Jan 20, 2012
Wasn't sure where to post this, under "backpacking" or "everything else" since it was a combined trip so apologies in advance.

I'm only 4 months late in talking about this trip. The following jaunt spanned the end of March and ended in early April - typically a bit before the spring run-off (which was oh so short/non-existent this year) and, more importantly, before the crowds.

We dropped in at a lonely Ruby Ranch, two twelve foot rafts and a tandem ducky. The nip of a cold winter in the four corners still could be felt, but so to could the cutting edge of seasonal transition. Spring is a magical time to travel in these parts.

The river was anemic, flows below typical and the impending "melt" did little for the Colorado basin this year. Another few years like this and the turbines will stop spinning at Glen Canyon.

Like the changing season, it takes a little while to get into the mindset of a shoulder season float. Transitioning from the daily hustle and bustle (how insignificant it seems) to a routine of loose logistics and flexible itineraries gives one pause to the absurdity of so much of our daily lives.

The first "section" of this trip entailed drifting through Labyrinth Canyon. Initially. the passing farmlands gave way to ever increasing sandstone walls. Little current and no whitewater made for lazy slow miles with plenty of time for gawking.

Having read Colin Fletcher's account of his solo source to sea Green River/Colorado trip while waiting the winter out on the reservation I can understand why he identified so much with the stretch below Desolation Canyon up to Cataract Canyon. Taking his trip solo late in life with nearly no whitewater experience the rapids of Lodore Canyon to the north (and to a lesser extent Desolation Canyon) and Cataract Canyon to the south garnered his full attention and focus pre trip. As a result, the quiet interlude of Labyrinth and Stillwater provided a much needed aesthetic and spiritual respite during his journey. A welcome and cherished surprise.

3 Blue Herons

The camping on the upper stretch was quite nice and abundant. Many spots high above the river offered easy carry with substantial views. Tons of side hiking makes return trips necessary.

Half way to Mineral Bottom lies the "River Registry." An assortment of many (historical) petroglyphs smattered all over a nice chunk of Navajo sandstone on canyon left. Many of them are historical dating back to the late 1800's and some requiring and incredible amount of tedious labor. While fascinating, I find the aesthetic lacking in comparison to the work of the Anasazi.


Mineral Bottom (nice take-out/access) denotes the first change. The end of Labyrinth Canyon and the start of Stillwater Canyon. Stillwater runs through the heart of the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. The "White Rim" formation can be seen in its humble beginnings in this shot, Buttes of the Cross in the distance.

This new formation requires closer inspection as it grows.

And more thorough examination.

Despite cutting its path through a National Park this section of the Green makes for tough camping. The Tamarisk have so thoroughly invaded all shore line that sand bars offered the only respite for stopping. The Park Service unfortunately has quite the daunting task on their hands in ridding the banks of this invasive plant.

Wall to wall tammies - notice the required sand-bar dodging due to feeble flows

We press on, and as we make our way south the river presents us with a first in all our years of rafting. Riverside Anasazi ruins. It is quite a special feeling to float by these structures and view them from our boat, and we soon are checking every alcove, our mind ever playing tricks on us.

Can you see it?

And another one.

A small tower in the crescent shaped crack half-way up the canyon wall.

Our last night above the Confluence provided for great entertainment.

The last ten miles of canyon before the Confluence of the Green and Colorado are particularly interesting/impressive.

Eventually, after an arduous slog battling immense upstream winds with little current we reach the confluence.

The Green coming in on the L and the Colorado on the R

Just down river we approach Spanish Bottom, where we de-rig and transition from nine days of rafting and prepare for three days of backpacking.

We spend the latter half of the first day getting gear ready for the return shuttle and sorting the hiking gear. The next morning we shove off across Spanish Bottom, heading for the Dollhouse.

We find the trail up.

Had I not known there had been a trail up the scree laden hillside I would not have believed it. But a fine trail it was, and before you knew it we were standing at the entrance to the Doll House.

Picking our way through the chaotic formation we found a jeep road which lead to our jump-off point in the Maze. We were treated to gorgeous light as the weather began to turn. For my first time viewing this storied landscape I could not have asked for more.

We made our way to Chimney Rock and quickly bedded down on the sandstone to avoid the ensuing wind and rain.

After shelter was securely in place we fanned out in different directions to have a look around.

The dramatic light made for an incredibly memorable evening. We tucked in just before dark, and when I woke up I had to rub my eyes to make sure what I saw and where I was were real.

Not a bad spot for breakfast.

Making our away along the Pete's Mesa Route/Jasper ridge made for easy walking and sustained incredible views. Stopping just to take a gander was a frequent occurrence.

Eventually we found the spot where we could access the innards of the Maze and make our way to Pictograph Fork.

Reaching the canyon bottom we trudged on in deep sand. At the mouth of Pictograph fork we found a large spring and topped off our water supply.

Another bit of hiking brought us to the source of inspiration for this trip. The Harvest Scene.

The life-sized anthropomorphs were unlike any we'd ever seen and had been on our collective life lists for some time. A nice shady patch (tammies) directly across from the panel provided a great place to sit and contemplate. We spent a large period of time here before the wind kicked up and ushered us back out of the canyon.

By the time we were back on the Mesa the winds were a-howling and rain looked like a real possibility. We tucked in behind a large slab of rock and hunkered down for the night.

Despite the weather the views were anything but boring. Here are the Chocolate Drops, silhouetted

The next morning we awoke to much of the same. A large weather system was moving in and we took off for Spanish Bottom and the comforts of our VE-25.

When we reached the trail down to Spanish Bottom we were afforded dramatic views cross canyon to the Needles District of Canyonlands. From this view it appeared that the storm was headed our way.

We had less than a quarter mile to go when the skies opened up and a violent rain thundered down. We reached our base camp, threw out wet gear into the tent vestibules and battened down.

The next morning the jet boat arrived early and somehow we made all the gear fit. Next time I do this trip will be in a kayak or a packraft. All in all a wonderful 12 days spent with my folks. A great preamble for things to come.

Featured image for home page:


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
Did Labyrinth in a kayak not long after you in April. Flows were somewhat improved but not much. I'd love to do Stillwater/Maze in a similar fashion as described here.


Hike Hard, Tread Lightly
May 15, 2013
Matt what an awesome and inspiring trip. Your dialogue is also very engaging. Thanks for sharing. I've been working out details of a float and backpack trip in this area. Your trip has me hankering. I do think a packraft would be better. It's just a matter of space, not over-space, at that point. Ultralight is the way to go then.
Anyway, thanks again, and I'll probably hit you up for some details later.



May 19, 2012
I have never done the river float/backpacking thing. Looks like a great time. Maybe soon....


Aug 9, 2007
Wow! What an amazing trip man. 12 days with your folks too... awesome! Thanks so much for sharing it in such great detail!


I walk
Jun 25, 2012
Nicely written TR. What a great itinerary and what great photography! You obviously had to coordinate river permits and backpacking permits. Was that difficult?


Jan 20, 2012
Thanks for all the kind comments everyone!

TannerT - feel free to contact me, I would love help out and pay forward the help i got in planning.

Art - it wasn't as bad as I had initially thought. We got the permit for the rivers (no lottery like most rivers down here) and in your river permit you can actually write in a permit for the Maze, which makes it super convenient. I actually got that bit of info from the Rangers at Hans Flat. However, the single hardest part of this trip was actually talking to the one river ranger who deals with the Stillwater section. Basically, we played phone tag for weeks and in the end all I had to do was notify him that we'd be caching our rafting gear at Spanish Bottom.
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