Diary of Desolation-Gray
Special to the Post Independent
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Today my husband, two friends, and I began an 84-mile journey through one of the most remote areas in the Lower 48: Desolation-Gray Canyons on the Green River in eastern Utah. Hope we didn’t forget the toilet paper.
This morning we launched at Sand Wash near mile marker 96. It was cool and overcast, not as buggy as it was rumored to be.
A brutal storm caught us off guard after lunch, but proved to be a necessary lesson in preparedness. Thunder rolled and the rain came hard and fast.
Although the desert can be a wild and fearsome place at any time, it is never more assured of its own power than in the midst of a thunderstorm.
We logged 14 miles today and capped the evening with a very successful round of channel catfishing.
The sun came up blazing this morning, and it was a welcome sight. We managed 19 miles on the river and enjoyed swimming and snoozing on gentle, easy water. We spotted several wild creatures, including a golden eagle, a beaver, herons, a fox and a spawning endangered pikeminnow near a small cobble bar.
Tonight’s camp on the cottonwood beach at Flat Canyon is exquisite, and a nearby petroglyph panel we visited is said to be one of the finest in the area.
Things got interesting today, as the longest stretches of flatwater are now behind us. Near mile marker 54 we pulled over at Rock Creek. Nestled in a tight valley, the old ranch there is surrounded by soaring canyon walls that hug the beach and adjoining pasture, making it one of the most breathtaking spots we’ve seen so far.
A trail along the creek took us through a thicket of dense, aromatic sagebrush to another panel of petroglyphs.
We paused there to admire the works of art and have a bite to eat, but soon a cluster of steely blue clouds gathered on the horizon and we hurried back.
The way thunder reverberated against the canyon’s high walls would have caused any cowboy to shake a little in his boots, so we were relieved to find shelter under a rocky overhang near the beach.
We would have gladly camped at beautiful Rock Creek Ranch, but it is not allowed within a quarter mile of the privately owned site. Instead, we floated four miles downstream to Lower Three Canyon, where we pitched our tents beneath the branches of a gnarled and welcoming old cottonwood.
The sun had begun to set at mile marker 39 when we decided to pull over for the night.
There, the four of us made camp and walked to check out the McPherson family’s crumbling 1890s ranch house and outbuildings. An abandoned lodge also stands in the same area.
Built by the Ute tribe in 1972, the lodge is now eerily vacant—its owners seem to have simply walked out, leaving dishes, furniture and even funky 1970s print curtains behind.
The view from McPherson Ranch was a revelation: dazzling red buttes, ancient rock formations and faraway cliffs made for one sweeping, cinematic desert panorama. It was undoubtedly the best of the trip. For a moment, we understood how a person might be tempted to stay out there forever.
The Joe Hutch Rapid got our adrenaline pumping earlier in the day, but not quite like this evening’s excitement did. After exploring the old ranch site, we returned to our camp to eat, relax, and watch the commotion of an enormous commercial group mingling at a campground across the river. Suddenly, a voice among them cried “BEAR!”
We jumped in our seats. Turning around, we saw a young black bear eyeing our dinner table from 50 feet away. As he lumbered closer, we mobilized into a bear-scaring unit. We yelled, threw rocks and clanged our pots.
Unfortunately, this crafty fellow had likely won a few meals from previous campers and started toward us four times before finally trotting off. The group across the river got quite a show.
At their invitation, we broke camp and paddled over to stay the night.
Our last full day on the river. We relished the hot midday sun and stopped to swim after having a ball on the back-to-back Wire Fence and Three Fords rapids. A late-afternoon thunderstorm forced us off the river for the evening near mile-marker 25.
Our final 13 miles passed all too quickly this morning.
Soon the striking Gunnison Butte came into view, and then the take-out at Swasey’s Rapid. A phone in the dry box began to buzz with notifications. Civilization was near. The river’s peaceful remoteness — and the detachment it offered — seemed all the more precious as we hauled our raft from the water. What a privilege to experience nature as we had.
As the great desert philosopher and die-hard wilderness advocate Edward Abbey once said, “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.”
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