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Steamboat Magazine

Debacles on the Yampa

08/15/2023 07:00AM ● By Deb Olsen
(Photo: Hot air balloons float above the Yampa River on the east side of Steamboat Springs. Courtesy of Deb Olsen.) 

Publisher's Note by Deb Olsen from Steamboat Magazine Outdoors Edition 2023.

This edition didn’t start out with a special river theme. It just happened that way, thanks in large part to legendary Colorado photographer John Fielder, whose love and concern for the Yampa River led him to partner with Tread of Pioneers Museum to present “Lens on the River: A photographic Journey on the Yampa River.” He also graciously lent us images from the exhibit for this appropriately named Outdoors edition. 

At the same time, local river guru Eugene Buchanan relentlessly pitched “The Case of the Steamboat Sting,” the abridged version of which appears on page 44. It is sure to leave you wanting more (in)famous river tales, which you will find on page 60.

I’m sorry I don’t have my own deliriously happy river stories to share with you. While I love the Yampa River on an almost sacred level, it has brought mostly misadventure to me. There was the time I got such a bad sunburn tubing the Yampa that I had to wear dresses for a week – an outlandish idea in Steamboat Springs. Lesson learned: best to look dorky in long sleeves on the river than to glow in the dark for a week. 

Then there was the time I took a beginner kayak lesson with my family and bashed my 10-year-old son in the head after he tipped his own kayak, just a few feet ahead of me. Thank god for helmets.

My now-grown son, undaunted by my own river misadventures, took his too-small children (my precious granddaughters!) for a late-afternoon float down the river that ended in near disaster, a distress call and the girls’ vows of “never again,” which they have since recanted, thankfully. 
(River-Tubers float though "C-Hole" on the Yampa River through downtown Steamboat Springs. Courtesy of Deb Olsen.) 

When my dog was still a pup, I decided to teach her to swim in the Yampa. We found a secluded beach, and I cradled her in my arms while I stumbled from one rock to the next, all the way across the river. Turns out the security of being held was much less traumatic than striking out on her own. She did, indeed, learn to swim, but not that day.

Despite the debacles, the Yampa River remains the main vein of my lifelong love affair with the Yampa Valley. I hope this edition will inspire you to float, fish, photograph or run the river yourselves. 

Deb Olsen