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Trip Report Rafting Desolation Canyon June 4 to June 8, 2018

Decatur, Illinois
Level Contributor
1,049 posts
314 reviews
Trip Report Rafting Desolation Canyon June 4 to June 8, 2018

Here's my trip report for a 5 day rafting trip With Holiday River Expeditions.

Thanks to Cactus and Tumbleweed for recommending them.

Here's a link to the 172 photos from the trip that will tell the tale much better than I.


And a link to youtube for a video from one of our trip members I call Go Pro George. Thanks George!


I'll post each day below.

8 replies to this topic
Decatur, Illinois
Level Contributor
1,049 posts
314 reviews
1. Re: Trip Report Rafting Desolation Canyon June 4 to June 8, 2018

Trip Report June 4 to June 8, 2018. Holiday River Expeditions 5 day Desolation and Grey Canyon River Raft Trip

Last year, Karen at Holiday River Expeditions recommended the San Juan River Trip to introduce me to the river rafting experience. I was concerned about my 40 year gap in outdoor activity from my Boy Scout days, but true to her word the San Juan 4 day trip was just what I was looking for.

 I had a lot of fun and every aspect of the trip from the guides to the food to the camping to even the bano was professionally executed.

This year Karen recommended the 5 day Desolation and Grey Canyon trip so I signed up way back in January 2018 for the June 4th trip.

This trip was a couple of weeks earlier and a couple hundred miles north of last year’s trip so my thoughts were about cooler weather. By adding a polyester pullover and a pair of polyester pants I was ready to roll on attire.

I took a leisurely 3 day drive out to Green River, UT via Kansas City Strings, a violin, cello, and upright bass store, and Garden of the gods Park in Colorado Springs, CO.

I arrived in Green River about 1:30 pm the day before and checked in at the Holiday River Expeditions headquarters as recommended in their pretrip letter.

I was immediately introduced to Tim Burdick or Tburd as I would call him for the rest of the trip. Tburd was immediately excited to meet a member of his crew for tomorrow’s trip. He quickly gave me the two dry bags and brief instructions since I’d used them last year. He then instructed me to meet back there at 6:15 am the next morning. He also recommended a tour of the John Wesley Powell Museum and dinner at Ray’s Tavern, the home of the best burger in Green River.

I headed off to the museum and was greeted by a delightful young lady full of information and enthusiasm about not only the museum, but all of Green River.

The museum was great. Lots of history about Powell and many amazing statues to bring the stories to life.


BTW, if you’re interested in a Native American type flute, the gift shop at the museum has a variety of very reasonably priced flutes made by a fellow in Torrey, UT. Several different keys starting at $20. A deal!

With a couple of hours to burn I asked the exuberant receptionist at the museum for some ideas of thing to do in Green River. Selections were limited since it was a Sunday, but she still came up with two good ideas: a visit to a pair of sculptures just south of town and a hand drawn map to Dinosaur Point also south of town.

The sculptures are visible from I70 if you look for them, but her directions got me right next to them. One of them is a set of four vertical columns about 30 ft high. They were all different colors of cement and two of them were oval in cross section while the other two where rhomboidal in cross section. The other sculpture was a set of blocks perhaps 50ft tall in the center, arranged in the golden Fibonacci Ratio.

Further down the Airport Road was the side road to Dinosaur point. The hand drawn map said it was 9.2 miles down the road. It was a rough, gravel road so 20 mph was about as fast as I could drive. It took quite a while to drive those 9.2 miles, but the drive through the desert was amazing. I’d only seen this type of terrain from highways at 70 to 80 mph. It was a real treat to see the “Bee Hives” up close.

I finally arrived at the 9.2 mile marker and found a sign stating it was another mile down an even less developed road to Dinosaur Point. I went about a half mile down the road and found it was turning into soft sand so I decided not to risk getting stuck in the soft sand in the middle of a hot Sunday afternoon where getting a tow might not be possible.

I headed to my hotel and packed my two bags. I’d already separated the items into day bag and evening bag sections when I packed them at home so I just had to quickly transfer the items to each bag and was all set.

Off to dinner at Ray’s Tavern where they did serve a good burger at a reasonable price.

The other recommended restaurant was the Tamarisk Restaurant which appeared to have riverside seating of the Green River and was rated well, but a bit more expensive.

Off to the 8pm meeting at headquarters where I met the rest of my trip mates and we received a briefing of our trip.

