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Fusion Summer: Part II – Utah

All photos by Adam Goshorn unless otherwise noted.
After our four-day, self-supported run of Hells Canyon in Idaho, the second phase of our trip was going to be another self-support run, but this time we would be joined by my brother for a river on the easier end of the spectrum.  My brother had been learning to kayak over the past few summers and was very interested in doing his first self-supported river.  Wanting him to have a low-stress run for his first overnighter, early in the spring we had applied for permits for the Desolation Canyon section of the Green River in northern Utah and the Sand Island to Clay Hills section of the San Juan River in southern Utah.  We were hoping to win at least one of the two permits, but we ended up with neither.  However, a week before our departure for Idaho, my brother called me to say a cancelation opened up a launch on the San Juan and he had obtained the permit for us!  The launch date was little later than we had originally planned, but was workable.  The new launch date would result in Matt and I having almost a week between when John was scheduled to fly home from Salt Lake City and when we would meet my brother to run the San Juan.
From the take-out of Hells Canyon, Matt, John, and I drove due south, crossing into Utah and checking into a hotel in Salt Lake City. Making sure John was able to catch his flight home to Tennessee (the next morning) was the top of our agenda, but showers and a good night’s sleep was certainly a nice bonus. The next morning John took a shuttle to the airport while Matt and I took advantage of the hotel and slept in. After all, we had almost a week before our rendezvous to run the San Juan. We had discussed using this unanticipated extra time between self-support trips to swing through Colorado and do some creeking. However, the dismal snowpack left us with almost no options and we didn’t want to spend a bunch of gas money to paddle the one or two things that still had water.

Instead, we decided to try to take a more direct route towards the San Juan and see what we could find to amuse ourselves along to way. As we headed on our southern trajectory we ended we spotting whitewater right by the highway. From high above on the road we could see some boulder gardens and what looked like a runnable flow. Heading into the next town we sat outside a hotel to score some free internet and see what river we had seen from the road. Apparently there are multiple sections of Price River and the section that caught our eye was the middle section of Price River Canyon. The online description was rather vague, but it did give suggested access points for the best 8-mile section. It was late in the afternoon so we headed back up into Price River Canyon to camp at a BLM campground, planning to check out the run the following day. That night white ash settled on our tents and the surrounding area from the Price Canyon Fire located not far away.

Below: Smoke from the Price Canyon Fire.

The next morning we paddled the recommended 8-mile section and what we found was a fun run consisting of mostly class III-IV rapids with a few very continuous sections that might approach class IV+. It was actually quite fun, but unfortunately the river is sandwiched between the highway and the railroad. Almost every rock in the riverbed was a result of the construction of these two projects on either side, resulting in extremely sharp rock that simply shreds boats. Had the rocks been smooth I think we would have camped there for days and done laps on this fun little run. However, after a single run our boats looked terrible and neither of us was willing to abuse them again with a second lap.

While hitchhiking shuttle for Price River Canyon a nice family pulled over and rolled down their window. They had only stopped because they thought I was having car trouble (I was, after all, parked on the shoulder of a four-lane highway), but upon explaining that we were kayaking they agreed to give me a ride. They instructed their two children in the back seat to slide over and I climbed in next to them, immediately filling their car with the stench of unwashed paddling gear. I could smell myself, so I’m sure they were gagging, but they didn’t mention it as we rode up to the put-in. Along the way they told me about a great petroglyph site call Nine Mile Canyon, not far away. Matt and I decided to spend the following day checking it out.

Below: Matt hiking in Nine Mile Canyon

Below: Petroglyphs in NineMileCanyon
As we continued south towards our eventual goal of meeting my brother to paddle the San Juan River, we spent a few days around Moab, Utah checking out Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. The intense summer heat made it unbearable to do a lot of hiking, but neither of us had ever visited either park before and we made the best of it, checking out all the spots that had short hikes from the road.

Below: Canyonlands National Park

Below: ArchesNational Park
Below: Matt in Arches NP
Our last day in Moab we spent the afternoon at a laundry mat, giving our clothes a much needed freshening. The next morning we continued further south, eventually finding our way to Bluff, Utah and camping at the BLM campground at the put-in for the San Juan. We still had another day before my brother’s arrival, so we spent the next day making sure we could find the take-out and seeing the limited sites around Bluff. We also found great food at the Twin Rocks Café and I would highly recommend it to anyone in the area. We liked it so much we found ourselves eating there several times before and after our run of the San Juan.

