June 4-8, 2018
This year, none of our usual group of “river rats” obtained any river permits, but somehow Hannah managed to pick up a canceled San Juan permit and a canceled Middle Fork of the Salmon permit. And they were back-to-back.
Here is a slideshow with some of our best photos from the trip:
Jamie and I floated the San Juan with the Lloyds back in 2010, but the rest of my family had never been. This is a great river for young children, so my daughter Marcy and her family decided to come. In fact, the primary focus of this trip was to make it enjoyable for the grandchildren.
A five-day trip is a long time to spend on the river if the children aren’t having a good time. We lucked out and had great weather (highs in the upper 90s), without any rain storms and almost no wind. And the children absolutely loved it. They were a little nervous at first, but by the end of the trip all three of them were in the water much of the day.
The Kiddie Reel:
We drove down to Bluff on Sunday night and stayed in a condo. On Monday morning, we drove to the put-in and unloaded the trailers (river mile 26.9). Barry, Kevin, and I then drove shuttle while the others rigged the boats. The shuttle took us about 4 hours round trip, and everyone was ready to launch as soon as we got back.
Last time, the river was flowing at about 1500 cfs. The only notable rapid for our skill level was Government Rapid, and it was pretty easy for us. This year, the water was much lower, averaging about 700-800 cfs.
I was pretty surprised when we came to our first rapid, Gypsum Creek, just a short way from the put-in. The rapid was narrow, rocky, and had a much larger vertical drop than I expected. The drop was so abrupt, it was difficult to scout the rapid from the boats. But we all made it through okay and had our first rapid behind us.
Since we didn’t have the usual afternoon upstream wind, we made good time as we floated down river.
I planned on camping at Mendenhall camp, but was reminded that we couldn’t camp on river left since we didn’t have a permit for the Navajo Indian Reservation. So, we continued on downstream to Tabernacle camp at river mile 33.0. This wasn’t the best camp, but it had a muddy beach for the kids to play on, so it worked out just fine.
On day two we floated through the Goosenecks section and camped at Upper Honaker (river mile 44.5). We set up camp, and some started up the famous Honaker Trail. It was getting late, so they didn’t make it to the top this year. When you look at the cliff above camp, it is hard to believe there is a trail up there.
Twin Canyon Rapid was formed in 2014. We stopped to scout it since it was new and rated as a Class III. It reminded me of a miniature Black Creek Rapid on the Main Salmon – there was a narrow tongue on river left leading into a small hole. We all ran it fine and had a good time.
We originally wanted to camp at Johns Canyon to play in the pour off pool, but another group also wanted it. We decided to stop at False Johns camp (river mile 56.7), which turned out to be our favorite camp of the trip. There was a large rock in the river with a sand bar downstream of it. This allowed us all to climb onto the rock for group photos.
As we floated by Johns Canyon camp we were glad we didn’t stop there since it looked really challenging to scale the cliff to reach the pool. I suspect it wouldn’t have been a good camp for young children.
Government Rapid is much more difficult in lower water. It is extremely rocky. It is also shallow, making it difficult to take good strokes with the oars. Kim helped the grandchildren walk around while we ran the boats through one at a time. All of the rafts hit the rock on river right, but none of us got stuck. So, I consider that a successful run through Government Rapid.
Our final camp was at Slickhorn D. We were anxious to get there early and hike up Slickhorn Canyon, but we were disappointed to find the canyon mostly dry. We were hoping for a nice swim in the pool, but it looked pretty nasty.
Our last day was the toughest of the trip. We had the most miles to cover – 18 miles – and the slowest section of the river covered with sand bars. We figure we added a few miles by zigzagging back and forth across the river dodging sand bars. We also had to get out and push numerous times. Luckily, just removing our body weight from the boats was generally enough to allow the boat to float over the sand bar.
After a long day on the river, we packed up at Clay Hills Crossing (river mile 83.4) and started the 7-hour drive home. It was a long day, getting home at about 2:00 AM, but it was well worth it. We had just enough time to wash and dry the boats and repack for our Middle Fork trip.
The San Juan River has fairly swift current and numerous small rapids. But you mostly go for the spectacular desert scenery and wonderful playground for young children. I think everyone had a fantastic time.