowed to look at until we start the event; we’ll come back to that later.  Teams are then required to inflate the rafts, it’s grueling.  They have to carry the boats up the stairs, up around the corner, back down the stairs before they launch.  If they head down to Five Points we are going to drop a watermelon that they have to retrieve.  That watermelon is very, very important, they have to keep that with them. There’s an event a little further down called the Neoprene Squeeze… we actually have a stock tank filled with ice and wetsuits and one member from your team must put on a wetsuit that’s been sitting there in ice water for the last hour. They then have to turn around and paddle backwards through two real, but pretty gentle rapids. There’s then the helmet brigade, they then have to paddle with their T-grips only.  … Then they storm the beachhead on our private landing… there’s a quarter-mile run they have to make, where at the top of the hill, they are going to be handed the puzzle pieces… they have to bring it back down and they have to reassemble the puzzle. By the way, everything they are doing along the way, they have to take their watermelon with them; the watermelon travels with them the entire way. This is a timed event, there are penalties for missing activities along the way. … But it’s not just about the most gung-ho physically athletic team, it’s very cerebral.  So that levels the playing curve. … Then we have an after party back at the 8mile bar and grill afterwards.

P: What is one of your most memorable experiences while rafting?

Andy: That’s a tough question, because I can honestly say the world comes to us.  … People come from all over the world to raft the Arkansas. So there’s just so many really neat and exciting people that we’ve met through the years. But most recently… we just had about a dozen ladies here from the American widows group, basically they were all the wives of fallen military men. It was our pleasure to host them and they had a great time, they were a lot of fun. It was a very diverse, eclectic group of people, group of ladies. They were just really neat to be around.  … We have kind of neat and unique things happening here every day.

P: You would say the beginning of the summer season would be the ideal season for rafting?

Andy: I really would, simply because you’re local. It’s so easy for people to come down here, you might as well come when the water is at its best.  I mean, we in Colorado are snobs when it comes to skiing, I can’t be bothered to hit the slopes unless there is six inches of fresh out there on the hill. So it’s the same way with rafting, ya know… There is an optimal rafting season for flows, and that’s typically in the month of June.

P: Finally I want to ask you… Colorado has been in a drought a few years now. How is that affecting rafting?

Andy:  Well, it certainly was a really challenge for us last year, and will continue to be a bit of a challenge for us this year.  But we are so fortunate to have seen these late season snows, they have totally transformed our year…  We also have something called the Voluntary Flow Management Program, VFMP for short.  The VFMP will have 10,000 acre feet, which is kind of how you measure volume in that quantity. 10,000 acre feet of water will be available through Colorado Parks and Wildlife for the Arkansas [River].  And that’s what we will use from July 1st though August 15th to ensure enjoyable flows for rafting. …The drought has been extraordinary and it has had a significant impact and if we wouldn’t have seen these late season snows we wouldn’t have the volume of water to have the VFMP in place.  So we are very fortunate that we have that program and that’s what’s going to make a long season possible on the Arkansas this year. 

Interview by Vera Coleman


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Last Half

Rock Art of the Purgatoire Canyon





Despite the permanency the name implies, rock art has an unexpectedly ephemeral nature. It doesn’t announce itself but creeps up on you, appearing in places you’d least expect like the footprints of someone who’s passed before you. It is this very transitory nature of rock art that makes it both fascinating and extremely difficult to understand. Because of the large and unique collection of petroglyphs and rock structures in Southern Colorado, archaeologists in our area may one day be able to shed a little light on the meaning of rock art images all over the world.

The Picket Wire, or Purgatoire, Canyon area just south of Lamar has a large and well-preserved concentration of rock art that archaeologist Lawrence Loendorf of the University of New Mexico predicts will “be the key to understanding North American rock art.” The Purgatoire River running through the canyon is one of many tributaries that make up the Lower Arkansas River Valley, an area which extends through the southeastern corner of Colorado and into the Oklahoma Panhandle and Northwest Texas. This area has the highest concentration of rock art in North America and a cultural history going back tens of thousands of years.

