Wednesday, September 26, 2007


After floating the "A" section on the 21st, I had to highball down to Moab for a weekend retreat that I was helping to facilitate for the Young Democrats of Utah. They asked SUWA to help with the campsite logistics, set up a service project, and brief them about our work on behalf of public land wilderness. They agreed to bring food and cook. Everything was fantastic, except for the Folgers instant coffee. But we'll forgive them.

It was an interesting weekend. We camped at a beautiful site above Hell Roaring Canyon, at the edge of the Labyrinth Canyon proposed wilderness. The Young Dems received a crash course in both the beauty of the wilderness, and the fickle nature of it's weather patterns.

Saturday morning was beautiful. We spent a few hours reclaiming illegal off-road vehicle tracks off the Spring Canyon road.

In the afternoon, we attempted to hike down into Hell Roaring to check out a Barrier Style rock art panel, but our route proved a bit ambitious for some of crew members, including a couple of the dogs. So we brumbled around the rim (well...I brumbled, the others were mostly just hiking) and made our way back to camp in time for the rain to begin. That evening, the heavens opened up and spewed several inches of rain overnight. A certain SUWA staffer (who shall remain nameless to protect his ego) was flash-flooded out of his tent after pitching a little close to a wash. He was overheard mumbling "I gambled and lost." But the next morning, we were treated to an incredible double rainbow.

Sunday, we cleaned up our campsite and drove into Moab to drop off the groover and some garbage, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed to the put-in on the Moab Daily. So the dory was introduced to the Colorado River. It was a gracious meeting, and there was plenty of water ( 5000cfs +/-). It felt great to be boating on a muddy, red river again.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wild & Scenic Rivers

Utah has many wild and scenic rivers, but no "Wild and Scenic" rivers. The latter, a federal designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The law states:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes. (Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968)

Wild and Scenic designation is a powerful and dynamic solution to river protection. W&S designation affords river segments protection from dam building, diversions and development, while allowing the public to utilize the river for boating, fishing, and other uses which don't harm the river. A perfect candidate for this designation is Utah's Green River, including the Red Canyon section below Flaming Gorge Dam ("A" Section), Desolation Canyon, and Labyrinth Canyon.

On Friday, Sept. 21st (after spending the night at Dripping Springs listening to the elk bugle) I had the privilege to float the "A" Section below Flaming Gorge as part of a publicity event and press tour in conjunction with the Utah Rivers Council ( Wild and Scenic Rivers campaign for Utah, as an adoptee of the Green River through URC's "Get Wild with a River" program. We were joined by several staff and board members from URC, Denny Breer (owner of Trout Creek Flies in Dutch John), members of the press, representatives from the Dagget County Commission, the Governor's office of public lands planning, and the Ashley National Forest district ranger. We took turns speaking to one another as we floated through the serene canyon, and traded our views on the benefits and drawbacks to protecting a river.

Hard to say what will come of this. Already there is stiff opposition to any form of federal protection for rivers in Utah. Some land managers and local government officials feel their hands will be tied by any sort of new management framework.

I feel like we are rapidly losing our wild and scenic rivers to development. Some, like the White River, are more threatened than others. But all of these rivers deserve protection. Whether its W&S, or Wilderness, or something else. We need to think of our wild and scenic rivers as resource, not to be impounded and drilled and scarred by off road vehicles and motorized use, but to be shepherded and stewarded for future generations.

Press Links: Updated 10/3/07

Salt Lake Tribune, October 3, 2007
Wild & Scenic Green River - Multimedia

Salt Lake Tribune, October 3, 2007
In the name of rivers

Deseret Morning News, September 26, 2007
Wild & Scenic Green River,5143,695213194,00.html, September 21st, 2007
Group Wants Utah's Rivers Federally Protected

Rock Me On The Water

Before today I had never heard of Renny Russell, but now I feel like he is somehow my cosmic doppelganger, add 30-40 years. Today I got an email from a coworker, letting me know that this dude was going to be speaking tonight at Ken Sanders' book store, about Desolation Canyon and building dories and other things that sounded interesting. So I wrote a message to myself on my left hand: 7 Ken Sanders, meaning go to Ken Sanders at 7. Well, Ray called me at about 7 and said he'd be drinking in the garage and did I want to come over and drink in the garage too. Of course I did. So I left to go to Rays. But when I got in my car, I looked at the clock and it said 7:14. Something clicked. I looked down at my left hand. 7 Ken Sanders. So I turned west and went to Ken's book store instead. Glad I did. (Sorry Ray.)

If you grew up in the sixties, maybe you've heard of this guy Renny. He wrote a book called "On the Loose" which I'm told was a cult classic. But I was more struck by the story he told of the tragedy of his brother's death at Steer Ridge on the Green River in Desolation Canyon, when the boat they were in flipped. Renny walked 75 some odd miles out of Deso to the town of Green River and basically disapeared off the face of the earth. His brothers body was found in the eddy above Florence Creek a few days later.

