A Desolation Canyon Photo Story
By Kim Cassels • July 13, 2023
A Desolation Canyon Photo Story
Desolation Canyon falls into the far reaches of Utah’s most remote wilderness study area. The rare refuge gives much-needed space for migrating bison, free roaming mustangs, Big horned sheep, black bears, and many other desert fauna to go about their business uninterrupted. In that, the name of this growing canyon is much more of a tribute to its liberty from civilization, rather than its inherent nature.Explore Desolation Canyon Rafting Trips
Hauling boats, gear and all, the drive to the Sandwash boat launch takes river guides 5 hours. Their journey begins with a few straigh-as-a-whistle highways, until slowly transitioning into rutted dirt roads, eventually meandering through a narrow limestone canyon so-full of oil, it seeps right out of the walls.
Meanwhile, the indubitably scenic flight to Sandwash takes about 25 minutes. Planes skim onto a mesa overlooking the Green River, where the boats can be seen beached below. Many opt to hike down to the beach, as the views make a memorable start to the expedition.
Desolation Canyon is approximately mid-way through the Green River’s 730-mile journey that begins from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and ends with the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park.
Once at the put-in, guides often find a way to inaugurate the 84-mile drift into the confines of the Desolation Wilderness. The wily river legend known as one-f-Jef blows into a conch shell, signaling it’s time to push off.
The start of Desolation Canyon is somewhat deceiving, as the mild-mannered walls have yet to climb to their 5,000-foot posture. But within a few miles, hoodoos and other abstract aeolian sculptures begin to festoon the rising cliffs.
In the soaring escarpments come the local climbers, which are a treat to catch bounding along the shelves. Big-horned sheep are one of the largest animal populations along the Green River, and southwestern river canyons at large.
Camping in Desolation Canyon is a dream. Big beautiful cottonwood groves make for shady and secluded spots along the river— especially for the groover! Once reaching home for the night, guides begin whipping up dinner while the games begin.
Before the sun peaks over the canyon rim, guides are up percolating coffee and warming up the griddle. Early risers get to catch the soft glow of a glassy Green River and wildlife enjoying the cool temperatures.
After tums are full and camp is packed, it’s back to the water. Many opt to voyage downstream in a ducky (inflatable kayak) since the Green River’s rapids here are quite friendly in between the flat sections.
There are many, many historical sites hiding in Desolation Canyon, while others are perched right along the riverbanks. The Seamont Ranch is a spectacular piece of living history in the canyon, with century-old cabins and work tools dating back to 1913 when it was first established.
After the excursion comes lunch on the beach before running some bigger rapids. Stuffed wraps and watermelon before Three Fords anyone?
Three Fords Rapid is the sauciest of Desolation’s Class III drops. Even at lower water levels, the run is a thrill as the guides navigate between the riverbed’s boulders against the cliff on river right.
After conquering and catching a splash, paddlers will find the ancient sentinel, Gunnison Butte, loom in the distance. It marks the next phase of the trip, as the following miles drift into Gray Canyon before the journey’s end.