Photo: Janet Ross
Trip Number: 13041A
Staff: Paul Gross
- Combine rafting the San Juan River & backpacking to Cedar Mesa
- Learn aspects of river history and lore
- Find and photograph ancient cliff dwellings and rock art panels
- Learn from experienced experts and guides
- All meals, vegetarian friendly
- Transportation from Bluff, Utah to trailhead and back to Bluff
- Professionally guided rafting trip
- Group equipment
Enjoy the best of river running and backpacking while exploring the canyons
of the San Juan River, as it cuts through the southern part of world-renowned
"Cedar Mesa." This area of Southeast Utah contains some of the most
breathtaking scenery in North America. Situated due east of Bryce and Zion national
parks and north of the Grand Canyon, this magical area of the southwest is just
a small piece of the Colorado Plateau. It is steeped with ancient human history,
in the form of ruins, rock art, and artifacts created and used by the Ancestral
Puebloans. With the help of our professional interpretive guides, we’ll
learn more about these ancient people.
We will float four days (44 miles) through the spectacular twists and turns
of the "Goosenecks." We can trace the history of pioneers and prospectors,
whose dreams brought them to this river corridor. The San Juan River is home
to many interesting mammals, including desert bighorn sheep, ringtail cats,
bobcats, and coyotes. Eagles, herons, peregrine falcons, and birds of prey can
be seen hunting along the steep canyon walls.
After our refreshing water adventure, we will hit the “dusty” trail.
At this point the group will be split, with half going up Grand Gulch, and the
other half up Slick Horn canyon. For the next three days we will backpack through
archaeological and geological wonders of these canyons. Winding our way through
a wonderland of carved sandstone, we will search for rock art panels, ruins,
and artifacts left behind by the Ancestral Puebloans.
Photo: Janet Ross
Day 1: The trip officially starts at 9 a.m. on Sunday, April
28 at Recapture Lodge, in Bluff, Utah. We’ll load our gear into 15-passenger
vans for the half-hour drive to Mexican Hat. Cars can be parked safely in the
Lodge parking lot. After we have an orientation and organize our gear, we'll
launch on river by noon and travel the six miles to camp. We will travel through
the sheer limestone-walled canyon of the Goosenecks, with a stop to dayhike
over the Mendenhall Loop of the Goosenecks and to view the prospector's cabin.
Day 2: Continue downriver through rugged and beautiful desert.
At mile 44, we'll hike part of the Honaker Trail. The Honaker is an once-in-a-lifetime
winding side hike (~ 2 miles) up switchbacks scaling the wall of the canyon
built by an intrepid prospector. Once sated on the utterly magnificent views
of the river corridor and surrounding terrain in all directions, we will descend
back to the boats and camp. (Total water miles ~ 14 miles)
Day 3: Today we'll travel downriver, through Ross Rapid, to
Johns Canyon where we'll hike to a pool up in the canyon and camp there. (Total
water miles ~ 14 miles)
Day 4: Well travel downriver, through legendary Government
Rapid, to Slickhorn Canyon (~10 miles), and enjoy the scenic side hike to clear
pools carved out of solid limestone. We will stop at the mouth of Slickhorn
to re-organize gear for backpacking, and to split out into two groups: one to
hike out Slickhorn, the other to hike out Grand Gulch starting tomorrow.
Day 5: After breakfast, the Slickhorn backpackers will take
off on foot and the Grand Gulch crew will float down to the mouth of Grand Gulch
(4 miles). Slickhorn: (~ 5 miles) Hike up-canyon to camp near
a boulder field chock full of rock art. Grand Gulch: (~ 6.7
miles) Hike the first two miles through rugged boulder-filled terrain, then
on to camp near The Natural Arch in the seldom-visited lower section of the
Day 6: Slickhorn: (~ 5 miles) Hike up Slickhorn
to Trail Canyon to see a cliff dwelling and archaeological surprise. Grand
Gulch: (~ 5.7 miles) Hike up Grand Gulch to Water Canyon; find “Bye
Bye Blackbird” rock art panel, and view other panels, a natural arch,
Day 7: Slickhorn: (~ 4 miles) Hike out Trail Canyon to the
vans. We will visit several small ruins along the way. Get to vans 2 p.m. Grand
Gulch: (~ 5 miles) Hike up and out Collins Springs Canyon to the trailhead.
Arrive at the vans by 2 p.m. and return to Bluff by 4 p.m. to your cars.
