We have exciting news! Our learn to bikeraft and intermediate bikerafting course permits for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area have been approved, plus we now, with additional BLM permits, can packraft the Dirty Devil River. No, sorry we cannot bikeraft the Dirty Devil. But for those of you excited about bikerafting, consider a two-day paddle down the Dirty to the Colorado, where you can pick up bikes and bikeraft down to one of two canyons we can now explore, and then ride bikes back to the shuttles. Check out more photos in this album.
Lake Powell: The Blessing of a Curse
By FCG Lead Guide Thad Ferrell, photos by Steve Fassbinder (from another trip in the same area).
“It’ll go!” Words that float on hope, but could just as easily sink as they were said given our present reality. I lock eyes with Kevin and then Rich. I had just met these guys less than twenty-four hours earlier on the side of Highway 95. The afternoon after our rendezvous, we had gone to our launch at Glencove, the take out for Cataract Canyon…. the end of the river and the beginning of Lake Powell. We then drove back to our camp to sort through gear and discuss our route. The route was new to all of us because of the receding waters of Lake Powell. Powell was becoming the Colorado again.
Our proposed route from Glencove to the Blue Notch has been a flatwater paddle for the past fifty-five years. Now, however, a huge chunk of it has become a proper river float. After our paddle to the Blue Notch, we planned to ride back to our put in, a nice neat loop. But for now, we were eying a traverse along an extremely rough and fissured slope back up river toward Farley Canyon, a loop of an entirely different sort.
THe Colorado Returns!
Lake Powell has steadily been receding for years and some would argue since it was filled by the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1966. Even the naming of these two man made “achievements” seem like an affront and insult. The naming of dam after the incredibly beautiful Glen Canyon, now buried underwater by the reservoir Lake Powell, named after the indomitable John Wesley Powell.
One of Powell’s major conclusions after his 1869 expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers was that this new paradise of the West could never sustain a major population of people because of one key component…water. Less than a century after his expedition, hundreds of dams speckled the western United States and once again humankind failed to ask one question, “Just because we can..should we?”
Without fail, my own hypocrisy and contradictions flood into my head every time I wake up in my home in Southwest Colorado, especially when I drive into the desert alone in big truck, but I guess I do my part…at least I bring my own straw.
Day 1: Not What We Expected…
Now though, here we are, Kevin, Rich and myself. Having covered the first part of our float in what seemed a blink of an eye; we now found ourselves right on pace for making Blue Notch before the shorter days of late October benighted us. However, the last wave train near the confluence of White Canyon left my groups comfort level spiked. Coupled with not knowing what lay down river and our groups experience level in bikerafting on rivers with heavy current, we decide that we can and should traverse this canyon slope above the river to an egress in either White or Farley Canyon.
“Bike Fight…just sounds nasty.” This rendering of a Ray Wylie Hubbard song bubbles up in my head a couple of hours later as Rich, Kevin and I help one another pass our bikes over every possible obstacle this traverse serves up. Doubt, frustration, joy, hope and “damn my %!@# shin again” became the loop we now found ourselves stumbling through. It was going but it was a speed which could leave us in a very uncomfortable bivouac. The terrain eventually eased up so we could cover the distance we needed. We finally rounded the point of the cliff band which we had made our goal hours earlier.
But at Least Camp Was Awesome…
We forewent the decision of taking either Farley or White and decided to make camp. We found an old abandoned site complete with old benches and multiple fire pits. Vestiges of a different time when motorboats would moor here, mere feet away and camp next to the water and then return back to the marina. I.E. coolers of beer and maybe even a barbecue which to be honest didn’t sound all that bad.
I eye a crow croaking above our heads. He traverses the slope we had just crossed in seconds, folds his wings, and barrel rolls down toward the river. Playing. I laugh and smile. I cannot not help to think that sometimes this is the price of entry into the desert. There were no turkey vulture flying over head but Ed Abbey’s words now came to me.
In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees , over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll begin to see something, maybe. Probably not.
The Bedtime story
We boil water for our meals and crack some beers; our very own backcountry barbeque. We talk of our route and plan tomorrow, all of us hoping it will go a little easier. All in all a great camp. Conditions and attitude — most of the time you have no control of the former but are master of the latter.
Clearly our crew was stoked for an adventure and had the positive attitude to get us through even when things became less than fun, the hike-a-bike traverse we just completed being all the evidence needed to prove that case. That’s the bedtime story I tell myself as I lay down and look up to see the Milky Way pouring across the sky. There is no place I’d rather be.
Day 2: Coffee, Double or Nothing
Double coffee in the morning. I’m hopeful but realistic; I just might need it this morning. After breaking camp we pick our way down to the mouth of Farley. We find ourselves on yet another silt bed strewn with a labyrinth of tamarisk (yet another “because we can doesn’t mean we should”), the kudzu of the Southwest.
We find our way through and arrive at the mouth of Farley. The ever receding Powell has left an impounded lake whose sightline seems to take us a good distance up Farley Canyon. We de-rig our bikes and began to inflate our boats. We de rig and rig quickly in anticipation of the reprieve that paddling will offer us from more bike pushing.
As we paddle, I can feel the air of anxiousness dissipate and get replaced with one of relaxation. We all point out different features on the canyon wall above us or notice the ever-growing number of rings caused by surfacing fish. I look back toward Kevin, another fish obsessed human, and regret not bringing my rod but am just as content watching the fish rise. Another angler, a Great Blue Heron, waits at the end of our paddle, his yellow eyes indifferent to us.
Back on the road
After one more bike/boat transition we are back at it and the next bend confirms that we chose wisely. We actually get to throw a leg over and ride our bikes!!! After less than a quarter mile into the wash we can see the kiosk and signage of the Farley campground. Now, with the knowledge of a dirt road and a pedal up the highway, I felt a bit relieved but at the same time was already planning a return trip. I can and I definitely should.
On the ride back we separate a bit and I for one drift off into my own thoughts that the desert always seems to bring me. Rich and I meet back up at the bridge that spans over the Colorado and inspect some of his favorite graffiti underneath. “Hayduke Lives!” In black spray paint on the upriver side. I approve wholeheartedly. Our ride back to the car is filled with conversation of our families, Abbey, bikes, books and all the other good things in our lives. Kevin is waiting for us at the trucks . After we part ways and head home, I’m reminded of another gift of the desert — showing up as strangers and leaving as friends.