Rafting the San Juan River I 16-Jun-2021

Sixteen months. Sixteen months since either of us had set foot in an airport or flown in a plane. But with vaccinations in hand (or arm) and things opening-up in general, it was time. Our initial plan – with our long-time friends Wayne and Diane – was to do a raft trip down the Yampa River. But that one had already been booked by the multitudes now yearning to get out of the house and GO SOMEWHERE! So we switched to a six-day raft trip on the San Juan River in Utah run by O.A.R.S.

The San Juan originates in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, then flows 383 miles (616 km) through the deserts of northern New Mexico and southeastern Utah to join the Colorado River at Lake Powell. The stretch we rafted was the 83 mile (133 km) section from Sand Island (near Bluff, Utah) to Clay Hills Crossing, just short of Lake Powell. This segment turned-out to be light on rapids (but we knew that going in) but absolutely huge on scenery and canyons and wildlife (all of which came as a welcome surprise). 😃

We got this adventure going by flying (uneventfully) to Salt Lake City and then driving down to Bluff, where we met up with Wayne and Diane and the rest of our group and Adam, our trip leader.

DAY 1: Sand Island to Lower Eight Foot Camp

River Flow: 1,480 cfs (41.9 m3/s)
Air Temperature: 107°F (41°C) high / 71°F (21°C) low

This morning we were driven to the put-in at Sand Island, about four miles (6.4 km) west of Bluff, where we met the other five guides for this trip. As we’ve come to expect from our several trips with O.A.R.S., our guides were skilled professionals who worked hard to make our trip run smoothly and successfully. Given that they all had to do this in often withering heat only impressed us all the more. That they were also all good people, with interesting backstories, just added to our appreciation of them. 😁

Adam (trip leader)
Anabelle & Nate

We had expected it to be hot, but the heat dome that had settled over the Western U.S. pushed hot to whole new levels for this time of year. Almost every day was a clear blue sky day, with highs all over 100°F (37°C) and lows never below 68°F (20°C). Yep, hotter than a habanero’s armpit – and then some. But we’d come this far, so off we went down river. Distances are in river miles (RM) starting from Sand Island. All flows and air temperatures are at Mexican Hat.

Gathering at the Sand Hill put-in for a safety talk
On our way
The scenery was magnificent
Sandstone and clouds
More scenery
A petroglyph panel (arrow)
Kayenta Formation begins

At about RM 6.3, we pulled ashore to visit the River House Ruin, which was being stabilized by archeologists when we visited. These ruins are dwellings and a kiva estimated to have been occupied by Ancestral Puebloans sometime between 900 CE and the late 1200s CE.

River House nestles under a huge overhang (arrow) in a cliff about a quarter mile (400 m) from the river
River House
Snake and big horn sheep petroglyphs at River House

We had lunch along the river across from River House, enjoying the riparian shade. Shade would become a much sought after feature in the days ahead. 😎

Contrail and clouds
Clouds and sandstone
On the river
A prow etched by a meander at RM 11
The river has cut through layer upon layer of bedded sediment
Big horn sheep along the river
One last bend in the river for the day

At about RM 17.5, just below Eight Foot Rapid, we pulled in for the night at Lower Eight Foot Camp. There was just enough shade in the lee of a nearby cliff to give us shelter from the punishing sun until it set below the ridge. A scraggly grove of tamarisk provided the guides with shade while they whipped-up an excellent dinner (salmon).

By nightfall – at around 2100 – it had been a long day and we turned-in. It was so warm at night that I slept on an inflatable foam pad (“paco pad”) in just light clothes for the entire trip, something I haven’t been able to do in quite a while. How some folks were able to sleep in sleeping bags or tents still amazes me. Flying, biting insects seemed like they might be an issue, but the bats that swarmed over our camps at dusk and dawn pretty much ate every insect in sight. 😊

Lower Eight Foot Camp
Welcome shade finally engulfs the camp
And a hot, but scenic day, comes to an end

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