Gates of Lodore (Dinosaur National Monument)
My trip to rafting the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument began, as so many things do here at Amateur Traveler, with a podcast. I had the (late) president George Wendt of the whitewater rafting company Oars on the Amateur Traveler podcast to talk about rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon (Rafting Down the Grand Canyon – Amateur Traveler Episode 223).
In the course of the interview, I asked him if I did not have the time to do the week-long iconic trip through the canyon, what was his favorite other rafting trip and he said without hesitation the 3-day trip down the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument called the “Gates of Lodore”. Furthermore, after we stopped the interview he said that if I could get myself to Vernal Utah where that trip takes off from, I could come as his guest. I did not need to be asked twice.
After a two day drive across California, Nevada and much of Utah I reached Vernal Utah which is a small city (~10,000 people) near the border of Utah and Colorado. From Vernal, you can go fishing, hiking, mountain biking and, of course, rafting. The Green River run starts in Colorado and makes its way towards Vernal so the drive is longer to the jumping-off point than the pick-up point.
Utah Field House of Natural History
Like Dinosaur National Monument, this is also dinosaur country so I recommend a quick visit to the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum where they have a small but great collection of dinosaur fossils including the one above of a velociraptor.
McConkie Ranch Petroglyphs
While you are in Vernal I also recommend a visit to the McConkie Ranch Petroglyphs. For a $4 donation, you can get quite close to native petroglyphs on an easy family-friendly hike. It is a .8 mile walk round trip. Your dog is welcome if he is on a leash.
Vernal Utah Hotels
Packing for a Multi-Day Rafting Trip
Oars provides specific packing checklists for a multi-day trip. You start with a swimming layer and then layer over that a sun-protecting layer. You wear water shoes, a hat, and sunglasses with straps. I was on the last trip of the season so the weather was windy and the water was quite cool.
Oars provided me with 3 dry bags. A small one for your camera, sunscreen, and things I needed during the day. Then my change of clothes and toiletries were in another dry bag that I would pack in the morning and would not see again until the evening. You can bring your own sleep kit or rent one from Oars which comes in a 3rd dry bag.
Oars runs 3, 4, and 5-day trips in the Gates of Lahore. I was on a 3-day trip.
We were in a flotilla of 5 large oar boats. Unlike trips where you have a paddle, these boats were guided by the guide, one in each boat, with 2 large oars. You don’t need to be in particularly great shape or have a lot of endurance to ride in an oar boat. You need to be able to hang on in the rapids and you need to be able to smile and take pictures.
When the wind was not blowing (which was most of the time) the ride in the raft or the kayak would alternate between the excitement of the whitewater and the lazy beauty of floating down a wonderland of cliffs and canyons, faults, uplifts, and beautiful blue skies.
On any given day, skittering among the 5 rafts were 3 inflatable kayaks. Two were one-person kayaks and the 3rd was a two-person craft. On day two of the two single-person kayaks was my craft. What was a small rapid in a large raft was a much more interesting ride in a small kayak.
You could spend the whole trip inside of the big oar boats and have a great trip but I liked the smaller kayaks.
On day Gus (as our guides called the wind) was blowing down the narrow canyon and at times it was all I could do to keep my kayak from blowing back upstream. Bret, the guide was in charge of the kayaks, or “ducks”, called over “Is there a reason you are in that eddy?” Eddy? Sure enough, I had not noticed that the main current was to my right. I gradually learned to position my maneuverable craft where the river ran the fastest and kept paddling as we floated down the canyon.
There is a fine line between determined and crazy and it occurred to me on that day that I might have crossed that line. All of the other kayakers had either climbed into or tied up to one of the large rafts, but I paddled on as one with something to prove, although what I was trying to prove and to who was less clear. My muscles burned with exertion while my lungs fought with the thin air at more than a mile of altitude.
One morning after paddling all morning I was shivering when we stopped for lunch. The river was quite cold but with the exertion of the paddling, I did not realize how much heat I was losing to the river. The guides quickly threw a blanket over me and got me into a dry shirt so that my teeth would stop chattering.
Green River Canyon
The Green River Canyon is a geological wonderland. Strong tectonic forces have uplifted ancient strata of rock so that you start in rocks that are a billion years old and as you go down the river the rocks get younger even though your elevation is decreasing. The large red cubic rocks of Lodore sandstone is replaced by flat white sheets of sandstone and then giant slabs of Navajo sandstone. Much of the time the shear clefts border both banks of the river and at other times sandy beaches with cottonwood trees and side canyons open off from the river.
One in the canyon, don’t expect any sign of civilization other than what is coming down the river in a raft. This is not a trip where you will be stopping at a local restaurant or hotel. Once you enter the canyon there are few access points before you get to the end of the run.
We camped at campsites designated for us by the park rangers under the shade of the cottonwood trees. The 14 guests helped unload their two dry bags and then pitched their own tents. Meanwhile, the guides set up the kitchen, the portable latrine, the “living room” of portable camp chairs. Then one or more of the guides led a hike while the rest put out appetizers and made dinner. We returned to find a wonderful dinner. The steak dinner on the final of the 3 nights stands out most in my memory.
One of the more interesting hikes led up one of the side canyons to see pictographs made by the Fremont people who lived in this hidden canyon from 200 A.D. to about 1300 A.D. They may have only lived in the area seasonally.
We also hiked to spots where we could see fossils like this crustation which is a bit surprising to find a 2 day’s drive from where the ocean is today. But this area was once the coast of a vast inland sea.
Butt Dam Falls
Probably the silliest side trip we made was to Butt Dam Falls. In this spot, a small waterfall can be stopped with the strategic placement of a pair of buttocks and then released again to shower a comrade further down.
I send my thanks not only to George and the 5 wonderful guides: Pete, Seth, Bret, Tom and Scotty but also to my wonderful fellow travelers who made this a most memorable vacation. Half the travels had done a previous river trip and I understand why someone would do this more than once. Next time I am kayaking the entire 44 miles of the river… or I will die trying. Wait, where was that line again?
Hear more about Dinosaur National Monument in Travel to Northwestern Colorado – Amateur Traveler Episode 724