“We have learned to observe closely the texture of the rock. In softer strata we have a quiet river, in harder we find rapids and falls.” John Wesley Powell spoke of this when entering the Grand Canyon near the area where the Navajo Bridge now spans the river. Had he run Westwater Canyon, no doubt would he have observed the rock texture and declared “This bodes toil and danger.”
The Proterozoic Crystalline Complex of Black Rocks, first seen in Ruby canyon outcrops becomes a defining characteristic of Westwater Canyon, also known as Granite or Hades Canyon. After launching from the boat launch, boaters float through a flat bottom for a few miles with views of a dark rift looming ahead. The calm, flat water combined with the constant view of the dark canyon ahead builds excitement for boaters looking forward to the rapids within the narrow gorge.
Upon entrance to Westwater canyon, the sound of white water becomes a permeating feature of this class III – IV section of the Colorado River. Westwater canyon becomes a wild ride through large wave trains and technical whitewater rapids. The character and difficulty ranges greatly with fluctuating river levels and should always be approached with current river information as well as knowledge of rescue techniques and technical river navigation experience.
The narrow canyon and fast water through Westwater does not allow for much hiking opportunity, but, the scenery is fantastic from a boat, don’t forget to look around and enjoy your surroundings between rapids. The geology of the canyon offers an immersion into The Proterozoic Crystalline Complex of 1.7 billion year old gneiss and granites creating folded and sculpted cliffs within the inner gorge topped by Chinle Formation shales and Wingate Sandstone, a mere 200 million years old. This noncomformity presents a 1.5 billion year gap in sedimentary deposits. The stunning strata provides a glimpse of rock type typically seen only in the depths of the Grand Canyon.
The exciting whitewater, easy access and potential for single day desert canyon boating makes this a popular run nearly year round, always check weather and river levels and prepare accordingly. The option to start this trip above Ruby Horsethief and take out in Moab allows for a potential 135 mile multi day rafting trip as well as a unique opportunity to travel to Moab by boat, which is highly recommended.
Eleven named rapids up to class IV are formed within the 12 mile long canyon, most of which are condensed in the first 7 miles. The first rapids encountered are Wildhorse Rapids followed by a few miles of swift water and camping opportunities, followed by Little Dolores Rapid. Little Dolores or Little D marks the beginning of Marble Canyon. The hard, erosion resistant rock of the inner canyon is home to a 2 mile stretch of the most significant whitewater. Marble Canyon, Staircase, Big Hummer, Funnel Falls, Surprise, Skull (and the Room of Doom), Bowling Alley, Sock-It-To-Me, and Last Chance stack together to form a class III-IV stretch of near continuous whitewater with the most trouble typically coming from Funnel Falls, Skull and Sock-It-To-Me. Have fun, be safe, scout when possible and keep your group together.