Walking into the Purgatoire Canyon is like walking back in time. The canyon is huge—wide enough to be seen from space—and blanketed with long, savannah-like grasses, intersected by tall cottonwoods and tamarisk that line the river. On either side, the valley walls rise up and branch off into smaller canyons that remain largely unexplored. The canyon walls themselves are dotted with junipers and basalt boulders that run all the way down to the river bed like toys scattered in a child’s playroom. Considering that less than a century and a half ago the canyon had the humid, fertile environment of a rain forest, it’s not difficult to imagine the attraction of the oasis-like valley to settlers throughout history, from the Folsom Man to Spanish colonists.

And the rock art is everywhere: pieces chipped off from boulders litter the trail, and every rock seems to have some sort of petroglyph, although not in the most obvious places one would look.

Something that becomes immediately apparent when searching for rock art is how much seeing it depends on luck and subjectivity, even when the area is rich in petroglyphs. As Loendorf put it in his study of the Purgatoire Canyon, A Manual for Rock Art Documentation,

“ … in practice it can be very difficult to decide if marks on a rock are the result of a tree limb blowing against the surface or the product of a human artist. It can be equally difficult to decide if a series of marks is purposeful, not fortuitous.” He also points out that finding rock art can depend largely on such changeable conditions as lighting and recent rains.

Loendorf has been studying the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, or PCMS, since 1989 and is the world’s foremost expert on petroglyphs in Southern Colorado. The PCMS itself is not part of the Purgatoire Canyon, but borders the northeast side of it.

According to Loendorf there are three major types of rock art in the area: biographic, which are incised scenes of warfare similar to ledger drawings and buffalo skin paintings; visionary and shamanistic images like handprints, which are the most common images in the PCMS; and what Loendorf refers to as “doodles,” or very abstract shapes such as squiggly lines and spirals.

These types of petroglyphs are not unique to Colorado. Handprint petroglyphs can be found all over the world; and when seen in conjunction with human figures they are believed to be a sign that the art is shamanistic in purpose, as if the print is capturing the artist’s soul. Spirals or concentric circles are also a worldwide phenomenon. In the Southwest they are often associated with shields, but are sometimes also connected to astronomy.

That being said, there are certain types of rock art that can only be found in the Purgatoire Canyon and PCMS site. These petroglyphs are anthropomorphs or quadruped figures who face the viewer and have knobby knees and digitate hands. They were created by the mysterious Apishapa (also spelled Apishipa) Culture, a group unique to Southern Colorado who inhabited the Lower Arkansas River Valley between 2,000 and 500 years ago. They’re mostly known for building rock structures like the “Stonehenge” type ruins found in the Apishapa State Wildlife Area, about 20 miles east of Walsenburg. But there are also examples of their rock structures in the PCMS and Purgatoire Canyon.

Unlike other inhabitants of North America during this time period (between about 1050 and 1450 AD), who were developing a more sedentary lifestyle, the Apishapas remained semi-nomadic even though they were building permanent stone structures. These structures were probably used for visionary and shamanistic purposes, not as homes or shelters, and some sites have material dating from the Paleoindian and Archaic periods, suggesting the sites themselves might have been in use up to 10,000 years ago, around the time when the “Folsom Man” lived in nearby Folsom, New Mexico. No matter how long the stone structures were in use, though, one can infer from the continuity of the Purgatoire Style of rock art and archaeological evidence that there was a continuous culture existing in Southern Colorado up until about 500 years ago, when a sudden break in the style of rock art coincided with the disappearance of the Apishapas and the arrival of Plains tribes like the Apache.

No one knows what caused this break in cultures, but Loendorf speculates it was a combination of drought and the arrival of Europeans, which brought the availability of new tools such as horses and the uprising of a warrior culture. Unlike the Apishapas, the Apache (one of the first recognizable tribes to inhabit the area) liked to decorate their sacred caves with the images of their deities, as well as use caves in conjunction with cattail pollen to induce visions, which so far has not been found in the rock shelters of the PCMS. They also favored biographic images in their rock art, which is very rare in the Purgatoire Canyon. Instead, rock shelter-rich areas such as the one around the Dolores Mission and Cemetery have petroglyphs pecked or painted onto boulders outside of the rock shelters, never inside. According to Loendorf, the boulders were crude stone altars used by Apishapa shamans who drew figures “on the ground near them” to represent tribal deities.

