Four Days on the Green
A relaxed paddle down Labyrinth Canyon

November 10 - 14, 2021 -- compiled by Jeff DePree
Jeff DePree
Frank B.
Kerry R.

I’ve had a variety of paddling partners through the years. There are the loquacious and the introspective, the fiercely competitive and those that resolutely refuse to paddle. I was initially rather reticent to accept my assigned partner for this trip. I put out ads on a wiffleball group chat and a hiking page in desperate bids to fill my empty canoe seat. Whether it was simple bigotry, or the product of an ongoing war with my dog-walking neighbors, I was determined not to get stuck with the poop bucket. But when Thursday morning arrived, and the rising sun showed down on the front half of a canoe bereft of passenger and gear, I could find little recourse.

Frank made the first contribution. It was entirely avoidable. We still had to run the shuttle through Green River, where we would have easy access to a number of trash cans and dumpsters, not to mention toilets that didn’t even require the use of a plastic receptacle. But irrespective of this, a prodigious portion found its way into a produce bag and subsequently into the otherwise empty bucket, that, until this point in its privileged existence, had only ever been made to hold largely odorless oats.

I used a sharpie to draw a smiley face on one side of the bucket, and on the other established a simple accounting system with one hash mark under Frank’s name. And as I beheld the bucket’s gleeful expression, seemingly enthralled by the prospect of the grand adventure on which it would soon embark, I couldn’t help feeling that I had been unfair. I had shown no gratitude for the burden this brave little bucket would be made to bear, but had instead sought to ostracize it, to find any excuse not to have it accompany me for the next 65 miles.

In the first few hours, all my worst fears would be realized. A strong headwind kicked up and carried a continuous wave of stench the length of the canoe to my waiting nostrils. I was now convinced that this trip that I had anticipated for so many years would be realized as four days of progressively worsening olfactory agony.

Eventually acquiescing to the slew of protestations that followed, Frank maneuvered his canoe over, opened the bucket, double-bagged his earlier installment, and screwed the lid shut, much tighter than before. These extra twists, that had initially been neglected, improved the situation immensely. And we spent the next four days together, through the addition of twenty additional wag bags, with no further provocation for disharmony between the bucket and I. It turned out to be a most agreeable paddling partner.

And so, it was a bittersweet goodbye when we finally landed at the takeout and lashed the bucket to the roof of Frank's car, to be cast into the first receptacle large enough to hold it. Commingled in the bucket was the sum total of 3 potlucks around a fire, the secluded beaches, and the tall canyon grasses. The bucket was the trip in its entirety, reduced down and contained with an impermeable seal. The bucket was all of us.

The stretch of river between I-70 and Canyonlands feels impossibly remote. In four days of paddling, we saw a raft, a canoe group, and two hikers who were inexplicably clinging to the slickrock just above the water line. The ramshackle remnants of farms offered no signs of life.

But the tendrils of modernity accompanied us throughout, both on the dirt roads and OHV tracks that snaked through the desert, and in the skies overhead. And we would sometimes be reminded of their presence with the roar of a nearby engine or the petulant buzzing of a pack of dirt bikes.

Most of these sounds never manifested themselves in any visible form. Most would reverberate along the canyon walls, proffering few clues to their provenance, and would soon fade away, subdued by the overwhelming stillness of the desert.

Then on the third day, I found myself paddling far ahead, while the rest of the crew drifted lackadaisically behind, making impressively little progress despite a steady current. But in the midst of this idyll, a brilliant yellow flash exploded over the high vermillion cliffs. A shiny floatplane banked towards us and traced the course of the river, finally circling around to settle into the waters beside the other canoes.

“Nice day for it.” The pilot had stepped out onto his pontoon and made an awkward attempt to greet our party. With his confident tone, he tried desperately to convince us that we lived in a world where a friendly neighborhood aviator could pop over for a quick chat with his fellow recreators. He wanted us to believe that he was one of us - that his 200 horsepower, $100,000 flying machine, which could propel him effortlessly through sea and sky, skipping along the edges of the towering monoliths as one might hop along the stones in a garden path, was one and the same as our decrepit antique watercraft that might convey us some twenty miles in an 8-hour day. Landing and subsequently launching back into the sky was as trivial as the momentary pause you might make to greet a fellow hiker in the midst of a wooded path.

Our group stared blankly at him, their reply lost in a swirl of contradictions. They fumbled for anywhere in their mental map to place this uninvited ambassador from another world. Even half a mile downriver, where I floated listlessly along with my insensate poop bucket companion, the silence was palpable.

“Well, I gotta go check on my friends, the base jumpers.” The befuddled reception had finally become too much for the airman, and he restarted the engine, returned to the air, and executed a few delicate maneuvers along the canyon walls, before leaving our view for good.

Day 1: Crystal Geyser to the Island
Day 2: The Island to Keg Spring Bottom
Day 3: Keg Spring to Two Mile Canyon
Day 4: Two Mile to Mineral Bottom