Colorado is our home state, and it is one of the BEST places to see fall colors. Even though we both grew up in Colorado, and we've each seen 20+ Colorado falls already in our lives, this year we got extreme FOMO by having been away from Colorado the past three years during its prime fall season. In our three years of full timing, we've screwed up our fall plans 3/3 years. By this, ...
The beginning of fall marked the end of jet boat season. Upon our return to Colorado in September we knew we would be leaving our boat in storage mid October and heading into desert season without a 20 foot long trailer, back to a shorter footprint, just us, the rig and the bikes.
So we convinced our jet boat friends Dan and Shannon to go on one last overnight river camping trip with us on the Green River a weekend in October! We planned a single night trip starting at the Green River State Park and boating 50 miles downstream into Labyrinth Canyon. This is the same section we ran on our Memorial Weekend River trip earlier this year, but this time we would be turning around before entering Canyonlands National Park. You still get amazing red rock canyon views on this section of the river, but don’t have to pay for the national park overnight permit, and we would be turning around before the final takeout above the Confluence, both for safety reasons and gas limitations. Our friends had previously done an overnight on the Green two years ago in mid October, and their trip was so cold that their 5 gallon jug of water froze overnight on the river, but their stories didn’t scare us all from trying it again. The weather forecast wasn’t looking as bad as the previous time they’d been, but we knew the river canyon would get dark and cold early, and it would feel colder camping right by the water. We all packed base layers and wool socks, hats, gloves, multiple coats. You never would’ve guessed we were going boating in the same place where we’d been boating before in 90 degree weather, but the desert does have its extremes.
It was raining the night we planned to leave for the river trip from Grand Junction, a Friday after Shannon’s work. We planned to get out to Green River that night, camp on nearby BLM land, then launch the boats in the morning for a single night on the river. When we pulled up to the BLM area, the ground had completely turned to mud, and the humidity made it so cold out, so we all hung out in our camper that night with the heater running. The next morning we woke up at 7 to get ready to launch the boats, and there was fog still low on the ground and we were wondering what we were getting ourselves into. By the time we launched the boats, the fog had cleared out, but we still bundled up to prepare for the wind while going 30 down the river. During our May trip, the water was full of debris from the Flaming Gorge dam releases. This time there wasn’t as much debris, but the water was so muddy the river was essentially pure brown.
If you read about our river trip in May, you know we faced some “technical difficulties” because we overweighted the boats for 3 nights on the river, and had 3 passengers each. This time we packed light for just one night on the river, and after installing a new impeller over the summer, we had no issues getting on step. The thing to watch out for this trip was the low water levels because the water was at about 2000 CFS instead of 8000 during our May trip. We knew it was likely we might beach a boat in the low water. The thing about mini jet boats is we really only need about 6 inches of water once we’re on step, but we do need about 3 feet of water to get the boat out on step. To avoid getting stuck in low water, its best to take the outside of each bend in the river where the water is deepest. We also decided it was best if our boat led, so that if we accidentally ended up in shallow water, we would get stuck first, and our boat would be easier to pull out than Dan’s, which is two feet longer and significantly heavier. What we didn’t think through about this plan was that our boat might make it through a shallow spot that Dan’s couldn’t, and this is what happened 20 miles into our first day. It wouldn’t be a Dannon and Blachel (Dan & Shannon and Blake & Rachel) river trip without at least one thing going wrong! In the first twenty miles we hadn’t experienced any really shallow water yet, so we let our guard down. Blake and I cut a corner in our boat that we shouldn’t have, and Dan followed and his boat immediately got beached on a sand bar.
Okay, so the first problem was that we cut the corner, but the second problem was that we were already talking over the radios about an upcoming hike, so the radio line wasn’t clear when we tried to tell Dan to go wide and not follow our line. The third problem was that since I knew they didn’t hear our warning, I turned around and pointed at the shallow spot, and we later said I should’ve pointed positive instead of negative, and pointing at where to go instead of where not to go would’ve made a lot more sense. So all that aside, now we had to get the boat unstuck. At least it was warming up by now and we were able to shed some layers, especially because we had to walk through the ankle deep extremely muddy water.
