Back in 2010 I went with a group of guys on a float trip, using canoes and my kayak, down the Green River from Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom. The float is about 44 miles and the section is called Labyrinth Canyon. This time I went with only two other guys, Jeff and Roger and the small group was just fine by me.
We departed Colorado Springs around 3:30PM, and I figured that the drive would take between 6-1/2 and 7-1/2 hours depending on weather. Well, the weather wasn’t so great so it was more like 7-1/2 hours. In fact, we encountered really heavy rain between Glenwood Canyon and Palisade along Interstate 70. We stopped in Grand Junction around 9:30PM for some food and fuel and the rain had stopped. But, after getting back on the highway and probably by the time we passed through Fruita it began raining heavily once again. It was bad. I only felt safe driving around 60MPH even though the speed limit is 75 mph. It rained all the way from Fruita to Crescent Junction. We continued past Crescent Junction to Exit 175 (Floy), which is the exit to Ruby Ranch Road. It doesn’t say this anywhere from what we could see, but take it anyway and then head south and soon you’ll see signs for it once on the gravel road. We traveled down the gravel road for 10 to 11 miles and found a dry sandy campsite just off the road. There were a lot of old fire rings around a rock mound. Arriving at roughly 11:30PM, it was overcast and warm, and there was light breeze. We even had cell service. Cell service was important because the last time we were out here a big storm washed out the road at the take-out, stranding vehicles down there for months. I wanted to know if we should even put-in. We got an okay in the morning and headed to the river. This campsite was only a couple of miles from Ruby Ranch.
Arrival at Ruby Ranch, Put-in and Shuttle
Thursday morning came and it was still a little cloudy but it was good to see the clouds beginning to break up. Heading off to Ruby Ranch, there is a point where the road splits and it’s not obvious that you should stay right. The gate further down the road with no signs only adds to the confusion. Drive through the gate and continue on down towards the river. Since this is private land there is an access fee. It is $10 per boat and $5 per person. We put the fee in an envelope in a metal box on the right side of the road attached to a large Ruby Ranch sign. You must also insert your permit in the binder. Continue on to the put-in/boat launch which has some cottonwood trees. There’s no “real” bathroom at the launch, however there was an open-door, open-pit outhouse . . . which we gladly used.
We put the two boats, Jeff’s CLC Mill Creek 13 and my (actually I’m co-owner) Old Town Penobscot 17, at water’s edge and unloaded all of our gear. While Jeff and Roger began loading the boats I parked the truck under a tree and locked it up. Since we only had one vehicle we hired a shuttle service to come and get my truck and drive it to the take-out at Mineral Bottom. They planned to arrive at 11AM for the truck but we wanted to get on the water earlier than that. So, I mailed them the Avalanche key and told them to just take it. More on that experience later in the post.
Kelsey Guide Book and Days on River
The last time I floated Labyrinth Canyon the Kelsey River Guide (River Guide to Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity) was out of print so, we passed by many things to see along the way because we were unaware of them and also because we just didn’t have the time. If you want to do more than just float, or hike around aimlessly, and have some time, I suggest getting a copy of the new edition. I found it extremely useful. Another thing different about this trip versus last time is that this time we’re taking 4 days instead of 3. That way we’d have more time for side trips.
Day 1 – Ruby Ranch to Trin Alcove
It was still partly cloudy with clearing skies when we launched at 10AM. Our first stop was at Bull Bottom to look for a petroglyph on the west canyon wall. After a bit of walking, we found the correct location based on description in Kelsey’s book. It was a crack in the wall with large log between the 30-foot high boulder and the wall. The petroglyph was supposed to be on the river-side of the boulder but we couldn’t locate it after 20 minutes of searching. Bummer. While hiking back to the boats we saw that four canoes passed by us.
Note: Getting out of the river at many locations demands a steep climb up the river bank, which can be muddy and slippery. Don’t let this deter you, though.
Our second stop was at Placer Bottom to look at mining machinery and another petroglyph. We found both locations easily and the petroglyph was pretty good size and in nice condition. While here, we noted 11 more canoes paddling by and began to wonder about finding a good camp spot.
