Run Wild! Run Rivers! Rafting Blog

Giving Thanks

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On Thanksgiving Day, when it comes time to truly tally all that fills my world with joy, it is impossible not to include my life as a river guide. Though I’m grateful each time I look over my shoulder at a rapid safely navigated or emerge from a hike into a hidden side canyon oasis, this time of year I welcome the opportunity to reflect on the unmistakable elements of my life outdoors that make it so darn full. Here are just a few:

Today I am thankful for wild places; any wild place, all wild places, untouched as they can be by the long reach of our industrial human hand. A place where it is possible to find solitude, to sit in silence or to observe the natural processes of this incredible Earth, is a place to be grateful for in my book.

I feel this gratitude when I’m hiking by myself, but not completely alone, listening to the playful chatter of a family of Ravens. When I lie down at the end of a long day beneath an infinitely dark sky filled with the crisp glitter of stars beyond stars, I cherish places removed from floodlights, stoplights, even my own porch light. After I’ve happened upon a herd of Desert Bighorn sheep, a dozen of them huddled atop one crumbling boulder, or a rattlesnake barely decipherable from the cactus its tangled among, I am a gracious visitor in their habitats. I am thankful for the a lone Gray Wolf who recently made her way 450 miles to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, sparking the possibility that her species could return there someday after a 70-year absence.

Today I’ll toast the rugged, remote, untouched, undiscovered corners of the Earth and the need for them among all of our modern distractions.

I am also thankful for the organizations and individuals who fight for protection of wilderness and how we use get to use it. It seems I read about a new assault on a sacred place almost daily and am disheartened to think about it being irreversibly or unnecessarily altered. Still, it is also often that I meet and hear inspiring stories about people who persist in the fight to protect open spaces.

Currently, the dedicated activists at The Grand Canyon Trust and Save the Confluence are working to dismantle a development proposal that would place a tramway and snack bar at confluence of the Little Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The Canyonlands Watershed Council and the Sierra Club are fighting fracking and natural gas drilling operations that are already underway on the borders of Canyonlands National Park. The Grand Canyon, the Book Cliffs, Utah’s Canyon Country and Alaska, the spectacular landscapes in which we work and play, in are constantly threatened by encroaching civilization. Thankfully there have been and continue to be explorers, writers, artists, activists, politicians and every-day people who take on the well-being of wilderness as their own. It is not easy and not often gratifying. I praise their energy and dedication.

Finally, I am eternally appreciative of the CRATE family and my place in it. I’m talking owners, guides, guests, friends, guests-turned-friends, drivers, allies, pioneers, legends, cronies, everyone. This company is tight-knit and we are all better for it. Along with being fortunate to wake up at the bottom of a canyon most mornings, I am lucky to spend my days exploring with folks who have become my closest friends. On each trip I am supported by the curiosity, kindness and team spirit of the CRATE crew. Laughing and living with them and having the opportunity to do the work we do as guides is a privilege.

Our crew is as diverse and talented as our clients, who are an exemplary bunch as well. Every day on the river offers me something new to learn. Whether I’m getting details about being a tugboat captain on the Mississippi River or spending the afternoon listening to a 14-year-old’s perspective on life in the Netherlands, I am able to show people a special part of the world and they are able to show a special part of it to me.

I am thankful for the relationships and the set of skills I have acquired over course of thirteen seasons that allow me to spend time with such vibrant people and have a part in this exchange.

So today, as much as ever, I am grateful that I get to be a river guide and that I am able to spend time in spectacular remote places with genuine people with which to share them. Happy Thanksgiving to river runners and wilderness enthusiasts everywhere. We are quite a lucky bunch. Cheers! – Mikenna

Yucca bloom in the Maze, Canyonlands, NP.

Yucca bloom in the Maze, Canyonlands, NP.

