In John Wesley Powell’s Wake: Flaming Gorge to Lodore Canyon (June 2019)

Day 1: Flaming Gorge Dam to Red Canyon

After gathering at the OARS boat house in Vernal, Utah, we were shuttled to our put-in at the Spillway Boat Ramp below Flaming Gorge Dam. We arrived to find the dam’s bypass tubes going full tilt, causing the Green River to run high, swift, and cold. Such high water would be with us throughout our journey, moving us along briskly but also limiting our campsite options in some stretches due to flooding. On the far upside, this high water drowned a lot of mosquitoes. 😀

The four rafts and two dories that formed our little flotilla were loaded and ready to go when we arrived at the ramp. So we got right on them and shot into Red Canyon on the swift waters. We stopped near Dripping Springs Rapid for lunch and a series of safety talks before continuing on to our first camp at Big Pine. A short day on the river but it felt good to be finally getting on with a trip that we’d all been anticipating for almost a year. Much to Lars chagrin, none of us wanted to stay up late and were abed shortly after dark. This is a pattern that would continue for the whole trip. Of course Lars woke us up for COFFEE before 6AM every day, so what did he expect? 🙄

High water (note submerged steps) below Flaming Gorge Dam
The LovedOne cues the “brave rafter smile”
Russell’s dory – the “Ootsa Lake” – pushes into the current
The fractured cliffs of Red Canyon
In Red Canyon
Camping at Big Pine

Day 2: Red Canyon to Browns Park

We had two big things to accomplish today: run Red Creek Rapid and portage around the ridiculously low bridge at Taylor Flats. The rapid was a quick, but fun, run and we were soon floating through the open lands that form Browns Park. At high water, there is barely two feet of clearance between the water and the bottom of the bridge at Taylor Flats – no room for raft or dory. This bridge was a known obstacle so when we pulled in above it OARS had trailers waiting to help with the portage. It took all of us helping to get four rafts and two dories (all fully loaded) around the bridge. All was going well until we popped one of the rafts on a piece of metal on the raft trailer. Field repairs (which held for the rest of the trip!) were made and, while the glue cured, we visited the near-by Jarvie Ranch Historic Site – the ranger there seemed happy to have some visitors. After the glue dried, we continued on to Little Swallow Camp in Little Canyon.

Through Red Creek Rapid
Coming in to Browns Park
The Taylor Flat Bridge at high water
Dragging a fully loaded raft on to the trailer
Sliding a fully loaded raft back into the water below the bridge
The reconstructed general store at the Jarvie Ranch
Continuing on into Browns Park
Camping at Little Swallow

Day 3: Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge

From Little Swallow, we continued easily down the wide and placid (but high) Green River through the Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge. We were now in Colorado and would remain there until crossing back into Utah near Island Park. After a leisurely day under artistically cloudy skies, we pulled in to the Bureau of Land Management campground at Crook Creek. Apparently 26 now smelly, oddly-dressed people clambering off of rafts was too much for one RV camper in that they felt the need to move their rig to the far side of the campground. Arrrah! River pirates! Give us your soap! Arrrah! After a tiny threat of rain, a great dinner, and a wonderful sunset, we turned in for what was supposed to be a restful night’s sleep.

Morning at Little Swallow Camp
Through Browns Park
Clouds over Browns Park
Continuing through Browns Park
Sunset at Crook Campground

Day 4: Into Lodore Canyon

Around midnight, the air temperature dropped some 20 degrees and the wind started roaring. We could hear the gusts coming toward us before they smacked our tent nearly flat, again and again. Legs and arms had to be deployed to keep the poles from bending or snapping. In the midst of this mayhem, a large branch broke off from the cottonwood tree above us and crashed down next to our tent! So, no, it was not a restful night. The next morning was darn cold and everyone was scrambling to put on what extra clothes they had. And then the sun rose and all was forgiven (ha!). After a little more floating, we reached the mouth of the Canyon of Lodore, which Powell named after a Robert Southey poem (and a real long one at that). After lunch near the ranger station, we entered both the canyon and Dinosaur National Monument. We had fun bouncing through Upper and Lower Disaster Falls, but Powell did not, as this is where he lost a boat and a third of the rations (hence “disaster”). Ghiglieri has called this event the end of “…the 1869 crew’s whitewater innocence…” Our own day ended far less eventfully at a campsite on Pot Creek.

A very cold morning at Crook Campground
Continuing on through the wildlife refuge
Arriving at the Gates of Lodore (arrow)
Through the Gates of Lodore
In the Canyon of Lodore
In the Canyon of Lodore
Through Upper Disaster Falls
Through Lower Disaster Falls
Camp at Pot Creek

Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: