Canoeing in Canyonlands


After a brief sojourn in Las Vegas, which both exhilarated and depressed me at the same time, we headed north to Utah and a date with a canoe on the Green River.  The Green River flows from the Wind River Range in Wyoming and wends it’s way south to meet the Colorado River above the Grand Canyon.  It’s been home to the Anasazi (think ruins high up in the cliffs), to Butch Cassidy and his gang (think bushrangers) and also the scene of a Burke-and-Wills-esque expedition by Powell, the first European to navigate the Green and Colorado rivers in 1869 (and who was such an atrocious leader that he was deserted by some of his team who could stand him no longer and quit the river to head north into Utah only to be killed by Mormons, Powell however made it).  Although this canoe trip had long been on our hit list, we’d only got around to booking the trip ten days before.  This is something of a novelty here, where trips (and campgrounds) are normally booked months and months in advance.  I realise how lucky we are to be able to travel this way, stringing together mini-trip after mini-trip, any one of which for others would be the focus of their year.  Blessed.


Rivers in the US are proper, wide, fast-flowing rivers, not the intermittent creeks and streams more common at home. In fact, from what I’ve seen so far, at least in the west, almost every town is on a river.  It’s easy to see how the density of towns and population are possible in this country – water supply everywhere.  By the time it hits Canyonlands NP the Green River is flowing at 8000 cubic feet per second (faster than usual since it’s been a wet year in Utah).  That equated to about 3 miles per hour.  As we soon discovered, this had the unexpected but rather pleasant effect of meaning that we didn’t actually need to paddle at all in order to cover our 15 miles per day.  In fact, there were other groups we passed on the river who were doing nothing but sitting in their boats and floating all day whilst they drank beer – could be the ultimate bogan camping trip!

We did paddle (well, a bit) because we also wanted to hike up some of the side canyons.  There were Anasazi houses and granaries to see, petroglyphs to discover, Butch Cassidy’s fort, an unexpected waterfall to cool us off; and amazing views to be had once we’d climbed out of the main canyon – although the river is actually two canyons deep, when we hiked up we were still looking up at more canyon walls.

Anasazi ruins
Anasazi ruins in the cliffs

20150719125652As some will know, I hate being dirty.  Have since I was a child.  (I know, I’m tarnishing my rugged outdoor image here). Since the reason canyons exist is because rocks and dirt are washed out of them, the Green River carries so much silt that it looks like coffee and your hands and feet disappear into it when you dip them in.  And when we swam in it we came out less sweaty but covered in gritty sand.  It was impossible not to get muddy feet (especially when Alan insisted on landing in side creeks that had quicksand-like properties and left us with mud to our calves) and I soon gave up trying.

Camping when canoeing is a bit of a luxury when compared to hiking.  Weight isn’t really an issue so as well as camp chairs we were also carrying an esky.  Bliss to be able to have cold beer in such hot weather.  Campsites were wherever we could find a place – sometimes on sand banks/islands rising from the river, sometimes on rock ledges up above it.  There was much arguing about where to camp – Alan keen to be on the sand banks, which were often muddy, me keen to be up on the rocks and out of the dirt.  Often the river moving so quickly that after a minute or two of discussion the question became moot as we were carried along and had to start looking for the next promising site.

Sandy campsite

The Green River finally meets the Colorado River at a place called Spanish Bottom.  Downstream from here the Colorado becomes a more serious whitewater river trip that although long on my wish list to do, does require booking long in advance, and would also necessitate a group trip, of which we are not fond.  Whilst we’d been driven in to the start of the trip, there’s no road access to Spanish Bottom so we departed in style, collected by a jet boat, our canoes loaded above us, whisked upstream on the Colorado back to Moab.

Canoes loaded up top
The meeting of the Green River with the Colorado