by Michael Lanza, The Big Outside
The momentarily sedate current of the Green River pulls our flotilla of five rafts and two kayaks toward what looks like a geological impossibility: a gigantic cleft at least a thousand feet deep, where the river appears to have chopped a path right through the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah. Sheer, cracked cliffs of burgundy-brown rock frame the gap. Box elder, juniper, and a few cottonwoods grow on broad sand bars backed by tiered walls that seem to reach infinitely upward and backward, eclipsing broad swaths of blue sky.
We notice movement on river left and glance over to see two bighorn sheep dash up a rocky canyon wall so steep that none of us can imagine even walking up it.
These are the Gates of Lodore, portal to a canyon as famous today for its scenery and wilderness character as it was infamous for the catastrophes suffered by its first explorers, who set out in wooden boats a century and a half ago to map the West’s greatest river system.Much has certainly changed since John Wesley Powell’s historic journey through the Canyon of Lodore. But thanks to conservation struggles in the past—decades before the teenagers among us were born—much about the canyons incised deeply into the ancient layers of rock here in Dinosaur National Monument remains the same as Powell saw.
Much has certainly changed since John Wesley Powell’s historic journey through the Canyon of Lodore. But thanks to conservation struggles in the past—decades before the teenagers among us were born—much about the canyons incised deeply into the ancient layers of rock here in Dinosaur National Monument remains the same as Powell saw.
And yet, we live in a time when the lessons of history seem in danger of drowning in muddy political waters where facts are described as “alternative” and truths are reshaped to suit the agendas of the powerful. The story of how these canyons narrowly avoided concrete walls that would have transformed rivers into reservoirs feels like an intensely relevant one to impart to another generation.
Our party of 30—friends and family ranging in age from 12 to their sixties, including seven kids and five guides with Holiday River Expeditions—has launched on one of the West’s classic, multi-day, wilderness river trips: floating the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument, on the Utah-Colorado border. Covering 44 river miles in four days, we’ll run a handful of class III and IV rapids, three of which Powell gave ominous names: Disaster Falls, Triplet Falls, and Hells Half Mile. We’ll also dayhike to see prehistoric pictographs, stand beneath icy waterfalls, and spot more bighorn sheep than any of us has ever seen on one trip.