The Green River of Utah - Part I







Utah's Green River was known to Spanish

explorers as early as 1776 and had been

a notable crossing on the arduous old

Spanish Trail linking New Mexico to Alta

California understandably the course of

the Green River was poorly known by the

early Spanish and maps of the day

incorrectly depicted the Green River

draining some of the large lakes of

northern Utah including the Great Salt


trappers of the Hudson's Bay Northwest

and Pacific fur companies pioneered much

of the area and used it as wintering

grounds in the 1800s John C Fremont and

Kit Carson explored the region in the


it was Fremont's work that established

the rivers true drainage and corrected

the error of the Spanish maps in 1853

shortly before he and his men were


Captain John W Gunnarsson's party passed

through the area near the present-day

town of Green River as they completed

the survey that would later bring steel

rails to the Green River and beyond it's

likely that the first organized European

passage down the Green River was led by

John Wesley Powell in 1869 Powell the

adventuring son of a New York Minister

was no stranger to long exposures

in 1855 he had walked across Wisconsin

the following year he traveled by

rowboat the entire length of the

Mississippi River from above Minneapolis

to the Gulf of Mexico in the years

leading up to the Civil War the

self-made naturalist and geologist rode

the Ohio Illinois and Des Moines rivers

after the war Powell led expeditions

into the Rocky Mountains and the

drainages at the green in Colorado

rivers at the time of Powell's

expedition in 1869 the Green River area

was almost entirely unknown seen by most

as an abyss too dangerous to travel



palace group of 10 men left the

civilized railroad boom town of Green

River Wyoming and proceeded through

hundreds of miles of dangerous Rapids in

the canyons of Northeast Utah to the

Gunnison Valley lowlands continuing on

through labyrinth and Stillwater canyons

of the confluence of the green the Grand

in the Colorado rivers in 1871 Powell

made a second journey down the green

river this time enlisting the services

of photographer John Kay Hiller's

producing a definitive map photos and

other survey documents it was pals men

who gave names to the many geologic

features canyons and Rapids in the 1870s

the remote River Crossing town of Green

River began to see a new type of visitor

white settlers along with the settlers

came the establishment of an Overland

Mail route and soon afterward came the

completion of the Denver and Rio Grande

Western Railway on the route surveyed by

Gunnison in 1853 the location was

instantly recognized as the obvious

transfer and supply point for the river

the railroad built a maintenance house

and prominent hotel and greatly

bolstered the local population but in

less than ten years the railroad moved

its maintenance operation to help her

some 60 miles away this was perhaps the

first in a series of booms and busts

experienced by the town of Green River

as fruit crops failed mines went broke

oil drilling faltered and the markets of

America came and went

though the traffic on the river never

materialized at hoped-for levels a

number of small river boats traveled the

green to haul materials to and from the

mines and farms that sprang up along the

river attempts to commercialize a river

boat route between Green River and Moab

soon crumbled and equipment was scrapped

or sold for other uses


a flat water kayak trip on Utah's Green

River usually means putting in at Green

River State Park just south of the town

some though choose to shorten the trip

by entering the river at Ruby Ranch some

20 miles downstream starting at Ruby

ranch for sakes the barren beauty of the

lowland banks of the gunnison Valley and

may deny a full appreciation of just how

colossal the canyon walls ahead will be

the green gives up its energy by

meandering making wide sweeping turns in

the desert lowlands these turns later

become indirect tight curves that have

carved gorges hundreds of feet into the

sandstone in some places the tight turns

have completely eroded through the

surrounding canyon walls and have

actually caused the river to change


the only opportunity to exit the river

is a mineral bottom 68 waterway miles

below the town of Green River continuing

past this point you enter Canyonlands

National Park and eventually the

Colorado River the waters of the

Colorado ahead are not navigable with

hard to maneuver flat water kayaks which

are designed only for ease of forward

movement and the current of the Colorado

is too Swift to paddle upriver it is

necessary to have a pre-arranged

motorized tow upstream Tomoya our

springtime trip came with a special

delight the waters of the Green were

higher than normal that offered us an

intimate water discovery of the many

side canyons that are normally dry

washes that can only be explored by foot