The road trip began inconspicuously with a Sunday trip to the Poudre River near Ft Collins, CO. But after paddling the Upper Mishawaka through Bridges sections (3.4 ft), I didn’t head south for home. Instead, I pointed my van north along the back roads and found myself camping that evening in Curt Gowdy State Park near Laramie, WY. The next morning I got a tour of the mountain bike trails from Marty, a fellow Colorado Whitewater member who lives in Wyoming near the park. The trails wound through an impressive array of landscapes and included small free-ride sections over large granite boulders that made for fun play. After finishing our ride, I continued my tour along the Colorado-Wyoming border as if I was reluctant to actually leave my wonderful home state.
On Tuesday, I proved that rules are meant to be broken when I went against conventional wisdom and solo-paddled the North Gate Canyon stretch of the North Platte River. North Gate had been on my to-do list of rivers for almost as long as I kayaked, but it always eluded me due to its isolation north of Steamboat, CO with a takeout in Wyoming. Since I was passing through the area, it was impossible to not consider a run down the wilderness stretch of river. The solo excursion did not disappoint in terms of both scenery and adventure. The water was a bit low (480 cfs) but still runnable and still interesting enough to keep my senses heightened throughout the run. At the end of the run, I hopped on my bike and completed the trip with an 11 mile bike shuttle back to my van where River Dog was waiting as patiently as always.
After finishing North Gate Canyon, I was back in my van and headed west on I-80 to Green River, WY. I was certain that the “W” in Wyoming stood for wind as I battled an anemometer-verified 25+ mph headwind along the destitute stretch of highway while achieving a paltry 13 mpg. After a restorative steak dinner at Appleby’s, I wound the van up a dirt road high above I-80 and the town for some well earned rest.
Despite a surprising abundance of recreation opportunities, Green River is sorely lacking in any sort of tourist friendly accommodations or even adequate cell service. So on Wednesday morning, I began the day with air conditioning, WiFi, and breakfast coffee at Mickey D’s before heading over to the mountain bike trails. Starting from the impressive bike park, I promptly got lost in a neighborhood before I determined the actual location of the trails on the north side of the river. The network of singletrack trails wound their way through a desolate, godforsaken desert high above the river while offering a riding experience on par with the Bookcliff trails in Fruita, CO. I put my efforts into a trail called Pick Your Poison that distinguished itself from most trails with its Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style of obstacles that often included wooden bridges that clung perilously to cliff sides thereby exposing the rider to technical agilities with high consequences. When approaching the challenges, I was presented with a Blue Square or a Black Diamond that was guarded with sun-bleached animal bones, and I only wound up choosing the more difficult option about half the time. The ride lasted much longer than I expected, and as my skin baked under the desert sun, I hoped that I myself would not also end up as an ominous pile of bones. After more than 3 hours, I returned to the van and River Dog and headed over to the river for some relief from the mid-day sun.
By chance, I met up with Marty again and paddled the whitewater wave at Expedition Island Park where John Wesley Powell famously began his expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers. The wave’s unique feature is the system of adjustable air bladders and ramps that are used to optimize the shape of the water for whitewater kayaking. Despite its tunability, I found the wave was only mediocre, but the cool water was an absolutely perfect answer to the high temperatures. By late afternoon, I was back in the van and finally headed north towards the destinations that had occupied my dreams for this trip.
The hot Wyoming wind hindered my progress again as I cruised towards Jackson and the Tetons, but by early evening I found myself cruising along the Hoback River and turning onto a dirt road towards one of my favorite places on the planet. I followed Granite Creek through lush grass meadows full of wildflowers and majestic mountain views until I located a suitable spot to camp next to the river. To say the location was idyllic would be perfectly appropriate—I couldn’t imagine a place that I would have rather been. River played in the creek and as the sun cast its final rays of the day, I launched my Phantom quadcopter into the air in an attempt to capture beauty of the scene.
The next morning, I enjoyed a lazy morning in camp that fulfilled my desires to be on the road in my van visiting the places I love most. By late morning, I reluctantly broke camp and finished the drive up the valley to the Granite Hot Springs Pool where I soaked in the warm water for an hour before continuing my journey. After spending the afternoon dealing with logistics, I determined that I had a little time to spare before the rest of the crew arrived. So I made my way back up into Granite Creek Valley for another enjoyable solo kayaking run with a bike shuttle. I had been pining to paddle Granite Creek since 2008, and although the flow was low, it was deeply satisfying to fulfill that dream and savor my time in the valley just a little longer.
