The Ultimate Kids Trip: 4th graders and their families get in to the Monument for FREE.
I have the reputation as the “kids” guide at Dinosaur River Expeditions. Every time there’s a trip with someone under the age of 13, they are inevitably my favorite guest (sorry adults). I can talk for hours with a 10 year old about their favorite candy, or listen to stories about the time they rode sleeping bags down the stairs, completely captivated. This fact is the reason that when Dinosaur booked their first trip with more children than guardians, I found myself rowing the kids’ boat down the Green River.
It was a late August Gates of Lodore trip, and we had made it through all the big rapids like Hell’s Half Mile. I volunteered to take the kids’ boat the night before, assuming not all of them would want to come with me. The next thing I knew, I was rowing through Whirlpool Canyon with, no joke, a raft overrun with twelve animated children. We listened to the three Twenty One Pilot songs I happened to have downloaded on my iPod, on repeat, repeatedly. The kids’ faces were caked with seven colors of zinc sunscreen: a creative dad brought them to trick the kids into protecting their young skin from the sun. “War Paint!” They yelled every morning, excited to be decorate themselves; no one questioned what they were at war with…
They stood on the frame, and along the tubes of the boat, with the impressive balance of someone who doesn’t know they should be falling over. They danced (some with terrible kid moves you couldn’t help but love and some who should seriously consider dance as profession) with abandon. “Rapid!” I would yell, pausing the music, and 12 little bodies would suddenly sit down and hang onto “something strappy” on my command. As soon as the rapid ended, they flew back into the frenzied floating dance party.
We floated through the canyon, experiencing our own versions of perfection.
We arrive at camp and the kids scatter, digging in the sand, catching lizards, playing a kind of tag they invented.
A few minutes, later the US Fish and Wildlife Biologists stopped at our camp. They had seen our trip of kids and stopped to treat us with a few cool tidbits about the fish in Dinosaur National Monument. The kids piled onto the boat, the biologists pulled out ten fish from a cooler, and showed them each one before tossing it back into the water. The kids squealed with glee as each fish splashed into the river and swam away.
Doesn’t this sound like a kids’ paradise to you? The billion-year-old rocks aren’t fragile, they can touch everything in sight (except the petroglyphs). The kids won’t care if there is sand in every crevice of their body, about the geology, or the history of the place, but they feel its enchantment. Your family can dance, make s’mores, bury each other in the sand and make new friends. Some friendships will be a fleeting reminder of the freedom you felt on the river: like when you see a lizard you remember the one you caught named Gary. Other friendships might be the kind that last a lifetime. What can I say, the kids and I get each other. I never grew out of my kid phase: I want to touch the water, the sand, the river, breath in the hot air, and believe in magic.
National Parks Foundation seems to understand the kids too, as they started the “Every kid in a Park” initiative. Every4th grader and their families can get into any National Park or Monument in the country for free. The magic in the National Parks is greater than Disneyland and this program allows every kid and their families to experience it.
One of the greatest perks of going on a river rafting trip is the lack of cell phone service and internet connection. Today the average American spends over 10 hours looking at a screen every day and the rise of social media is linked with a rise in mental health disorders among teens. Being unplugged is many guests favorite part of the trip, but it can also be nerve wrecking. Not to worry, you aren’t alone in your fears, and we promise it will all be worth it.
Like a college freshman walking into their dorm room for the first time you are filled with questions, nervous, but also excited. What will it be like? It’s the first time my whole family has been unplugged. Maybe I will have service…? Will the internet miss me?
I hate to burst your bubble, but the internet will not miss you. The world of social media will go on to fight another day without you. We recommend you leave your phones in the car (it will make your withdrawals end sooner). Prepare by digging out your old IPod classic and speaker, find a good camera, a deck of cards, and that book you have been wanting to read. If you must bring your phone download a few extra Spotify playlists and delete a few games to make sure there is plenty of room for photos.
But what if something happens while I’m gone!?Not to worry, your guides carry a satellite deivice called an “In-Reach” for emergencies. This means that if something happens in the real world and you NEED to know about immediately, you will. But please keep in mind this is for emergencies only, not to check the score of the Pat’s game.
