Utah – Dead Horse Point SP, Delicate Arch, & Colorado National Monument

July 2020

Exploring & Rafting Arches & Cataract Canyon in Utah

Part 5 – Dead Horse Point, Arches Delicate Arch & Colorado National Monument

Dead Horse Point State Park

Since the rafting trip was ended and it was still early afternoon, we returned to the hotel to check-in and then immediately drove in the car to Dead Horse Point State Park. This park follows a narrow mesa that juts out and overlooks Canyonlands National Park with spectacular view and was recommended by the River Guides for us to visit.  At this park, the Entrance Gate was open and there was a $20 charge to enter. Dead Horse Point is a small and narrow mesa connected by a very narrow “neck” where early cowboys would drive wild horses to capture and secure them.  Apparently, one time, they left a large pen of horses trapped there, but with no way out and no water, they all died, thus giving the area its name. At the park’s “Point”, the trails follow the mesa’s edge and one can see amazing views of the Colorado Canyons.  After exploring each of the easy trails and views, clouds began to roll-in, so we began the trip back.  On the way out of the park, we noticed signs for “Yurts”!  Not knowing what “yurts” are, we followed the signs and came upon a group of wooden platforms supporting large, round, pointy “tents” that are apparently for rent from the park.  Most of them were occupied by families with off road bicycles, which the park supports with a large number of dedicated biking trails.

Dead Horse Point State Park Map

After returning to the hotel, we showered and went to the liquor store to buy a celebratory bottle of wine.  However, it turned out that today was “Pioneer Day” – a State Holiday in Utah, and the store was closed.  Then we went to dinner at our favorite eatery – The Brewery – and bought a bottle of wine with dinner from them.  That night we packed and prepared for the next day’s adventures.

Colorado River from Dead Horse Point
Cataract Canyon from Dead Horse Point
The Loop from Dead Horse Point

Arches Park’s Delicate Arch

On Saturday we awoke early and immediately drove to Arches National Park and drove to the “Wolfe Ranch” trailhead to the famous and oft-photographed “Delicate Arch”. The moderate morning weather would make the 3-mile 2.5-hour hike more enjoyable. 

Hike to Arches Delicate Arch Map

Upon arrival, there were only ~10 cars already there and the trail in front of us was vacant.  The trail starts with a few ups and downs, but soon starts a steady ascent over slick rock petrified sand dunes with the trail marked by stone cairns and an occasional “trail” sign. The final part of the trail is a small ledge that circles a rock spire before coming into view of the arch located across a steep, circular depression. The backside of the arch is a very steep drop to the mesa floor, but the few people that are there are respectful taking turns taking their pose under the “Delicate Arch”.  After taking our fill of pictures and relaxing to enjoy the view, we begin the hike back to the trailhead passing an increasing number of people making their trek to this landmark.  Upon getting back to the parking lot by ~9:30am, the number of cars now number in the 100’s and we are glad we began early before the crowds came and the temperature rose.  We return to the hotel for breakfast and showers before packing, loading up the Jeep and checking out to begin the uneventful drive back to Grand Junction.

Arches Delicate Arch
Side view of Delicate Arch
Hike Down from Delicate Arch

In Grand Junction, we check into our hotel located only 1/2 -mile from the airport and unload our gear.  This hotel is a throwback to hotels of the west from 30 years ago, but the rooms are huge and comfortable. Once we are settled, we decide to grab some lunch on the outdoor patio of a local “Buffalo Wild Wings”, which we have not visited in over a year.

The Colorado Nation Monument

After lunch, we decide to take one last scenic drive along the 26-mile Rim Rock Drive of the Colorado National Monument Park. Colorado National Monument Provides some great views of the town of Grand Junction, towering columns, and red rock canyons. The drive ascends to the top of a mesa and follows its edge along every nook and cranny.  At the end of the drive before the descent off the mesa, we stop and visit the Visitors’ Center where the Ranger tells us that we just missed seeing a group of the park’s Bighorn Sheep.

Grand Junction from Red Canyon Overlook on Colorado National Monument Rim Road
Ute Canyon from Colorado National Monument Rim Road
Artist Point from Colorado National Monument Rim Road
Independence Monument at Colorado National Monument

Our final drive is to the airport where we drop off our Jeep rental car and call the hotel for a shuttle ride back.  After showering, we enjoy drinks at the hotel’s old-time bar where a live musician is performing. Then, it is off to bed for a very early rise the next morning, and flights back to Orlando. A Great Trip.