Going Down Big- Cataract 2011

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The snowpack in the mountains of Utah in June, 2011 were 420% of average. The guides at Colorado River and Trail Expeditions knew that they were about to witness the Colorado River in flood stages that nobody had seen in nearly 30 years. In fact, the boatmen that were running the river in 1983 and 1984 were still talking about how big the water was in Cataract Canyon. The stories were told over and over again to the point where newer guides would reenact these legendary boatman by putting their hands on their hips, puffing their chest out just a bit and stare off into the imaginary distance with a voice full of reverence say, “back in ’83…” The truth was that we all just wanted our own stories to tell, to know just what it felt like to be confronted by waves like the Red Wall, standing a boat up vertically.

So when we saw the snowpack data, and how it just continued to stack up in the spring instead of melt down into the rivers, we knew that there was potential for the water to get even bigger than anyone had ever seen before. We started to get ready, with newly acquired aluminum frames to run in our 35 foot long Leyland S-Rigs, fired up the motors and packed out the first trip. It was the beginning of June, and Cataract hadn’t yet reached its average peak flow of 50,000 cubic feet of water per second. When the big flows would boil down between the big canyon walls was anyone’s guess, but it was known that the cycle would begin just 3 days after the first sun-burn days of summer. Rigging the boats at the ramp we felt the first trails of sweat dripping down our backs and we knew the Rockies were melting.IMG_4042We were on a four-day motor trip, so we had plenty of time to hike side canyons to waterfalls and ancient Native American cultural sites. At Little Bridge Canyon we camped at my favorite high- water campsite, with Prince’s Plume, nodding off at the end of its bloom. 4 feet-high candlesticks, these members of the mustard family found root in the soils of this ledgy camp.


By the time we pushed off, the water had risen past the top of the main ledge and we knew the rapids were getting bigger down below. At Brown Betty Beach, the sand was buried, up past the base of the Tamarisk at the very top of the beach. We stopped for lunch. And while our group was eating Mexican salad wraps, we called out on the satellite phone to the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center to find out what kind of flow we were looking at. 67,000 cfs. None of the boatman here had quiet seen this much water before and the intensity of the situation seemed to escalate. We cleaned up lunch, not eating much ourselves, and pushed off. Brown Betty Rapid seemed monstrous- if this is what class III looked like- we were in for a big day. When we got to rapid 7, the North Seas, and the haystacks stacked up, feeling like Hermit Rapid on steroids!

Capsize and Mile Long Rapids made us feel like we were running a completely different river. Our normal rock-monolith markers were now buried deep, and creating ferocious hydraulics. Our big boats flexed in the troughs, absorbed breaking waves and extended through the maelstrom up into the desert sky. It felt like a wild roller coaster, yet the boats felt surprisingly stable. At Big Drop II we stopped to scout and decided to go right down the middle.IMG_4107

At this water level there was no gap between where the Ledge Wave lies, and the chaos from Little Niagara- today they met and formed the Red Wall. We motored in at full cob, and I’ll never forget the sensation of climbing, climbing, climbing, and the pure exhilaration of cresting the wave, and falling back down the backside. Repeat customer and friend of CRATE Lina Berman filmed the following video from the front of the boat, and when she saw the Red Wall Wave approaching, she dropped her camera to hold on with both hands.

This crux of the canyon lasted but a few seconds, and while we knew there were more big waves to run below, the biggest were now behind us. The excitement and thrill from this day left an impression in my mind over the last few years. We saw nearly 80,000 cfs that summer, with the river peaking at 89,000 cfs. It did not get bigger than the high water seasons of 1983 and 1984 where it got over 100,000 cfs, but it was high water for much longer. The slower winter run-off related to above average peak flows of 50,000 cfs for over 60 days. That’s 2 months of high water compared to the average peak day of high flow. And the next generation of boatmen did have stories to tell, enough to have rookie boatmen rolling their eyes now when we talk about 2011.

Of course, not everyone is looking for the craziest ride of their life. When the water drops, as it usually does in late June, July and August, the beaches we camp on can stretch on for nearly a mile. The way that high water flows deposit fresh sand on the banks gives you the feeling that nobody has ever been there before. And with just 5,000 people traveling down Cataract Canyon a season, (compared to 25,000 in Grand Canyon) you just might not see anyone else at all. Cataract Canyon always holds some sort of mystic in my mind. As the winter approaches I watch the snowpack to see what kind or runoff next spring will bring. Whether its big water or big beaches, wild flowers or slot canyons, the river running through Canyonlands has something amazing to share.DSC_0436

Flash flood at Redbud.

