Rafting the Green River – Moab, Utah



Sunset from Spanish Bottom

We left Priest Gulch RV Park today and headed for Moab, Utah. We are staying at the Portal RV Park for two weeks, a beautiful park with many privately owned sites that are very spacious. Next morning we drove to Durango to pick up Jim Karlovec and Dana Longo and brought them back to Moab to get ready for our rafting trip down the Green River for 6 days, booked through Canyon Voyages Adventure Co on Main St in Moab. The Green River rafting season extends from early April to October, but the best flows often occur during late May, because of the snow melt which there is a lot of this year, and this time also guarantees a spectacular wildflower show. We are rafting the Stillwater Canyon, from Mineral Bottom to Spanish Bottom(50 miles), the calm waters are a favorite with canoes and kayaks who can enjoy the scenery, historical relics and Indian ruins while floating down the river. We are going to follow in the footsteps of John Wesley Powell who was the first to explore the Green River in 1869!

Day 1 – Mineral Bottom to Upheaval Canyon

First we attended an orientation meeting to learn all the ins-and-outs of river rafting and how to look after our 14’ raft and ducky. Finally we were all packed up and ready to drive 1 ½ hours to our put-in at Mineral Bottom. On the way we passed Horsethief  Ranch and legend has it that it was used by Butch Cassidy and his gang to swap for fresh horses while they were escaping after their infamous bank robberies.  Our first view of the Green River was high up on the Mesa, and it was a steep descent down the narrow, switchback road in the sandstone cliffs to Mineral Bottom. The wind was very strong today and when Dana and I climbed into the ducky we had to paddle hard to get out into the middle of the current. Bob and Jim in the raft struggled to get out into the current and they brushed up against the tamarisk trees along the shore. Eventually we were both paddling against the wind and heading downstream enjoying some of the red canyon walls that framed the rivers edge.

We arrived at Upheaval Canyon and set up camp on the sandy beach, with the wind still strong we were blasted by sand continuously. We took a hike up Upheaval Canyon along the wash highlighted by mature cottonwoods and leafy brush, crossing and entering the wash several times. We saw the Upheaval Dome Crater in the distance, it was getting late so we turned back to the campsite for dinner. We had a family of Canadian geese strolling through our campsite as we were eating dinner. We are camped near the White Rim Trail and we saw bikers turning around because they couldn’t cross the high water on the Trail. Click on thumbnail to view images

Day 2 – Upheaval Canyon to Millard Canyon

Finally the wind stopped blowing and we had a good nights sleep. Dana and I started off in the ducky and the boys in the raft as we paddled down the Green River enjoying the sites along the rivers edge and the carved walls of the canyons. We paddled past Fort Bottom where we had views of the Masonry Tower, an Anasazi lookout tower on the ridge, and the Outlaw cabin, ruins on the mesa tops. The Green snaked its way 180 degrees around Fort Bottom carving out the sandstone as she went. The series of buttes and mesas we saw were more and more spectacular with each river bend. One of the most impressive though is called The Butte of the Cross, which is actually two separate buttes quite a distance apart, but appear to be joined as one. Then it was “Beer time”, the best way to pass the time floating down the river.

We stopped for a quick lunch and Jim and Dana took over the ducky while Bob and I enjoyed the spaciousness of the raft. Soon the ducky pulled into Millard Canyon, where a 4-wheel drive road comes almost to the river and stops at a campsite above the shore. We decided to stop here for the night, setting up our tents under The Butte of the Cross seen in the distance. We were able to take a dip in the river to clean off the sand and sunscreen, so refreshing. Jim and Dana took a hike up Millard Canyon while we stayed on the rocks, reading and enjoying the tranquil setting of the river at our feet. After dinner we made a fire in the fire pan on the rocks, watching the flames shooting high into the night sky. The late afternoon skies and the sunsets were nearly as spectacular as the stars, so brilliant after dark and the full moon rising across the river shining a path of light over the water. We lay in our tent watching the full moon creeping higher into the night sky, taking  photos through the tent door, life couldn’t get much better. Click on thumbnail to view images

Day 3 – Millard Canyon to Deadhorse Canyon

We woke to the sun appearing in the east peeking over the distant mesa tops across the river. What a great way to start the day. After breakfast, all  packed up, we continued our journey down the river going deeper into Canyonlands National Park. Bob and I are in the ducky while Dana and Jim settled into the raft. We pass tower cliffs and Bonita Bend, where we were planning on camping last night but instead found a better spot at Millard Canyon. Floating down the river we can look around and take in all the wonderful sites of the colorful canyon walls, the many granaries and cliff dwellings on the mesas. Time is not important until once again it is “ Beer time”! In the distance we saw Turks Head, paddling closer the river once again winds 180 degrees around Turks Head, and we were looking for a place to come ashore to explore the cliff dwellings here.