Tonight you're on your own for dinner and sleeping. If you flew in, the leaders
will take you back to Cortez tonight to get to your post-trip lodging.
Photo: Janet Ross
The nearest airport is in Cortez, CO. Great Lakes Airlines has two or three
flights daily that connect Cortez with Denver. The Durango airport is only an
hour or so farther away and has more flights and car rentals available. Major
airports are Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, and Phoenix, all about a 5- or 6-hour
drive from Bluff. Once in Bluff, you can leave any vehicles at our meeting point
in a safe parking lot at the lodge.
We meet at 9:00 a.m. on the morning of April 28 at the Recapture Lodge in Bluff.
To make this, you will have to arrive the night before. Also, we expect to be
back in Bluff around 4:00 p.m. on May 4th, too late to make any flights out
Transportation to and from Cortez is being offered from the Four Corners School.
This service is available on request at $20 each way. Transportation will leave
the Cortez airport late afternoon of April 27th, returning late (8 p.m.) May
4th. Lodging for the night of the 27th is at your own expense. All participants
must make their own travel arrangements. Individuals interested in ride-sharing
should contact other trip members once the final roster is put together. Feel
free to contact the trip leader for more information on pre- and post-trip lodging.
Accommodations and Food
The following motels with their phone numbers are available in Bluff, UT for
before and after the trip at your expense. Prices typically range from $60 to
$85, depending upon time of year.
Recapture Lodge: (435) 672-2281
Desert Rose Inn: (435) 672-2303
Kokopelli Inn: (435) 672-2322
The first four nights will be spent camping at sites along the river. The last
two nights are near water sources of Grand Gulch or Slickhorn canyons. All camps
are remote and primitive. There are no flush toilets, showers, or picnic tables.
We do our best to make these locations comfortable, providing camp tables, portable
toilets, and a handy kitchen area, on the river portion of the trip. We will
bring chairs for the group to share while on the river, or you may bring a small
camp chair for yourself. You will be sleeping on sandy beaches or rocky benches
alongside the river in your tent or under the stars. Tents are good for privacy
or to avoid bugs.
Photo: Janet Ross
Four Corners School of Outdoor Education (FCS) and the Sierra Club leaders
take pride in their backcountry cooking. Trip meals will include some meat but
vegetarians can easily be accommodated. Our first trip meal will be lunch on
day one and the last meal will be lunch on the last day. Food on the river will
be simple, tasty, and plentiful, with much of it fresh, as we have coolers.
Food while backpacking will of course be less fresh food, but still simple and
plentiful, with some freeze dried. Trip participants share in meal preparation
with the guides, and clean up on a rotating basis.
This section of the San Juan provides mostly a float trip through breathtaking
surroundings, on slow-moving, silt-laden water. Thus, this is not primarily
a whitewater experience, although there are some fun and easy Class I-III rapids.
Depending on mountain snowmelt and subsequent river flows, days on the river
could be moderate to long.
We will make some stops during the river portion of the program to learn about
geology, biology, history, or archaeology. These side hikes are not particularly
difficult, but come prepared for hilly terrain and possible loose footing.
The backpacking segment of the trip covers 15-18 miles over sometimes difficult
terrain. You will need to carry your personal gear (usually 20-25 pounds) plus
about 15 pounds of group equipment and food. Experience with backpacking at
this level is necessary. Once we are underway with our packs, there is no other
way out than to complete our route.
The weather in late April can consist of warm days (average temperature is
80 degrees) and chilly nights (average temperature is 50 degrees). Since weather
changes often from one extreme to another, we suggest that you prepare for rainy,
windy days with warm temperatures and cool to chilly nights.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Janet Ross
All rafting equipment and group camping gear (cookware, stoves, food, tarps)
is provided. You will need your own personal backpacking equipment, including
an ample pack, tent, sleeping bag, pad, and clothing. A detailed list will be
sent to registered participants at a later date. Tents ($5/person/day), sleeeping
bags and pads ($5/person/day) can be rented from our outfitter.
