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4 winter days in
Canyonlands, Utah

Click for Moab, Utah Forecast

Dewey Bridge
Colorado River
Hittle Bottom landing
Colorado River
Colorado River

Day #1 - February 16, 2001 - Colorado River

6:30 - Foggy and cold (22F) morning. I am leaving Fort Collins with my kayak. I've gotten bored with the shallow South Platte River, so I decided to find some more exciting waters for winter paddling in Utah. Certainly, my Jeep Wrangler would be more apprioriate to show up in Moab but I've choosen the convenience of long distance driving and moved my kayak racks to the Subaru. I am driving south to Denver and then turning right into I-70 heading west.

8:30 - I am passing through Eisenhower tunnel and then I have a short glimpse of Lake Dillon, covered with snow. Most cars are carrying skis or snowboards. One hour later I have my first meeting with the Colorado River and soon I am passing the beautiful Glenwood Canyon.

11:45 Crossing Utah border, no snow on the ground, but I can see La Sal Mountain in snow on my left

I am always attracted to ghost towns, so I am taking the first exit from I-70 to Cisco. Soon, I am on highway 128 driving towards Moab.

12:45 After a few scouting stops I've decided to launch my kayak at Hittle Bottom camping and boat ramp. Nobody is there. The river is rather low, very slow here but I saw some faster places upstream when driving. The river flow is about 2600 cfs today (measured near Cisco).

Silence, red stone walls and snowy La Sal Mountains. Lunch. Preparing kayak.

13:45 - One hour later I am sitting in the kayak ready to start when 4 or 5 dogs appear. They are swimming around, two of them are trying to climb on the deck. A few more scratches on my deck varnish. They are definitely too friendly. Finally, the owner comes. After a short chat I start to paddle upstream.

My launching site is on mile 87 counting from the confluence with Green River according to Canyonlands River Guide. After a half mile of calm water I face the first rapid. Several minutes of paddling at maximum speed -- I need more aerobic exercise before such trips. Jump roping in a dry suit? Another stretch of slow water and the next longer rapid. It's getting too hot in the drysuit.

15:25 - After few more rapids I reach Ninemile Bottom (92 mile). It seems that I am making better progress here than on the shallow South Platte river. A 10 minute break. I am using this occasion to tow my kayak through the next rapid.

Paddling upstream again. I am trying to shoot some pictures from the kayak. However, my Patuxent with 21" beam is not an ideal platform for photography.

16:10 Mile 93, about 1.5 mile short of Dewey Bridge. I decide to turn back. It's a nice ride downstream. The parts of the river with calm water reflecting the red canyon walls and snowy mountains are spectacular and soothing. Rapids with standing waves provide some excitement.

17:15 Finishing trip at Hittle Bottom. It's getting cold.

18:00 Driving to Moab. Sunset paints Fisher Tower with dramatic red, but I am too tired to reach for the camera. I observe the river whenever possible from the windy road. Between Hittle Bottom and Moab, the current seems much stronger with some more serious rapids a little bit too much for sea kayaking.

I am staying in Ramada Inn in Moab for the next three nights. The motel is dominated by mountain bikes and jeeps. My car looks a little bit different...

Green River at Mineral Bottom
July 15, 1869 - "There is an exquisite charm in our ride down this beatiful canyon. We are all in fine spirits. Now and then we whistle or shout or discharge a pistol, to listen to the reverbarations among the cliffs. We name this Labyrinth Canyon."
Powell Report

Hell Roaring Canyon landing
a tunnel through bushes
D. Julien inscription
Denis Julien was a French-Canadian fur trapper whose presence is best documented through his inscriptions. He became the first white man of record to navigate Cataract Canyon and the lower reaches of the Green River.
goose sandbar
goose sandbar

Day #2, February 17, 2001 - Labyrinth Canyon

10:00 - I am starting a little bit slowly today. Yesterday, I developed some painful scratches under my arms. A combination of layers under my dry suit or just too vigorous movements when paddling against rapids? I've applied a patch of spyroflex on a scratch under my arm. We will see how it works.

I drive 42 miles from Moab to Mineral Bottom on Green River. The last 15 miles is a dirt road with a very dramatic descent from mesa top to canyon bottom. It looks like a great place for a Subaru commercial. Patches of snow and ice. Some slippery mud.

11:00 - I am arriving at Mineral Bottom. This river access is on mile 52 counting from the confluence with the Colorado River. Labyrinth Canyon is upstream, and downstream is Stillwater Canyon in Canyonlands National Park. The river carries a lot of silt so its color is close to the color of American coffee with some milk. Very different from the clear and green Colorado River. Air temperature: 35 F. The river flow is about 1900 cfs today (measured at Green River, UT).

11:42 The boat ramp looks like a muddy slide. I am launching my kayak and starting to paddle upstream towards Labyrinth Canyon. Sunny with a slight breeze. I've decided to use only one layer under my dry suit wool. Steady paddling. The river is wide and shallow. It requires some navigation and frequent switching from shore to shore in order to avoid underwater sandbars.

13:05 I am reaching Hell Roaring Canyon. Mile 55.5. Lunch break. It's not easy to find a path through the dense tamarisk bushes growing along the shore. I am walking up the canyon to see a rock inscription made by French trapper Denis Julien in 1836. This canyon can also be reached from Mineral Bottom by a muddy (at least now) road.

14:30 - Resuming upstream travel.