We came prepared for this moment, but our preparation wasn’t enough. It was too stuck in the mud to simply pull or push back to deeper water, even with the four of us. We brought our Warn winch, and extra battery. The winch is rated for 1000 pounds and we’ve tested it before in pulling the boat over land, but the problem was that we had nothing to anchor to since the boat was still in the middle of the river channel. We could only try to anchor it to the box anchor that Dan has for his boat into the mud, with one of us standing on top of the anchor, one of us holding the winch without letting it touch the water (not water proof), and the other two trying to push the boat. All it did was pull the anchor out of the mud. Then we tried making an array of anchors with our 4 sandstakes and ropes, but the same issue happened. So then we had to try manpower instead. Dan had 4 looped sections of rope that we clipped in to the front of the boat, and each put one around our hips and tried to pull the boat. This ended up being the only way we could make a little progress. First we dug out some of the mud in front of the bow to make a little trench, then we put on our straps and all 4 of us yanked to one side, and then the other. Pulling sideways was freeing up the boat inch by inch. So we really didn’t make any progress in our first hour. We pulled the boat about a boat length in the next hour, and we probably had to do that about 5 or 6 more times to get us nearer to deeper water. At one point we just had to break. The digging and pulling was not good for Blake’s back. After a couple hours a group of canoes came past us, and we asked them if they could help push or pull. It was an older group, and they pretty much said no at first, but stopped anyway. We asked if they could help pull, but they were really only willing to “push” from the back. I don’t actually think they were pushing. And I don’t blame them, it wasn’t their problem, and no canoeist is going to want to be that friendly with a jet boater anyway. There’s always going to be a battle between motorized and nonmotorized recreation, especially in areas like Labyrinth Canyon. We always yield to non motorized craft by either setting our boat down and letting them pass (when going upstream), or slowing our speed down significantly if we have to pass (when going downstream). The problem is that kayakers or canoeists might not realize that the wake from our boat is bigger when we slow down, but the appearance of driving by them fast isn’t good either. We always try to show respect and pretty much do whatever the nonmotorized user wants. Sometimes they just want us to pass quickly to get rid of us. Anyway, we’re proponents of equal access to public land, but we’ve received plenty of middle fingers and even had a ranger called on us even when what we were doing was perfectly legal. So we were lucky these canoeists even stopped for us in the first place even if they just pretended to help. We pretty much told them thanks for the help and let them leave once we realized they weren’t doing anything. Even though we were 20 miles down a river with no civilization nearby, they didn’t seem worried about us. I think they figured we had all day to figure it out, and could sleep right there if we had to.
We kept pulling side to side until another group of canoeists came by. This time it was a couple burlier middle aged gentlemen and one woman, and they were willing to stop and help. We put the two men up front pulling with the straps with Blake and Dan while Shannon and I pushed from the back, and we immediately dislodged the boat from the mud and it started moving with them. I think we were all so surprised that we all just started yelling, “go, go, go, keep moving!” They just kept pulling and walking towards the deeper water and the boat was free and clear within about 5 minutes. We couldn’t believe that we just needed the strength of two more men to help us and we would’ve been free. We were so impressed, and Shannon and I felt totally worthless! We were so thankful to these guys. The couple was on a guided tour with Breakwater Expeditions, and they were all willing to help. We would’ve been there all day if not for these guys. We couldn’t be more thankful. They said they were willing to stop because we were so respectful the first time we’d passed them further upstream.
We had 25 more miles to go to get to where we planned to camp, and we also wanted to do a hike near camp. Since we wasted our morning digging out the boat, and with shorter days, we pretty much had to motor all the way to camp. It felt like we were motoring through chocolate milk because the water was so brown. We started looking for camp spots a couple miles out from Bowknot Bend.. During this time of year with the water so much lower, there are more exposed sand bars and beaches to camp on. We passed a few camps with canoes already there, and had a few good ones to choose from. We motored all the way to the outside of Bowknot Bend (which we hiked in May), and picked a sand bar directly across the river from the hike we wanted to do. It was a great spot, but the mud on the edge of the sand bar was gnarly. Your foot would sink to above the ankle when you stepped in it, and the mud is so hard to get off. Both Blake and Dan are extremely particular about not getting mud in the boats, so once you step out, you either have to stay out or scrub everything off your feet for like ten minutes. We passed some of our camp gear out onto the beach to save our spot, tied off Dan’s boat, and then all jumped in our boat to get to the other side of the river for our hike. We tied off at the hike, and it was actually a really neat camp spot for during high water, and with really nice shade for the warmer summer months, so we’ll keep it in mind for next time in the spring. The hike is a short path that isn’t well marked or beat in, and it goes along the side of the canyon to a couple old shacks from the 1950’s when uranium mining was popular in the Moab area. We weren’t able to follow the GPS tracks of the hike very well because it appeared to just go straight up the side of the canyon, and we couldn’t find where it was supposed to be taking us, and of course when you’re that far from civilization there’s no service to try to double check anything. We were supposed to take an old road up to see some of the mining equipment and one of the mining tunnels, and I found pictures online later of several old vehicles and shut off mines, but we just couldn’t find the trail. There was also apparently the main uranium mine and a pulley system across the river north of where we started the hike, which we didn’t know to go to. So essentially we missed half the hike, but thats okay because it’s still all part of the adventure. We peeked into the cabins, checked out some of the other rusting mining equipment that was laying around, and couldn’t believe that back in the 50’s they actually took a barge all the way down the green river with all this equipment, or ferried everything across from Hey Joe Canyon.
