by Beth Groundwater
In Fatal Descent, the third mystery in my RM Outdoor Adventures series, I transport my protagonist Mandy Tanner out of her home state of Colorado and off her home river, the Arkansas, to the state of Utah and its Colorado River. Mandy also ditches her river ranger uniform to perform her other job of whitewater rafting guide. She and her now-fiancé Rob Juarez, co-owners of the RM Outdoor Adventures outfitting company, lead a group of tourists on a rock climbing and whitewater rafting trip through Cataract Canyon in the harsh Canyonlands of Utah.
The trip takes place off-season in the fall, so when a murderer strikes and disables the group's radio to boot, Mandy, Rob and their clients are locked alone in a remote canyon with an unknown killer among them. They have no way to call for help or get out except to paddle forward into roaring whitewater rapids where even more danger lurks.
And, of course, to tell the story realistically, I had to try this trip out for myself!
Though I didn't tackle any rope climbing myself (I do have a healthy fear of heights), I made the hikes that are in the book to the canyon rim at The Loop, where the river folds back on itself, and to the Doll House formation above Spanish Bottom (first photo below), just after the confluence with the Green River and before the danger sign alerting boaters to the rapids below (second photo below).
Cataract Canyon's rapids are as powerful and difficult as those in the Grand Canyon and can be truly awe-inspiring and life-threatening in spring during high water. I chose the fall, when water levels are lower and the rapids are still thrilling, but manageable, for two reasons. First, I wasn't going to take my life in my hands, and second, I needed Mandy's group to be alone, with no help available from other rafting groups, which can only happen off-season.
My group had plenty of chances to get wet (see below) during the runs through standing waves and holes, but unlike Mandy, I never had to swim the rapids. I followed Dave Pitzer's number one rule, "Stay in the raft," and held on tight!
Being an experienced "river rat", it wasn't the rapids that I dreaded before the trip began, it was trying to sleep in a tent on the hard ground! The last time I'd done that was when I was a leader for my daughter's Girl Scout troop. After a weekend with NO sleep and lots of back pain, I swore off tent camping. But, for the sake of research for Fatal Descent, I suffered. I got very little sleep the first night, but due to exhaustion, I did get some the second night. And the stars were fantastic!
While immersed in Fatal Descent, I hope readers can enjoy the natural beauty of the Colorado River and Utah's Canyonlands from the ease and comfort of their easy chairs while trying to solve the puzzle of whodunnit.