On August 8th, 2015 a couple of RBW staff members, friends, and family launched from Sand Wash, Utah on a 7 day Desolation-Gray river trip. We initially had eleven of us on the trip, but met up with another family from Salida that had bailed on their San Juan trip due to the unfortunate mining waste spill that occurred in Silverton, Colorado earlier that week. Not wanting to expose their family to toxic waste, they picked up a last minute permit that coincided with our trip. Perfect, the more the merrier!
Overcast skies greeted us as we launched with the blessings of Ranger Dave and around 2000 cfs. We barged up and motored about 15 miles of flat water before running out of gas. Doh!
After jumping on the oars we rowed a few more miles and stopped to check out the iron prowed skiff hidden under a sandstone ledge. We all speculated on what had happened to the boat and how it had come to rest in this quiet spot.
A few more miles later we arrived at Rock House Creek. Getting to camp a bit late in the afternoon didn’t allow us much time to explore, but sleeping under the giant cottonwood trees listening to the river hum was a real treat after a long day.
Day two brought clear skies and a slight breeze. We didn’t have a set plan on where we wanted to camp for the night, but we did want to make the hike to a moonshiners cabin located in a tributary of Firewater Canyon. This short, easy hike leads up a small canyon to an overhang that contains the remains of a rock shelter used by an industrious fellow that used to make refreshments for himself and others in the area. Not only can you see relics from the past, but just around the corner is a fresh water spring that trickles out of the cliff perfect for a cool down.
Arriving at Flat Canyon that afternoon, we found ourselves at a sweet camp site with sand flats and a large cottonwood grove to pitch the tents under. We played in the sand, cooked dinner over the fire, and set up a zipline for the kids. We saw some fresh bear scat nearby, but nothing came wandering into camp that night.
On the river again the next morning we all had our sights set on finding a great layover camp. Although the river seemed fairly busy with several large groups leap frogging each other, we took our time and enjoyed the scenery. The Green River formation that makes up Desolation Canyon is super stratified and stair steps thousands of feet above the river providing an incredible backdrop for two thirds of the trip.
Before we left for our trip we had secured a Ute tribal permit for camping and hiking on river left throughout the Reservation. The privilege of having this permit became apparent as we came around the corner and spied Log Cabin Camp #2. This huge sandy beach camp with an elevated kitchen area anchored by an old gnarled cottonwood tree proved to be the perfect place for our first layover day. We spent our time hiking, swimming, building sand castles, and appreciating what we had come across.
After a very relaxing layover we packed up and headed down river a quarter mile to Rock Creek in order to check out the historic ranch started by the Seamount brothers in the early 1900’s. We explored the grounds and various outbuildings noting how impressive the rock work was. It was like stepping back in time as we checked out the old tools, clothes, and other artifacts left behind. A quick dip in clear, cold Rock Creek sent us on our way.
After running a few rapids we eddied out river left and explored the McPherson Ranch and the Ouray Lodge. While the ranch was settled in the late 1890’s, the lodge was constructed in the 1970’s and soon after went belly up. Remains of both provide a stark contrast on settlement patterns in the area. A bonus to stopping here is filling up water jugs from a fresh water spring that flows steadily out of a cliff.
Arriving at Wire Fence Camp #3 late that afternoon we knew right away that this would be another layover spot. The combination of a huge sandy beach, a shady cottonwood grove, towering rock faces, and a rapid made for swimming, created a perfect scenario that we just couldn’t pass up. We spent our time playing horseshoes, hiking, swimming, practicing kayak rolls, and enjoying the company of our tribe.
Busting through the huge wave train of Three Fords Rapid the next morning caused everyone to whoop with excitement. The cool water felt great rushing over the bows of our boats especially since the temperature was already in the 90’s. Our River Sombrero’s also came in handy, sheltering us from the heat and the sun’s rays. We all agreed, these were the best accessories to have on hot desert river trips. Negotiating Coal Creek Rapid led us to our final campsite of the trip, Rattlesnake. This long sandy beach camp was perfect for our group and gave us only 10 miles to the take out at Swazey’s Beach.
Al in all, this was an incredible trip with great company, incredible scenery, and a heightened sense of appreciation for what we all have in our lives.