CHAPTER 2: The San Juan River
Last weekend, we went on our second canoeing expedition of the semester on the San Juan River in Utah. I’d never been to Utah before, and golly gee was it beautiful! The geology of the area we paddled through was stunning. It made me wish I’d taken a geology course during my four years here.
After six hours in the van, we arrived at our campsite near Bluff, Utah. We woke up at dawn to pack up and launch our boats onto the river. Once we were got all our gear in order, we checked in with the ranger and were off! Our adventure got off to a quick start: about a mile into our first day of paddling we pulled off to the side of the river and took a short hike to visit some ruins from buildings that were occupied by the Ancient Puebloans about a thousand years ago. The dwellings were built with rocks and adobe and were built into the cliff face. Prior to leaving for the trip, we each did a research paper on the history of the Ancient Puebloans, sometimes referred to as the Anasazi. Our research was focused on the history and culture of the Ancient Puebloans, as well as the circumstances surrounding their migration from the area in the 1200s or so. It was amazing to learn about the culture of the Ancient Puebloans and then actually SEE for ourselves some of the rock art and dwellings they left behind. Being able to experience the living history of these fascinating peoples made the learning tangible and memorable.
We had four nights out on the water, and each night I slept under the stars. There was a full moon last weekend, and there was a lunar eclipse on our second night. I just happened to wake up in the middle of the night to catch the eclipse in progress. I watched the moon slowly be covered in shadow and then fell back asleep to the sound of the river close by.
It is difficult to describe in words how amazing it feels to wake up in the morning and get on the river with the rising sun. The Earth is so still early in the morning. There is virtually no wind, and birds are beginning their day. Waking up early meant that we had plenty of time to take it slow and practice our skills. We had fun catching eddys and finding routes through the mild rapids we encountered. Waking up early also meant that we had time to take exploratory hikes throughout the day. Our teacher has paddled the San Juan many times, and so he is very familiar with the numerous hikes and sights one can see along the river. On our hikes, we explored up various drainages we passed and learned about the geology and natural history of the unique ecosystem we were traveling through.
The area of Southeastern Utah that we were in is home to herds of wild bighorn sheep. On several occasions throughout our time there we looked up and saw a few of them on the bank of river looking at us quizzically.