Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado

After merging with the Yampa River, the Green River takes a U-turn around the monumental ridge of sandstone called Steamboat Rock.

After merging with the Yampa River (top right), the Green River takes a U-turn around the monumental ridge of sandstone called Steamboat Rock. |  Photo by Jim Shoemaker

To celebrate his updated status as a quinquagenarian, Moe has gathered 14 friends to float down the Green River, one of the Rockies' iconic waterways and the main tributary of the Colorado.

Before we leave, the ranger warns our group about diseased cottonwood trees crushing us, a hungry black bear trolling campsites, moose ready to charge from the willows, and deceptively cute rabbits carrying tularemia. We cast off into the narrowing red Gates of Lodore, curious and apprehensive about what awaits downstream.

Three days in and Mitten Park Fault shows through a tear in the plateau brushed with juniper. Sharp zigzags drop where Earth's knit one, purl two pattern changes to vertical. The fault seems to salute our rowdy armada of rafts, duckies, standup paddleboards, and packrafts. 

The dark green current carries us into the river bottom that John Wesley Powell named Echo Park in 1869. Conversations stop and paddles drop to the water, strokes half finished. While we were distracted by laughter and paddleboarding stunts, the river has transported us into a moonscape of soaring Weber sandstone. A wall, pale as my belly, gently rises over us, arching toward tall, naked mesas and bluffs across the water, where the Yampa River, pouring in from northwestern Colorado, meets the Green. 

Then we see the red prow of Steamboat Rock. It cuts through Echo Park's quiet pool like a shark fin. I think of the photos my father showed me from his childhood visit to Glen Canyon's Rainbow Bridge before water from the dam began lapping at its base. In the 1950s, Steamboat Rock faced a similar fate, but the proposed dam was defeated in a fight that was a flashpoint in the modern environmental movement and an important precursor to the Wilderness Act. 

We beach our boats under a grove of cottonwoods. Relaxing in the shade, with the river's cool water drying on my skin, I watch the birthday balloons that crown the rafts bouncing in the light breeze against the redrock, wondering what the next 50 years will bring for Moe, for me, for this wild, wonderful place.

  • "If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go."
    Terry Tempest Williams
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