On the way back from the hike we found some drift wood and passed it down to where we tied off the boat. We loaded all the drift wood on top of the Ultradeck on our bow, and floated back across the river to our camp spot. It was so shallow and muddy we essentially had to hop off the boat and pull it in the last 10 feet.
So this time of year the sun goes down behind the canyons pretty early. We’d stayed warm enough all day, especially after pulling the boat for a couple hours. We set up our tents, chairs, and Dan and Shannon brought enough for a small kitchen setup. I pre-smoked a bunch of chicken thighs the previous day on their Traeger and shredded it, and brought that to make tacos for everyone that night. We’re obsessed with their Traeger and wish we had room for one ourselves, and it made the perfect dinner for that night. It made it so easy, just heat up the meat, and load up the tacos. We all sat around the fire and ate and drank margaritas. Then we had a nighttime photo sesh trying to take photos of the stars with the canyon walls, and they turned out pretty good!
It was way warmer that night then we thought it was going to be. We did not need all those layers like we planned, but it was better safe to bring them than to freeze our butts off for two days. We were actually in shorts and t-shirts the next day and the sun felt glorious. After sleeping in, making breakfast, packing up camp, loading the boats, and having to push the boats off the mud bank into deeper water, and scrubbing mud off our feet several times, we didn’t leave camp until 1 pm, and at that point we pretty much had to motor straight back to our launch point. The water had gone down even more overnight, and our boat was pretty much beached out of the water and we had to get all four of us to push it back down. This isn’t like what we had to do the day before though, because the boat was on a slope so gravity was on our side, and our boat is smaller. The channel where we camped was really really shallow, too shallow to start the boats even, so we had to float a quarter mile to get back into the main channel that was deeper before starting the boats. We were paddling, but it was so shallow the guys had to hop out several times to pull the boats and prevent them from getting stuck again. We eventually got back on step and motored the 50 miles back up river towards Green River State Park.
We made one stop at Trin-Alcove Bend for a short hike. This is a popular side stop for river trippers. You hike through the tamarisk brush into the canyon that branches off into 3 legs into 3 different canyons. We hiked into the leftmost canyon which makes you scramble a little bit through some loose rock, and then brings you into a neat natural amphitheater. There’s a view of these pools of water cut into the rock, and it reminded me of the famous 7 sacred pools hike in Sedona. We made it a short stop so we could get back for Dan and Shannon’s dogs in doggy day care in time.
We motored the rest of the way, and since it was almost late afternoon already, it was starting to cloud over and it got really chilly again. Luckily we had no more issues with shallow water. We passed several more groups of canoeists on our way up. I was surprised so many people come out to canoe camp that late in the season, but I guess we got pretty lucky with the weather being as warm as it was. We passed by the group that helped us get unstuck the day before and stopped to say thank you again. The 1000 foot red canyon walls start to taper off the last 15 miles or so towards Green River, and changes into the familiar landscape of Whitewash, an area we dirtbike south of Green River. The shorter canyon walls here are more white and brown, and even volcanic looking in some spots. It’s not as dramatic as when you get into Labyrinth Canyon, but it’s just as beautiful in its own way. You also pass by Crystal Geyser just a few miles south of Green River, but it was not erupting this time as we went by. We made it back in great time, loaded up the boats and made the drive back to Dans to prepare for a very lengthy car wash to get all that mud off the truck and clean the boat up to store for the season!