Rafting the San Juan River VI 21-Jun-2021

DAY 6: Oljeto Camp to Clay Hills Crossing

River Flow: 954 cfs (27.0 m3/s)
Air Temperature: 102°F (39°C) high

We had a nice alcove to sleep in at this camp, one I abandoned early for a look inside the mouth of the wash. As would be expected, this wash is subject to flash floods and those have kept its floor a smooth ribbon of dirt between towering walls of sandstone. Flowering Datura (Jimson Weed, Devil’s Snare) plants dotted the floor, along with an aspen seedling washed down from who knows where. Datura contains an interesting mix of hallucinogens and cyanide – ingesting it could be a trip or your last one. After about 300 feet (90 m) of walking, I turned back and headed for a Datura-free breakfast.

Sleeping at Oljeto Camp
Oljeto Wash
Datura growing in the wash
Datura flower
At the mouth of Oljeto Wash
Thor and his daughter Sierra in mid-river

The river’s flow had dropped overnight so, after breakfast and packing-up, it was time to push the rafts out into a place in the river where they’d actually float. A bad remake of Fitzcarraldo came to mind.

Cue the burning orb
Ready to go
Push! Push!
Push harder! The Trip Leader wants to water ski!
Floating again – for the moment
Still a little shade left
Shade on shallow waters
Swept Away
A little more scenery flowed past…
And then it was time to push
A little more scenery…
And then we got stuck again
All this sediment had an unsettling effect on The LovedOne
We eventually found a deep enough channel and pressed on
The red hills of Mikes Mesa – which sits west of the take-out – finally came into view
At the Clay Hills Crossing take-out
Heading toward the drive back to Bluff

We took-out at Clay Hills Crossing and were driven from there back to Bluff. After another night in the Recapture Lodge, we headed home. O.A.R.S. had done its usual excellent job and our guides had been exceptional. And the San Juan delivered way more in terms of scenery, wildlife, and amazement than we could have hoped for. Thus another awesome adventure came to an end. Or at least the part of it on a river. The part involving airports and airplanes became a 24+ hour saga of an aborted landing, a night on an airport floor, stalled paperwork, and little sleep. But we didn’t lose our luggage! Yeah! 🙄

It was a great trip, but, frankly, conditions were just too oppressively hot, day and night. This both wore on us in general and squelched any thoughts of hiking. We think that the “heat dome” inspired temperatures we experienced caught more than a few folks by surprise, as these were significantly higher than what’s usual for June. But this could be a “new normal” – new, but not necessarily good. So we’ll think twice in the future about adventures where temperatures have the potential to rocket north of 90°F (32°C) and stay there for days at a time.

We felt lucky to have had the chance to raft the San Juan, high temperatures or not. Future rafters may not be so fortunate. Rafting the San Juan is a flow-dependent activity and there are times even now – within the usual rafting season – when the flow is too low to support rafts. A changing climate – bringing with it continued drought, a diminished snow pack, and erratic rainfall – combined with greater diversions for agricultural and domestic uses (also in response to a changing climate) could put a serious crimp in recreational use of the San Juan in the years ahead.

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4 comments

  1. You might want to put this one on your shortest list. The trip the week before ours was reduced from 83 miles to 27 miles due to low flows (but it was cooler then, so they got to do some hiking).

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  2. What a great adventure! We love the area around Bluff and have spent a lot of time hiking on Cedar Mesa. Rafting the river is such an interesting way to see the area. I’m putting it on our list and hoping that by some miracle, the water will still be there.

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  3. Amazing photos and wonderful narrative, as usual! I especially like the “swept away” picture–it looks almost abstract.

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