Utah – Rafting Cataract Canyon

July 2020

Exploring & Rafting Arches & Cataract Canyon in Utah

Part 4 – Rafting the Big Drops to Lake Powell

Rafting Cataract Canyon Map

Thursday morning began with a large number of sleep-deprived campers as many had improvised during the night’s rains.  The staff, who usually slept in the open on the boats, had huddled down in hastily assembled tents and umbrellas, and many guests needed to dry out.  The rain was still coming down, but the coffee was ready on time, and by the time the “Big Breakfast” was ready, the rain had stopped.  The “Big Breakfast” was eggs cooked-to-order, hash browns, sausages, and berries.  After breakfast, it was time to clean-up and pack-up wet chairs, wet cots, wet tarps, and wet tents, and load the boats for the day of the most serious rapids.  We were hopeful that the sun would be available later to dry everything. Rapids #11 through 14 were straight-forward, but rapid #15 – Capsize Rapid – saw us lose our first person overboard.  They were immediately recovered, however. We continued through Rapid #20 – Ben Hurt Rapid – before pulling over to the left bank at Big Drop Beach so that the guides could scout the Rapid #21 – Big Drop 1! Big Drop 1 is the first of 3 very large, technical, class 4-5 rapids, and each requires an assessment and plan to negotiate.  The guides re-board the rafts and we set off on the rollicking ride down Rapid #21.  Then we repeated the process for Rapid # 22 – Big Drop 2 Little Niagara – and for Rapid #23 – Big Drop 3 Satan’s Gut. All goes well for Rapid #22, but our boat takes Rapid #23 backwards, and Mary Jane does not see the drop coming and is tossed out of the boat.  Our guide, Colston, immediately pulls in his oars, moves to the side of the boat, grabs her, and hauls her back in! The following few rapids were again of class 2-3 and they allowed us all to recover from our excitement. Next, we pulled to shore for a lunch of cold cuts with fruit.  We then re-board the boats for a few minor rapids before reaching the official end of the cataracts and take the boats to shore to re-raft the boats back together and to attach the motors.  While this is happening, the guests are allowed to drift/swim down the river to be picked up downstream. Because the height of Lake Powell is so low, a few riffles now exist downstream of this point which allows us to ride feet-first through some minor white-water. After being picked-up downstream, we can again be on the rafts without lifejackets, and we enjoy drying off in the sun. We motor the rafted boats down to “Cove Canyon” where we stop to set up camp for the night.  The camp is on a narrow, sandy beach with a small rise, and camp set-up goes fine until a huge set of wind gusts come down the canyon and knocks everything down.  Tents turn over, the bathroom tent blows into the river and requires rescuing, and sand covers and permeates everything!  The event only lasts 20 minutes, but the mess and chaos it causes has people hauling boulders to anchor their tents, sand being shook out of everything, and causes the bathroom tent to have be repositioned.  Despite this, the guides have now dressed-up in “formal” attire, (ties, dress shirts, dresses) and hand-deliver shrimp cocktails to all the guests at their tents, followed by celery and ranch dressing.  Meanwhile, the grill is set up and ribeye steaks are being cooked along with corn, broccoli and cheese, shredded potatoes and cheese.  Thankfully, the winds die down and dinner is a relaxing and enjoyable affair.  To join the mood, Rocky fashions his sheet into a toga and Julie dons her elephant pants – the dressy things we have!  Dessert was vanilla ice cream with hot “dump” cake and strawberries.  The happy group finishes with a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” for a young girl on the trip who turned 13 that day!  Thankfully, the rest of the night was peaceful and uneventful, and we slept like babies.

Facing the Big Drop Rapids
Relaxing after the Rapids
Our Final Camp at River Mile 187.5
Our Women River Guides

Friday morning everyone slept-in a bit given the adventures of the previous day and the peacefulness of the night.  Breakfast was coffee, French toast with fruit and grapefruit. We packed up our tents, tarps, sleeping bags, cots and chairs for the last time and loaded the boats.  The storms of the previous night upstream filled the river with red sand and the river had turned brown with mud and debris. We navigate our way along avoiding the debris piles past “Dark Canyon”, enjoying the views of the canyon walls. All along this portion of the river, the banks are lined with 20’-high sediments that are remnants of when Lake Powell was so full the it backed all the up the river past here. Next, we pass “Sheep Canyon” where Powell’s Team took sheep in the valley for food in 1869.  Finally, the river narrows and begins to clear, and everyone enjoys one last swim. No sooner do we resume the final leg of our journey when we spot a young coyote scavenging along the bank of the river, unbothered by us. Then, we see the first sign of civilization as we cross under the Hite Bridge. The bridge was named for an early gold miner of the area, Cass Hite, who had killed a fellow miner on the Green River and was sentenced to 12-years in prison.  After some prison time, he fell terminally ill and the Utah Governor pardoned him to live out his remaining time (and get him off the State payroll!)  But Case Hite recovered and started a small settlement at this important river crossing point until he died in 1914.