We would meet back at headquarters at 6:30 am sharp and be transported to the airport just south of the town for a 40 minute flight where we’d land on top of a mesa and do a 30 minute hike down to the river.

Day One

We met at headquarters at 6:30 am and transferred our two bags into the two vans that would transport us to the airport 10 miles south of Green River


We arrived at the airport and were divided into 3 groups for the three planes. Our gear was stored and we loaded up for the flight.

This was a single engine, four seat plane not the 747 I’m used to! Taxi to the dirt road which served as a runway, the engine reved up and we lifted off.

It was an amazing 40 minute flight over the Green River. A wonderful introduction to the river and a truly different perspective than we’d get for the next 5 days. Large, flat mesas with herds of wild horses and deep canyons eroding right down to that serpentine Green River.

Our landing strip was the top of one of those flat mesa where we departed the aircraft and our dry bags were transferred to a couple of waiting vans and taken down to the river.

We were to take a 30 minute hike down to the river. I’d been walking 5 miles a day in preparation for this hike. It’s 30 minutes and down hill so I thought it couldn’t be that hard. Well…. It contains several steep section with slippery rocks and I learned those sections quickly fatigued the extensor muscles in the front of my legs.

 Once you’re on the hike, you have to finish it. The last quarter of the hike was not fun and I managed to fall creating a large abrasion on my knee. I finished it being escorted to the road by one of our guides. ☹

I had the option of riding a van down to the river and now wished I had. For the rest of the trip my legs were so sore that going from lying down or sitting to standing was an adventure in pain, but that was still a small price to pay to the adventure that lay ahead.

I was the last to arrive so they threw a lifejacket on me and tossed me into the back of Tburd’s boat and we were off!

I didn’t feel much like talking. I just sat there drinking water and looking at those canyon walls.

To make up the time I’d lost them, we had a floating lunch. Usually they stop at some scenic beach, set up a kitchen, and serve an amazing lunch I’d expect to find at a trendy bistro. The floating lunch was simply tying the three boats together and serving lunch as we floated down the river. Almost as cool and we regained the hour we’d lost.

I enjoy just floating down the river taking in the amazing sights, but my trip mates went a step farther and quickly hopped onto the two inflatable kayaks know as rubber duckies and the inflatable stand up paddle board aka the SUP.

The goal was to make a camp 26 miles down the river so we didn’t finish the rafting until 5 pm. The camp was really nice with a floor of soft sand, many cottonwood trees for shade, and the Tamarask bush that was everywhere. Remember the other restaurant in Green River?

Our three guides were Tburd, Eve (Eh-vay) and Drew (DREW!!). Tburd was the team leader, a seasoned veteran. Eve was a second year guide I’d traveled with on my San Juan River trip last year. DREW!! Was the guide in training. DREW!! Was full of enthusiasm and eager to learn the river guide business. Tburd kept yelling at Drew for his inexperience which led to the rest of us calling him DREW!! Or even DREW!! DREEEEW! DREW!!

My other trip mates were four couples, a photographer, and his assistant.

The photographer was hired by Holiday River Expeditions to record the trip for future use in promotional work.

The rest of the group was varied. An engineer and his wife, a dentist and his internist wife, a computer programmer and his wife, and a social worker and his girlfriend. A group that would turn out to get along and work together well for the whole trip.

The guides quickly set up the camp bano aka the bathroom. The setup was simple enough.. two potti’s, side by side (one for #1 and the other for #2) in a remote, but strangely scenic location. Access to the bano was via a 5x 10 inch ½ inch piece of plywood painted green on one side (bano open) and red on the other side. (bano occupied) This was leaned upon a bucket that served as the water reservoir for the hand wash station. A foot pump and a bottle of soap completed the rustic, but highly effective solution to a restroom.

I also learned the bano used to be called the “Groover.” Years ago the bano was a large, empty, ammo can that you sat on to do your business. When you got up, you had two nice grooves on your behind.

Hand washing was a constant emphasis as the soap and hand washing station was present for each meal as well. Its use was constantly recommended as we often touched the food with our hands. Trip mates constantly reminded each other of its use if someone forgot.

The folding chairs were quickly unloaded and the camp circle was established where we all could sit and talk, eat, or just relax.

Next order of business was for the guides to set up a full kitchen for preparation of dinner and breakfast the next morning.