The third stop was at Trin Alcove named as such by the Powell Expedition of 1869. I wonder if the Powell group saw the Denis Julien (1836) inscriptions along the way and realized that they were not the first Europeans exploring this river. Anyway, since all boats had already passed, and the big group cleared out just as we arrived, we decided to camp there for the night instead of our planned destination further downstream at F Canyon at Slaughter Bottom. This site is an excellent site for a small group. We hiked/explored canyon for a couple of hours before returning to camp where Jeff made chicken fajitas for dinner. A beautiful evening with clear skies, lots of stars, and a few bats picking off insects.
Day 2 – Trin Alcove to Upstream of Launch Marguerite
Friday morning we woke and made fresh eggs with ham and provolone on English muffins. Add some percolated coffee and a comfy seat and it was so very nice sitting around in the pleasant morning temps.
Later in the day we stopped at Keg Spring Canyon. We hiked into the canyon looking for some alcoves and shallow cave. Kelsey mentions a Fremont camp, not the typical cliff dwelling-type ruin, but we never did see anything which resembled a Fremont Camp. Of the three alcoves forming close to one another, there was an interesting arch forming in the far or third one. There was a lot of low, sharp brush in this canyon and not much resembling a trail. I got several good scratches on my legs.
Further down river we stopped at the River Register at Lower Bull Bottom. There were names everywhere on the walls and boulders up-river of the where the creek must meet the river. We could have camped here, as there were many tent spots and decent access, but there were also a lot of mosquitoes, so we go back in the boats and moved on as our planned destination as further down-river at Hey Joe Canyon. However, when we got to Hey Joe, river-left, it was relatively inaccessible. So, we kept moving, looking for a sandbar.
Next we landed at a place where there is a D. Julien inscription, though it was getting late and we didn’t have time to look for it. I spotted a sandy beach ahead and around the inside of the next bend in the river, so we paddled over there and set camp. This was maybe a mile up-river from the Launch Marguerite letters.
This camp had lots of mosquitoes until it cooled off a bit then they disappeared making the camp much more bearable. Roger made some shredded beef sandwiches for dinner. Good stuff. Later, after dark, I noticed my left leg, between my ankle and mid-calf and around the area I got was scratched at Keg Spring Canyon, was a bit numb. We began discussing all of what it could be, from a snake bite to bug bites, and allergic reaction to plants, or Poison Ivy which we did see earlier in the day. But, none of the expected symptoms appeared. A little while later I felt flushed (probably from dehydration), walked over to get some water and when walking back to the group nearly passed out and did a slow fall to ground. I laid down until I felt better, which I did after 20 minutes or more, though my leg still feels a little numb . . . even three days later. Roger and I both saw one incredible shooting star across 1/3rd of sky, plus many other shooting stars, including several which looked like a streak and then an explosion at the end. I don’t ever recall seeing shooting stars like this. I think this is still remnants of the Perseid meteor shower and the Green River is a great place to see them.
Day 3 – Upstream of Launch Marguerite to RM57 Island Sandbar
On Saturday morning and after breakfast we headed back out on the water and in less than a mile we passed the large letters, river-left which read, LAUNCH MARGUERITE 9/1/1909. After a few photos and stopping at a large sandbar camp, just to check it out, we continued on to Bowknot Bend.
Bowknot Bend is unusual because the river travels in a big loop of about 5 miles before returning within a quarter mile of where it was up-river passing around some impressive canyon walls. Bowknot ridge separates them and you can hike a not-too-strenuous trail to the top of the saddle/ridge. Over on the far end of the ridge is an inscription by the Kolb Bothers. This is significant because in 1911, the Kolb Brothers duplicated the Powell Expedition of 1869. The walk across the ridge/saddle is not as bad as it first appears. About halfway across hidden in the piled up rocks is a metal ammo can. Inside, are pencils and two notebooks where everybody who ventures out there leaves a note. So, to Arun, Marty, Jeff K, John K. P.J., P.K., Will and Troy . . . I left a message for you! I also took a short video providing a 360 degree view from Bowknot Ridge. Check it out, it’s only 25 seconds.