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IMG_2067The desert air darkened with thick clouds that moments before could not be seen through the walls of a canyon a mile deep. The August heat suddenly gone, shifting as fast as the moods of the people as fast as blackened pillows blocking the sun. In what normally is a peaceful part of the canyon began to feel threatening. The monsoon that would open up would last about 35 minutes, thoroughly soaking through every piece of clothing- rain jacket or not- where five miles upstream and downstream was as dry as the desert ever was.

Two distinct images remain poignant to me. The first when the people huddling under the draping drenched rain fly peeled their dripping heads away from the canvas and saw the thousand foot waterfalls pouring red mud off the rim and realized this might not be so bad.IMG_2070

As they emerged from their wounded tent pile they saw the unnaturally green river swirl red like blood taken from hundreds of sources along the vein, the Colorado River.IMG_2071
The second was when I walked away from the small beach camp called “Brower’s Bower”, named for David Brower who’s efforts in part prevented the Marble Canyon Dam that would have inundated this part of Grand Canyon, and walked into Red Bud Alcove. I had been here before when it looked like it usually does, an overhanging dry fall.IMG_1901

I crossed the stream and entered the short box canyon into a froth of thick moisture. The falls fell furiously, in some sort of hurry, and upon hitting the streambed pushed and rolled boulders toward the main artery. IMG_2066I could see that this was how rapids form. Inside the alcove the noise of the water intensified as the volume of water increased. Feeling the power of that place in that moment taught me the extremes of this canyon. IMG_2069Where thirty minutes prior the 115-degree temperature was sucking moisture out of my skin, now the water pounding my body felt like the verge of implosion.IMG_2068

And then it stopped. The rain first, the Arizona monsoon clouds empty. Then the water running together collecting the red sand down the slopes above and over the rim to the river, it slowed and stopped. All that red mud, changing the river to blood, went downstream like it has for six million years. Downstream. Back to green, the color of the water of the bottom of the reservoir named Powell. Time to cook burgers beans and brats for the hungry wet people.

Larry Stevens–River Map and Guide

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Order this book from the our River Journeys Store!  
Larry Stevens recently released his updated guide to The Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  The guide is in full color and includes a map of the river similar to the Belknap River Guide.  River miles in the book correspond to the most recent USGS-GCMRC measurements.  Rapid ratings are based in order of four water levels:  Very Low(1,000-3,000 cfs), Low (3,000-9,000 cfs), Medium (9,000-16,000 cfs) and High (16,000-35,000 cfs).  The guide also includes camps that are commonly used and a sun and shade diagram that lets boaters know about when the shade will hit in the afternoon, and when the sunlight will hit the camp in the morning.

In addition to the river map the book is full of useful information about Geography, Geology, Human History, Biology, and Ecology.  Larry Stevens has a PhD in Zoology, and is a natural historian and river runner with 35 years engaged in ecological research in the American Southwest.

The Geography Section of the book engages the reader by introducing the Colorado Plateau region and explaining Spatial Scale.  A graph showing the average daily temperature and mean monthly precipitation is also included in this section.The section finishes up with some bleak predictions for the Colorado River because of Climate Change.

The Geology Section of the guide is very in depth and will keep the novice and seasoned geologist intrigued with its great diagrams and in depth information.  The geology section includes a diagram of geologic stratigraphy of the Grand Canyon, Landscape evolution paleographic illustrations by Ron Blakey, and a River Basin Development diagram.

The human history timeline of the Grand Canyon is another highlight of the book.  This timeline starts with the Paleoindian Period and ends at present day.  Find when Georgie White first experienced the river and when Verlen Kruger did the first non-motorized up run through the Grand Canyon.

The Biology and Ecology section has a lot of great information and pictures of the flora and fauna of the area.  It is especially interesting to see photos of all of the native fish of the Colorado River and read about the challenges they face.