Below: The Twin Rocks Café and Trading Post, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko

Below: Matt checking out the view along the shuttle route, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko
My brother flew from Knoxville Tennessee to Albuquerque New Mexico, rented a car, and then drove to Bluff to meet us. Doing so prevented us from having to pick him up at the airport and having the rental care meant we could drive our own shuttle and not pay for shuttle service. We spent the next day setting shuttle and also stopped to visit Natural Bridges National Monument (which was on the shuttle route on the way back to Bluff) and then ate another great dinner at the Twin Rocks Cafe. After dinner we checked out a large petroglyph panel near the BLM campground at the put-in and spent another night camping there as well.

Below: Vitaly looking back down at the crazy shuttle road we had just driven.

Below: NaturalBridgesNational Monument, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko
Yup, those little dots are people under one of the massive natural bridges.

Finally, after a week of killing time and slowly making our way to Bluff, the day of our scheduled launch arrived.  Matt and I were happy the waiting game was over and my brother was extra excited to launch on his first overnighter.  After our orientation with the river ranger, we launched mid morning and knocked out around 31 miles on the first day.  Even with the high mileage we put in, we still stopped for several long breaks to check out the Butler Wash Petroglyphs and the River House, an awesome cliff dwelling a couple hundred yards off the river.

Below: Petroglyphs at ButlerWash, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko
Below: Vitaly enjoying borrowing my Large Fusion.
Below: The River House, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko
Below: Matt and I floating past the town of Mexican Hat’s namesake rock, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko
Our second day on the San Juan we were finally entering the deeper sections of its canyons and the scenery was superb.  We spotted multiple groups of Bighorn Sheep throughout the second day and also stopped to check out an old mining camp in the famous goosenecks section.  The bends in the river are so dramatic in the goosenecks that a bend in the river a mile long results in being only a hundred yards from where you started, if it is possible to cross the peninsula through the cliff.  The mining camp we visited was located on top of just such a bend, providing views off both sides.
Below: A large ram drinking from the SanJanRiver, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko
Below: Matt running Government Rapid, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko
Below: The view from my tent on the morning of Day 3
The total run from SandIsland to ClayHills on the San Juan is approximately 83 miles.  After paddling over 30 miles a day on the first two days, we were left with a shorter section to paddle on the third and final day.  However, this section proved to be more challenging.  About 15 miles from the take-out at Clay Hills Crossing, the river begins to enter the backwaters of Lake Powell.  When it does, the water slows and begins to deposit much of its heavy silt load.  The result is massive sand bars that are often only a few inches under the surface across the whole river.  There are braided channels of deeper water, but following them is quite difficult.  We spent the last day struggling to stay in the deeper channels as much as possible, but time and time again we would be forced to climb out and drag our boats across the sand bars hidden just beneath the surface.  Then we would find another channel, stay in it as long as possible, and repeat the process again 15 minutes later.  We finally made it to the take-out, went back to the put-in to get the rental car, and drove into the night towards another destination that was a last minute addition to the agenda. 
Below: Pushing through the flats in the backwaters of Lake Powell, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko
We had originally planned to paddle the 83 miles down the San Juan in four days and three nights.  However, after having easily completed so many miles on the first day, we decided to knock it out in three days and use the extra day to visit Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.  After taking off the San Juan, we drove all the way to Mesa Verde and found a campsite for the night.  The next day we spent the morning looking at the cliff dwellings and other ruins in MesaVerdeNational Park before driving to Albuquerque to return the rental car.
Below: Mesa Verde National Park
Below: MesaVerdeNational Park
From Albuquerque, the three of us rotated shifts driving and drove straight through to Knoxville in about 22 hours, dropped my brother at his house, and continued back home to Alabama.  It had been three weeks since Matt, John, and I had first hit the road and in that time we had driven through a dozen states, paddled hundreds of miles, visited four National Parks, and seen a huge swath of the country.  Once recovered from the intense drive home, we immediately began to discuss what are next adventure might be, the need for travel continuing to nag us every day we are at home.
Below: Vitaly, Matt, and I, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko

Until next time, you can keep up with all my adventures at:

-Adam Goshorn

Below: A raft passing us at Butler Wash.

Below: One of many groups of Bighorn Sheep we spotted along the river, photo by Vitaly Prikhodko