During this time the guests could select a campsite, set up a tent, and set out the bedroll.

My setup was simple ground cloth, 60” x 84”, 2 inch thick pad, and a sleeping bag. 5 minutes and I’m done.

Sleeping under the stars is amazing. You can wake up at 3 am and see the most amazing sky.

Others used simple-to-assemble tents and even air mattresses, but I liked mine best.

This is designated Dark Sky Country, essentially free from light pollution. 2 – 3 am is a great time to look at the night sky. As a Boy Scout I spent many nights looking at the planets and constellations, but in Central Illinois there’s a lot of light pollution. Out here I found all of that black area between the stars is actually gray and what makes it gray is a billion stars I never realized were there. It was one of those “WOW” moments. Like when they tell you the relationship of the atmosphere to the earth is like the water around a basketball after you dip it in water.

About 6 pm, appetizers made an appearance and at 7 pm dinner was served.

When I had dinner as a Boy Scout, I had something out of a can. Pork and beans, or canned chili, or some type of soup. Not here. Salmon with Spanish rice, and an amazing salad. A baked desert from a Dutch oven too. No shortages here. Seconds were available. We were well fed.

8 pm and the staff still had to wash the dishes. Tireless workers!!

Until bedtime, we spent our time in the campfire circle chatting about different subjects and getting to know each other better.

Campfires were not permitted, but several people brought small led lights that worked just as well. They gave off enough light to see your fellow campers just as a campfire would.

Day 2

I head first call was 5:30 am so I got up at that time. In reality first call was at 6:30 am so I had an hour to sit by myself in my chair at the campfire circle. Light had not yet broken so I just sat they by myself soaking in the sounds of the river. Extra special time because it was like you were there all by yourself.

At 6:30 am the 3 guides arose and quickly prepared coffee. Within a few minutes the coffee was hot and all three guides yelled KoKo FeFe!!! Coffee was served. Slowly, one by one, the sleepy campers joined the chair circle with a cup of coffee warming their hands as well as their spirits.

At 7:30 am the call of BREAKFAST!!! was heard so we all assembled in a line to be served.

I heard a gripe about it being “Costco” food, but it was amazing. Eggs your way (scrambled for me) bacon or sausage, granola with yogurt and fruit, and more than I can recall! Seconds if you like.

I think food just tastes better on the river. Or maybe it’s the entertaining guides or fellow trip mates that make it seem that way.

It was about that time we heard a small airplane flying overhead and it was followed by two other planes. We guessed it was the same group of 3 planes that had brought us to the put in the day before. We would hear this each moning.

We had a leisurely morning as we’d traveled so far the first day. Morning is the perfect time to enjoy the canyon and river. It’s quiet and cool. You can watch the sunlight slowly climb down the canyon wall and even see that warm sunlight bring the gnats and bugs back to life!

The bugs only bothered us on the first night of camping where they buzzed around our heads and liked to land on our salad. I didn’t notice them until the “pepper” in the salad started to move!

They tasted OK and maybe that’s what made the food taste good?

Well, off to break camp for me and the other guests while the three guides washed dishes and stowed all of the kitchen gear and then stowed our dry bags. The smaller day dry bags and our water bottle we carried with us. I had two carabineers so once aboard I just clipped these two items to a rope to keep them from being lost overboard.

10 am and we shoved off for another couple of hours of river rafting time.

For those that have not seen the visual wonders of Utah, words and pictures can’t describe the majesty of the canyons nor the feeling of slowly floating down the river chatting with raft mates, listening to the wisdom of the guide, and watching for wildlife.

12 pm and we stopped beside the river for lunch. They set up less of a kitchen, but still served an amazing lunch. Items for all the lunches included the old favorites such as fruit, peanut butter, jelly, bread, peanuts, and Pringles. Those were snack foods. Each day there were different prepared items, Sandwiches with ham, turkey, cheese, lettuce, bean sprouts, and more selections, Cesar Salad stuffed pitas, and many more great items.

On each raft was a half-gallon jug of GORP. Good Old Raisins and Peanuts just in case you got hungry on the raft. The peanuts had salt to help replenish your electrolytes.

1 pm and back on the water. It’s getting hot by now, but the cool breeze off the water helped to cool us down. You could also splash river water on yourself to keep cool. That same breeze AKA WIND was agony for the rowing guides. They had to row harder to make progress getting the raft downstream. I saw Eh-vay row for a couple of minutes and make no progress down the river! The wind came and went, but was a mixed blessing. We were admonished not to use the “W” word as it brought the dreaded wind again.

