My Desolation Canyon trip was as easy as they ever get: great flows, not many bugs, overall pretty friendly weather, good passengers. But Deso always has its moments. For instance, when we flew in to the put-in from Green River, Utah, the canyon was seriously socked in with storm clouds. We flew first over Gray Canyon, the lower portion of the river, and the views from the Cessna windows were certainly impressive. But they were suddenly put to shame when we looked through the driving rain on the planes’ windshields to see the Roan Cliffs, the walls of Deso, towering thousands of feet further up into the clouds.

We passed the deepest part of the canyon (deeper than the Grand Canyon) and broke through the clouds into the gray shale landscape of the upper canyon. After an only slightly bumpy landing on the mesa top, we headed down to the river and launched.

Flying over the Green River, Desolation Canyon, Utah, June 2010.

Good times! The weather improved, I got to shoot a sunrise from a good cliffy perch, and our passengers were serious hikers for once, so we had a chance to clamber far higher up the canyon sides than I had ever been.

Sunrise in Desolation Canyon, Utah, June 2010.

Desolation Canyon, Utah, June 2010.

One of the things I love about Desolation is that it’s not a friendly place. Our brochure describes the Middle Fork of the Salmon as “proof that people were meant to take rafting trips.” I agree with that statement, but Deso is the perfect counterexample: “Proof that people were not meant to take rafting trips.” To enjoy the place, you’d better be the type who shouts, “Awesome!” when 70-mile-per-hour wind gusts flatten your river kitchen and send your tent flying 20 feet off the ground for a quarter mile. We didn’t have our kitchen flattened, but we did have a day of violent winds from sunup to sundown. It was savage all day, and during dinner the gale was punctuated by truly scary gusts, threatening to bring down not only our kitchen but also the cottonwood above it. We wolfed down our food and moved to hunker down. But as the light faded so did the wind, and I jogged to a sandstone terrace above the river for sunset as the storm moved away upriver:

[Edit: Just re-did some processing on photo #3 here. I overcooked the saturation a little. It happens when you’re up processing multiple photos late at night. Of course, that’s exactly what I’m doing now… have to look again in the morning.]

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