The river is flowing so high that it is hard to find places to land, so we stopped for just a quick pee break, and continued to our next campsite. Arriving at Deadhorse Canyon, the campsite was fully exposed to the heat of the sun, no trees, so we went further up the canyon and stopped where the water ended. We found a huge cottonwood tree where we ate lunch and more beer. We explored the area and found petroglyphs on the cliff walls, and took a walk to a view overlooking the mighty Green River. After dinner while enjoying  the warmth of the fire, we watched the visual acrobatics of the bats coming so close as if they were playing with us. Click on thumbnail to view images

Day 4 – Deadhorse Canyon to Spanish Bottom

We had to walk the raft out through the shallow water before climbing on board and paddling out into the middle of the current. Bob and I were in the raft today as we rowed toward Water Canyon and Shot Canyon, where we plan to camp tonight. This is our fourth day on the river and we have only seen a few groups along the way: a couple in kayaks, Brad and Kierra, who actually started the same time we did; a family in a canoe with a 4-year old daughter; and a couple in a raft with a sunshade covering the entire raft. We have been fortunate to be alone at all our campsites. The river is running fast and high so we have been lucky to find campsites until we came to the Shot Canyon. Dana and Jim paddled the ducky up the narrow canyon and we waited in the raft while they looked for a good site to spend the night. The sun was beating down on us and we were hoping to find some shade for the rest of the day, but when they returned the news was not so good and the decision was to continue down the river to Spanish Bottom.

The wind was getting stronger and Bob had to row hard to keep in the center of the river in the current. Once in awhile he would take a rest and we would end up back in the tamarisk trees. We were coming to the Confluence with the  Colorado River and we weren’t sure what to expect. Jim and Dana paddled ahead to sign up for our campsite at Spanish Bottom. When we reached the Confluence it was a huge expanse of water, and as  we turned right into the Colorado the wind picked up and Bob had to row even harder to keep in the current and away from the shore. We caught up to Jim and Dana, and followed them to our campsite. The wind kept pushing the raft to the edge and Bob had to fight with the tamarisk trees to get back out to the middle again.

Finally we landed as Jim guided us into shore, however, it  was a steep climb up a narrow log with steps carved into it to get to the campsite, so we decided to look for another place. Luckily we met some guys camped further down river and they said we could camp near them. It was worth the move to this site with a beautiful view looking back up the Colorado River with the magnificent buttes in the distance. Most important, was that we found a great  place for the potty behind a rock, best of the trip. We are staying here two nights, which means the paddling is over, and the relaxing, blissful time on the river has come come to an end. Click on thumbnail to view images

Day 5 – Spanish Bottom, Colorado River

It was great to sleep in this morning and not have to pack up all our gear because we are going to hike up to the Dollhouse in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. The Maze is the least accessible district of Canyonlands. It’s big, wild, remote and untamed, roads require high clearance vehicles only, there are no amenities, no food, no water, and no gasoline. The trail from Spanish Bottom is only one mile, with an 800 ft elevation gain to the top, but well worth the scenery when you reach the Dollhouse.

The famous Dollhouse formation is really a sight to behold. It is large outcroppings of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that has been weathered into a fantastic array of towers and spires that challenge the imagination! We hiked the loop trail to the Surprise Valley Overlook and the Granary. At the Overlook we could see the mighty Colorado River far below and miles across to the Needles District and even the La Sal Mountains in the distance. The granary was an old Anasazi ruin used for storing  their crops in the winter, made of mud and stone. Jim and Dana went off to explore on their own and we returned back down the steep trail to our camp.

After a couple of hours Jim and Dana finally made their way back to camp with fantastic news that they got engaged in the Dollhouse overlooking the Colorado River. What great news!! We celebrated with more tequila and beer! Congratulations Jim and Dana!! Click on thumbnail to view images

Day 6 – Spanish Bottom to Potash

Today we had to pack everything up for our trip up the Colorado River in a jet boat. First was the arduous task of taking the 14’ raft out of the water, deflating it and folding it into a small bundle. Then the ducky, easy to deflate but harder to fold up. Luckily there were some river guides who had arrived with a group and they took it upon themselves to show us how it is done. Voila!!! Having completed the packing of everything now we had to wait for the jet boat.

While we were sitting around on the beach we talked to three young men who had been out for 10 days. One of them, the youngest at 18, had hiked the PCT last year and is from Sequim, WA. We had a long conversation with him. When the jet boat arrived we loaded everything on the boat: 2 canoes, the raft and ducky, the 2 potty canisters, all our packs, and the 7 of us climbed aboard. By the time we had picked up everyone, there were 14 adults, 3 mountain bikes, 2 more canoes and gear, fully loaded we set off up the Colorado. It’s amazing to think that we took 5 days to raft 50 miles down the Green and in 2-3 hours we will jet boat 62 miles up the Colorado to the take out at Potash. We enjoyed the ride as our captain pointed out several points of interest along the river. We saw The Slide, formed by rock landslides which constricted the river, saw a great view of Dead Horse Point, from the river looks totally different, and Pyramid Butte. The storm clouds were approaching above the sandstone cliffs and the colors in the rocks glowed against the dark sky. We arrived at Potash about 5pm and watched as they brought the jet boat out of the water onto a trailer so we didn’t have to unload the boat yet. The rest of us climbed in the old school bus and were transported back to Moab. Here at Tag-A-Long Expeditions we unloaded the jet boat, packed up the jeep and headed back to the RV. After the 4 of us had showered and washed all the 6 days of dirt and sand off we climbed back into the jeep and drove to Durango. It’s about a 3 hour drive, we got to our rental condo about 11pm and finally went to bed. Click on thumbnail to view images

A big thank you goes out to Jim Karlovec who orchestrated the entire trip.  Couldn’t have done it without you Jim and to be able to enjoy the companionship with you and Dana was very special. To have been there for your engagement was one of the highlights of the trip!