Category Archives: Rivers

San Juan River minus two

That's funny, when we went to bed last night there were four boats.

That’s funny, when we went to bed last night there were four boats.

It is not an adventure until something you would rather not happen happens. And you always want a good adventure. So it was good of two of our boat owners to oblige.

On a Thursday in mid June Kirsten and I drove from Torrey to the Sand Island campground in Bluff to meet up with a gang of pals from Durango. We arrived in the evening before the others and happily found plenty of camp sites available. Kirsten had her usual picnic feast ready and we sat at a table by the river noticing above all else a lot of water. Everything was damp and the river was swollen above its banks. We have had a wet May and June in the Southwest and the San Juan Mountains still had a lot of snow. Add the recent unseasonal rains and the river that in mid May had been running at 1800 cubic feet per second was now at 8,000 cfs. In fact we had experienced two separate pulses of moisture from tropical storms already by mid June, an unprecedented event for so early in the year. Global weirding.

Ronni and Mark

Ronni and Mark

Not wanting to take any chances I brought our camp stove and coffee pot for the first morning even though it was planned that a grab and go breakfast would be ready. The grab and go food was great but our coffee pot was mysteriously popular. I went with Ronni, our venerable boat captain, down to her camper to get her crew sized coffee pot but we seemed a tad slow in getting coffee going in it. We never did.

With the river high it was also fast. We only floated five miles the first day but stopped often to visit several terrific petroglyph panels including Butler Wash and another massive wall near our camp site. During the day the two adult sons, Sean and Casey, joked with their dad Mark about his paranoia about losing his boat. The next morning on the river Sean woke us up early saying we needed to get going. Their dad’s boat had disappeared during the night, “no joke.”  Minus one.

Breezy camp dinner.

Breezy camp dinner.

Rose and Sean

Rose and Sean

We hustled to get going but still lined up eagerly for coffee at the well stocked camp kitchen. Tristen offered Kirsten some tea. Kirsten said no thanks, I’ll have coffee. Without missing a beat Tristen said, “The coffee went down the river. Would you like some tea?” Ah, missing a boat is no problem, kinda fun in fact, assuming we find it. But no coffee? Minus two.
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Casey, a young man born for action and endurance was already headed downstream on a paddle-board by 6:30AM when we got up. We were on the river by nine and floated the remaining 22 miles to our planned takeout for the next day at Mexican Hat. It was a fast and beautiful trip. When we got to Mexican Hat Casey was there waiting for us. Besides one oar tangled in the flooded brush there had been no sign of the boat. We pulled all but one of the boats out while Mark and Casey took that boat on down the next 55 miles to the next and last takeout before the river runs a waterfall and meets its doom at Lake Powell.

Jeff and Tristen

Jeff and Tristen

Back in Torrey we learned they found the boat tied up another seven miles down the river. We had Ronni, who coincidentally has recently moved to Teasdale, over for dinner in Torrey. We only found out then from Ronni that the chief menu planner, who’s name I omit to protect the guilty, had forgotten to pack the coffee. Totally minus two. Adventure indeed. A regular bullet past the head. Was the lost boat a mere ruse to cover up? Be careful what you wish for. Good times. Thanks to all who made it happen.

Admiring the empty beach.

Admiring the empty beach.

Tegan

Tegan

The Caineville Wash west of Hanksville on our way back to Torrey. The wash is normally dry. More signs of weird weather.

The Caineville Wash west of Hanksville on the way back to Torrey, normally dry. More signs of weird weather.

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Beaver and Goats

Kirsten's twin nehpews at Calf Creek Falls

Kirsten’s twin nephews at Calf Creek Falls

Spring is here and my wife, Kirsten, and I are poking our heads out more and looking into environmental issues. In fact, it has felt like March in Utah since early February and it is good to get out. In addition my son, Nick, has been interning for Wild Utah Project and WildEarth Guardians, both environmental agencies.  Kirsten hiked the Calf Creek Falls trail on Monday with her sister and two nephews strapped to their backs.  Nick made a run down to Moab a couple of weeks ago to visit with the Forest Service, Wild Utah Project and the Grand Canyon Trust about exotic mountain goats recently plunked down on the La Sals.

