Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Family Adventure in Desolation and Gray Canyons

I have heard about Desolation and Gray Canyons for years now, but have never had the chance to do the trip. JW Powell named these canyons in 1869 on his epic journey. They are on the Green River in Utah after the confluence of the Yampa and White. In certain circles this trip is known for the brutal shuttle, mosquitos, and being incredibly remote. One of our rigs popped a tire on the way in, and the mosquitos are (string of four letter words). One of my sons had 35 bites on his face after our tent zipper failed the first night. Duct tape, and a new door through the window fixed that for the rest of the trip.

The first two days of the 85 mile odyssey had wild horses on the ridges. I have never been floating on a river where wild horses are hanging out. I know this sounds corny, but you can't believe how cool it is is to be sharing the river with these animals. Sometimes we would see them, and sometimes we would hear them neighing to each other. River left for 9/10 of the trip is the Uintah Indian reservation, and river right is the BLM wilderness. It is very Western if you catch my drift. Big Horn sheep, wild horses, lizards, and 5000 foot sandstone walls.

There is a section of Desolation Canyon that rises up over 5300 feet. This is higher than the Grand Canyon. The scale is overwhelming. You really get a sense that you are in a very deep hole in a very remote area. We saw two airplanes, and only river people for 6 days. I write this kind of apprenhensively, since this is the first real multi-day I took my family on, and I have been waiting my whole life to take my family on a multi-day river trip. The rapids are relatively mild (class 2-3) as the story goes with the catch that this year there is a new rapid created by a flash flood last year. People that have been floating it this year rate it a 4 at high water. We were on the tail end of really high water. Our flows were around 12,000 cfs. Want to hear a river story? The new rapid is named Joe Hutch. It was Joe Hutch before the flash flood, and is Joe Hutch after the flash flood. It is now big and meaty. The family walked it, as wells as all the other Moms and kids. I thought I would have a safe run out the meat of the ugly laterals. Guess what? I popped both oars out of the oar locks, and went sliding into the meat dancing in the cockpit. The first wave bounced me hard, and my dory (I like calling our Hog a dory instead of a drift boat in these instances) got sideways in the trough before the second wave. Time stands still in these moments. I paused while the boat started to roll up the second wave sideways. The wave was over 8 feet on the face, because the whole boat stalled as it moved up and over. When it was nearing the crest, I leaped on the right gunwale, and hung in space looking back over my shoulder as we crested, and came down the other side. My buddy Woody was watching from shore after having a clean run, and thought I would flip over the gunwale and into river as she came down the backside. I soon bounced against a big rock, and into an eddy, where a good friend Arnie brought me his spare, and with my spare I row to the other shore and the rest of our group. Take a deep breath, and think of the irony of the scene. Everyone on shore is looking at me with wide eyed disbelief. My wife and boys are rattling off questions like they have a tommy gun for a jaw. Our Hog Island dory had been the center of the drama at the new big rapid. I am incredibly lucky that she didn't flip, and still get a jolt of energy remembering the epic high side. Eug and the Doctor quickly found my wayward oars, and down river we went. We ran into river groups that afternoon, and the next day that had flipped rafts there the day before. The next morning we had two good rapids. One of them, "Wire Fence", was known as the big one before the flash flood recreated "Joe Hutch". I pushed our dory loaded with my family into standing waves breaking over the bow to the thrilling shrieks of my wife and boys. They turned around afterwards genuinely excited saying they like rapids! As you can imagine the jury was out the for about 12 hours while we slept on the whole "Daddy River Experience" after Joe Hutch. Our dory really bucks in the haystacks. The bow pitches up, and comes crashing down to great effect. Luckily us humans are hard wired to enjoy roller coaster like motion, and that is what our dory mimics in big standing waves.

One of the coolest things about our trip were the petroglyphs. I have seen a good number of these in my time, but never in long billboard like panels. Check out the sunflower shape and the happy people with outstetched arms. Truly humbling and inspiring.

After our trip I took our boat to Flagstaff to Brady Black and Moenkopi River Works. He got her from us for Diamond down trips on the Lower Colorado, and Grand trips once he works out a deck. Brady's brain flies, so the options now are numerous. I can't wait to see what he comes up with.

While in Falgstaff I had the chance to visit one our customers named Matt Massey I refer him to as John Wesley. He is the first to run one of our dories down the Grand. He went this Spring after having spent the winter decking her out. Here's his boat after his trip in his shop in Flag. He had an epic trip with drama. He knocked a hole in her in Hance Rapid, and was able to melt platic back into our hull down in the Grand Canyon using a blow torch. That makes me very, very happy deep inside. Off he went with a freshly patched Hog into Crystal and Lava. All's well that ends well!