In John Wesley Powell’s Wake: Desolation & Gray Canyons (June 2019)

Day 13: Into Desolation Canyon

We left the cucumber beetles at Hydes Bottom (except for those that had stowed away on the rafts) and motored down to Sand Wash. Once there, we exchanged passengers (six off / six on) and continued on (now rowing) into Desolation Canyon. The east side of the canyon is Ute tribal land. A recent decision by the tribe to close all access to their land cut the campsites available in the canyon in half. As Desolation is a popular rafting destination, this meant increased competition for campsites suitable for our large group. This is something that concerned Lars the whole way through the canyon. Today we were able to find a nice tree-rich campsite across from Peters Point. A short walk from there took us to a clear impression of a fossilized turtle shell in a large rock. It wouldn’t have been a sharper impression if it had been intentionally cast.

Morning at Hydes Bottom
Towards Sand Wash
Russell drives the barge
Passenger exchange at Sand Wash
Into Desolation Canyon
Camping across from Peters Point
Fossil turtle impression
Fossil turtle

Day 14: Desolation Canyon

Today we pushed deeper into the canyon, passing Lighthouse Rock which E. O. Beaman had photographed during the second Powell Expedition in 1871. We began to encounter other rafting parties on the river and found that one of our preferred campsites was already occupied. With rain threatening, we were able to find a suitable campsite just below Steer Ridge Rapid. Getting to camp involved skirting the rapid on river right and then pulling super hard into the eddy in front of the camp. We were hardly ashore when a tentative rain started; it gave up and went away by dinnertime.

In Desolation Canyon
Lighthouse Rock (R)
Stopping for lunch at Cedar Creek Rapid
Searching for a campsite
Our camp below Steer Ridge Rapid

Days 15: Rock Creek Ranch

From our camp at Steer Ridge Rapid, we went a short ways downriver to Rock Creek Canyon where we hiked up-canyon to see a large panel of petroglyphs. After lunch at Rock Creek, we made a dash for another large campsite below Three Canyon Rapid – arriving just 30 minutes ahead of another large party (they took a smaller site above us). Since we were going to layover the next day, it was nice to have a large, sandy site for our camp.

Approaching Rock Creek Ranch
Hiking to see the petroglyphs
The petroglyph panel in Rock Creek Canyon
Bighorn sheep
On the Green below Rock Creek
Lars giving hair styling tips at Chicken Rock Camp

Day 16: Chicken Rock

Our camp was located where the river had pinched-off a meander, leaving a semi-circular ring of cliffs, the high point of which is the improbably balanced Chicken Rock (an actual USGS named point). To me, it looked more like a chicken McNugget. Just saying. Anyway, Lars abhors any activity vacuum, so he organized a hike up the creek – either looping around the meander or up to the Chicken. The hike around the meander was abandoned when it became too painful to keep plowing through the endless swaths of sticky, sharp-pointed cheatgrass – the latest scourge of the West. Getting its tenacious seeds out of our socks and shoes would consume much of the afternoon.

After our defeat by the cheatgrass, some folks headed back to camp while a few of us climbed up to Chicken Rock. Along the way we stumbled on a beautifully preserved Fremont Culture granary hidden under an alcove. After taking in the big views from near the Chicken, we returned to camp for a pleasant afternoon of cheatgrass plucking. 😈 I had been trying to charge some camera batteries with a solar panel only to discover that it had become a hang-out for lizards. For the record, having lizards sunning themselves on a solar panel serious degrades its performance (i.e., the batteries didn’t get charged). 🙄

Chicken Rock (arrow)
Up the creek toward Chicken Rock
Hiking through the evil cheatgrass
Precariously balanced Chicken Rock
Scrambling to the Chicken
A Fremont Culture granary
A Fremont Culture granary
Looking toward the river and camp from the slopes of the Chicken
The view from atop Chicken Rock (arrow points to camp)
Solar lizard

Day 17: Gray Canyon

After a delightfully sunny day on Chicken Rock, it came as a surprise to wake-up in a rainstorm (fortunately, the only one that would hit us at such an inopportune time of the day during this trip). Despite having to pack wet tents and other gear, we got away from camp early and made a non-stop run to a camp at Range Creek in Gray Canyon. Despite repeated attempts over the years, this was the first time Lars had found this site available. Judging from the dry spots where the tents had been, it had only been unoccupied for a short time. And we arrived only minutes ahead of other rafting parties looking for a campsite. Score! After setting-up camp and getting our tents dried-out, we did a short hike to the summit of Three Golden Stairs, a long ridge behind the camp. 🙂 Then the cheatgrass plucking continued. 😦

Rain at Chicken Rock Camp
On down the river
The weather improves
Hiking the Golden Stairs
The high point on the Golden Stairs
The Green River and Range Creek from the Three Golden Stairs
Sunset at Range Creek

Day 18: Green River, Utah

Our morning was enlivened (so to speak) when a Wandering Garter snake decided to have a Woodhouse’s toad for breakfast just outside our tent. Big toad, small snake, so the swallowing took awhile. Then the now slightly lumpy racer slithered off to continue digesting in private. Just like a nature show on PBS. I had cereal for breakfast. Today we’d be going into Green River, Utah for re-supply, a night in a hotel, and dinner at the iconic Ray’s Tavern. Much anticipation among the group. But first we had to leave Gray Canyon and get over the Tusher Diversion Dam. The dam had been recently modified to include a flume for rafts but no one had any idea what that would be like at high water (27,000 ft3/s the day we went over it). Turned out to be a quick, steep plunge to quieter water. Soon we were pulling in to the boat ramp at Green River State Park and heading over to the River Terrace Hotel for our first sand-free wash in over two weeks. 🙂

Morning at Range Creek
A garter snake has a Woodhouse’s toad for breakfast
Leaving Range Creek
Heading south
Nefertiti Rock
Nearing the end of Gray Canyon
Gunnison Butte across from Swaseys boat ramp
Riding the flume down the Tusher Diversion Dam
Arriving at Green River State Park

2 thoughts on “In John Wesley Powell’s Wake: Desolation & Gray Canyons (June 2019)

Add yours

  1. Really nice photos! Thanks for sharing. Can I ask what camera you are using?


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