In early October 2016, I canoed for my first time through Labyrinth Canyon on the Green River in Utah with my peers. As a first timer, I was naïve to just about everything. I knew there were skills I did not have that I needed and there was information that I knew I did not know. I was a few naps away from being just short of an existential crisis. Ten days and a few sand-ridden sandwiches later, we were all mud-splashed, sun-dried, river rats looking for our next adventure.
Utah's Otherworldly Green River
1. Know your entry and exit points.
Navigation is important, particularly on the river. Knowing your group’s location helps in locating camp for the day. You do not want to be the person who makes the group paddle 30 miles when camp was only 15 miles away. Most groups who cover this 68-mile stretch of river start at Crystal Geyser and float all the way down to Mineral Bottom. The Moab BLM Office is a helpful source in planning routes and acquiring permits (which you will need for Labyrinth Canyon).
2. Paddle in the right direction.
I am not here to give pointers on how to paddle, for that just go to REI’s website. What you need to know about paddling on the Green is this: sand bars suck. Sand bars can hide just under the water’s surface and if you do not prepare, you will beach your canoe and it won’t be fun. It is worth checking weather and water level reports over at NOAA because this will tell you what to roughly expect while on the river.
3. Check your PFD & lather on the sun protection.
Safety on the river is of the utmost importance. While it is not required that you always wear a PFD, you are required to have one available for each person on the trip. Likewise, take care of yourself. Bring sun protection, hand lotion, river shoes, etc. Whatever you do, do not bring cotton-based clothes. Cotton takes forever to dry and even though you are on a desert-like river the nights get frigid. Do yourself a favor and buy a fleece onesie, like I did. You will never be warmer or more comfortable than in a onesie.
4. Watch out for Geese.
During our canoe trip, we had the fortune of intersecting the Canadian Geese Migration. Growing up in the Great Lakes Region of the US, seeing geese on canyon walls was an odd site. They looked out of place for the arid region we were in. Like all outdoor activities, you will most likely encounter wildlife. Leave it alone. The wildlife is there for a reason; they benefit the ecosystem and the life of the river.
5. Don’t miss the writing on the walls
Labyrinth Canyon is full of odd bits of information from petroglyphs to the D. Julien inscription. Stopping at these places along the river will give insight into the people that have passed through the canyon as well as some of the history behind these adventurers. I highly recommend stopping at the D. Julien inscription and reading through the guest book. Earlier in 2016 there was a polygamist floatilla where one of the wives decided to divorce her husband, quite an interesting story there.
6. Read the rocks.
If you spent your childhood in the Great Lakes Region, canoeing through a canyon for the first time is a big deal. The geology alone is mesmerizing and awe-inspiring. I always advocate for bringing a geologist on any adventure I go on because the natural history of the world is remarkable. The most identifiable layer in Labyrinth Canyon is the Wingate formation. Wingate is a sandstone formation characterized by their smooth, vertical cliffs and the desert varnish (iron oxide) painted along its face.
7. Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is an organization and a set of principles on outdoor ethics. It involves seven main principles that cover everything from how you treat others to what surfaces are better to travel on. Since their creation in the 1960s, LNT has branched out to even include activity-specific principles including canoeing. Leave No Trace aspires to keep wilderness areas and natural environments safe and pristine for future use. In short, would you rather camp at a trash-littered site or under the stars with the smell of fresh air? If you selected either of these read up on the LNT Principles.