More things in heaven and earth - Day One

SA Guide: Ruby Ranch to mile Trin Alcove Bend, Trin Alcove Bend to mile 84

The things that we humans dream of in our personal "philosophies" are doubtless many and varied, and surely run the gamut from mundane to majestic. Certainly there are those who crave the obvious: fast cars, romance, financial independence, as well as some who harbor less material desires - maybe a year off to write the proverbial great American novel.

When Laura and I dream, we dream of wild places. Oh sure, we have our mundane ambitions: for Laura it's usually the chance to luxuriate in sleep all morning long (and maybe even into the afternoon), and for me, well, I've been searching for the perfect Margherita pizza for quite a while now. But when we dream big, we imagine landscapes of surpassing beauty and diversity; plants and animals never previously encountered, and night skies bursting with stars...quiet, unspoiled, preternaturally natural places.

Well, Horatio, a trip down Labyrinth Canyon in Utah satisfies that reverie and then some, even adding a dose of adventure for good measure.


We'd come to Moab to paddle the Green River. After spending some time in Denver visiting our daughter, the botanical gardens, and the Rocky Mountains (in that order) we devoted the five days we had left to crossing an item off our bucket list. For a long time we'd wanted to kayak Labyrinth Canyon, a stretch of the Green just north of Canyonlands National Park. (The section of the river that follows Labyrinth is called Stillwater Canyon, and it is part of Canyonlands.) The plan was to spend four days and three nights on the river, then hightail it home to southern California over the last day and a half of Labor Day weekend.

For this trip, one needs to hire a shuttle service (along with their boats if you don't have your own) to drive you and your gear the fifty plus miles - the last fourteen over very rough road - to the launch location for this trip. Although our excursion was arranged last minute, we were lucky to find availability with Moab Rafting and Canoe Company and, despite the fact that their vehicles didn't inspire extreme confidence at first, they all seemed knowledgeable and friendly and they got us and our gear to the Ruby Ranch put-in with no trouble.

I'd slept little the night before, constantly reviewing in my head whether we'd forgotten anything. Whether we had enough water (you have to carry all you'll need on this trip), and whether all the gear we had would fit into our kayaks. We'd done some kayak camping before, but for shorter periods, and for this trip we were carrying not only our usual gear but a portable toilet (more on that later). Our shuttle driver waited until we (and another couple) were done loading and sure we'd gotten everything aboard, then took off, leaving us to meet up with him again four days later and 47 miles downriver.

So it was that at about noon, and having gotten past what was, for me, the most stressful part of the trip, we pushed off the silty bank at mile 97 and headed south. Immediately catching the approximately 3mph flow, we took a few moments for a deep breath, a bask in the warm sun...and then proceeded to fall into the relaxing cadence of paddling.

At first the scenery was pretty, but somewhat ordinary. The launch is from private farmland, a flat section of the river. But it soon became apparent why this was considered the beginning of Labyrinth Canyon. After about a mile the cliffs rose up on the left, and the water flowed past a steep, red wall. It was hard to resist the urge to sidle up next to the rock and test its cool texture. As the river turned to the west the walls jutted up on both sides. Though they seemed looming and impressive, over the next few days we would come to realize that we'd seen nothing yet.

At our pre-launch meeting we were given some pointers on possible hikes off of the river, and we stopped at the first one - Trin Alcove Bend at mile 90. It was at this turn in the river we hoped to hike up Three Canyon. Unfortunately we found that the area was overgrown with brush - mostly tamarisk - obscuring any possible trailheads, and the open creekbed bottom of the canyon was thick with sandal-grabbing mud. Fortunately, no footwear was lost in the taking, and aborting, of this hike, and after a snack we launched our kayaks to head downriver once again. This was the first of several lessons the Green would teach us - learn where the mud is deep and greedy, and avoid it.

Our second lesson came just a few more miles down the river. As we rounded another bend we saw the brush on the banks ahead swaying madly. The wind was rising quickly. Soon after, catspaws began racing past us as the rain blew sideways, turning our hat brims from protectors to collectors of precipitation. Fortunately, the day was warm and the breeze not too challenging. But just to remind ourselves that we were on vacation, we paddled over to the banks and ducked under the thick vegetation to have another snack and wait out the squall. However we took note: conditions here can change dramatically, and in an instant.

As the day wore on, and we began to realize that there had been a lot of stress and rushing around that we were now feeling as fatigue, we looked for a sandbar on which to set up camp. At mile 84 we found a likely prospect. However, as it happened access to this spot would include stepping through a lot of mud ( we were obviously still working on Lesson One). This precluded any prolonged interaction with the river here (washing, playing, etc.), but since we were tired enough that all we wanted to do was eat and sleep, it worked out fine - almost. One of the conventions when camping on the Green is to urinate in the river. They like to say, "the solution to pollution is dilution." While this was a slippery enough proposition for me at the muddy edge of a sandbar, it was much more of a trial for Laura.

After eating we put the fly on the tent because the weather looked iffy, and were later glad to have done so. A windstorm with some scattered rain blew through our vicinity during the night. It would have been exciting had we not been so tired, and hot (another lesson - don't bring your cold weather sleeping bags and pads on a warm weather river trip).

Eventually the storm calmed down, and we finally dropped off to sleep. I don't know what Laura was dreaming of, but I couldn't get Margherita pizzas out of my head.

(Next - Day Two)


  • Ruby Ranch to mile Trin Alcove Bend: Distance - 7.4 miles, Portages - none , Rating - Easy
  • Trin Alcove Bend to mile 84: Distance - 7 miles, Portages - none, Rating - Easy

More photos:

  • 01 Canada geese go over the wall
  • 02 Constantly changing features
  • 03 Fissures often seem intentionally carved
  • 04 Big place with big views
  • 05 Red pyramids
  • 06 A piece of the wall
  • 07 Bankside oaks
  • 08 Moment of reflection
Even more photos: Flickr

Video: Youtube 


All photos and video by Laura or Bob Camp unless otherwise indicated. Use without permission is not cool.