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The Leader

The Life of the Mighty Green pt. 1

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

  © Peggy Savanick

I stand at Green River Pass above treeline near the Continental Divide. It’s a windy, cold August day in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, and the afternoon storm buildup is beginning to show itself. I’m surrounded by granite cliffs, 13,000-ft. peaks, deep canyons, and at 10,400 feet of elevation I can see the world. Below me is a small, nondescript creek flowing from a nondescript lake. It looks like any other small creek running from any other small lake in the Winds, but blood rushes through my veins as I stare at the birthplace of the mighty Green River.

I’ve spent the majority of my juvenile and adult life paddling the canyons, exploring the crags, horsepacking and mountain biking the plateaus, and living and playing on or around the Green River. This is a river with a history of mountain men, outlaws, and adventurous river running. It is a river like no other.

Over 40,000 square miles of mountains, deserts and high plateaus drain into the Green. From its humble beginnings in the Wind River Range, the sometimes unrelenting and ferocious, sometimes gentle and peaceful river makes its way through canyons with names like Red, Lodore, Swallow and Desolation before meeting up with the Colorado River. After its confluence the river flows through canyons such as Cataract Canyon and the Grand Canyon. From one ecosystem to the next it flows over 1,300 miles from the land of the wolf, grizzly and elk through the land of the antelope and cougar before ending up in the land of the rattlesnake and roadrunner, pushing its way towards the Gulf of California.

The Green has gone by many names. In 1776, when it was “discovered” by Fathers Dominguez and Escalante while mapping the area for Spain, they called it the San Buenaventura. The Ute Indians in Utah called it the Bitterroot, and in Wyoming the Shoshoni called it the Seedskadee, or Prairie Hen River.

In times past the river wasn’t for playing but for survival. Back in 1825 when the fur trade was in full swing, General William Ashley of the Ashley-Henry Fur Company had an idea. Instead of having the trappers spend the summer trapping, and the fall taking their furs to St. Louis, why not have a rendezvous where all trappers would gather, sell their furs and never leave the intermountain West? He could then take the furs to St. Louis in pack trains and wagons to sell. In April of 1825 he split his party into four groups, three of which he told to keep trapping and in July follow the river until the first major drainage came in from the West. He would meet them there with money for furs and whiskey, and a great time would be had by all.

Ashley then proceeded to work with the fourth group of his men to build “bull” boats — boats that were constructed of willow branches and then wrapped with buffalo hides. These boats were unwieldy, bulky and unresponsive, and after awhile the buffalo hide would soak up with water and need to be replaced. So it was in 1825 when Ashley and a few of his men launched their boats in the high deserts of Wyoming on the first known expedition on the Green. After passing and mapping the first tributary from the West, they continued on. Why? To explore the canyons, to look for beaver, and to cop a phrase from Star Trek, “to go where no man has gone before.”

Part 1 | Part 2




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