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.