Colorado River & Trail Expeditions just got a new shipment of these books.  To order this new guidebook for the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River just visit the new Colorado River & Trail Expeditions Store.



Bass Camp and Trail

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Bass Cable Car in Service.

Bass Cable Car in Service.

William Wallace Bass moved to the Grand Canyon in 1883.  He moved from the East for health reasons and rumors of Gold brought him into the Grand Canyon.  When the rumors turned out to be false he turned to the tourist industry.  He set up a camp at Havasupai Point on the rim of the Grand Canyon.  This camp was accessible via a road Bass built from Ashfork.  During its 36-year history several thousand visitors registered there including such names as George Wharton James, writer Zane Grey, artist Thomas Moran, naturalist John Muir, industrialist Henry Ford and Army Lieutenant Joseph Ives.

From the Bass Camp on the rim, Bass constructed a trail and led tourists down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Guests were able to cross the river in a boat until 1908.  Then in 1908 Bass constructed a cable car across the river and attached a cart to ferry people, supplies, and animals across the river.

The Bass Tent Camp up Shinumo Creek

The Bass Tent Camp up Shinumo Creek

Once across the river, guests were led up and over a saddle into the Shinumo Creek  drainage.  A couple of miles up Shinumo Creek, Bass built a tent camp complete with an orchard.  The camp in Shinumo was nestled in an incredibly beautiful location with a nice stream and beautiful trees.  The guests who were able to experience the Grand Canyon with Bass were extremely lucky.

Today Bass’s broken down cable car is rotting away at mile 108.  This part of the canyon has always been one of my favorite parts.  Shinumo Creek is always a cool and relaxing stop.  In addition the rapids of Crystal, Horn Creek, Hermit, Granite, and Hance are now behind you.  Up on the rim the lone “lollipop” tree up on the Powell Plateau is in view.

The hike up to Bass Camp is also one of my favorites.  The views from the saddle up river are incredible, and hiking down along Shinumo Creek is heavenly.  The ancestral puebloans must have also like this area because there are a huge number of artifacts and structures that are still visible.

I have hiked the trail many times and when I get up to the abandoned camp I always think of the effort taken to carry things in and out of the Grand Canyon.  At the camp many artifacts are still present including an Iron stove and lots of coffee pots a

Water Education 101 – Grand Canyon Seeps and Springs

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Did you ever stop to think, really think, about the relationship of people to water? In the beginnings of human history, people searched for water and migrated to it. They probably respected seeps and springs as sacred places, because they were life-giving and life-saving. Once we learned to harness water and bring it to us, instead of the other way around, most of the magic was lost. Today, in America, we take it for granted that good, cold, fresh, clean water will pour forth from our taps. We give little thought or regard to where this water really comes from, and we wouldn’t know if the source was overflowing or becoming depleted. It’s definitely something to think about – water as sacred, water as life, water as endangered.

This short video about Grand Canyon seeps and springs is beautiful. The amazing scenery, the whitewater excitement, and lovely grottoes and waterfalls, will make you want to visit, or maybe even take a river trip! If and when you go, you will have a better understanding of the importance of seeps and springs in the Grand Canyon.

Colorado River Flows

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River Flow is an important things to know before going on a river trip.  In 2014 the Grand Canyon has seen some relatively low flows.  April and May had fluctuations between 5,500 cfs and 11,000 cfs, with the weekends, especially Sunday releases being much lower.  This is because the river is regulated by Glen Canyon Dam which backs up Lake Powell.  These lower flows make some rapids bigger, and some rapids smaller, but all of the rapids become rockier and more technical.  Above Lake Powell the Colorado and Green have gone up and down all spring.  The mountains have a nice amount of snow, but the temperatures have gotten hot and then suddenly cooled off and the flow through Cataract Canyon has taken on the appearance of a Sin wave.  For those interested in learning the flows of the river their are a few different ways.

