Cataract Canyon River History with Author Melissa Sevigny

“The night was full of noises. The driftwood campfire snapped and spluttered, casting a circle of light on the river-rippled sand. Beyond, darkness pressed. Somewhere in the undergrowth a small creature rustled and scratched. The willows fringing the sandbar made a susurration as water rushed round their roots. Over, under, through it all, ran the Colorado River.” (Excerpt from Brave the Wild River by Melissa Sevigny)

On June 20, 1938, Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter set off downstream from Green River, Utah, on a trip that made history. Not only did they become the first non-Native women to float the entirety of the Grand Canyon, along the way they documented as much of the native plant life as they could, creating the only botanical survey of the canyon before the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam and identifying four new species of cacti along the way. Their work became the foundation for ecological study of the iconic river corridor. The story of their trip, which is beautifully told in Brave the Wild River, is equal parts riveting, humorous, and inspiring. It was also long overdue to be told.

On this special Cataract Canyon trip, Holiday will be joined by author Melissa Sevigny as we retrace the first part of the historic expedition. Starting at Mineral Bottom, we will set off down the Green River and float through the breathtaking Stillwater Canyon, passing by the iconic Tower Park and around the archaeological marvel at Turk’s Head before reaching the confluence with the Colorado and descending down Cataract Canyon. Along the way, Melissa will read excerpts from her book and the journals of the botanists from their time in Cataract. She will also speak to what their journey means in the context of today as well as lead writing exercises and workshops. While Brave the Wild River is Melissa’s most recent publication, she has written two other acclaimed science books as well having countless essays, poems, and radio stories to her credit.

As far as river rafting trips go in the Southwest, it’s hard to beat what Stillwater-Cataract offers. The scenery is nothing short of remarkable. Hiking options are varied and plentiful, with destinations including breathtaking overlooks, archeological sites, and labyrinthian side canyons. The days on the Green River are calm and relaxing, with picturesque camping on big sandy beaches and plenty of time to practice mindfulness while remaining in awe of the surrounding environment. These days offer balance and contrast to Cataract, whose tumultuous whitewater and steep canyon walls mimic what one finds in the Grand Canyon.

While it’s impossible to guarantee anything as it comes to weather, September generally proves to be an exceptional time of year to explore Utah’s deserts. The weather tends to be more temperate, the colors of the landscape are in their early stages of autumn change, and it is still warm enough to fully enjoy the whitewater splashes. Holiday’s stellar guides will care of the hard work, like rowing the rafts and cooking gourmet feasts, before joining you around the campfire to hear the tales of Elzada and Lois.

Holiday is extremely lucky to have Melissa join us on this trip and we are excited to offer this inspiring adventure to you! Contact our office to learn more or scroll down to reserve your spot today!

About the author:

Melissa L. Sevigny grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the Sonoran Desert’s ecology and dark desert skies. She has worked as a science communicator in the fields of space exploration, water policy, and sustainable agriculture, and has a B.S. in environmental science from the University of Arizona and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Iowa State University. She is the science reporter at KNAU (Arizona Public Radio) in Flagstaff, Arizona and her stories have been awarded regional Edward R. Murrow awards and featured nationally on Science Friday.

Her books are Brave the Wild River, Mythical River, and Under Desert Skies. Brave the Wild River won the National Outdoor Book Award for history and was featured in the New York Times and People magazine.

Read More: Insider’s Guide to Rafting the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon

Green River, Utah: Things to Do and Places to Explore

Featured Review:

“Cataract Canyon. Fantastic trip. Guides were great. Food was great. Hikes were great. Scenery was great and BIG WATER!!!! So much fun. Have never done a trip like this. I have told everyone who will listen about this trip and suggested they do it. Can not say enough good things about it. So much fun!!! Thanks!!!!!!” (Returning guest, 2023)

Book This Trip

Trip Overview

  • Type:

    Rafting

  • Location:

    Canyonlands National Park

  • Length:

    6 days

  • Dates:

    September 15 - 20

  • Meet at:

    Green River, UT @ @ 7:00 pm (night before the trip)

  • Difficulty:

    Intermediate

  • Min. Age:

    8

  • Prices:

    $1,600 + $2 land use fee

  • Deposit:

    400

Highlights

  • Acclaimed author Melissa Sevigny will read excerpts of her book, Brave the Wild River
  • Exhilarating and splashy Class III-IV whitewater
  • World-class hiking to varied destinations
  • Professionally guided trip including gourmet meals and expert interpretation
  • Experience Canyonlands National Park in the best way possible
Getting Here Before You Go Packing List FAQs