We saw several types of wildlife. A cow, a heron, and several other birds. Oddly, the lizards that were everywhere on the San Juan trip were not here.

We passed by a huge tree that beavers had fell. There it was a stump and the rest of the tree lying on its side with the two ends looking like end to end pencil points. We also found pieces of driftwood that beavers had worked on although they were only a few inches in diameter.

3 pm and it was time to make camp once again. Our camp was on the east side of the river so it was in sunlight for a longer time than if it were on the east side of the river.

Still the same chores to accomplish… unpack the boats, pick camp sites, set up tents, and set the campfire circle up while the guides set up the bano, and then the kitchen.

6 pm the appetizers appeared and 7 pm presented us with another great dinner. Veggie lasagna, garlic bread, and salad made of tomatoes, onion, cucumber, and onion with Italian dressing. Dutch oven baked cake for desert!

Another few hours of sitting around the campfire circle getting to know your fellow trip mates before the circle slowly eroded to only a few night owls whom finally mutually called it a night.

DREW!! Had brought a Baby Taylor Guitar, a half size guitar, and entertained us with several songs!

Day 3

The rest of the days followed pretty much the routine of day 2 so I’ll not waste repeating that routine, but will comment on unique occurrences on each of the following days.

Being on the east side of the river, we had more time before the sun invaded our campsite.

We heard a strange sound in the distance. It turned out to be a small helicopter that was flying in the canyons at about 400 ft up. We thought it might be a search and rescue operation or a sightseeing tour.

The east side of the river was Ute Indian ground. Holiday River Expeditions had a license to use the land up to 50 ft from the river so we jokingly thought the Utes were checking for violations of the license.

We broke camp, packed the rafts, and were back on the river with the rafts, kayaks, and the SUP.

We stopped for a short hike up to a petroglyph panel and then stopped for lunch a short while later.


This afternoon we had more problems finding a campsite. Campsites are on a first come, first serve basis. We saw some rafting organizations sending out a motorized raft early to beat the other groups downstream and secure campsites so when the rest of the group arrived, they had the best sites. We also saw groups of 2 or 3 people utilizing huge campsites. People, what can you do?

We did find a campsite and another group had secured a campsite right across from us. It was flatter and nicer, but ours worked fine. Darn motorized rafts!

Day 4

We stopped at a deserted ranch to look at the ruins. It was in pretty bad shape, but some of the items, like the boots, were well preserved.

We also started to hit some bigger rapids.

 The rapids before today had been smaller rapids with some splashing and waves bouncing you around. Today’s rapids were a different class. You were going to get wet! And wet we got. I was in the back of the raft and saw a 4 ft wave come over the bow just missing the lady on the right, but hitting her husband quite hard. He was totally soaked! Tburd, our guide, uttered, The back isn’t having fun!” and rotated the raft 90 degrees just in time for a 4 ft wave to roll in over me from my left shoulder. It took me totally by surprise. It was then I learned to exhale when you felt a wave so you didn’t inhale water!

More bigger rapids and more fun.

We again had problems finding a campsite, but Tburd was sure the campsite called “Poverty” would be available as no one like the name. Sure enough it was. We stopped early to be sure to secure a campsite so it was still pretty early and it was hot. It seems the river cools the breezes (don’t want to use the “W” word) and helps cooling you during the hot afternoon. That splashing water doesn’t hurt either!

 We found comfort by setting up a tarp, or using an umbrella, or setting the chairs in the river and dangling your feet in the water.

This campsite was unique in that it had a back current running about 200 yards up the river. You could either kayak or float up the river, then swim into the main current and be carried back down to the campsite. Rinse and repeat as desired. It was fun to watch the people float up river and then float back down the river!

This was the final night of the trip and is know as "dress up night." Well everyone except me knew! The ladies came out dressed in fine attire. The men just came as they were. The guides dress in hilarious outfits and prepared the traditional steak dinner!

Day 5

Last day and we were only 7 miles from the takeout at Swasey’s Beach, just a few miles north of the Green River headquarters of HRE.

No hurry. Plenty of time just to drift slowly down the river. We even paddled up a tributary stream a few hundred yards to burn some time. It was nice to see a side canyon.