You are on your way. Your family is lounging in the summer sun, half listening to your guide chatter about the history of Dinosaur National Monument and how old the rocks are, gazing at the beautiful canyon before you. You’re finally breathing easy when your oldest child pulls out his phone to take a snapchat. He realizes that there’s a snap unloaded on his phone. Panic sets in. They weren’t lying, there is no service. Your kids ask at every bend, “Is there service here?” staring at a screen missing the most spectacular views you have ever seen. You’re telling your children to relax and just enjoy the movement and secretly you are wishing you could check Twitter.
Finally, at camp the first night you’re sitting in mesh chair arranged in a circle on the sandy beaches of the gorgeous Green River next to you. You pretend to read your book, really thinking about the day spent listening to your kids ask all the questions you wanted to…
The chairs around you start to fill and you put down your book to chat. The what do you dos and where are you froms eventually lead to someone asking “Which state has the largest concentration of dairy farms?” Un-googleable, it sparks a lively debate and leads to stories about your childhood summers spent on a dairy farm in Nebraska.
Enjoying the Moment:
All the chairs are full and you watch your children laugh uncontrollably at one another in the firelight. Everything seems to be at peace, a million stars you’ve never seen twinkle above you and silently, you realize that no one has mentioned their phones in hours. You are unplugged. The next three days are full of towering canyon walls, thrilling whitewater, storytelling, and debating which collection of stars is Cassiopeia. You stay up late, loving this time spent with family and new friends, pre-trip worries entirely dissolved.
An Overwhelming Reintroduction:
You float up to the Split Mountain boat ramp at the end of your trip so glad you have unplugged, but just a little curious about what happened while you were gone. You hold your breath to hug your guides goodbye, tearing up a bit, equal parts sad to go and overwhelmed by the smell. Thrilled with the whole experience, you pile into the van back to the hotel. You pull out your phone and it starts to buzz. Bzzzz, bzzzz, bzzz. My God, it won’t stop! 150 group messages from the ladies in your gym class complaining about how sore they are, 30 emails from J-Crew alerting you to another 20% sale, and New York Times notifications roll in one after another! Completely overwhelmed, you realize you told everyone you wouldn’t have service until the next day and you turn off your phone, to enjoy the last few minutes of your unplugged paradise.
It was another in a long series of preposterous ideas pursued by Dory Moon Expeditions. The Canyon of Lodore–the steepest, rockiest stretch of the Green and Colorado–in wooden dories full of gear and people. A stretch of water usually so desiccated by Flaming Gorge Dam’s paltry releases that it is all but impassable to hard-hulled boats. We tried it once in 1991, gambling on the annual Memorial Day (-ish) fishery releases, but lost the bet and had to switch to rafts and rumble through on under 1,000 cfs. We tried again in 1995 and won, rowing dories through on a falling release of about 3,500 cfs with only minor damage. But we hadn’t had the nerve to try it again in over two decades.
With several of our core dory crew now in our sixties (we like to call ourselves sexagenarians), we figured there’s not much time to left to do goofy things. So after last year’s wacky Rogue River dory trip’s success (we only crashed three or four boats), we held our breath and gambled on another Memorial Day release, hoping for at least 2,500 cfs to bash our way through.
Imagine our surprise and delight to see the Upper Green River Basin fill to over 250% of normal snowpack over the winter, and find the river running at nearly maximum release throughout the spring. Jackpot.
I headed north, picked up Coop and his dory in Dolores, and headed for Dinosaur. Coming over Douglass Pass we were astonished to see an enormous cinnamon-colored bear tumble into the road, regain his composure, and scramble up the embankment back into the forest. A good omen no doubt. As we neared our goal and the evening light grew richer, we stopped to soak in the glory.
We found Andy and Kate and two more dories doing the same. RJ and Bruce, coming in from other directions, soon joined the sunset party.
The next day at Dinosaur River Expeditions we sidled the top boats over for loading.
And the following morning drove to Flaming Gorge Dam, bursting with the water we had so been looking forward to getting. The gage held steady through our trip at over 7,000 cfs. Woohoo!