Canyon Wall at Sheep Canyon
Final Turn on the River
Coyote Scavaging
The Hite Bridge

Past the bridge, we pass the “Dirty Devil River” and then turn right to our “Takeout” location, across from Hite Marina, where we unload and take a final lunch of chicken salad in pitas.  After lunch, we take a group photo, say our “goodbyes”, and board an old school bus to make the short trip to a small airstrip nearby where we are met by 4 airplanes. Six of us fill the capacity of our small plane, and we take off and fly a spectacularly beautiful 30-minute flight over Canyonlands National Park to Moab’s airport. Along the way, we observe the “Needles” area of the park and see the “Dollhouse” from the air.  We can also see what the storm did to the rivers’ colors as the Colorado River upstream of the confluence is clearly colored “green”, while the Green River has turned a muddy “Red” which then colors the Colorado downstream of the confluence – a “Christmas” effect that is rare in the Park! Upon landing, we take an air-conditioned bus 20-minutes back to our meeting point where we say our final goodbyes to friends, old and new, and the trip ends.

Unloading at the Landing
The Travel Group Picture
Loading the Plane to Moab
North Edge of Lake Powell from the Air
The Needles Area from the Air
The Confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers
Canyonlands Park from the Air

Utah – Rafting the Colorado River

July 2020

Exploring & Rafting Cataract Canyon in Utah

Part 3 – Rafting to Before the Big Drops

Rafting the Colorado from Moab to Rapid # 10

The Canyonlands area of southern Utah was one of the last Continental United States areas to be explored. Major John Wesley Powell was the first non-native American to travel and explore the river in 1869. The Colorado River upriver of its confluence with the Green River was originally called “The Grand River” until the State of Colorado forced a name change in 1921.  Until rugged inflatable rafts became available after World War II, only a few dozen expeditions had ever managed to navigate this part of the river. 

Rafting Cataract Canyon Map

Tuesday morning, we arise, eat breakfast, and check out of our hotel and meet our Trip Group for the short bus ride to the boat ramp. For our expedition, 26 guests with 7 rafts (2 paddle-rafts and 5 oared-rafts), and 7 guides would launch from the boat ramp at Bootlegger Canyon just upriver from Potash and ~54 miles from the confluence with the Green River. Our group was an eclectic mix of families and retirees spanning from 10-70 years old, (one must be at least 10 to take the trip, and 12 if the water is at higher levels).  After storing our gear in waterproof bags, we boarded the 5 passenger rafts (2 of the oared rafts were for gear only) and began our adventure down this flatwater part of the trip.

Loading the Rafts

The waters are calm in this part of the river, and so we raft together boats into groups of 3 and 4 and accelerate our trip downriver with a small outboard motor located on each grouping. We enjoy the spectacular scenery and introduce ourselves to each other before taking a “swim-break” in the water after an hour travel. After 16 miles of travel, we are at the closest approach to Dead Horse State Park, and soon after we stop for lunch on a convenient river sandbar.  Lunch is cold-cut sandwiches and chips with ever-present water and lemonade to drink.  After lunch, we travel again until we get to Lathrop Canyon where we put ashore for a 1/2 -mile hike in the heat to an ancient granary storage site and various petroglyphs. This area of the canyon is visible from the White Rim Overlook in Canyonland National Park. After the hike, we re-board the boats and travel a short distance to our campsite for the night at  an area nicknamed “The Corner Pocket” – a large sandbar that has room for our group to pitch tents for the night. Given the hot temperatures, we choose to sleep outside in the open tonight, but we set-up a tent so that our friend, Mary Jane, and Julie have a changing area with a modicum of privacy. That night, we played games while the staff prepare dinner.  Appetizer is tortilla chips with fresh guacamole and bean dip, and this is followed by dinner of BBQ chicken with salad and green beans, with chocolate and vanilla cakes for dessert. That night the sky was clear, and the stars shone brightly, but the temperature stayed in the 80’s all night until ~2:30am when a sudden wind-gust toppled a number of unoccupied tents.

