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San Juan River

By Ann Driggers

High in the San Juan mountains of southern Colorado a river, bearing the same name, begins. Cold, clear and fast, it heads south to New Mexico, passes through the Navajo dam (if released) and then joins with its major tributary, the Animas. As it enters Utah, the river becomes heavy and brown, laden with sediment, and winds its way through the stark and arid landscape of the desert southwest before ending lethargically and nebulously in Lake Powell.

At the end of May we launched our group of seven on three rafts to float 83 miles of the San Jaun River from Bluff to Clay Hills Crossing in Utah, over eight days. Traditionally the last week in May , or the first in June, are peak flow for the river, the source being snowmelt from the mountains. This year, the second of drought, allowed only 250 cfs to be released from the Navajo Dam, so we were very much dependant upon the water coming from the Animas River. Luckily for us, a few days preceeding our trip brought the big spring meltdown, so we launched at high water for the year, 2,000 cfs. This made for relatively good flows and few hang ups in the form of sand bars in Lake Powell. The river is not known for its rapids, with but a handful that are noted on the map, but its geology, scenery, hikes, ruins, petroglyphs and other historical sites make it a classic desert river trip. Here are some of the highlights:

Every night we found fantastic camps. We slept out in the open - with zero bugs or rain, tents were not needed. My favorite spot is in the boat, the river flowing quitely beneath and rocking me to sleep. But sometimes the camps were so great I laid down on land. Here we have a fire, more for atmosphere than warmth, at River House camp:

During the first three days especially there were many sights to see off river, the River House ruin perhaps being the most famous. It was occupied by the Ancestral Puebloans between AD900 and the 1200's:

We also hiked up San Juan Hill where Mormon pioneers built a wagon road across Comb Ridge, the last and most challenging obstacle in their travel from Escalante to Bluff. Comb Ridge is a spectacular 80 mile long monocline, ending at the San Juan river. From its southern end looking south across into northern Arizona:

We floated through the Goosenecks where the river travels through 6 miles of meanders to cover 1 mile as the crow flies. Having viewed the spectacular Goosenecks from above several times I was excited to be 1,000 feet below:

The highlight hike of the trip is the Honaker trail. With plenty of exposure it winds its way 1,200 feet up through the cliffs to the rim.

From there the views are spectacular across the Colorado Plateau. To the south Monument Valley can be seen and to the west the river flows on:

It's a long way down! A flotilla of boats departs Honaker Camp:

Government Rapid is the largest of the trip. With low water flows it's more of a technical rock garden with only a couple of key strokes needed. My 73 year old Dad, on his first multi-day river trip, took to the oars like a duck to water and steered one of the rafts safely through:

The weather couldn't have been better! Bar a few windy afternoons which meant plying the oars, we enjoyed bluebird, cloudless days with highs in the upper 80's and lows in the 50's. Another glorious day dawns as I watch the sun creep down the canyon walls:

More great hikes ensued. Slickhorn Canyon:

Olejto Wash:

And finally we floated into Lake Powell:

COMMENTS

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Maybe this summer I will sail the San Juan River too! I already have a small yacht, but it isn’t equipped properly for such a journey. I bought Catalina 30 sails to change the old ones and I also plan to make some small improvements to the boat to be sure that it is prepared for anything.

The river view is absolutely amazing, I hope I can get there this year. Is the river deep enough for larger boats? I was thinking to get transportation help on http://lunmarboatlifts.com/ and bring my own boat with me, it should be an unforgettable experience.

I hike often, but my favorite activity is canoeing. So, whenever I have time, I use one of my canoe trailers from Magneta Trailers to transport the canoe to enjoy a beautiful evening alone or with some of my friends. I know what you think: canoeing is easy, but although canoeing might seem like the ultimate calming and peaceful activity, it’s also evolved into a high-paced, exhilarating extreme sport.

The images you posted are pure and simple amazing… I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it last year to the San Juan river with my friends… I had my house renovated and had to stay behind… I went out to buy round drain covers and when I came back, they were already gone… I so hated them for that…Anyway, it seems you had a lot of fun there!

Is the river deep enough to allow larger ships to sail there? With the right discount marine parts you could repair an old boat and give real sailing a try, it cold be a thrilling experience!




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