Rates & Dates

Itinerary

Launching from the Mineral Bottom boat ramp, we will begin our journey by floating 52 miles of the Green River through the heart of Canyonlands National Park. After reaching the confluence of the Green and Colorado, we will descend Cataract Canyon before reaching Lake Powell. The last few miles of the trip will be on the lake before taking out at North Wash in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Sample Itinerary

The night before your trip:

Please meet at our Green River, Utah warehouse for a 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time the evening before your trip for a short pre-trip meeting. You will meet the guides, retrieve waterproof bags and hear instructions on how best to pack them, as well as have time to purchase any last minute items from our store (look over our packing checklist for a list of such items). If you are bringing any personal beverages (specialty sodas, beer, wine, etc.), please consider dropping them off  at this time so that we can pack them into our coolers.

Day 1:

Our Green River headquarters will serve as the rendezvous point the next morning at a time determined during the pre-trip meeting. It’s about a 90-minute scenic van ride to the top of the Mineral Bottom road. Because this road is a steep, exposed set of switchbacks, we will all hop out of the vans and walk down to the boat ramp on foot. After the guides prep the boats and give a brief orientation, we will begin our journey downstream. Settle in on a raft or get some additional exercise on an inflatable kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP). We’ll lunch on a sandbar and maybe take a short afternoon hike. Camp will be made on one of the many glorious sandy beaches and after settling in, we’ll enjoy dinner and listen to Melissa regale us with tales of Elzada and Lois as the guides help everyone get accustomed to river life.

Day 2:

Morning sun makes the walls glow like red gold. Listen for the descending song of the canyon wren as you enjoy your warm beverage and tasty breakfast. Relax on the raft or paddle your SUP along the shore in search of otters and great blue herons. The Green meanders into Tower Park. Swim alongside the rafts or lounge under an umbrella before lunch; the afternoon may provide the opportunity to hike to thousand-year-old rock art done by the Fremont Culture. Learn from your guide how to spot granaries (ancient food storage structures) on the cliff walls as we continue downstream. At camp, participate in writing exercises with Melissa and hear readings from the botanists’ journals.

Day 3:

Today we may reach the confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers, believed by some cultures to be the center of the universe. Take your chance to swim through the line where the two rivers meet and buckle up your personal flotation device! The rapids lie just a few miles downstream. Just below the confluence, enjoy a view of the Doll House, a collection of freestanding, sandstone columns: one of the remotest regions of the Maze District of Canyonlands. Ponder what the early explorers may have thought when they floated this stretch.

Day 4:

Wake to the sound of nature’s best white noise machine: crashing rapids! After a hearty breakfast, we’ll do a whitewater safety talk, tighten up our PFDs, and prepare to get soaked. Along the way, we’ll stop and scout many of the biggest rapids, allowing plenty of time for the suspense to build. By the afternoon it will be time to hold on tight for the Big Drops: Little Niagara and Satan’s Gut! There are many historic inscriptions to spot and we may explore one of the many side canyons. We’ll roll into our camp for the night along with a wave of endorphins, and celebrate our successful runs with a yet another riverside feast and tales of Elzada and Lois.

Day 5:

After the last few rapids, the water mellows out, and the canyon walls rise, smooth and majestic. We’ve now found ourselves in Glen Canyon Recreation Area – an area in constant flux as the Lake Powell Reservoir water levels change. As the lake levels drop, the Mighty Colorado continues its current, offering one more chance to paddle your own inflatable craft. Our last night of camping will be on Lake Powell, though it will still feel like a river canyon. We will enjoy each others’ company as we reflect back on our trip, listen to the rest of the botanists’ story, and make plans for our next journey.

Day 6:

One final breakfast before floating our way to the take out just beyond the mouth of the Dirty Devil River. These last miles on Lake Powell are generally slow moving, and we will most likely use the aid of a small motorboat to be pushed off the water. After pulling the boats onto their trailers, we will load up into the air conditioned vans. A two-hour drive brings us back to Green River. Our expected time of arrival back at our headquarters is from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Wilderness river trips are fluid by nature. Please understand that the above is a sample itinerary. You may have the opportunity to do all of the above activities, some combination of them, or you may have a variety of other memorable experiences. We at Holiday try to live by our motto, “Go With the Flow”, and we encourage you to arrive with an open mind, a flexible attitude, and a thirst for adventure!

Cataract Canyon Whitewater Rocky

Cataract Canyon trips are real wilderness adventures, and itineraries vary depending on weather, the desires of the group, first come first serve campsite availability, and the need to be courteous to other groups on the river. This is a just sample itinerary to provide one example of a six-day trip through Cataract.

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