By Lauren Wood
1. Notorious whitewater
The Colorado River through Cataract Canyon is famous for being BIG. It has the deepest canyons, massive water volume below the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers and some of the biggest whitewater in North America. During spring run-off, Cataract makes rapids in the Grand Canyon seem relatively tame. I remember my first trip through Cataract’s red-rock walls at “high water” being unforgettable. I have spent my whole life on the river and none of my previous trips had prepared me for the deluge of churning holes, rolling wave-trains and sheer fun I found. The “Big-Drops” with features named ominous things like “Little Niagara”, “The Claw” and “Satan’s Gut” are not for the faint of heart but can seriously take your breath away and leave you with some unforgettable memories.
2. The view
One of many perks of Cataract Canyon is the dramatic sheer cliff faces that seem to tower so far out of reach that it’s hard to imagine just how high they must be. The only thing better than marveling at these cliffs from the comfort of the Colorado River is to join us for Holiday’s most folkloric hike, “The Doll House”. Earn your dinner by filling your water bottle and scaling one of these impressive canyon walls up a historic trail to sit among titanic “Dolls” on the high cliff face. These dolls (or more accurately, hoodoos) give the impression of mysterious figures, sentinels watching over you from the valley floor. From the top, these dolls are gentle giants, affording you shade, slot canyon adventures and will bear witness with you and your friends while you take in the view from 1,600 feet above the river. Whether you’re relaxing at camp or sitting among the dolls, the view is great.
3. Good ‘dirty’ fun
I have never escaped a trip through Cataract, (or almost any Holiday river trip) without a good day in the mud. Whether this looks like mud facials or wallowing in a mud pit on the side of the river, the thick red clay found in the washes and nooks of the Colorado River are the best kind of dirty. It speaks to the irony of any parent telling their kid to have good clean fun when all a kid really wants is to get covered in mud. In Cataract you’ll have plenty of opportunities for gettin’ messy.
4. Floating in the presence of titans
Cataract Canyon in the heart of Canyonlands National Park, as previously mentioned, is notorious. It has many stories of peril with everyone from mountain men to railroad builders to prospectors trying their hand at navigating its treacherous rapids. Boatmen and women will stop at inscriptions along the river to pay respect to the women and men who have come before, braving not only the rapids but their own ignorance of the uncharted canyon. While many of these individuals made it through the rapids, there are numerous stories of individuals not being so lucky that make for some great campfire ghost stories.
5. Sacred ground
If you hold respect and reverence for the native peoples of this stolen land, Cataract Canyon holds many stories from ancestors long forgotten by our modern world, reminding us of a different way of interacting with the earth. Despite a legacy of broken promises, indigenous peoples have sustained themselves and their cultural traditions in the face of an increasingly westernized world. In Cataract Canyon we have the humbling opportunity to visit sites still held as spiritual sources for many indigenous communities to this day. Some of the sacred sites from long-lost cultural groups like the Ancestral Puebloans in the hallowed walls of Cataract Canyon make it not simply a beautiful place with rich histories of a people but more than that, a spiritual place.
I have been a river runner my entire life and ever since my first river trip at age two muddy water has run a current through my veins and into my heart. It was learning from the boatwomen and men of the 1990s that led me to find my own oars. I have been a guide for Holiday River Expeditions since 2009. In the off-season I volunteer as an member of Peaceful Uprising and work on national climate justice campaigns with Rainforest Action Network. I find that the lessons from the river inform my climate justice work and truly all aspects of my life. I love investigating the way natural cycles could work with our cities and influencing the currents that direct and shape our communities.