His new book "Rock Me On The Water" tells the story of "a life on the loose," the loss of his brother, and of Renny's return to the river by way of building dories. I can't wait to read it. He read some passages, and showed some unbelievable slides from a life of river running. One incredible picture caught my attention, of a dory guide in the Grand Canyon posing in front of a mangled wooden dory, missing half it's bow. Literally, the entire right-front panel of the boat (where the name is painted) was literally blown out, gunnel and all. The missing piece, proudly being displayed by the guide. Big smile on his face. It turns out, the boat had been flipped in Crystal rapid, and had become pinned in the rock garden below, with the guide underneath entangled by his life jacket. He escaped. The dory was recovered, and to my amazement, repaired! I am told it is still in use today. The boat's name was "Wooden shoe." I would love to see it on the river some day.

I must confess, I picked up a copy of his book from Ken's, and after speaking with Renny for a few minutes and having him sign the book, I walked out of the store without paying for it. Sorry Ken! I'll be in first thing tomorrow to settle my tab.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Genesis in Pictures

Dave Inskeep Photo.

Dave Inskeep Photo.

Dave Inskeep Photo.

Dave Inskeep Photo.

Drift Boat, or Dory?

Depends on who you ask. It seems that people who use their craft specifically for fishing, tend to call them drift boats. Those who use them for general river running tend to call them dories.

Roger Fletcher, of Rivers Touch ( has dedicated himself to "preserving and promoting the quiet wakes of drift boats on water, the most elegant of river craft." To this end, he has produced an incredible book which documents the evolution of the dory, their history, design, construction, and use. I bought a copy of this book the day it came out, and all I can say is that I wished I'd had it when I was building my boat. Visit Roger's website and order yourself a copy. It includes plans and construction tips for several boats, including the square-end "Rapid Robert," the classic Single and Double-ender MacKenzies, the Rogue River hull, and the Gerry Briggs Grand Canyon Dory.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

River Log: 2006/07

Updated 11/26/07


White River , UT – May 5-7
• Bonanza Bridge to Enron, 32 miles; Class I-II

Green River , UT – June 1-3
• Browns Park – Indian Crossing to Crook Campground, 30 miles; Class I-II

Green River , UT – July 29-30
• Flaming Gorge dam to Indian Crossing, 15 miles; Class II-III

Green River, UT – August 26-27
• Little Hole to Indian Crossing, 8 miles; Class I-III


Colorado River , UT – February 17
• Moab Daily - secret put in to Takeout Beach, 15 miles; Class II-III

Colorado River, UT – February 18
• Moab Daily - Hittle Bottom to Takeout Beach, 13 miles; Class II-III

Colorado River, AZ – March 4-24
• Grand Canyon - Lees Ferry to Diamond Ck., 225 miles; Class II-IV

Green River, UT – May 20-24
• Labyrinth Canyon - Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom, 45 miles; Class I

Green River, UT* – June 8-14
• Desolation Canyon - Sand Wash to Swaseys, 84 miles; Class II-III

Green River, UT* – July 30-31
• Flaming Gorge to Indian Crossing, 15 miles; Class II-III. 800 cfs

Green River, UT *– August 11-12
• Browns Park - Indian Crossing to Swallow Canyon, 11 miles; Class I-II. 800 cfs

Green River, UT* – Sept 1-3
• Upper Desolation Canyon – Pariette to Sand Wash, 24 miles; Class I

Snake River , WY* – Sept 8
• Alpine Canyon – Pritchard to Sheep Gulch, 16 miles; Class II-III, ~6000 cfs

Snake River , WY* – Sept 9
• Alpine Canyon – Elbow to Sheep Gulch, 10 miles; Class II-III, ~6000 cfs

Green River, UT* - Sept 21
• "A" Section - Flaming Gorge to Little Hole, 8 miles; Class II-III, 800 cfs

Colorado River, UT* - Sept 23
• Moab Daily - Rocky Rapid to Takeout Beach; Class II-III, 5000 cfs

Colorado River, UT* - Sept 30
• Moab Daily - Onion Creek to Takeout Beach; Class II-III, 4300 cfs

Colorado River, CO* - Nov 23-25
• Horsethief & Ruby - Loma to Westwater; Class I-II, ~3600 cfs


Thursday, September 13, 2007

What's in a name?

des o la tion

a state of complete emptiness or destruction: the stony desolation of the desert.

Martin Litton named his armada of dories, all painted in bright and distinctive colors, after natural wonders which, in his eyes, had been foolhardily despoiled by man. The names of women, royalty, mythology, and the heavens have all been thoroughly seined for depiction upon the bows and transoms of thousands of boats. But for me, Litton's approach seemed fitting, and organic.