Silence. No wildlife. No signs of civilization. Well, except contrails in the sky ...

15:15 - Reaching mile 57. The southern walls of the river canyon remain always in shadow and are covered by snow. It's getting cloudy.

16:00 Stopping at a sandbar at mile 58.5. A couple of geese are filling the canyon with noise. There are many goose tracks on the sand. Obviously, it's their island. I can also see a duck on the other shore. Suddenly this dead canyon is alive.

I passed several similar sandbars which provide nice places for camping. I imagine that camping is much more messy when high water covers all these sandbars. Shores are typically muddy and lined by dense bushes.

16:35 Starting my return paddling downstream. It's getting colder. I add a fleece layer to my top. My spyroflex patch works great so far. No problem with scratches from yesterday.

17.05 Passing Hell Roaring Canyon again. Paddling goes really well. There is always some current and wind here that wrinkle the water surface. The reflections of the canyon walls are not so spectacular as they were in the nearly calm waters of the Colorado River during yesterday's trip.

17:45 Landing at Mineral Bottom. The mud slide, i.e., boat ramp, is even more slippery now than this morning.

18:12 After quick packing I am driving back to Moab. It's getting dark. Somebody is camping on the shore. The steep and windy road ascending from the canyon has some difficult muddy spots, but Subaru is doing well.

At the mesa top I am stopping for while to have a sandwich and a cup of hot tea while looking at the dark and silent canyon.

White Canyon landing White Canyon Henry Mountains Fourmile Canyon
August 3, 1869 - "The features of this canyon are greatly diversified. We have a curious ensemble of carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments. From which of these shall we select a name? We decide to call it Glenn Canyon."
Powell Report

main waterway near White Canyon

Day #3 Februrary 18, 2001 - Lake Powell

7:30 Departure from Moab. I drive about 150 miles through Monticello and Blanding to the northern end of Lake Powell. Cloudy. Temperature 32-38F. Rain and snow showers. Canyons, buttes and cliffs look beautiful with a touch of snow. Occasional glimpses of sun are lightening distant rocks. After Fry Canyon I take Road 586 with access to White canyon a good dirt road with some exposed slickrock and rocky spots.

10:15 After 3 miles of dirt road I am arriving at the bottom of the canyon. The road ends with several more rough trails squeezing trough dense bushes. Finally, I park at a huge sandbar with a good camping place. I will have to carry my kayak perhaps 300 yards to the low water.

11:30 A muddy launch. Spots of blue sky. Air temperature is 45F. Water seems to be significantly warmer than in rivers. I am paddling between high walls along this twisting canyon which is alternatively wide and narrow.

12:00 - A short break on a rocky ridge. Crystal clear water. Some water birds.

12:30 Resuming paddling. Sunny but with a bit of breeze. I can see some tunnels and roads of old mines. The canyon has some unusual light colored horizontally-stratified rocks and small stone sculptures. Spectacular views of the snowy Henry Mountains over red cliffs.

13:00 I am progressing faster than I expected. I was still looking for the mouth of Farley Canyon when navigational buoys and some motor boats convinced me than I had already entered the main waterway. I am paddling against the wind.

14:00 - A lunch stop at the mouth of Fourmile Canyon. Getting cloudy again.

14:40 I am paddling further into this canyon and after 20 minutes I reach its end. A short stop on a sandy beach. Nice place for camping.

Time to return back. Sun decided to show up again. The wind is helping me for while until I turn east towards White Canyon.

17:00 Entering White Canyon. It's surprising how different canyons look when paddling upstream. Now, I don't have any problem seeing the entry to Farley Canyon. Rocks look beautiful in the light of the setting sun. I am paddling in a hurry to finish before darkness falls.

17:45 Completing the trip at the end of White Canyon. The silence is broken from time to time by a jump and splash from just under the kayak bow. There are huge carp in this shallow muddy water. I can see their lips everywhere on the water surface.

18:15 Quick packing and leaving White Canyon, driving slowly towards the highway. I am really tired. I've covered about 22-23 miles and the paddling was quite intense for most of the day. The lake was quiet. I saw only 4 or 5 motor boats on the main waterway.

Colorado River above Moab

Colorado River above Cisko landing

The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons
by John Wesley Powell
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West
by Wallace Earle Stegner
A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell
by Donald Worster
more books

Day #4 Februrary 19, 2001 - Going Home

Returning. I'm driving from Moab along the Colorado River. A few stops for photographs. A longer break at historic Dewey Bridge.

Next stop at Cisco landing just below Westwater Canyon. The river is pretty slow at this water level but I can see and hear some rapids.

A visit to Colorado National Monument. Lunch in the company of blue jays.

Glenwood Canyon. I am exploring the possibility of winter kayaking here above Shoshone power plant. It looks like several miles of standing or slow moving water is accesible here from at least two rest areas. Maybe something for the next time.

From Glenwood Canyon I am driving straight to Denver and Fort Collins, arriving home about 19:30.

Streamflow in Utah
Lake Powell links, books and maps

In the Footsteps of John Wesley Powell. An Album of Comparative Photographs of the Green and Colorado Rivers, 1871-72 and 1968
by H. G. Stephens and E. M. Shoemaker

River Runners' Guide to Utah ...

River Guide to Canyonlands National Park ...

Belknap's Revised Waterproof Canyonlands River Guide

gift ideas for paddlers, racers, and photographers ...

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