- National Geographic Trails Illustrated, Grand Gulch Plateau, Utah
- Cordell, L.S., Prehistory of the Southwest. Academic Press, New
- Jones, D. and L.S. Cordell, The Anasazi World. Graphic Arts Center
Publishing Co., Portland. (1985)
- McNitt, F., Richard Wetherill, Anasazi. University of New Mexico
Press, Albuquerque. (1966)
- Nickens, P.R., A Summary of Prehistory of Southern Utah. Bureau
of Land Management Cultural Resource Series 13, Salt Lake City. (1982)
- Stuart, D.E., Glimpses of the Ancient Southwest. Ancient City Press,
Santa Fe. (1985)
- Wormington, H.M., Prehistoric Indians of the Southwest. Denver
Museum of Natural History, Denver. (1947)
- Castleton, Kenneth, Petroglyphs and Pictographs of Utah, Vol. One and
Two. Utah Museum of Natural History, Salt Lake City. (1978)
- Cole, Sally J., Legacy on Stone. Johnson Books, Boulder. (1990)
- Kemper, Lewis and Gregory Schaaf, Ancient Ancestors of the Southwest.
- Zwinger, Ann, Wind in the Rock.
National Park Service sites:
Bureau of Land Management site:
Photo: Janet Ross
The Grand Gulch Primitive Area is part of a larger Wilderness Study Area (WSA)
awaiting action by Congress to permanently protect its wild nature. In Utah,
the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) deemed suitable for WSAs only a
fraction of the public lands identified as deserving by conservationists. So
far, the state's political establishment has sided with BLM. There will be a
briefing about what you can do to help save these remarkable wildlands owned
by all Americans.
This will be a Leave No Trace (LNT) trip. We will talk about the impact of
visitors on the fragile ecosystem of Cedar Mesa. The dark, crumbly-looking ground
next to the trails is actually alive and called "cryptobiotic" soil.
Made up of lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi, and cyanobacteria, these
organisms bind the soil together, making it resistant to wind and water erosion.
Hiking boots easily destroy Cryptobiotic soil. Following the LNT principle of
leaving what you find, we also need to prevent impacts on the archeological
wonders of Grand Gulch and Slickhorn Canyon. To further the protection of the
places we cherish, we ask that trip staff and participants not publish in print
or other medium, or put on the Internet, any map points or routes, GPS readings,
or detailed route descriptions derived from our trip or take anything home but
pictures. Thank you for your help.
We will be working with Four Corners School of Outdoor Education (FCS), a 27-year-old
non-profit based in Monticello, Utah. Their mission is to create lifelong learning
experiences about the Colorado Plateau bioregion (Southern Utah, Southwest Colorado,
Northwest New Mexico and Northern Arizona) for people of all ages and backgrounds
through education, service, adventure, and conservation programs. They strive
to build a diverse community of people who are committed to conserving the natural
and cultural treasures of the Colorado Plateau.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Paul Gross, an avid outdoor enthusiast, has been a cycling and backpacking vegetarian living in harmony with his surroundings for many decades. Ten years spent building his homestead in the Ozarks and living self-sufficiently, have given him a significant appreciation of being connected with nature. Paul has been leading local Sierra Club outings for the past 17 years, and national outings for 10 years. He decided to share his love of the outdoors -- not to mention his zest for life and people -- with the National Outings program. Providing fellow adventures the safety to experience the wonders of nature is especially rewarding. Besides backpacking 5-6 weeks per year, Paul is also an avid cyclist and cycle tourist. He has completed several long-distance, self-supported cycling tours with his wife Melody on their tandem bicycle. When not backpacking or cycling, Paul can be found in his garden, experimenting in the kitchen, or ballroom dancing with Melody. In his spare time, Paul supports himself as a remodeling contractor, carpenter, and cabinet/furniture maker.
The co-leader of this trip is Melody Gross. Her husband Paul introduced her to backpacking 17 years ago, and she has been a hopeless enthusiast ever since. She is the consummate tree hugger, ardent follower and teacher of LNT principles. Besides canoeing on the local rivers, she can be found backpacking in southern Missouri and Arkansas, three or four times a year. She's quite often out in the mountains with her husband, too -- their weeklong trips into the wilderness are annual events. A more recent passion is backpacking with her dog Sandy, which has expanded into new National Outing trips.
Equally at home in the backcountry or on the ballroom dance floor, Melody has learned how to be one with her surroundings. She is a practicing home health nurse, as well as a Reiki master. She also practices vibrational healing and cranial-sacral therapy. Her other passion is singing: If you hike near the sweep, you may be fortunate enough to hear her singing with the birds. Her Native American cedar flute has also been known to stow away in her pack for after-dark serenades.
Melody has trained and received her Wilderness First Responder Certification.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips