July 12-17, 2017
The upper Green River Basin had a huge snow-pack this year. Some reports indicate about 250% of normal. That means two things for Desolation Canyon; high water, and lots of mosquitoes!
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to enjoy the high water. One week before we launched, the Flaming Gorge Operations Group began reducing the outflow from Flaming Gorge Dam. They had been releasing 8600 cfs all spring, but started reducing the flow on July 5. They dropped it about 1000 cfs per day, until they reached their final summer flow of 2400 cfs on July 11th – one day before our launch. It takes about two days for the change in flow to reach the put-in at Sand Wash, so that meant we basically had a fairly low water trip ahead of us. We estimated the flow at Sand Wash to be around 3600 cfs during our trip. That actually isn’t all that low – we have experienced much lower. But it isn’t high either.
Fortunately, the mosquitos pretty much died out during that week of dropping water level. Spring reports indicated a very thick mosquito population, so we went prepared. We pre-treated out clothing and bought new bottles of DEET and restocked our Thermacell supplies. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the put-in with hardly a mosquito to be found.
We arrived at the put-in at about 11:00 AM and began rigging our boats. We had four rafts and one inflatable kayak. We took a break for lunch, finished rigging, and had our check-in with the ranger for a launch at about 2:00 PM. Even though we have been through this routine many times, it usually takes about 3 hours to rig the boats.
Luckily, we also had very light winds. Thus, we were able to make good progress and made it about 15 miles downstream before camping at Lower Gold Hole. This camp wasn’t great, but it was better than any of the other camps we have stayed at farther upstream. We had some mosquitoes during the evening, but it was pretty tolerable.
There had been a lot of bear sightings this year as well, so we took extra precautions at each camp to keep our food and garbage away from our tents. Barry would wipe down the kitchen each evening with ammonia and leave out a small dish full to hopefully keep the bears away. I think some in our group spotted four bears during our six days on the river.
Malayna is a former river guide, so she showed us several interesting side stops along the way. Our first excursion was up Firewater Canyon to a secluded shelter where someone used to make moonshine.
After the hike, we stopped just downstream at Cedar Ridge Camp #1. This was a pretty nice camp. But since it was my families turn to cook dinner, as usual, a storm moved in. It rained hard enough that we set up my rain fly. The fly was just large enough to cover the 11 of us plus our cook stove. I was sure glad I bought that new rain fly last year. It has earned its keep this year on various outings.
On day three we stopped to visit the incredible Flat Canyon Petroglyphs.
We also made our usual stop at Rock Creek for a dip in the cold, clear water of the side stream.
I submerged my new GoPro Hero 5 to see how well it would record under water, only to learn that I had a faulty lens seal, so I got water in the lens. I dried out the camera as best I could, but the water ruined my footage of the biggest rapid on the trip – Joe Hutch Canyon. (I now have a new replacement camera from GoPro).
Our next camp was at Three Canyon, which is an excellent beach camp with plenty of space for tents and games. This is where the gale force winds hit us last time I was in Desolation Canyon.
We stopped near the mouth of Chandler Canyon to look for the inscription of Denis Julien, an American fur trapper back in the late 1830s. We never did find the inscription, but after getting home I found this description on Wikipedia; “There is also an undated “DJ” inscription at the mouth of Chandler Creek in Desolation Canyon on the Upper Green River. It is located on a large boulder to the left of the road as the road comes out on to the bottom of the canyon.”
On day four we hit Joe Hutch Canyon Rapid. It doesn’t have nearly the punch that it did when first formed, but it still offers a pretty good ride with a decent sized hole right in the center of the run. Jamie rowed our boat safely to the right side, while Kevin and Jason, in the larger boat, hit the hole straight on and got a great ride.
We stopped after Joe Hutch Canyon to take photos and take a break. Jason had gotten sick earlier in the morning. I suspect he was dehydrated. Barry gave him some anti-nausea medicine, and I let him take a 20-minute nap while everyone else went down to check out the old McPherson Ranch.
Our next camp was Wire Fence #1. This was another great camp, and once again we got hit with a short storm. This one had some strong winds for a while, but luckily died down before – you guessed it – it was our families turn to cook dinner. This camp also had a few great hammock trees.
Wire Fence is a very picturesque rapid, but the waves weren’t all that large at this flow. But Three Fords had some great waves which got everyone wet.
In the past, Jamie usually rode in one of the inflatable kayaks, but she has been wanting to gain more experience rowing the raft. She did a great job in Joe Hutch Canyon, and would have had a perfect run through Coal Creek Rapid if she didn’t get some bad advice from me. She ended up skimming the edge of one submerged rock, but otherwise had a clean run.
Our final camp was at School Section Canyon. We were pretty nervous staying here because there was a bear encounter at this camp just a few weeks earlier.
Supposedly the aggressive bear had been shot by the rangers, and we couldn’t find any fresh bear scat around camp. We did find a lot of old bear scat, full of berries from all of the berry bushes around camp. We wanted to stay here because of the interesting hike up the narrow canyon.
After running Rattlesnake Rapid and Nefertiti Rapid, we stopped to visit the petroglyphs near the mouth of the Price River.
I decided to take a turn in the inflatable kayak with Jamie. It has been years since I paddled a kayak of any kind, but it was really fun. We even tried a little surfing in one of the smaller rapids.
Sand Knolls has one of the best waves on the river, so we were sure to hit that head on. After running that rapid, we gave the inflatable kayak back to Hannah and finished out the trip in our raft.
We were surprised to find the take-out boat ramp completely deserted. Usually there is quite a crowd and it is a challenge to keep track of all the gear and adequately clean and dry the boats. But we were also surprised to find that my car and Wade’s truck were not at the take-out. One of the shuttle drivers was sitting in the shade of the cottonwood tree, and he informed us that only the lead vehicle (Barry’s SUV) would be at the main parking. The other vehicles were up the road at the Swasey parking area.
We got the boats cleaned and rolled up, the trailer loaded, and enjoyed lunch in about two hours. I think the temperature was about 102°, so were glad to get the car air conditioner going full blast. We stopped at the Balanced Rock Eatery in Helper for dinner. They have a good selection of sandwiches to choose from. It was much better than the fast food joints we normally stop at.
All in all, it was a pretty good trip. The rapids weren’t as fun as at high water, but we had pretty decent weather, not too many bugs, explored some new-to-me points of interest, and had great camps, great food, and great company.
Here are some more of my favorite photos from the trip (thanks to Hannah and Jamie for sharing their photos with me):