At the conclusion of the Granite Creek kayaking run, my solo adventures came to an end with the arrival of my traveling and paddling compatriots—the Holcombe Family (Peter, Kathy, Abby along with Tucker Dog) and the Forstrom’s (Stacey and Cindy along with their dogs, Brock and Emmy). We excitedly reunited and then made haste down into Alpine Canyon for a quick evening run down the Snake River. At almost 10,000 cfs, the Snake had a big water feel with impressive whirlpools along the eddy lines, and it’s piece de resistance, the Lunch Counter Wave. We each rode the gorgeous, perfectly shaped wave about 3 times before finally succumbing to the darkness and a good night’s sleep.
Friday was dedicated to even more time in Alpine Canyon, with a full run by the whole group in the morning including Peter and Abbey in the Dynamic Duo. We spent even more time surfing the Lunch Counter Wave, and I finally got the hang of it and had a few good rides. That evening after dinner, we headed back to Lunch Counter and Peter set up his camera equipment and lights for an end-of-day photo shoot that was highlighted with tricks by some extraordinary local kayakers.
The boating exploration continued in earnest on Saturday with three new river runs. We began with a quick, 2.5 mile jaunt down Grey’s River near the town of Alpine Junction. The low water (800 cfs) made for an easy run amidst scenery that was starkly different than Colorado with moss and ferns clinging to the riverside rocks. Snaggletooth rapid was the highlight of the run as a longish Class 4 rapid plenty of rocks and holes to dodge.
By mid-afternoon, we found ourselves about 40 miles north and to the east of Grand Teton National Park in a section of low lying hills with a peculiar geologic feature. In 1925, a large rain event resulted in a massive landslide that sent an entire mountainside careening down into the low-gradient Gros Ventre River below. The landslide immediately backed up the river and formed a natural lake, but over the years, the river wore its way through the debris field except for large boulders that form the rapids in the otherwise mellow section of river. When we paddled the Gros Ventre River, the flows were low (0 ft), but we were happy to just have a chance to explore the run. The clear water and playful, eddy-filled rapids were a welcome relief to the heat of the day and were finished the 3 mile run all too soon. If we didn’t have another run scheduled for the day, we certainly would have done a second lap down the Gros Ventre.
Saturday evening was reserved as the desert to our seven course meal of rivers in the Tetons area. It was a rich, creamy desert that was meant to be savored slowly as we concluded our brief paddling tour of the area. At about 7pm after a picnic style pizza dinner, we put in on the Snake River just past the entrance to Grand Teton National Park. The Holcombe Family affectionately referred to the run as the Teton Wildlife Cruise due to its abundant views of the Tetons and high possibility of sighting wildlife at dusk. The Fornstrom’s and I were excited to experience yet another new stretch of river as we floated gracefully down the aptly named, Class 1 meandering Snake River. Around every bend was another spectacular view of the Teton range in the day’s last light. I was amazed that such a beautiful setting could exist and understood why Ansel Adams chose that spot for one of his most famous images. The clouds never lit up with the fire that we hoped for, but we were fortunate to witness an elk escape our path by swimming across the river directly in front of us before clambering off into the woods. When the light finally disappeared, we found ourselves still floating down the river with heightened senses and a unique perspective of the water. By about 10pm, we reached the takeout and eventually made our way up into the hills above the valley floor for some much needed rest.
Four hours after falling asleep, I was awake again in a groggy state and bouncing down the dirt road with Peter in the van back towards the Teton valley that we left so recently. We moved quickly before the day’s first light towards Mormon Row in hopes of capturing some quintessential photographs of the Tetons with the barns and sage brush in the foreground. It was a true challenge for me to operate my digital SLR and capture the essence of the scene all while battling the approaching sunrise, but fortunately, Peter coached me through the situation and I was able to capture a few quality images while learning a lot more about the art of photography.
The sunrise photography session of the Tetons marked the end of our time in the area, and we all boarded our vehicles with them pointed west in search of our next paddling road trip destination—Idaho.
Check out a sampling of photos in the gallery below:
- Poudre Upper Mish through Bridges kayaking
- Curt Gowdy State Park mountain biking
- North Gate Canyon kayaking (plus bike shuttle)
- Green River mountain biking
- Granite Creek kayaking (plus bike shuttle)
- Alpine Canyon kayaking (GPS cut off at Lunch Counter)
- Grey’s River kayaking
- Gros Ventre River kayaking
- Snake River through Teton NP (GPS cut off before the end)