More things in heaven and earth - Day Four

SA Guide: Mile 54 to Mineral Bottom, Mineral Canyon

"Get up." 

I stirred, and rolled. I heard the words, but didn't really get the meaning. And as far as I could tell, they were being spoken by a human-sized lizard in a wide-brimmed hiking hat.

"Get up, Bob! We've got to put the fly on now!" Okay, that was no lizard, it was Laura, and her tone was unconditional. It reminded me of her "The trash truck's here and the cans aren't out" voice, only in this case she wasn't waiting for me, but was already grabbing the fly and exiting the tent. The wind was blowing sand through our campsite and drops began to fall while I hastily tried to find my headlamp and scramble out the zippered door. I pulled the fly out of the tent bag and we located the color-coded ends that needed to be snapped into the tent body. As we finished I could see through the scudding clouds that Orion was well up in the eastern sky, and there was a hint of light on the horizon. It was a lovely scene, and would have been worthy of further consideration were the elements not still threatening. Just as I was about to climb back into the tent I glanced around me and realized I had no idea what I did with the tent bag. Laura gave me a blank look when I asked if she'd seen it.

"Great, it's probably a couple of miles up the river by now," I said as we headed back to bed. Stupid atmospheric pressure gradient.


(Previous - Day One, Day Two, Day Three)

Our extra caution the preceding afternoon, which led to us paddling a few more miles just in case this last day turned ugly, ended up being unnecessary because, despite our inauspicious wake-up call, the skies had cleared and calmed. This was perfectly welcome, as it allowed us to sleep as late as we wanted, casually eat breakfast, break down camp and gather up our gear. With everything ready to go we sat in our camp chairs and relaxed for a while, watching the dying fragments of storm create a rainbow above the western cliffs before being dismissed by the warming sun. It was one of those moments for which you go on vacation - to be able to sit and relax as long as you like.

And speaking of time, this is probably as good a time as any to fulfill a promise made in the first installment of this series. Let's address the toilet issue: Inevitably, when you go backpacking or wilderness camping, someone wants to know about personal hygiene, i.e., "What do you do about going to the bathroom?" Assuming the same is true of this kind of trip, let me just say that if you find backpacking conventions daunting, then you'll really have trouble camping on the Green River. The rules have been configured so that everything solid gets packed out. And when I say everything I mean everything. A situation nicely summed up by this typically trenchant parting comment from our daughter as we left for Moab - "Have fun carrying your excrement."

Okay, so yes, you do have to pack it all out, and that's not a lot of fun. But on the plus side, when you're paddling (canoe, kayak, raft, etc.) you can probably fit in a throne. There are quite a few portable toilets available. They all come with bags, and many bags include chemical treatments which allow them to be tossed in any garbage can. These are what you need. The parks (BLM and Canyonlands) are quite particular about this, and even on the phone were willing to go into great detail about how they wanted things done. It's easy to see why - the river is comparatively narrow and enclosed by the canyon walls. The campsites, while plentiful, see abundant usage. And the desert climate often tends toward preservation rather than degradation. 

We were happy to comply, in theory. In practice it took a bit of adjustment, especially when we parked on a sandbar with no trees or rocks or, well, any kind of cover. Our last two nights were in such confines. The earlier night we were all alone, but this last night we camped a mere football field or so downriver from two other parties also setting themselves up for their last day. The upshot is that the only thing taller than our kayaks in the near vicinity was our tent. So I set up the hopper with the tent obscuring the sightlines of our upriver neighbors - but it was otherwise totally unconcealed. To be honest, we were getting pretty used to the exposure by this time, and frankly we've never experienced such great views while, um...reading.


We paddled the two miles to Mineral Bottom (the take-out point) casually, and were treated to some more towering red ramparts along the way. Arriving in plenty of time allowed us to mosey up Mineral Canyon while we waited for our shuttle back to Moab. After our ride arrived and we'd packed up all our gear we were cautioned by another shuttle driver that the adventure wasn't over just yet, "You're going to love the ride out."

Sloughing it off as hyperbole, we hauled ourselves up into the old Chevy truck with few concerns, and the trip back to town began. For those who've taken note of the various Hamlet references sprinkled throughout these articles, I will point out that a few miles up this precipitous, soft-sand, narrow, twisting, no-shouldered, canyon-wall "road" is the bend where the association first entered (was seared into?) my mind. As our driver casually related some local history, she rounded a hairpin switchback to the right. I was in the backseat on the drivers' side with my forehead pressed against the window - essentially looking straight down at what I was sure was going to be my final resting place. The driver was blithely making a point to another passenger while just behind her my eyes bulged at the sight of the Chevy's front left tire mere inches from the crumbling ledge. At this moment I actually thought to myself, "I wonder if any of us is going to live to talk about this?" That immediately put me in mind - once I regained my composure - of Horatio, the only major character in Hamlet to finish the play alive.

It's an odd association, I'll grant, but one that doesn't intrude much. And it hasn't diminished in the least the satisfaction of an amazing trip. Our experience paddling Labyrinth Canyon has left us with memories that are indelible and fulfilling in just the way a bucket list realization should be. And we look forward to some day returning and kayaking the Green's ensuing 52 miles through the equally gorgeous Stillwater Canyon.

Hopefully by then I'll have gotten the image of the death cliff out of my mind. Oh, and the lizard in the hat too...that was just weird.



  • Mile 54 to Mineral Bottom: Distance - 2 miles, Portages - none , Rating - Easy
  • Mineral Canyon: Distance - 1.9 miles, Elevation range - 3883'-3949', Rating - Easy

More photos:

  • 01 Last morning
  • 02 Rising light
  • 03 The silver lining
  • 04 Laura
  • 05 Side blotched lizard or Uta stansburiana
  • 06 As yet unidentified plant
  • 07 Mineral Canyon
  • 08 Leaving
Even more photos: Flickr

Video: Youtube 


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