Julie on the Colorado River
Rocky & Julie on the Raft
Grainery across from Lathrop Canyon
At Corner Pocker Campsite

Wednesday morning the (cowboy) coffee was ready by 6:15am and we enjoyed a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, bagels, and turkey sausage before breaking down our camp and repacking our belongings.  The National Park Service Rangers showed up in a boat just to check-in and make sure everything was going well, and once we were ready, we set off again downriver. The day is overcast with rain on-and-off, but a welcome relief from the heat of the past 3 days. After a short distance, we came upon a part of the river known as “The Loop” which offered those of us who were interested, the opportunity to disembark the boat and ascend 500’ over the saddle between the double-back bend in the river.  While Rocky joined the hikers, Julie rode the rafts the 3-miles around “The Loop” and everyone rejoined on the other side. A short seven miles later and we reached the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers, and lifejackets were now required to be worn in the rafts by all participants. A short mile later, we stopped at a “Ranger’s Box” to register our group for campsites for the next two nights, and then, we entered the cataract portion of the river. After passing “The Dollhouse”, (a series of formations on the top of the cliff’s edge in the “Maze” part of the Park, named innocently by Powell’s daughter), we stop at “Lower Red Lake Canyon” for lunch where we saw two deer getting a drink from the river.  Lunch was cold-cuts or peanut butter and jelly in a tortilla with fruit and leftover cake.  While we enjoyed lunch, the staff stowed the outboard motors, separated each of the rafts and each guide took control of 1 boat. The two paddle boats were led by Jacob and Kelsey, respectively, and they principally were manned by two families from Chicago (9 guests on one boat) with two couples and two individuals joining them (6 guests on the other boat). Two of the oared boats were carrying gear only and were led by Hank (trip leader) and Paco. Finally, the other 3 oared boats were led by Spencer (2 young guests with gear), Riley (4 guests) and Colston (5 guests including us). With everything secure, we were set to run the first 10 rapids (#1- Brown Betty – through #10) of Cataract Canyon located over the next 4 miles. This set of rapids are only Class 2 and 3 but serve as a good introduction for what was ahead. With the water from both rivers now channelized in the Canyon, the color (redder), temperature (colder) and speed of the flow (faster) were noticeably different than before. The running of the rapids went well except for one boat getting stuck on a rock in Rapid #4 and requiring bouncing and work by the participants to get free.  At the end of the 10 rapids, we went ashore for our night’s camp at “Top Ten”, stopping early for time to swim, play games (spike ball, cornhole) and enjoy a frozen popsicle.  Because of the day’s rain, we set-up our cots and gear inside a tent although many other again chose to sleep in the open air. For dinner, we had grilled salmon and salad with a fruit bowl and watermelon for dessert. The National Park Rangers also stop-by to do an assessment of our guides and camp. They go through an extensive checklist of procedures, certifications, and questions to issue a grade for the Western River Expeditions Company.  These assessments only happen 2-3 times per year but are extremely important because 3 failures within 5 years will bar them from using the river for the next 5 years!  However, it was a comfortable night, and everyone finally settled in about 10:00pm until the skies opened and a deluge occurred between 1:30 and 3:00am.  While we were fine within our cozy tent, those that had chosen to sleep under the stars scrambled to cover themselves with tarps, umbrellas, and tents, or suffered a cold, wet night.

Julie on Raft from atop the Loop Crossover
Unloading Rafts while Registering after Confluence
Guides Registering for Campsites
Stuck on the Rocks
Camping after First 10 Rapids

Utah – Canyonlands National Park

July 2020

Exploring & Rafting Arches & Cataract Canyon in Utah

Part 2 – A Day in Canyonlands National Park’s Islands in the Sky Area

Monday morning, we again arose early, had breakfast at the hotel, and began our 45-minute drive to Canyonlands National Park’s northern entrance.  Canyonlands Park is divided into three distinct areas: the northern “Islands in the Sky” area; the southeastern “Needles” area, and the southwestern “Maze” area.  Given the size and distances involved, we decided to explore only the “Islands” area.

Canyonland National Park Map

Again, the park was open, but the gate office and visitor’s center were closed when we entered. We took the park road south to near its end and began the “White Rim Overlook” hike (1.8 miles) first, due to the anticipated limited parking there. Along the way we encountered 4 mule deer before reaching the viewpoint from which we could see the Colorado River, Monument Basin and the La Sal Mountains. Upon returning to the car, we continued to the southern end of the road to begin the 2-mile hike along the “Grand Viewpoint Overlook”. This hike follows the canyon’s edge and provides spectacular views of not only the Colorado Canyon, but also the Green River Canyon, as they head to join at The Confluence.

Canyonlands White Rim View
Canyonlands Grand View
Canyonlands Grand View of Green River

Next, we drove to the most northwest part of the park to climb “Whale Rock” – a 1-mile hike and scramble along “slick rock” surfaces to a high, 360-degree viewpoint, complete with a cooling breeze.  After returning to the Jeep, it was only a short drive to the trailhead for “Upheaval Dome” overlook – a massive crater from either a meteor impact or eroded salt uplift, and a place where we observed Bighorn Sheep tracks.

