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The Leader

Down the River with NOLS

By Phil Henderson, NOLS Rocky Mountain River Base Manager

Reprinted from The Leader, Spring 2003, Vol. 18, No. 2


Imagine reading Powell’s accounts of his journey as you embark on a journey of your own down the Green River. Disaster Falls, Hells Half Mile and Triplet Falls are all waiting ahead; you’ll quietly float into this section and feel as if you are the first to journey into the canyon, only to get tossed around like a pinball just as Powell did during his expedition. Luckily we have rubber rafts.

Then it’s on to Gates of the Lodore. Unlike other sections of the Green River, this area is very lush and green, with tall Ponderosa Pines and steep red canyon walls. It also offers some great trout fishing. Eighteen miles into this canyon you come to the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. The Yampa is the last undammed major tributary of the Colorado River system. Here you’ll find cultural artifacts such as petroglyphs and pictographs.

Forty-four wild, scenic and fun-filled miles later, you’ll arrive at Split Mountain take-out in Dinosaur National Monument. Here you’ll view dinosaur bones that were deposited over 150 million years ago.

The next 100 miles between Split Mountain and Desolation Canyon are flat water and wind through North Uintah Basin. Here the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge provides shelter for animals, water for migratory birds, and good nesting conditions for ducks and geese. It then enters the Uintah and Ouray Reservation land set aside for the Ute tribe.

In Desolation Canyon, you’ll really feel ‘out there.’ No roads lead in or out between the put-in at Sand Wash and the take-out in Green River, Utah. This is where you might get to meet an old rancher who lost four fingers after he pulled a heavy cast iron coffee grinder off a wagon and onto his hand. He might tell you stories about Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, or making moonshine up in the canyon. He’ll say he’s heard stories that Butch died in South America; but he’ll also tell you he’s sure he saw him sometime after that.

The thing about the Green River is that, by the time you pull your boats out of the water, you’ll feel part of the river’s history, too.

NOLS Utah River Program Overview:

  • Offers 12-day and 16-day whitewater courses, including a course for students 25 and older
  • Will run a new whitewater kayaking and climbing combo course this summer
  • Travel on the Green River is an integral part of NOLS Rocky Mountain Semesters
  • Whitewater skills covered include oar rafting, paddle rafting, kayaking and canoeing
  • NOLS courses run Red Canyon, Lodore Canyon, Desolation Canyon, Labrynth Canyon and Green tributaries, including the White River and the Yampa River

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