On one bend in the river we encountered a very young beaver swimming in the middle of the river. I never thought about how much beavers use their tails to swim with!

We stopped for lunch about a mile upstream from the takeout. Great lunch and another area that had a back current just like we’d seen last night. We had about 2 hours to kill so it was spent riding the back current up and then the river back to the rafts.

We had people riding the kayaks up and down, and brave souls trying to ride the Stand Up Paddle Board in those currents. No one made it, but it was fun to cheer them on!

Toward the end, one of the kayakers overshot the boats and the kayaker behind him went to assist. Tburd had watched all of this. Both kayaks looked like they were making progress to the shore, but they finally went around the bend in the river, out of Tburd’s sight.

Tburd eyes got big and his voice got loud. He barked orders to Eh-vay and DREW!! All of the lunch tables were packed fortunately so those were no problem. The orders were for the other two guides to meet him down river ASAP.

He lept onto his raft and pulled on the oars so hard the bow of the boat lept out of the water 3 ft! He kept this up until he disappeared around the bend!

We loaded the two remaining rafts in short order and Eh-vee and DREW!! To follow him around the bend.

The two kayakers had made it safely to shore just around the bend and there was Tburd with them. He commented, “The little burdies are safely back in the nest!”

It was shocking how quickly a fun experience could turn into a rescue. I was amazed at the skill the guides possessed, but rarely displayed. I saw this last year on my San Juan trip. Our guide, Sarah, saw a situation and lept from the sand to the raft where she executed a perfect rescue throw to a kayaker that was going to overshoot the campsite. Maybe 10 seconds from the time she saw the situation to the time she threw the rescue line. Well trained guides in all cases.

2pm and we arrived at our take out point.

The equipment and rafts were quickly loaded. We were greeted with cold bottled water which is always welcome.

A short, air conditioned ride back to Green River and we unpacked our dry bags and returned them.

Another adventure completed with great memories!

A big thank You to Holiday River Expeditions for the wonderful trip!

I just received an offer to do Westwater Canyon for a $200 discount so I'll be back on the river Sept 12 to 14th!!

Decatur, Illinois
Level Contributor
1,049 posts
314 reviews
2. Re: Trip Report Rafting Desolation Canyon June 4 to June 8, 2018

Our photographer's whole collection.


Edited: 03 July 2018, 10:33
Roosevelt, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah
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1,220 posts
49 reviews
3. Re: Trip Report Rafting Desolation Canyon June 4 to June 8, 2018

I just checked out your pics and that video, and WOW! what a great experience! Deso is on my short list. Thanks for sharing your report. Lucky you!


Destination Expert
for Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park
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19,268 posts
16 reviews
4. Re: Trip Report Rafting Desolation Canyon June 4 to June 8, 2018

Awesome report and pictures! Thanks!

Steamboat Springs...
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3,190 posts
37 reviews
5. Re: Trip Report Rafting Desolation Canyon June 4 to June 8, 2018

I've been lucky to live close enough to do many overnite permit trips on the Yampa River thru Dinosaur, and many Green River, Lodore Canyon trips.( Both above Deso) You can't beat the river life. Talk about stepping away from the worlds problems and just dealing with the river and boats and food and drink. Love it!!! Great report! Makes me want to get on another trip. Great pics!

Decatur, Illinois
Level Contributor
1,049 posts
314 reviews
6. Re: Trip Report Rafting Desolation Canyon June 4 to June 8, 2018

I visited Dinosaur Natl Monument after the rafting trip and got to see some of those rivers. The parks map does a great job of showing the rivers.

I was surprised when the ranger said 99% of Dinosaur NM has nothing to do with dinosaurs.

I was also surprised that after a $20 entrance fee, they were charging $1 for each of 4 small pamphlets about various drives in Dino and the bone wall.

Fremont, California
Destination Expert
for San Francisco
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7. Re: Trip Report Rafting Desolation Canyon June 4 to June 8, 2018

Awesome trip

Thanks for writing such an interesting trip report.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah
Level Contributor
16,552 posts
177 reviews
8. Re: Trip Report Rafting Desolation Canyon June 4 to June 8, 2018

Glad you enjoyed your river trip. That is a stretch of river I also would love to travel one day.

"I was surprised when the ranger said 99% of Dinosaur NM has nothing to do with dinosaurs."

That is the big secret and such a tragedy in many ways as the rest of the park is as good or better than other parks in the state.

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