Down a River in Utah

At certain points, the cliff walls that overhang the Green River seem to be on the verge of crumbling down at any moment, as if they’re carefully holding their breath and the dislodging of one particle of sand has the potential to send tons of boulders crashing down into the lethargic water below. I entertained this thought while paddling through Labyrinth Canyon in a canoe, even though the looser-looking chunks of sandstone above had been resting there for who knows how long, and would likely stay put for the duration of our journey, if not longer.

It wasn’t so much the fear of being squished by a rock that spurred my imagination but rather the wonder at how such a presently tame waterway could cut through the hard, compact earth in such a way as to create this:

canoeing

The stillness was suspenseful, until I got used to itUnless a flash flood happened while we were there, which would have been super inconvenient, I was unlikely to witness any change at all. I do wish someone could make a time-lapse video of a blind arch becoming (and becoming, and becoming, and becoming) an arch. I’ll check back in maybe five thousand years. 

I’m grateful, of course, that the Green River kept its cool while it transported us through the canyon for the forty-six miles from Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom. We had a few more things going for us: we were the last group (six people, three canoes) launched by Tex’s Riverways for the year, so there was no one else with whom to compete for places to camp or to contradict the notion that we were intrepid explorers of a unique sort. Also, since it was late October, we avoided exposure to heat during the day (this is desert, after all) and the night chill only made the campfire more enjoyable.

I’ve seen many herons but rarely one of the blue persuasion.

The boys–Ben, Mike and Dane–had a couple advantages being at the back of the canoe. For one, they could trail their fishing lines behind them and cast frequently without snagging their canoe-mates, in theory. No fish were caught; the murky-water dwellers turned up their noses to the Powerbait. I’m not saying that there’s no enjoyment to be derived from even fruitless fishing, but at some point you have to put up the pole and paddle, dammit. The other advantage was that they could simply stand, turn 180 degrees and relieve themselves into the river without interrupting our progress. Since the only permissible place to piss was in the river, this advantage must not be underestimated.

As for the ladies–Liana, Alexis and myself–getting the front seat is the advantage itself.

cloudy skies

We did spend a lot of time on the river but we would pull up to the bank for a leisurely lunch and stop for exploration by foot through some empty river beds whose crust was damp but cracked. After the first docking experience during which we discovered one can easily sink up to the navel in silt, we became more selective about where to land. We (i.e., Alexis) referred to a detailed waterproof map to keep track of our progress and to decide on which bottom, strategically speaking, would work as a camp site.

We explored the riverbed where the temptation to slather oneself with nutrient-rich clay is just too much for some people.

We explored the riverbed where the temptation to slather oneself with nutrient-rich clay is just too much for some people.

Since conventional means of entertainment were absent on this trip, we entertained ourselves with roasting marshmallows, campfire stories and hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. We found that canned re-fried beans, when placed directly into the fire, behave like a jack-in-the-box. I won’t go into Ben’s display of “freestyle canoeing” here but suffice it to say it made quite a splash.

Here we saw the footprints of either a badger or large bird. Debate goes on.

Here we saw the footprints of either a badger or large bird. Debate goes on.

Within 24 hours of the last meal on the river, while Alexis and Mike went back to Colorado, the rest of us were checking into the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, with its anemic animal sanctuary and cigarette smoke, showering for the first time in five days and then dashing over to the Bellagio for buffet. I saw the big platters of shellfish and thought of Tom Hanks in Castaway, picking up a crab leg from a buffet table after being rescued. The lobby had a stunning fall-themed display with an Oz-like animatronic tree, giant pumpkins, and elaborate waterworks, but it had nothing on our riparian wonderland.

I think the author of The Wind in the Willows would agree:

`Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING–absolute nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: `messing–about–in–boats; messing—-‘

`Look ahead, Rat!’ cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.

`–about in boats–or WITH boats,’ the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. `In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not. Look here! If you’ve really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?’

A river’s a great place for reflection.