The Confluence (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 23 Oct 2004

The Confluence

I've wanted for years to see the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers: the place where the west's two biggest rivers meet, mingling their different colored waters into the larger river which is the lower Colorado, flowing down to become Cataract Canyon.

The Confluence is hard to get to, though. The only viewpoint above river level is located in the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. Sounds easy enough; but the only road that goes near it is a technical jeep trail called "Elephant Hill", involving tricks like five-foot rock drop-offs. A bit beyond our skills or vehicle. So instead, we drove to the beginning of Elephant Hill, then mountain biked from there. It's about 9 miles to the confluence overlook (then a half-mile hike from there), and about 6 miles back (it's a loop trail with one-way sections).

First we had to get to Canyonlands. We took the scenic route from Monticello over the Abajo mountains, offering great views of the lacolith triangle: the Abajo, Henry, and La Sal mountain ranges are all rock which has been warped upward by subterranean magma, without actually being made of volcanic rock themselves.

On the Saturday of Utah's week-long deer hunting season, the Abajo route was crawling with trucks filled with blaze orange clad passengers, pulling trailers laden with ATVs. Every pullout, every campground, was full of hunters. Ironically, twice during the day we had to slow down (and once, stop) for large groups of does wandering near or across the road. We never saw any bucks, but I guess the number of does on the road suggests that the deer population isn't in any serious threat from the hunters. But we nevertheless were glad we were going to be doing our riding in a national park today.

Elephant Hill is as technical as we remembered it from our last visit to Needles. We tried to ride up the hill, but gave up fairly early and walked the steep sections. The trail alternates between short, impossibly steep and technical rock sections (which we walked), moderately steep and technical rock sections (which we mostly rode, and enjoyed immensely) and long near-level stretches of deep fine red sand (fun if you don't mind sliding sideways).

Dave rode more of the rocky uphills than I did, and I rode more of the rocky downhills. I biffed on one downhill, coming off a rock ledge into deep sand and landing hard on one hand. No permanent damage.

No bikes are allowed on the half-mile section of trail from the end of the road to the overlook, so we had to stash our bikes in the bushes and continue on foot.

The confluence overlook is fabulous! It's just like the pictures: you can see the boundary where the two differently colored rivers mix to form one larger river. Apparently the colors vary depending on what's been going on upstream; every picture is a little different. Today, both rivers were muddy green, but different shades, with the Colorado being darker and clearer than the Green. On the horizon, you can see the three districts of Canyonlands: Island in the Sky (between the two upper rivers), the Maze (along the west bank of the Green) and Needles (where we stood, on the east bank of the Colorado).

The ride back was surprisingly easy, though going uphill through the sandy stretches was a workout. We got back to Elephant Hill just as a couple in a rented jeep began the first descent, so we had a chance to see how it was done. The Jeep handled the tough descent easily. I bet it didn't seem as easy from the driver's seat as it looked from the outside.

Photos.

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[ 22:20 Oct 23, 2004    More travel/anasazi | permalink to this entry ]