Day 1 Mineral Canyon to Fort Bottom, 12 miles, 4.5 hours.
We were to arrive at the Tex’s Riverways office by 8 am so with a nearly 1 hour drive from Green River to Moab we were up early and had the car packed by 6:30 am. We then headed over over to the office at the Budget Inn for breakfast. Breakfast at the Budget Inn includes the choice of cereal, coffee and freshly made mini blueberry muffins. This is the third time we have stayed at the Budget Inn and one of the reasons we continue to come back is the freshly baked mini blueberry muffins.
We arrived on time at Tex’s in Moab. We had a brief meeting with the other groups who would be starting on this day. There was a group from our home town of Canmore but they were doing a longer trip than us and starting at a different point further upstream. It was a roughly 40 mile shuttle ride to the boat launch at Mineral Bottom with much of the trip on gravel roads. The access to the river required descending the steep cliffs of Mineral Canyon dropping over 1000 ft in just 1 mile of road. I knew we were safe as the driver had made the trip many times, but the shear drop off the side of the road made for a hair-raising descent. We arrived at the boat launch just after 10:30 am.
It was a chilly start to the day. We took a few minutes to figure out our rhythm. We were going to have a short day with one stop at Horsethief Canyon. The river was flowing gently allowing us some easy paddling to start off the trip.
After an hour of paddling we came across our first wildlife sighting, Canadian Geese. Not sure we planned to travel a thousand miles to see Canadian Geese.
About 30 minutes after seeing the geese we came across a Great Blue Heron which took off across our path.
We arrived at Horsethief Canyon at 1:00 pm having traveled 6 miles in just under 2 hours. Like most places along the river Tamarisks clog the shoreline but at Horsethief Canyon we were able to paddle up the canyon a short way and find a sandy access off the water. We hauled our cooler out of the canoe and had our lunch near some cottonwood trees. After lunch we explored the lower section of the canyon which featured a small panel of rock art. We did come across another canoe beached on the sand but we did not see any other people. The canyon extends for many miles and if we had more time we would have done more exploring.
There are many features in the area that share the name “Horsethief”. Southern Utah has a colourful past in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as the era of the Wild West came to an end. Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang were active in Southern Utah with their hideout located deep in canyon country in a place known as Robbers Roost. During the time the gang was active the authorities never did find the exact location of the hideout. Cassidy and his gang would steal horses and other livestock and run them down to the river through Horsethief Trail, where we had been driven down to the boat launch at Mineral Springs Canyon. The livestock were then forced to swim across the river to the west side where there were a couple ways out of the canyon to the west. The most popular was to herd the livestock down the west bank of the river before heading up Horsethief canyon which offered a direct, if not steep, access to the country to the west. Unfortunately it was not uncommon for livestock to be lost negotiating the cliffs lining the river or when crossing the river itself.
We were back on the river at 2:30 pm. Later on after the trip we reflected on how interesting Horsethief Canyon had been and the limited time that we had to explore the canyon. This got us to thinking that we would prefer more time to explore the river. Four days was great for the paddling but a couple of extra days to provide the opportunity for more exploring would really transform the entire experience.
Another area we passed where you could easily spend a day exploring would be Upheaval Dome. Upheaval Dome is a unique geological feature in a landscape of of horizontal rock layers. Upheaval Dome is a circular feature approximately 3 miles across where the rock is deformed from some sort of explosion or impact. A nice summary can be found on the National Parks Service website here. In addition to Upheaval Dome the area has numerous hikes that could occupy a person for the better part of a couple of days. We did not have the time to explore the area but we were luckily enough to have hiked around Upheaval Dome during a earlier trip to Canyonlands.
We arrived at our targeted campsite for day 1 just over half an hour after passing by the boaters heading to Upheaval Canyon. It was 3:30 pm and we had paddled just over 12 miles. We managed to find a short but steep access from the river to a campsite. There were other campers nearby but our campsite was tucked away and quite secluded.
The area is known as Fort Bottom after an Anasazi ruin known as a Moki House which is not really a fort at all. The area has a second prominent structure known as Walker House. Walker House is a small but durable house built by Mark Walker in the early 1900’s when he attempted to run cattle in the area. After setting up the tent we took a quick tour of the Walker House. At 5 pm we started preparing our dinner using our backpacking stove and pots.
After dinner we went to visit the Moki House which was a bit more of a hike.
We actually had to wait our turn to climb the cliff as there was a large group coming down who had hiked to see the Moki House from White Rim Road where they had been traveling by 4WD vehicles. One of their members, grandad I guess, was a 94 year old world war 2 pilot who hiked all the way to the fort from the road. The guy is my hero. He may have been a bit slow but it was quite a hike he had to do and at 94 he was awesome. Once at the top we kept track of the group’s progress back to their vehicles.
We arrived back at our camp just before 7 pm. It had been a big day. Hard to believe we had woken up in a motel in the town of Green River and now we were in a tent on the Green River. We tidied up the camp and headed to bed. I am quite sure we had some reading with us but I am also sure that sleep came quickly and easily.