Kirsten was impressed at the amount of beaver activity in the stream along her hike.  Beaver are, of course, the original and best stream managers.  For years the folks at Grand Canyon Trust have been trying to get beaver re-introduced on Boulder Mountain and the surrounding forests.  But ranchers think beavers somehow steal water and the Garfield County Commissioners, all ranchers, wrote a letter of protest to the Forest Service vehemently protesting any beaver re-intoduction in their county.  County commissioners have amazing amount of political clout and the Forest Service folks deny them at risk of their jobs.  So Kirsten was surprised to see so much beaver activity.  She described dam after dam, wide and open and lush riparian areas big enough that migrating ducks were landing.  Our guess is that the BLM, the land managers in this case, have too much pressure from the national public at this popular spot to allow the commissioners to have their way.  Much like the forests around the Wasatch Front do not allow livestock grazing because the public would never put up with the damage.

Nick went down to Moab to visit with the Forest Service about the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ (DWR) introduction of mountain goats on to the La Sal Mountains last fall.  There were no mountain goats in Utah when the pioneers arrived, and all current populations in the state were transplanted from other places.  The La Sal’s have special wilderness zones established for scientists, like those at Wild Utah Project, the Grand Canyon Trust and the Forest Service, to study the effects of climate change.  Goats, as we know, eat everything and the scientists are duly concerned.  DWR is often accused of “trophy farming” and put the goats up on the mountain in defiance of current memorandums of understanding with other existing land management agencies, such as the Forest Service, in a unilateral decision to please hunters, their primary special interest constituency.

More on captured agencies and these issues as the year unfolds.

Our River Run Dry

The Colorado River does not make it to the sea.  It’s all used up 70 miles before it gets there, leaving the Colorado River Delta parched.  Over 75 percent of the water extracted goes to agriculture.  Whenever something about water use comes up in the press, watering lawns always comes up.  That is the wrong grass.  It’s not lawns draining the river, it’s hay.  Buying up the virtual property right of water rights from farmers and ranchers is called “water ranching.”   I’ll try to find more on that in the future.  In the meanwhile, here’s a piece from the New York Times on the river, and another interesting blog from a recent author on the subject, Jonathan Waterman (great name.)

They are dry in the mouth too.

Just like the Colorado River does not make it to the Colorado River Delta and on to the sea, Australia’s largest river, the Murray-Darling is dry in the mouth.  A 10 year drought there has made for necessary changes.  Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment in Colorado, spent four months in Australia working with its Department of Water.  Cally Carswell of High Country News explores with Udall what happens when the door is opened and more than special interests and lawyers are allowed in the room to talk about solutions.   Udall says, “For 150 years, we’ve had three kinds of people in the room talking about water: we’ve had water users, we’ve had attorneys and we’ve had engineers. And for the most part, the public, economists and scientists have not been a part of this dialogue. In Australia, they don’t even let attorneys in the room — at least according to one gentlemen down there — when it comes to water. And they talk in these very holistic (terms): what’s good for our economy, what’s good for our social systems, what’s good for the environment — they have those three perspectives. It’s not just driven by the legal system, which is usually almost always the case here in Colorado.”    . . . more>>

Only one stream in Utah is wild and scenic?

Above all Utah is a wild and scenic place.  Yet only one segment of one river in the state has been granted protection.  There may be hope. Segments of nine rivers and streams in southwest Utah have been deemed eligible by the Bureau of Land Management for possible protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said getting rivers or sections of streams designated as wild and scenic is difficult because of the required congressional approval. Frankel said his group has been identifying rivers for designation throughout Utah, but a congressional sponsor is needed and no one has shown much passion.  Why the lack of concern?  . . . more>>

Colorado is watching the water in streams with real money

Over 60 percent of the Colorado River’s native flows are permanently removed at its headwaters by urban water systems, according to Colorado Trout Unlimited, and now two proposed water projects for Denver and the Front Range​ could take another 20 percent if enacted. The threatened Fraser River​ is a main tributary of the Colorado. It starts at Berthoud Pass, flowing for 32.5 miles — 19.5 miles in protected U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands — past Winter Park to Granby, Colorado.   In 1992 Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to receive up to 50 percent of Colorado Lottery proceeds and use the funds on projects that protect and enhance Colorado’s parks, wildlife, trails, rivers and open space, and more than 5 million people by last year.  We can watch how that money is used to speak for the value of water in streams.  . . . more>>