For most boaters, a trip through Dinosaur National Monument concludes at the Split Mountain Boat ramp. The canyon dramaticly ends here plunging beneath the Earth's surface while the Green River continues languidly on. This geologic dive emphasizes a popular notion of this place and experience – the end of another river trip. What few boaters know is the river beyond this point, to keep floating with the Green through the Uintah Basin.
After tearing through the middle of Split Mountain with tumultuous fervor, the river takes a turn and begins to rest and as boaters, we too are allowed rest. The intensity of canyons and rapids are replaced by a soothing calm, one that can be enjoyed in isolation if desired. The number of boaters conducting trips in this section is typically less than 100 in any given year, and there is a good reason for this – no one knows about it. Ask anyone at the Split Mountain boat ramp what is around the next bend and you will be answered with a shrug, this person’s trip is over and they want to get back to their constructed life. In contrast, for the boater who continues downstream, the trip is just beginning. An adventure into the unknown, where the river flows in peaceful solitude, lies ahead.
A trip in the Uintah Basin is a trip into the history of water in the west, a view of the value and controversy of water as a resource, a view that is conveniently hidden and ignorable when rafting in protected areas or deep canyons. Whether floating past irrigated fields, distant oil derricks, rural homesteads, or cottonwood galleries encompassing miles and miles of river bank and providing home or rest for hundreds of species of resident or migratory birds, the Uintah Basin continues to provide a consistent message; water is life.
Boaters will have plenty of time to reflect on the importance of water to all things as they watch brilliant sunsets that seem to last as long as the day itself, unobstructed and illuminating low bluffs and rolling hills in soft palates of pink and orange. The river, smooth and untroubled, not only reflects this evening light, but adds to the beauty and surrounds you with the desert glow.
Not for the faint of heart, adrenaline junkies, or those uncomfortable travelling out of the well-developed, popular river sections, the Uintah Basin offers a chance for true adventure. A forgotten river home to mustangs, deer, uncountable birds, endangered fish, and the largest cottonwood galleries in the west lies just down or up-stream from sections whose daily visitor numbers exceed that of a whole year’s recreational visits in the Uintah Basin.
With multiple potential access points, four distinct sections marked by highway access and physical character start with rural ranchlands and trend towards the primitive as you near Desolation Canyon. Sections 1 and 2 carry boaters 30 miles from Split Mountain to UT Highway 45 and are mainly characterized by agriculture and rural communities. Section 3 is 44 miles long and travels through horseshoe bend, Ouray National Wildlife Refuge and heightened bluffs with ample campsite options. No trip through Desolation Canyon would be complete without starting in Section 4 of the Uintah at Ouray, UT. From Ouray to Sandwash, this section offers 32 miles of proposed wilderness and the beginnings of Desolation Canyon, adding 2-3 days to a Desolation Canyon trip with easier access than that of the road to Sandwash and allowing the experience to see the Green’s entrance into the Tavaputs Plateau.