Utah's Green River with Sarah Dondelinger
A gritty 55 mile paddle down Utah's Green River
"A distance that a bird could cover in an hour might require a week to negotiate. The days were hot and the nights were often frigid, owing to the region’s high interior vastness, and water was almost impossible to find. Lacking wings, there was only one good way to explore it: by boat." -– from Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert
Vast canyons of humbling red rock, postulating a story about a prehistoric ocean, the Green River meanders slowly towards the Colorado. I’d never thought I could be so happy with nothing but my meager belongings, my board and my very dry skin. With a crew of rambunctious kayakers, I decided to make myself tall for 55 miles down the Green River in Utah, and loose myself in red rock canyons and thick mud.
The Green River watershed moves through parts of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and is approximately 730 miles long. This river carries a large amount of sediment, accumulating finer grained silts and... a lot of mud. So much mud, in fact, that sometimes you would find yourself nearly waist deep in it while simply trying to do casual business... like dance.
So we moved onward, setting ourselves afloat for a wily, dirt baggy adventure. The first few days held strong heat and little wind. It was easy to move forward with the current as my board carried all my belongings as if nothing was there. Wintertime low flows meant the river became shallow enough that I had to jump to the nose of the board in order to lift the fin up and keep it from dragging on the bottom. This also meant that there were fewer people on the river and plenty of sand bars to camp on, campsites that are only accessible by boat or board. I felt humbled to paddle next to huge walls and crevices begging to be explored. And the further I went, the more I traveled into the past as older strata began to crop up with each bend of the river. And with careful eyes you can see 800-year-old cliff dwellings perched on the side of the canyons.
The fourth night on the river held a great surprise. Wind. Wind so strong I was sandblasted inside my sleeping bag. So strong that I periodically got up to check on the Silver Dragon, my name for my trusty Tahoe SUP Rubicon , as well as everyone else’s gear. The wind continued through the next day and night. Stand up paddling in 30-knot winds is not something I recommend unless you pack plenty of snickers bars. In case you were wondering, I packed approximately 20 snickers bars, all of which can fit snugly inside my PFD.
You don’t know joy unless you have felt discomfort. And that discomfort of paddling in gusting winds ended up being overshadowed by finding a small and cozy campsite, having heartfelt conversations in a small cave in the sandstone, and eating stir-fry into the late hours of the night. It became extremely important to take care of your gear and tie things down that could be pulled away by the wind. The wind was strong enough to lift my board in the air if I didn’t move her to areas blocked from the wind or tie her down.
The last few miles met up with the confluence to the Colorado River, and with it were slightly rockier and rougher waters. This river was amazing, more massive and strong than the Green. And our final campsite was only half a mile from Cataract Canyon, which has Class V rapids. It was daunting to look back at what we had paddled and see huge walls looming over frigid waters. I will never forget the journey these muddy waters held and the dirty people I got to know very well while on it.