As the 4th of July crowds began to flood town I watched the sidewalks fill and the parking spaces vanish. I decided I needed to find somewhere with a little less congestion to spend the holiday, preferably on a river. With last minute permits, available I called the Monticello, Utah BLM office and low and behold there was a cancellation for the San Juan River. So in less than 24 hours from deciding I would rivertrip, I was packed and out the door and bound for the four corners portion of Utah.
Not all can pivot into action, or “instarally” as I like to call it. But John Blackshire, with the Colorado SUP Club, decided to come and brought along a couple of expedition sized boards. At almost 12 feet long and four feet wide the Haladaze changes the options for a self-supported overnight SUP. After a quick stop in Grand Junction we a had a 60 quart cooler full of ice, beer and food that we could strap onto the board, and then were headed to Bluff.
After some strange looks from full rigged rafters and the ranger, we pushed off into the current. With the two boards loaded with minimal camping gear, water and provisions to cover the 86 miles of the San Juan, which was following at a hefty 4000 CFS, much higher than where it will settle for the season after runoff. The river starts out mellow, meandering back and forth between red sand stone cliffs. As we track our miles based on the map, we stop to explore ancient Puebloan cave dwellings and admire petroglyphs high above the shore.
In the first day, using little more effort than the current we cover 32 miles, navigating several class II rapids and passing the town of Mexican Hat. We camp beneath a nearly full moon at the mouth of the canyon. The scenery on the second day changes dramatically as the canyon walls rise several thousand feet up from the river. The layers alternate between zigzagged and perfectly linear, a geological look back in time.
Despite the fact, we got a last-minute cancellation, and the river should have been teeming over the holiday weekend we only saw several lone Big Horn Sheep. Some were high on the cliffs above, others at the water level drinking, staring at us as we drifted right on by. I spent most of the 103 degree day with my feet dangling in the cool water, staring up at the art work of the canyon walls, it was truly mesmerizing.
With the massive cooler, we ate gourmet for a SUP trip, meals of steak tacos and mac’n’cheese, and a bottomless supply of cold drinks along the way. Other overnight trips I have had to survive for 7 days on freeze dried food, by comparison this almost seemed like glamping.
On the final 20 mile stretch the landscape began to change, the rock smoothing and rounding as it sank back down far beneath the river bed. This is where the Glen Canyon Dam begins to touch the San Juan, slowing its pace and creating sand bars that seem to miraculously appear which we dodge as we seek out the deepest, swiftest part of the current.
Once we make the takeout, the drive back to civilization seems to last forever. The landscape is flat and barren, with no hint of the canyon just a few miles over that houses the San Juan River.
I am a photographer and journalist and have traveled all over the world, only to end up in a little place called Aspen. I work hard and play hard in the outdoors. I am a long time snowboarder (park, all mountain, and back country) and a new addition to skiing. I also Stand Up Paddle board mostly in the rivers (class I-III) but also in the ocean when I can escape the mountains. I also hike, rock climb, wakeboard, surf and do yoga and generally explore my backyard in the Rockies.
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