More things in heaven and earth - Day Three

SA Guide: Mile 70 to Bowknot Bend Saddle, Bowknot Bend Saddle, Bowknot Bend Saddle landing to Twomile Canyon, Twomile Canyon, Twomile Canyon to mile 54

July 15,  1869 - "We go around a great bend to the right, five miles, and come back to within a quarter of a mile of where we started. Then we sweep another great bend to the left, nine miles, and come back to within 600 yards of the beginning of the bend. The men call it a 'bowknot' of river; so we name it Bowknot Bend." J. W. Powell

Famous Colorado River explorer John Wesley Powell saw and did a whole lot of things I'm never going to see and do. But for a long time I'd planned on Bowknot Bend being an exception. For years I had seen iconic pictures from two perspectives on this massive knot in the Green River. And I was determined, were we ever lucky enough to paddle this stretch, to leave my footprints and take my own pictures from one of those spots. The first, I came to realize, is nearly always an aerial view of the feature taken from the east side - so not an option (at least on this trip). The other is taken from the vantage of the Saddle, a low spot in the giant monolithic walls. This ridge welcomes hikers who've climbed the 0.4 miles and 430 vertical feet to a spectacular view of the river as it passes astoundingly close to itself, having doubled back over seven miles.

We'd been shut out on our previous day's attempts to investigate beyond the river's banks. But I really wanted to hike the Saddle and take that picture, and this morning I was hoping to make it happen.


(Previous - Day One, Day Two)

We didn't plan on day three being a big day, it just worked out that way.

We'd camped on a sandbar at mile 70 the night before partly because of its proximity to the Bowknot Bend Saddle, but as well the fact that it was a sweet site: a place to dig our toes in the warm sand, watch the river flow by, and marvel at the incredible visual spectacle on all sides. That resulted in yesterday's afternoon and evening being lazy and magical. But this morning we spared no time for wonder and got underway earlier than the previous days. We knew we wanted to get up and down from the Saddle hike without having it take up too much of the day, and we weren't sure what to expect. 

I was a bit skeptical that we'd find the trailhead for the hike, having looked in vain the night before. But Laura had predicted at that time that a low rocky spot on the bank a bit past the Saddle might turn out to be our deliverance, and she was right. We pulled our boats onto the small landing area, tied them off, and clambered up the bank to look for signs of a trail. We immediately found an obvious trail heading upriver, followed it, and soon turned off onto another clear use trail (with some cairns, to boot) leading up toward our destination. As we ascended, the trail became less apparent in spots, but the cairns helped, and four hundred-some vertical feet and a fun bit of scrambling later we gained the saddle ridge. It really is an impressive spot, made more so by the history it has known,

"Arrived saddle - East end. Made 9 motion pictures scenes on top of saddle. Found many dates - both ends of saddle - names back to 1905. Kola Bros. '11 & '21. USGS - H.T Yokey - Pathe-Bray - Buzz Holmstrom - Burg - Johnson."  Harry Aleson, October 26, 1947

After lingering a while, taking pics and videos, and eating a snack, we made our way back down. One of those moments that forces recognition of how far you are from civilization happens on this kind of trip when you return to your boats with fingers crossed. Regardless of how tightly I lash up the poor tree trunk that has the misfortune of being the tie-down for our boats, I still experience a little frisson of relief when I catch a glimpse of the red and orange hulls waiting for us. Ending up in the middle of a 47 mile river trip without a boat leaves you with a long swim out.

We scooted away from the bank and began paddling the seven mile stretch that would nearly return us to this very spot (just a few hundred yards south, and over the ridge we just climbed, the river meanders by in the opposite direction). As we rounded the top end of the knot and headed south the wind began to pick up and the clouds ahead aggregated into dark, gnarled forms. Halfway through the breeze just kept piling on, it must have been near twenty-five knots, creating waves off of which the gusts blew white froth. This can be fun for a short while, but it's a pain in the neck when it's coming straight at you and doesn't let up. So we picked out a sandbar up ahead that provided some thick brush for protection, and slogged our way to hoped-for respite.

After the wind finally backed down a little we continued around the bend, where it lessened even more, and finally paddled past the south side of the Saddle. From here we headed down to our next stop - Twomile Canyon. This was another recommended hike, but we were hesitant at first, put off by the muddy landing. However, we figured there might be decent hiking here, and having had such a good experience earlier, we gave it a shot. The mud turned out to be not too bad, and the canyon itself turned out to be a tremendous excursion - though far too short.

