The Whiskey Keg Incident at Disaster Falls


Powell’s 1st night camp on his first voyage down down the Green and Colorado Rivers

On June 9th, 1869, just a few weeks into John Wesley Powell’s famous journey down the Colorado River, disaster struck. Running fast down the unmapped Lodore Canyon, one of the expedition’s four boats, the ‘No Name’, was flipped by rapids and then shattered against a boulder. The three explorers on the boat luckily survived, but they lost their clothes, guns, and the expeditions only barometers.

These barometers were so important that Powell launched a search and rescue mission for the airtight container in which they were stowed. When the crew finally recovered their barometers, Powell was surprised to find something else stored in the airtight safe box: a three gallon keg of whiskey.

He wrote of the event in his log. “. . . they had taken it on board unknown to me, and I am glad they did, for they think it does them good—as they are drenched every day by the melted snow that runs down this river from the summit of the Rocky Mountains—and that is a positive good itself.”

Powell knew that even on the gnarliest expeditions down the arid, western rivers, some strong spirits will help to keep everyone happy, if not dry.

A Cocktail Menu for Your Holiday River Trip

Unlike Powell’s men, you won’t have to sneak your whiskey onto the boat. While as an outfit Holiday River Expeditions cannot provide you with alcoholic beverages, we can definitely help schlep along whatever spirits and mixers you bring yourself. And, of course, we’ll provide some fantastic meal pairings for your cocktails.

Although our menu does change occasionally upon request, here’s a sampling of our 6-day dinner menu, and some ideal, locally-sourced (mostly) cocktails and beers to sip while you eat them.

Day 1:

River runners relaxing at camp on the Green River.

Friends chatting by the riverside.

The dinner:

Hors d’oeuvres

Caesar Salad

Chicken with Red Rock Potatoes

Cake & Heated Peaches

The River Spirits:

High West Campfire Whiskey


Dead Horse Amber Ale from Moab Brewery

We like to kick off our trips with a robust, simple, and satisfying meal that reflects the beautiful and rugged terrain we are about to explore. Our barbequed chicken and hefty red rock potatoes will pair perfectly with the bold flavors of these local beverages.

High West Campfire Whiskey was meant to be sipped straight in the outdoors. There’s no better setting for this whiskey than at the bottom of a red rock canyon. If you’d like something with less of a bite, add some ginger beer and lime juice for an Irish Mule.

Dead Horse Amber Ale (no glass bottles, please!) is a perfectly balanced ale that celebrates the wild red cliffs of local Dead Horse Point.

Day 2:

reading with a drink

Reading with a beverage.

The dinner:

Hors d’oeuvres

Mandarin Salad

Salmon with Vegetables and Couscous

Brownies Deluxe

The River Spirits:

Brigham Rum from Distillery 36


Cheap boxed white wine

For our second day we have a dinner to cool you off a bit. A fresh, light mandarin salad and then a seared, lemon-peppered halibut fillet with vegetables and couscous. The perfect dinner for a riverside dining after a hot day.

Celebrate some Utah heritage with the sweet, clear Brigham Rum. This rum has been made from scratch in Utah and proofed with spring water from the Rocky Mountains (some of the same water will be flowing beneath you as your raft the Colorado). Make the perfect seafood pairing by bringing along some piña colada mixer.

Or, if you’re more of a wine drinker, bring along a box of your favorite cheap pinot grigio! Nothing beats the classic fish and white wine combo.

Day 3:

beers on the river

Enjoying a refreshment by the river.

The Dinner:

Hors d’oeuvres

Marinate Salad


Strawberry Short Cake

The River Spirits:

Beehive Distillery’s Jack Rabbit Gin


Cheap boxed red wine

On day three we will give you some a delicious, cheese and meat filled lasagna to satisfy your tired body. This is some comfort food that will help you sleep heavy and feel ready to face the river in the morning.

Bring along a bottle of the local Jack Rabbit Gin. This gets its distinct flavor from the juniper trees that surround as you flow down the river, and its name celebrates the ubiquitous, desert dwelling jack rabbits. Mix it with it with some lime juice and soda for a refreshing gimlet cocktail that will add a little sweetness to your savory meal.

Of course, the time honored pairing for a pasta dinner is red wine. Go ahead and bring along a box of Cabernet or Merlot to share with your whole group.

Day 4:

Cheers from the River

Cheers to the river spirits!

The dinner:

Hors d’oeuvres


Beans and Spanish Rice


The River Spirits:

Mezcal Amaras Espadin


Uinta Brewing Company’s Mango Lime Pilsner

Nothing hits the spot like some Mexican cuisine. Throw some hot sauce and lime juice on these fajitas and feast to your heart’s content. Of course, don’t forget to wash it all down with a beverage.

Nothing pairs with fajitas quite like a light, fragrant mezcal (the cousin of tequila). Mezcal Amaras is special because their business model includes a mission to make mezcal production in Mexico more sustainable for people and the planet. Add this sweet spirit to some margarita mix or just sip it straight.

If you’re looking for something a bit more laid back, try local Uinta Brewing’s Mango Lime Pilsner (cans only please…). This creative beer is seriously refreshing.

Day 5:

Dee Cooking

Holiday’s Founder Cooking up some Steaks with a Sierra-Cup cocktail

The Dinner:

Hors d’oeuvres

Green -Vegetable Salad

Steak with Onions and Mushrooms

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Pineapple UpsdeDownCake

The River Spirits:

Outlaw Distillery Bourbon Whiskey


Epic Brewing’s RiNO Pale Ale

Who says you can’t eat gourmet in the backcountry? This is the type of full meal you might get at a lodge at the Deer Valley resort, or in a Manhattan restaurant. But you’ll be enjoying it on a sandy beach next to one of the most beautiful and wild rivers in the world. No big deal.

I’ve already suggested whiskey for one of our meals, but it’s making it onto the list twice because it’s just that good. And this Bourbon from Outlaw distillery is distinctly different from the High West. It’s smooth finish will go perfectly with a medium-rare steak and it’s sweet, corn-mash tones will compliment the mushrooms on the side.

If you’re more of a beer drinker, then check out Epic’s RiNO Pale Ale. It’s a powerful, dark beer that can add a bit of that hoppy sweetness to your steak.

Some Final Tips Regarding Alcohol on the River

If this list has freaked you out at all, either because you don’t drink or you are a vegan, remember that we can always cater our menus to fit your needs! You can have a perfectly great time on the river without any beer or wine or cocktails, and we have vegan options for every meal.

Also, please remember to bring only CANS of beer. No glass bottles.

Finally, we are not interested in airlifting people from the depths of these beautiful canyons because they don’t know when to call it a night. Please drink responsibly, on the river and off!

Writer Easton Smith

Easton Smith is a Local Wasatch Front resident and writer.   He spends his time community organizing, rock-climbing and playin’ some mean banjo.