#1.  Check out the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center River Map:  Click Here another nice feature about this site is you can click on the PEAK FLOW FORECAST LIST and one can see what the most recent Peak Flow forecast is for a particular section of river.  For instance on May 19, 2014 Cataract Canyon was given a 50% chance of peaking at 60,000 cfs sometime in 2014.

#2.  Call 1-801-539-1311.  This phone number goes to a recorded message which tells the river flows for a particular day.  This message is updated daily.

#3.  Buy or download one of the river flow apps on the itunes store.

#4.  For Grand Canyon, where the water is regulated, be sure to check out the Bureau of Reclamation Current Dam Flow Report for Glen Canyon Dam.

High water means a lot of excitement for rafters in Cataract Canyon.  Cataract Canyon is generally considered the biggest whitewater in North America at flows above 50,000 cfs so it looks like 2014 is going to be a big water year.


Canyonlands by John Wesley Powell

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A Land of Rock

A Land of Rock-Toni Kaus

As we all know JW Powell had a way with words and his descriptions of the Grand Canyon have rarely been equalled.  Having just finished a Spring rafting trip in Canyonlands National Park we had to share Powell’s diary entry from July 17, 1869.  This entry includes the last 40 miles of the Green River’s course before joining the Grand, forming the mighty Colorado River, and plunging into the perils of Cataract Canyon.  The Colorado Plateau is such a unique place and if you have never seen Canyonlands National Park it is a place to put on your list.  The below entry will inspire your imagination:

-Wayne Ranney Photo

-Wayne Ranney Photo

July 17, 1869. – The line which separates Labyrinth Canyon from the one below is but a line, and at once, this morning, we enter another canyon. The water fills the entire channel, so that nowhere is there room to land. The walls are low, but vertical, and as we proceed they gradually increase in altitude. Running a couple of miles, the river changes its course many degrees toward the east. Just here a little stream comes in on the right and the wall is broken down; so we land and go out to take a view of the surrounding country. We are now down among the buttes, and in a region the surface of which is naked, solid rock – a beautiful red sandstone, forming a smooth, undulating pavement. The Indians call this the Toom’pin Tuweap’, or “Rock Land,” and sometimes the Toom’pin wunear^1 Tuweap’, or “Land of Standing Rock.”

Off to the south we see a butte in the form of a fallen cross. It is several miles away, but it presents no inconspicuous figure on the landscape and must be many hundreds of feet high, probably more than 2,000. We note its position on our map and name it “The Butte of the Cross.”

We continue our journey. In many places the walls, which rise from the water’s edge, are overhanging on either side. The stream is still quiet, and we glide along through a strange, weird, grand region. The landscape everywhere, away from the river, is of rock – cliffs of rock, tables of rock, plateaus of rock, terraces of rock, crags of rock – ten thousand strangely carved forms; rocks everywhere, and no vegetation, no soil, no sand. In long, gentle curves the river winds about these rocks.

When thinking of these rocks one must not conceive of piles of boulders or heaps of fragments, but of a whole land of naked rock, with giant forms carved on it: cathedral-shaped buttes, towering hundreds or thousands of feet, cliffs that cannot be scaled, and canyon walls that shrink the river into insignificance, with vast, hollow domes and tall pinnacles and shafts set on the verge overhead; and all highly colored – buff, gray, red, brown, and chocolate – never lichened, never moss-covered, but bare, and often polished.

We pass a place where two bends of the river come together, an intervening rock having been worn away and a new channel formed across. The old channel ran in a great circle around to the right, by what was once a circular peninsula, then an island; then the water left the old channel entirely and passed through the cut, and the old bed of the river is dry. So the great circular rock stands by itself, with precipitous walls all about it, and we find but one place where it can be scaled. Looking from its summit, a long stretch of river is seen, sweeping close to the overhanging cliffs on the right, but having a little meadow between it and the wall on the left. The curve is very gentle and regular. We name this Bonita Bend.

And just here we climb out once more, to take another bearing on The Butte of the Cross. Reaching an eminence from which we can overlook the landscape, we are surprised to find that our butte, with its wonderful form, is indeed two buttes, one so standing in front of the other that from our last point of view it gave the appearance of a cross.