We passed by the planned Twomile Canyon stop and the related hike to 5 window arch as it was quite hot and we figured we had enough hiking for the day. We also skipped our planned camp at Horseshoe Canyon as the access wasn’t great and there weren’t good places to camp on the shore and away from the mosquitoes.
Luckily, nobody was camped at the island sandbar just a mile further down-river. This was the same sandbar we used back in 2010 and it is a GREAT site! Access was excellent, the sand was dry and I think one of us may have swatted at one mosquito, but otherwise it was free from pests. This was a very nice, large, comfortable space. We walked out in the river a ways and sat on the bottom letting the silty water cool us down. Soooo nice and relaxing. Some of the sandbar where I set my tent last time was gone, but it appeared that the other side was larger. It was another night of shooting stars exploding at the end with perfect temps to lie down on the dry sand. I really didn’t want to go to bed, but I knew I should. I didn’t bother with the rain fly either.
Day 4 – RM57 Island Sandbar to Mineral Bottom
On Sunday morning, and after pancakes and sausage, we were back on the river heading to our final destination before the take-out at Mineral Bottom. This stop was at Hell Roaring Canyon to see the D. Julien 1836 inscription with sun and boat. There’s even a BLM sign about it down below. To get there, walk up the nearly dry creek bottom until it seems like an easy place to step up the 4 or 5 feet to the 4WD road to the right. Look for the sign nearby.
Back on the river, it was a few more miles to the take-out where we met a group of people who were getting ready to launch for the Canyonlands float. That’s a great trip as well.
Return Trip and Shuttle Experience
When we got to the boat ramp take-out at Mineral Bottom, my thoughts turned to my truck. Since the shuttle company (Tag-A-Long) was just going to leave the truck at the long-term parking area on Thursday, I wondered what would happen if they had an accident or the truck broke down or they turned on the lights and ran the battery dead, etc. so, as I walked over I was relieved to see the truck and that there was no damage. I got in and started it up . . . great. Then I noticed a note. The driver wrote that he experienced a flat tire on Mineral Bottom Road, changed it, and left the flat tire in the bed. Hmmm . . . that’s unfortunate, as I’d probably need to drive home without a spare. Well, what can you do? Flat tires happen.
We loaded the gear, put the flat tire back under the truck where the spare normally resides, loaded the boats and headed up the switchbacks out of the canyon. There is a nice view from the top. We drove back to Moab to pick up the key from the Tag-A-Long office. Neither of the two people there could find the key they used to drive the truck. Jeff and Roger and I looked around the inside of the truck but didn’t find it there either. We went to lunch and then returned hoping that they found it but, they did not. So I asked them to mail it back to me . . . . sheesh!
The drive east on I-70, from Crescent Junction to Glenwood Springs, was windy as expected. I never give this too much thought, though flying along at 75-80 mph does cut down on the gas mileage due to the wind resistance of the boats and windy conditions. However, this time as we were cruising up Vail Pass, and passing a slow-moving tractor trailer truck, the Avalanche kicked down into passing gear and then began to slow. With the pedal to the floor we just kept losing speed. I depressed the flasher button and drove in the right lane and/or shoulder at about 30-35 mph. Eventually, we got to a truck turnout at the top of the pass. The engine temp, oil pressure and battery voltage gauges were all normal and there were no messages in the display. I stopped the truck, got out and looked under the vehicle. There was nothing leaking. With the engine running we removed the bow straps from the two boats, opened the hood and checked the oil and trans fluid. Both seemed okay and didn’t smell burned. After 10 minutes, or so, I shut down the truck and let it sit for 15 minutes. After that time I started it up, drove down the pass past Copper Mountain and into Frisco, keeping the speed to 60 mph or less. Everything seemed fine. To be safe we returned home via Hoosier pass to avoid the long climb up Loveland Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel. We made it all the way home without further issue. Just to be sure, I think I’ll take it in to the trans shop and have the trans fluid and filter changed as this original transmission has 163,000 miles on it and the last time I had the trans fluid changed was at 110,000 miles. With the exception of a dead battery and the transfer case encoder motor/switch, this truck has been super reliable.
So, the drive to and from the Green River wasn’t ideal, but the trip on the Green River was great!
Get out and paddle.
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