Canyonlands On Whale Rock
Canyonlands Upheaval Dome Crater

It was past noon when we made it back to the Jeep, so we ate a lunch/snack and took a short drive to the “Green River Overlook”, and then hiked ½-mile to the famous “Mesa Arch” where we encountered the most people we’ve seen on the entire trip.  On the way out of the park, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center which was now open and reported our wildlife sightings to the ranger.  Apparently, deer were rare in the park, but Bighorn Sheep have been sighted over in the canyon areas along the Green River.

Canyonlands Mesa Arch
Anastasi Hieroglyphics
Canyonlands View

After returning to the hotel and showering, we went window shopping in downtown Moab and ate a soup and salad dinner at the local Brewery Restaurant.  Then, we returned to our hotel to finalize our packing for the next day’s beginning of our River Rafting Trip.

Utah – A Day in Arches National Park

July 2020

Exploring & Rafting Arches & Cataract Canyon in Utah

Part 1 – Getting to Utah & A Day in Arches National Park

The Year 2020 will historically be known as the “Covid-19” year, as the global pandemic cancelled all our international travel for the year, as well as most of our domestic events!  However, one domestic trip which worked out was a July trip to Utah to explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and take a 4-day rafting trip down Cataract Canyon with the Western Rivers Expeditions company, (with whom we also rafted the Grand Canyon in 2014!)

The trip began on Saturday with flights from Orlando to Denver and then to Grand Junction, Colorado – just over the border from Utah. Grand Junction got its name from the confluence of the Grand River (now the Upper Colorado River) and the Gunnison River located within the Grand Valley. In Grand Junction we rented a Jeep Cherokee and drove the ~100 miles in 103-degree heat to Moab, Utah. On the edge of Moab, we pass a Federal Clean-up of Uranium tailings site left from the Government’s Uranium Mining in the past and that is currently 61% completed. In Moab, we checked into a hotel near the center of town on Main Street and made visits to the grocery for water & snacks, liquor store for wine, and ate dinner at a local Brewery.  We rested that evening and avoided the 106-degree heatwave that swept the area outdoors!  The next morning, we began our exploration of Arches National Park.

Arches National Park

Sunday morning, we were up early for the hotel breakfast and off for the short drive to Arches National Park.  Although the National Park is open 24-hours per day, apparently the Park’s gate is only manned from 9am until 7pm and so using our National Park Pass was unnecessary!

Arches National Park Map

We drove first to “The Windows” and hiked up to see both the large “North Window” and then the “South Window”.  From there, we moved on to “Turret Arch”, and then “Double Arch” where a bride in her gown was taking wedding pictures.  From here, we drove to “Devil’s Garden” at the farthest end of the park and hiked 1.6+ miles to see the spectacular “Landscape Arch”, and then the “Tunnel Arch” & “Pinetree Arch”. Along the way, we encountered our first deer and enjoyed a lunch/snack-stop with the ever-present opportunistic chipmunks. On the hike back to the car, we enjoyed seeing a 5-foot Gopher snake annoyed by the attention he was receiving.

Arches Tower of Babel
Arches Rocky & North Window
Arches Double Arch
Arches Landscape Arch

We then drove to the view of the “Fiery Furnace” which is an area that only allows hiking into the canyons with certified guides or permits due to the likelihood of getting lost in the myriad of steep walls, and then to the trailhead of the famous “Delicate Arch”.  Here there are available two routes – a shorter “viewing-only” route that gives you a line-of-sight viewing from across a canyon (0.5-mile hike); and a longer “visit-route” that would take 2.5 hours, which we decided not to do in the heat of the day (3-mile hike). We ended up hiking the “upper viewpoint” route which included a steep 300-foot climb and scramble up the rocks. Upon descending, we stopped at the “Delicate Arch” visit-route trailhead to view some petroglyphs from the 15th century, and learn about the preserved “Wolfe Ranch” home – a primitive house of timbers, mud and skins with a small garden, built and lived-in during the 1800’s.

Arches Fiery Furnace
Arches Delicate Arch Viewpoint

From here, we began to head for the Park’s exit, stopping at “Balanced Rock” for a short hike and sightseeing.  On the way out, we noticed that the Visitor Center had opened, and we stopped to pick up some postcards and souvenirs. Then, it was back to Moab for a little local shopping on Main Street and a salad & pizza dinner at Zak’s.

Arches Balanced Rock
Arches Park View