A few miles below Bonita Bend we go out again a mile or two among the rocks, toward the Orange Cliffs, passing over terraces paved with jasper. The cliffs are not far away and we soon reach them, and wander in some deep, painted alcoves which attracted our attention from the river; then we return to our boats.

Late in the afternoon the water becomes swift and our boats make great speed.. An hour of this rapid running brings us to the junction of the Grand and Green, the foot of Stillwater Canyon, as we have named it. These streams-unite in solemn depths, more than 1,200 feet below the general surface of the country. The walls of the lower end of Stillwater Canyon are very beautifully curved, as the river sweeps in its meandering course. The lower end of the canyon through which the Grand comes down is also regular, but much more direct, and we look up this stream and out into the country beyond and obtain glimpses of snow-clad peaks, the summits of a group of mountains known as the Sierra La Sal. Down the Colorado the canyon walls are much broken.

We row around into the Grand and camp on its northwest bank; and here we propose to stay several days, for the purpose of determining the latitude and longitude and the altitude of the walls. Much of the night is spent in making observations with the sextant.

Looking over the Green-Wayne Ranney


Got Milkweed?

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Got_Milkweed_thumbThe monarch butterfly migration is one of nature’s most wondrous events. Millions of monarchs travel from as far north as Canada to gather each winter in a forested mountain range of Michoacan, Mexico, now a World Biosphere Reserve. Sadly, without milkweed to eat along the route, the incredible long-distance monarch migration is doomed. You can help the monarchs by planting milkweed this spring. It’s a fun and simple way to preserve an amazing migration and beautify your yard!

Over the years, at the Colorado River & Trail Expeditions’ office in Salt Lake City, Utah, we’ve seen a lot of monarch butterflies pass through our yard. We have a wild crop of milkweed that blooms each year and then turns into silver filaments of “cotton” that drift away on the breeze. When we consider how far these dainty monarchs fly on their journeys between Canada and Mexico, we consider their stopover in our yard as a gift. It’s a pleasure to watch them through the window and as we go about our work. With our first river trip launching today, it’s officially “spring,” and time to check the milkweed and make sure it’ getting ready to bloom!

Portions of this article was reprinted from Wild Earth Guardians, (highlight and right click on this link to visit the web page).


Geologist Wayne Ranney to Host Canyonlands National Park River Trip

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An incredible journey to an amazing destination.

An incredible journey to an amazing destination.

Wayne Ranney, world famous geologist, author, and interpreter will be hosting a rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Canyonlands National Park.  The trip dates are May 2-11 and include a 7 day rafting trip along the Green and Colorado Rivers and through Cataract Canyon.  There will also be a ground based field trip into the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park prior to the river trip.  The land based trip will be based out of Red Cliffs Lodge on the Banks of the Colorado River and will be outfitted by licensed Canyonlands National Park Concessionaire Colorado River & Trail Expeditons.  The trip cost is $3140 per person.

Wayne Ranney is the author of “Carving Grand Canyon” and co-author of “Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau.”  This will be his second Colorado River rafting trip with Colorado River & Trail Expeditions.  In addition to his great books, Wayne’s interpretation and explanations make Geology exciting and fun.  Besides the rafting part of the trip, there will be numerous off river hikes to explore the Geology and beauty of the area.  There really is no better way to see Canyonlands National Park than by boat and having a geologist the caliber of Wayne will make the trip exceptional.

The river portion of the trip will start at Mineral Bottom on the Green River.  The first couple of days on the river will offer great opportunities to see Native American artifacts and ruins.  Once the river joins the Colorado River the rapids begin.  Colorado River rafting through Cataract Canyon is worth the trip itself.  The rapids of Cataract Canyon can dwarf those of the Grand Canyon at extremely high flows and at low flows the river challenging because it is clogged with huge boulders.  The trip ends at North Wash in the upper reaches of what once was Lake Powell Resevoir.

This trip only has a couple of spaces remaining.  To find out more information call Colorado River and Trail Expeditions at 1-800-253-7328.


Reservations: 800-253-7328 or 801-261-1789