And away we go. Eighteen innocent clients (well, kind of innocent), six dories, and three rafts full of extraneous gear.
Down through Red Canyon.
A side hike up to Shorty Burton’s old cabin. A log has fallen on hole #2 of his double outhouse.
And the main cabin could use a bit of maintenance.
Camp at Red Creek–such a spectacular place. A wind storm and rain welcome us to the wilds.
Overnight Red Creek went into flood upstream, giving us a two-tone river. The good news is that Bruce, unlike the last two times we camped here, did not have a malarial attack. I think it was because of the large quantities of preventative quinine water and juniper juice we drank that evening.
At Taylor Flat, the old low bridge was finally blown away by the high water of 1983. So what did they do? Replaced it with another low bridge–too low to get the dories under at this high flow. Out come the roller tubes.
After careful measuring, we lined the rafts beneath the bridge with four inches to spare. As a reward, the bridge grew us a tasty morel for an appetizer.
We were back afloat in under two hours, but with a headwind and a long haul across Brown’s Park ahead of us. Here is the old Swinging Bridge. It was always a thrill to drive across as it swung and rippled. You always wondered if it would hold. (Like Amil Quayle’s poem, Stairways–“It feels risky and nice. I’m sure it’ll collapse someday. Somebody might get hurt. I always wonder if this will be the time.”) Well, a few years ago a tractor got the booby prize, and the bridge was formally closed to vehicles. The remains tell the story.
A beautiful evening at Crook Camp.
Best cook crew ever.
Lodore School–a remnant of more populous times.
And the Gates of Lodore open to accept us–one of the more amazing views on any river trip. We’re going in there?
Scouting Disaster Falls, where Major Powell lost the No Name. It goes on and on.
Go that way. But watch out for that.
The mid-section of Disaster was completely huge, but we all bounced through. Camp at Pot Creek.
Leah finds a friend.
Morning story time. We each tell the intertwined sagas of our dories’ lives.
Harp Falls rocks and rolls.
Triplet Falls. More scouting as ice balls fall from the sky.
Melissa shows us the way, pausing to blow us a kiss half way through.
And finally, the crux move. Hell’s Half Mile. So well named. Routinely portaged at great labor until 1922 when Bert Loper said “to hell with it!” and ran it. Fast, powerful, studded with boulders and logs, and endless. A long, busy, difficult run.
The raftsmen show us the way, and Bruce tries to convince us it works for a dory. Wowzers.
And we make it through with only one minor flesh wound. A late but exuberant lunch at Rippling Brook and a walk to the falls.
Evening festivities at Wild Mountain.
A morning hike to a vista above Alcove Brook.
And Lodore comes to a dramatic end as we hit the Mitten Park Fault and enter Echo Park.
A visit to one of Pat Lynch’s monogrammed caves.
Cooling off in Whispering Cave.
Kate’s sore knee hitchhiking back to the boats.
Steamboat Rock. It would have been a wee island in a large reservoir but for David Brower and Martin Litton’s leadership in defeating Echo Park Dam. Thanks again, guys.
Lunch on the backside of the Mitten Park Fault.
What is RJ looking at?
The Denis Julien inscription. A trapper who plied the Green back in the 1830s.
Evening light at Stateline Camp. We are cautiously optimistic about this voyage. Okay, not that cautious.
Inventing our own parking lot at Jone’s Hole.
While the others hike the creek, I celebrate four years of ukulele abuse under the tree where I first laid hands on one.
We exit Whirlpool Canyon into Island Park. The bison on the wall is there to welcome us.
So are the mosquitoes. They are drilling through Carhartts in this shot.
But the sunset is marvelous.
Marching through the cheatgrass to the Wedding Panel.
Amazing petroglyphs accessible by a scary climb or via sensible binoculars.
Entering Split Mountain Canyon, the final gauntlet.
After a raucous ride through Moonshine, SOB, and Schoolboy Rapids, we stop for lunch. So do the bighorn ewes.
After cutting into Split Mountain, the river parallels the mountain crest, then turns to cut out the far side.