No discussion of rock art in Southern Colorado would be complete without mentioning the work of the late William McGlone and Phil Leonard. Although not professional archaeologists, anthropologists, or art historians, they have probably done more research into the petroglyphs and stone structures of Southeastern Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle than anyone else in modern times. While their exploration and records are valuable, their contribution to the study of these petroglyphs is somewhat marred by their belief that the petroglyphs created by the Apishapa are actually Ogam, a form of writing developed by Irish monks sometime in the fourth century AD. They claim that reading Ogam inscriptions have led them to discover several archaeoastronomical sites, including Crack Cave in Picture Canyon and the Sun Temple, also in Southeastern Colorado. They also believe that some petroglyphs are a form of Northern Arabic writing.

The idea that petroglyphs are “saying something” is hardly surprising; as Loendorf puts it, “Art is not unlike language; when one element is placed on the wall, it plays a role in the next element.” However, aside from the presence of these supposed Ogam writings, there is no evidence of Western occupation in the Americas prior to the Vikings around 1000 AD, and then only in Newfoundland. Without proof of a Western presence, the theories of McGlone, Leonard, and others like them can only be interpreted as racist. By taking Native American inscriptions and monuments and labeling them as Ogam, Mithras, Anubis, Northern Semitic, Egyptian hieroglyphic, Apollo, and so on, they are essentially taking the history of Native Americans, erasing it, and replacing it with Western history!

Their claims would be too ridiculous to even warrant discussion if they weren’t regarded with so much credulity and if this practice wasn’t so wide spread in regards to Native American rock art. In 1994, for example, the discovery of Chauvet Cave, an Upper Paleolithic site in France with “wondrous” multicolored paintings, was featured in every major American newspaper. That same year, the Kaibab Paiute finished a study of cave paintings in the Grand Canyon which depicted the Ghost Dance and other images every bit as impressive as those in Chauvet Cave. Instead of mainstream media press coverage, however, they were featured in Weekly World News under the headline, “4,000-year-old UFO Found in Grand Canyon!” Even if these sensational claims are the only way to generate interest in rock art in North America, any attempt to remove American Indians from Native American rock art should be met with outrage.

Petroglyphs hardly need UFOs and secret histories to be interesting. Rock art is mysterious, and beautiful, and exciting, and for scholars trying to study it, occasionally frustrating. But possibly that is what it’s meant to be. One doesn’t have to understand or give a single meaning to everything one sees in order to appreciate it. Petroglyphs are artworks that are living and magical in a way that paintings in environmentally-controlled museums can’t match. While it is doubtful the petroglyphs and rock structures in Southeastern Colorado will ever be more comprehensively studied unless attitudes toward rock art change, the fact remains that the Purgatoire Canyon and the Lower Arkansas River Valley as a whole contains a wealth of history just waiting to be explored and admired.

by Tasha Brandstatter


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Last Half

Ice Blocking



With the stress of several fires, all dry desert heat, and rainless days, I know I’m looking for unique ways to stay cool and calm.

Since it’s not ideal to travel three hours to the sand dunes so you can spend a day scooting down sandy hills on plastic sleds like you’re Matthew McConaughey in Sahara, I have a different method for you all. Instead, you can get a little wet, and certainly wild, with a slide down and cool down toward the end of a hot day. With what you ask? What else could you possible do to cool down besides sprinklers in your back yard, waterpark, or swimming pool? Ice Blocking of course, don’t worry I’ll tell you what the heck it is. Here’s what you do. First, this simple fun can be easily devised using two items:

-One 10 pound block of ice (can be found at King Soopers)

-And One kitchen towel to keep your tush somewhat dry (don’t be afraid to accessorize)

Second, find yourself a steep and grassy knoll (dirt does not work and you will hurt yourself), University Park in Pueblo is always a good choice, but any steep hill will do. Next, place your towel over your block of ice, situate yourself as comfortably on your ice as you can, have your friends give you a little push and… Geronimo! You’ll slide down that hill faster than a fireman down a pole.

Continue to maximize your ice blocking experience in three ways. First, go on a hot day so your ice melts making you slide faster. Second, wait for the grass to get greener. As the ice melts, your block sleds down the green grass better. And third, find out if your desired hill space has a sprinkler system. If it does, find out when they kick on and go ice blocking then. Slickery is always better, in this case. Combine those three things and you’ll see what I mean. And why not dress down? You don’t get wet from ice blocking unless you go through the sprinklers. So get in those board shorts and bikinis and slip and slide over the hill and down a slippery slope of water.

