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Canyon Country; Green River

Green River

Beginning as a Rocky Mountain stream amid deep snows and alpine lakes in western Wyoming's Wind River Range, the Green River courses generally south through Utah -- and some of the most magnificent desert canyons in the West -- to its confluence with the Colorado.

The Green's headwaters are on the western slope of the Continental Divide just 50 miles southeast of Jackson. Snowmelt from mountains including 13,804' Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming, gathers in Green River Lakes. Leaving the lakes, the river briefly heads north, then buttonhooks south out of the mountains and into a long run through sagebrush-covered plateau country. Here, the Upper Green offers some 200 miles of runnable river -- mostly flatwater, but with some Class II and III whitewater in the upper reaches. All of these sections receive very light use; most of the river traffic is local canoeists and fishermen.1

Downstream from the town of Green River, Wyoming, the river pauses in Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which sprawls across the Wyoming-Utah border and floods several lovely canyons named by Major Powell during his 1869 expedition down the Green and the Colorado. Below Flaming Gorge Dam in northeastern Utah, boaters can still enjoy the remaining half of Red Canyon and all of Swallow Canyon, both of which have fine scenery and easy rapids.

Below Swallow Canyon the Green wanders placidly eastward across the open flats of Browns Park and into the northwestern corner of Colorado. Then the river turns south by southwest into the heart of the Uinta Mountains and Dinosaur National Monument. This stretch of the Green, which begins with a run through the spectacular Canyon of Lodore, is one of the West's most renowned river trips. Except at rare high water, the rapids are of only moderate difficulty.

At the end of Lodore is the confluence with the undammed Yampa River, which during peak snowmelt adds 10,000 to 15,000 cfs to the Green's dam-controlled flow. Downstream lie Whirlpool and Split Mountain Canyons. The 44-mile trip through Dinosaur National Monument ends near Jensen, Utah.

Below Dinosaur the Green winds through open terrain in the Uinta Basin. Soon after the White and Duschene Rivers join the Green near Ouray, Utah, the river slices southward into the broad uplift of the Tavaputs Plateau. The ensuing run down Desolation and Gray Canyons is one of the Canyon Country's best wilderness floats, offering superb scenery and easy to moderate whitewater. The 84-mile run ends at the town of Green River in east central Utah.

The last 120 miles of the Green are calm and quiet. This is one of the West's finest flatwater wilderness trips, well suited for open canoes except at high water. Labyrinth and Stillwater Canyons require little in the way of whitewater skills, but basic boating ability, thorough planning, and solid outdoor experience are essential for a successful journey through these remote gorges.

This run also provides a popular approach to the big rapids of Cataract Canyon on the Colorado. Many Cataract trips launch at the last road access at Mineral Bottom, near the end of 70-mile-long Labyrinth Canyon, and float 50 miles of flatwater to the Colorado confluence. Below Mineral Bottom the Green enters Canyonlands National Park and eventually Stillwater Canyon. At the end of Stillwater the Green meets the Colorado at one of the West's most imposing confluences. Flatwater boaters can float less than four miles of the Colorado to Spanish Bottom and then use motors or a jet boat tow to make their way back up the Green or up the Colorado to Moab. Whitewater boaters can continue downstream through the much tougher whitewater of Cataract Canyon, provided they have the necessary skills, equipment, and permit.

1 Dan Lewis, Paddle and Portage: The Floater's Guide to Wyoming Rivers covers all these upper runs in detail.

Excerpted from Western Whitewater from the Rockies to the PacificCopyright 1994 Jim Cassady, Bill Cross, and Fryar Calhoun. Reproduced in cooperation with Fryar Calhoun.


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