At Split Mountain boat ramp, where most people, eyes looking downward, scurry to pack their boats away and leave, we camp and admire the uncommon beauty.
We spend one final morning cruising the Big W–a winding stretch of river below Split Mountain that offers magnificent views of the cliffs we just exited.
And life-size petroglyphs.
And lichen art.
As we turn south into the gray Mancos Shale, our passengers depart and we push the remaining six miles to Jensen Bridge.
Against odds, the ancient mariners made it through again. We’ll be back in another twenty-two years.
Thanks to Tyler and Jen Callantine of Dinosaur River Expeditions for supporting this madness. And our support crew: Brett Smith, Sweet Melissa Frogh, and young Jacoby. And our stalwart dorymen Andy Hutchinson, Kate Thompson, RJ Johnson, Tim Cooper, Bruce Keller, and myself.
Vernal, Utah has some excellent white water river rafting opportunities from one day river rafting trips to five day expeditions in Dinosaur National Monument and the Flaming Gorge Recreation area. In our opinion the best river rafting Utah has to offer is based out of Vernal with the Green River Gates of Lodore and Yampa River in our backyard. These rivers are the places modern river running began in the early 1900’s when Vernal’s local adventurer’s would build their own wooden boats and go out on the river learning how to navigate the white water found along the way.
Many of these trips began near Green River, Wyoming floating through the canyons of Flaming Gorge through Brown’s Park, Colorado eventually ending near Jensen, Utah at the Split Mountain boat ramp in Dinosaur National Monument. As the popularity increased so did the options that the local river outfitters offered to folks seeking a river rafting trip. For people with a limited time frame or limited budget a one day river rafting trip is a great option. Our one day white water river rafting trip begins at the base of the Flaming Gorge Dam and takes a seven mile course down the Green River to our take out point Little Hole.
Construction of Flaming Gorge Dam, as part of the Colorado River Storage Project, began in June 1958 with the last bucket of concrete placed on November 15, 1962. The 502 foot-high thin-arch concrete dam is located on the Green River in northeastern Utah about 32 miles downstream from the Utah-Wyoming border. Flaming Gorge Dam is one of the four units of the CRSP, which provides vital water storage and hydropower generation as well as many recreation benefits.
On December 10, 1962, the waters of the Green River began filling the reservoir behind Flaming Gorge Dam and nearly a year later on September 27, 1963, President John F. Kennedy initiated the first power generation at Flaming Gorge power plant. The dam was dedicated on August 17, 1964, by former First Lady, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson.
With the construction of this dam and the crystal clear water that flows out of it down the Green River, a prime recreation area has been developed. The dam provides a constant flow of water each summer for rafting and fishing bringing travelers from all over the world to see this incredible landscape.
This section of river has great class 2 rapids, incredible scenery, crystal clear water and abundant wildlife. We are the only locally owned and operated outfitter in Vernal, Utah offering trips since 1979. The other outfitters are based in areas far away from the region. Why go rafting with the big corporations when you can go with the local expert? I know who I choose when traveling, the local expert. The Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam is most often called Section A or Red Canyon. It is a 7 mile float with beautiful scenery and interspersed with fun rapids throughout the day. The most popular rapids are Mother In Law, Bridge Rapid and Dripping Springs. The other rapids are just as fun and offer something for everyone. The river is world renowned for it’s blue ribbon trout fishing. There are approximately 1000 trout per mile. It is great for the kids, they can watch over the edge of the raft and see fish as you raft down the river. We offer a fantastic deli lunch mid day. Typically on a beautiful sandy beach where you can take a swim or do a little sun bathing. There are a lot of wildlife viewing options. Mule deer, bighorn sheep, occasionally moose or elk can be seen on the drive to the river and along the river banks. A lot of birds can be seen, osprey, bald eagles, and a wide variety of ducks.
If you are looking for a family, group or solo adventure give a single day river rafting trip on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam a try this summer. Dates fill up quickly so you will want to reserve your space in advance. Give us a call we will be happy to help you plan out the best one day raft trip in Utah.