As we hiked, first through the brush, then up the dry wash, we encountered fabulous scenery, interesting rock formations, sheltered ponds, tiny toads, lizards and plants to entertain Laura for hours. I wanted to get to the canyon head (I assumed it was about two miles) and so went ahead, telling her I'd return soon. However the weather conspired to make me keep my promise more quickly than I expected. As I reached a fork where the canyon splits into two inviting red-rock chasms, the clouds rolled back in, the wind came up again, and I felt a few drops. Having spent a fair amount of time in the desert, the idea of hiking in a wash during a storm is one I don't generally entertain, so I turned back toward the river with thoughts of a flash flood up-canyon coming my way.

The clouds were clearing as Laura and I returned to the boats, but the wind was howling - stronger than ever. We watched as what felt like near-gale force winds blew the sand from a downriver sandbar into swirling devils. Though the skies were beautifully azure, and the scenery around us magnificent, this was an unwelcome delay. Afternoon was pushing toward dusk, and with the weather threatening I wanted to put a few more miles under our hulls in order to have something in the bank should our next (and last) day's paddle be difficult. Laura wondered aloud if we should consider calling it a night, and camp right there on the ledges above the river and the wash. We decided to wait a half hour or so and see what the elements had in store.

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." There are varying interpretations (as there often are with the Bard) of what this bit of prose really means. One is, essentially (and perhaps simplistically): if it seems bad, just don't think about it. The other is that it's all in the way we look at things. Either way counseled calm, which was good advice for our current situation. So we hunkered down to wait it out - me with my back on the sand, my head in my hat, and Laura working her Olympus. From under the brim I listened to the wind and peeked at my watch now and then. After about fifteen minutes we noticed that the average wind speeds had dropped, and the gusts were no longer scouring the downriver sandbar.

Feeling rewarded for our patience, we hauled anchor (metaphorically) and paddled once again. We were both tiring, but the day's events, along with the forecast we'd seen before launching, convinced us to leave our last day a light one just in case. So we made for a sandbar just a few miles upriver from the take-out landing at Mineral Bottom. Along the way we noted a couple of spots - Horseshoe Canyon, Hell Roaring Canyon - that looked like candidates for exploration on a future trip, and hoped no one would claim our planned sandbar campsite at mile 54.

As it turned out, we spotted a couple of couples camped on a long riverside sand bank just upriver of our destination, but fortunately no one had claimed the spot we wanted about a quarter-mile beyond. So with the setting sun reflecting off the canyon walls, and both of us tired from a long day, we pulled up onto the sandy ledge for our last night. Then we scrambled to get the gear unloaded and camp set up, dinner made and eaten, and all the hatches battened back down for what we imagined could be a blustery night. 

For some reason, though, on one score optimism prevailed and a task was left undone. Whether it was the memory of the previous night's starry brilliance or just pure hopefulness that motivated our decision, we once again left off the tent-fly.

We slept, and we likely dreamed. But, aye, there was a rub coming our way.

(Next - Day Four)



  • Mile 70 to Bowknot Bend Saddle landing: Distance - 0.6 miles, Portages - none , Rating - Easy
  • Bowknot Bend Saddle: Distance - 0.8 miles, Elevation range - , Rating - Easy-Moderate
  • Bowknot Bend Saddle landing to Twomile Canyon: Distance - 9.1 miles, Portages - none , Rating - Easy-Moderate
  • Twomile Canyon: Distance - 1.4 miles, Elevation range - 104', Rating - Easy
  • Twomile Canyon to mile 54: Distance - 7.2 miles, Portages - none , Rating - Easy

More photos:

  • 01 Morning panorama
  • 02 Upriver cliffs
  • 03 West end of the Saddle
  • 04 Bankside
  • 05 Bowknot Bend begins
  • 06 Bowknot Bend ends seven miles later
  • 07 Appreciating the view
  • 08 Exploring the Saddle
  • 09 Saddle Trail plant
  • 10 More Saddle Trail plants
  • 11 Always nice to see the boats still there
  • 12 Weather coming
  • 13 Laura views Saddle from downriver
  • 14 Disneyland for geologists
  • 15 Twomile Canyon
  • 16 Twomile Canyonrock
  • 17 View toward the river
  • 18 Camouflage
  • 19 Sentinels
  • 20 Evening light
Even more photos: Flickr

Video: Youtube 


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