It’s too much of a scorching inferno during the day, so try going ice blocking at night when the sun disappears and the evening feels a lot cooler. With this inexpensive outlet in the sizzling summertime, who needs Waterworld anyway? Actually, that does sound nice right now… but anyway. Give this poor man’s slip and slide a chance and it could create a summer memory between you and some great friends.

For a quick bit of fun on a budget, this is a great activity to let you get down while things continue to heat up.

by Kelly Branyik

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Last Half

Art Coup in Cañon



Through the lightly Juniper specked cliffs cupping the slight winding roads, you can take a slow drive past the quiet residences of small towns that don’t make it on the map.

Through the lightly Juniper specked cliffs cupping the slight winding roads, you can take a slow drive past the quiet residences of small towns that don’t make it on the map. Drive a little further, you might find yourself cruising upstream to the rushing Arkansas River. You may even see a lonely rafter eager for some white water or an angler hungry for brown trout. Art is neither a rare spectacle. You can walk down main street and spot several art studios full of a life’s work, or you can see an artist diligently completing his oil painting halfway outside of his studio door. For some, not much is really happening in Canon City for the art community but recently the Fremont Center for the Arts scored a major coup by showing an internationally-known artist’s creations.

Thomas ‘The Painter of Light’ Kinkade’s, artwork made its appearance at the Fremont Center for the Arts in Canon City. Thomas Kinkade is the American artist known for his realistic and impressionistic paintings using three elements of light: water, sunlight, and artificial light. His purpose in painting was to simply paint with his heart. Although he never searched for fame in his work, he is the most sold artist in the country and became so reputable that his art is easily spotted in St. Jude Hospitals, The White House and even the Vatican. 

Garden of Prayer by Thomas Kinkade | Courtesy Fremont Center for the Arts

Garden of Prayer by Thomas Kinkade | Courtesy Fremont Center for the Arts

The FCA is a non-profit organization home to the local artists of Fremont County but also host to collections and exhibits of art ranging from Day of the Dead exhibits to the Splendor of Glass exhibits to Artist of the Tattooist. The FCA’s establishment is known to the art community, but to outsiders it merely appears to be an extension of the public library across the street. To discover that Kinkade is in Canon City is a stunning piece of news, so with all this excitement, many are left wondering, how does artwork of this caliber make its way to a small town?

Art centers are struggling and it doesn’t matter that Canon City has the oldest Arts Community Council west of the Mississippi. The FCA’s Visual Committee has been working for two years to bring Kinkade’s original artwork to Canon. It all started in March 2011 when Linda Bella brainstormed ways to get more big name artists associated with the FCA. With the help of Linda Carlson, Bella settled on attempting to contact Thomas Kinkade. The Lindas searched diligently for his contact information, eventually finding it on Google.

Once they made contact with Kinkade, they proposed he show his art in Canon City. Kinkade’s response was a hearty chuckle and a “we only do shows in big cities.” Carlson’s logic was that big name art shows are less popular in big cities because the competition is too fierce, but in a smaller city, there will be a larger turnout of appreciative fans. Kinkade found reason in the proposition and March 2013 became the date for display. But the process took an abrupt halt when Thomas Kinkade passed away unexpectedly in April 2012, inevitably cutting off any correspondence with any and every person associated with Kinkade. “We almost didn’t get it,” said Carlson. For months, the Lindas had nearly given up on getting Kinkade to Canon until October when contact was resumed and the plans to showcase Kinkade continued. 

The FCA paid $300 for shipping each original painting from California to Denver. The display consisted of both original paintings and giclee of prints like The Wailing Wall, Disney’s 50th Anniversary sketch, his Fenway Park painting, Walk of Faith, and many others. 

I asked Carlson what the FCA hoped to gain out of bringing a world famous artist to Canon City. They hoped to increase interest, awareness, and support for the FCA, regardless of an artist’s prestigious reputation. During the one month display, the FCA sold $3,700 worth of prints, while the Denver Kinkade dealers anticipated only $200 profit. Between the splendidly detailed paintings and Patrick Kinkade’s heartfelt presentation of the hysterical and historical timeline of Thomas, the Kinkade display at the FCA turned out to be a great success for Canon City. So, who’s next for the FCA? The Visual Committee set July 2014 as the tentative date to showcase a Norman Rockwell display for two months.

by Kelly Branyik

 Cover photo The Fremont Center for the Arts   

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