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Green River, Utah


Green River, Utah

My son Ian (26) and I (54) just spent four days paddling down the lowest 50 miles of the Green River, a classic desert flatwater experience. Might even tempt me to delve into the desert again, though I truly do love the eight feet of rain we get here on the Oregon coast (where the landscape really is butt-ugly, has terrible mudslides *right on the roadway,* and all the natives smell bad!). Yeah, Kansas, Bradford. Anyway …

March is normally a time of mixed weather in this portion of Utah, with others reporting some rain, a little snow, and sometimes annoying headwinds along the Green, up into April. We saw only a couple afternoons of 10 knot headwinds, and basked in fine 70 F days and 40 F nights, with a little overcast one day. No naked base jumpers, though we heard rumors …

Because we were wedded to a hasty trip, I rented a green 15-foot Coleman canoe, paddles, the requisite human waste depository, and spare life jacket from Tagalong Expeditions, an outfitter in Moab, Utah. Along with a 40-mile jet boat extraction from the Confluence with the Colorado River, this set us back about half a kilobuck (and well worth it). Next time, I’d bring plastic sea kayaks or someone else’s FG canoe! Other paddlers on the River who leapfrogged us were in hardcore WW Daggers and classic 17-foot Grummans. Did not seem to matter — we all made about the same time, and were all smilin’!

The Coleman canoe was the perfect craft for this venture — contrasting color, impervious to sand scrapes, absorbant of all verbal and geological abuse, and sturdy, stable, and dependable. Aesthetic? Well, no. But, it did *not* smell.

Our section of the Green is loosely labeled Stillwater Canyon, and is a mixed bag of open bottom land and steep-walled sandstone canyon. No rapids, not even any noticeable riffles at the midwater stage we saw, though when the water is low, there are supposedly a couple spots where you have to line up on the best slot. Even so, the current moves right along, maybe 4 knots in the swift parts, and down to 1 knot in the lazy sections. We paddled steadily, and managed our 15 mile days in perhaps three hours of work, interspersed with laziness and sidetrips.

The canyon scenery is impressive enough, but the sidecanyons are the biggest treat. Ones with water are miniature studies in vegetative adaptation to hot and cold, wet and dry, with conifers adjacent to barrel cacti, and sometimes a fully-leafed-out cottonwood for seasoning. We also explored one Anasazi ruin on foot at Fort Bottom, and ogled a dozen others from the riverbank. In between there were early-50’s uranium mine adits to admire, a couple old (turn of the century?) line cabins, and the odd brush corral, all relics of the speckled past for this region. Between the cowpokes and the miners and the modern rafters, this place has seen it all! Loosely flanking the east shore of the river is the White Rim Trail, a mainly-unobtrusive, sometimes close, but usually distant 4WD route frequented by a couple dozen rigs a day. I was never annoyed by it, and never even noticed vehicles, especially after we dropped below its level. My son grumbled about it. It’s a generation thing, I guess.

In March, campsites abound, though the tamarisk is a pain, and we apparently usurped another party’s “chosen” sites two nights running. The third night, their 12-year-old enforcer was waiting at their last site, plaintively begging us not to “take” their spot. We just laughed, and moved down the bank a hundred yards. The next morning, his Mom and aunt were plying us with dollar bills for the remnants of our TP, as they had forgotten to bring any! We were gallant, of course.

We say several dozen ducks, mostly small guys I could not identify, but a couple pairs of mallards, a merganzer (swear to god!), a large handful of Canada geese (in the desert?), kingfishers, a golden eagle or two, and a bunch of warbler-type birds I don’t recognize. Too early for swallows, though nests were common. One of the Canada geese barely escaped becoming dinner for a large cat (could have been a mountain lion, though might have been a really large bobcat — the encounter was a long ways away and at dusk). Lots of evidence of beaver, sucker-type fish jumping in the shallows, and NO BUGS! And, *no motors.*

Next time, I’d allot twice the time, for side canyon exploration and more ruin ogling.

Equipment notes: we paddled in farmer johns because the water was cold, and sweltered a little. A month or so later, the water should be warm enough you would not need the neoprene. Because the water is so mellow, I doubt anybody but a true klutz could fall in! Take hand lotion, fruit juice, bagels, hard candy to suck on, sunscreen up the wazoo (on it, too), several T-shirts, and enough clothing to wait out snow showers. I got a little cold in my “summer” sleeping bag, and my son did fine in a heavier bag.

Nice place, nice time of year! Now back to that work thing!

Dave Kruger
Astoria, OR

Copyright 1999 by Dave Kruger.
May not be reproduced or redistributed without author’s permission.
Originally posted on Paddlewise mailing list on 3/27/1999. Republished with permission.