His boats took the names of Hetch Hetchy (a canyon north of Yosemite described by John Muir as the holiest temple ever consecrated by the heart of man, and later flooded to feed the burgeoning city of San Francisco as it struggled to pick up the pieces after the devastating 1906 earthquake.; Music Temple (a feature in Glen Canyon on the Colorado River first described by John Wesley Powell in 1869. Powell wrote of this place "When 'Old Shady' sings us a song at night, we are pleased to find that this hollow in the rock is filled with sweet sounds. It was doubtless made for an academy of music by its storm-born architect; so we name it ‘Music Temple." The temple entrance was lined with majestic box elder and cottonwood trees. Inside there was a clear, deep pool of water. A one second note was said to resonate for eleven seconds. In 1963, Glen Canyon Dam was completed, flooding 186 miles of the Colorado River and a spectacular region that had been proposed as a National Park before WWII. The 125 major side canyons of Glen Canyon, comprising the biological heart of the Colorado River, was flooded as Powell Reservoir backed up over the next 17 years. David Brower summed up the feelings of many when he called the loss of Glen Canyon, "America's most regretted environmental mistake."; and Sequoia (for the worlds largest trees, endangered by development and harvest. Litton is often attributed as the Father of Redwood National Park, which exists in part because of his consistent drum beating on behalf of the mighty trees.

And that brings us to Utah - the center of a three- decade-old debate over wilderness protection - and the Canyon of Desolation:
North of Green River, Utah, the 2,000-foot-high escarpment of the Book and Roan cliffs marks the southern perimeter of a million-acre wilderness of exceptional geographic and biological diversity. Bounded by a 250-mile-long thousand- foot-high band of cliffs, the longest continuous escarpment in the world, the Book Cliffs Region is one of the largest unprotected natural and predominantly roadless areas in the western United States. This region is rich in wildlife habitat, ancient cultural remains, and current recreational opportunities. Because of its size, lack of human intrusions, and the diversity and abundance of its habitat, the Book Cliffs Region is an important sanctuary for wildlife. An estimated 375 vertebrate species-half the number found in all of Utah-are found in this region. Its historical significance to humans is marked by numerous archaeological sites, including rock art, rock shelters, campsites, and burial grounds. Today people float the region’s White and Green Rivers, hunt its canyons and mesas, or simply enjoy observing wildlife bound over silver-green sage and early light burn on redrock cliffs. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently called the Desolation Canyon
area “a place where a visitor can experience true solitude - where the forces of nature continue to shape the colorful, rugged landscape.”

"Wilderness At the Edge" - Utah Wilderness Coalition, 1989
After barely surviving the Canyon of Lodore, and traveling through the vast open expanses of the Uinta Basin, Powell and his remaining crew must have felt some apprehension upon approaching the rising walls of signaling their descent into yet another unknown canyon. Powell's writings reflect this anxiety:

After dinner we pass through a region of wildest desolation. The canyon is very tortuous, the river very rapid, and many lateral canyons enter on either side. The region is cut into a wilderness of gray and brown cliffs. Piles of broken rock lie against these walls; crags and tower-shaped peaks are seen everywhere, and away above them, long lines of broken cliffs; and above and beyond the cliffs are pine forests of which we obtain occasional glimpses as we look up through a vista of rocks. We are minded to call this the Canyon of Desolation.

"The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons" - J.W. Powell, 1869
In some ways, little has changed since Powell first surveyed the Canyon of Desolation. But in many ways, everything has changed. What was once an impossibly unreachable wilderness is now traveled by thousands of people every year; so many that the BLM has been forced to implement a permit system for anyone wishing to undertake a private trip through the canyon.

But river runners are far from the only impact to the region. U.S.Geological Survey estimates a mean of 21 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas and a mean of 60 million barrels of undiscovered oil in the Uinta Basin. According to the federal government’s Energy Information Administration, the state of Utah holds approximately 2.5 percent of the country’s proven natural gas reserves and a mere one percent of the country’s proven oil reserves. Only a fraction of that lies beneath proposed wilderness. In fact, government figures show that “technically recoverable” (but not necessarily economically recoverable) undiscovered natural gas and oil resources on proposed wilderness lands amount to less than 4 weeks of natural gas and roughly 4 days of oil at current consumption levels. Such a trivial amount will hardly make or break our nation’s energy independence. But it sure can make a few people rich, and as so it is being exploited. The White River, and the Canyon of Desolation being squarely in the center of this most incredible proliferation of extractive industry and it's accompanying infrastructure of roads, pipelines, pumps and compressors. The worst has yet to penetrate the depths of the inner canyon in Deso, but one only needs to look at the White River and Upper Deso to see what the effects would be if it did. Paradise, lost.

And so, following in the footsteps of Martin, I offer up my tribute to one of the greatest natural treasures of our world: Desolation Canyon. In lament of the reaches already lost to development, and in hopes that the rest remains wild.