A new narrated paddling guidebook to the Green and Colorado Rivers celebrates the 150th anniversary of the original Powell expedition by combining the dramatic story of 1869 with color landscape photos and trip planning info. In this interview,author, photographer, and boater Mike Bezemek shares how it all came together—including how he lugged a small library down the river in a Watershed drybag.
Why is a 150-year-old expedition route still relevant today? Why should people care about this story?
Well, to start, it’s easily one of the greatest adventure
stories in American history. The 1869 Powell expedition was pretty much
the first exploratory whitewater descent ever. A one-armed former Civil
War major turned self-taught geology professor shows up to a sleepy
railroad outpost in Wyoming Territory,hauling four wooden-keeled
rowboats. With a 10-man crew, mostly mountain men and ex-soldiers, they
set off down the Green River with a bunch of flour, some bacon, and
mapping instruments—having never run a rapid.
Along the way, they encountered and named canyon after canyon, many of which are now among the most famous whitewater trips in the Southwest. They were completely unprepared for the trip. They portaged or lined about 100 of the hardest rapids but ran maybe 500 of the easier ones—plus a few hard ones, mostly by accident. Their rations spoiled, their equipment broke, their boats took a beating, and they even sunk one. They thought they could last ten months, map the river course, and hole up through the winter if necessary. But three months later, only six emaciated men wearing tattered rags emerged from what Powell called Grand Canyon. And the story became a legend.
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A weekend expedition in the Ozarks leads to a nearly forgotten Wild & Scenic River
The first one caught me off guard. I was staring beyond my kayak deck
at the milky turquoise waters of Big Piney Creek in the Arkansas
Ozarks. Just sort of marveling at the fact it’s here at all — a Class
II-III Wild & Scenic River smack in the middle of the country. A
region, fun fact, also known as the Interior Highlands. After two and
half days driving across the South with my wife (one of which felt like
just crossing through Atlanta), I’d hopped from truck to kayak and
couldn’t believe my luck.
On a Tuesday in mid-May, the lower four-mile run was basically empty. At the rapid below put-in, I’d passed three local playboaters doing the thing playboaters love second-most, which is hang out on shore talking about playboating. After that, it was just white splashy holes, cold blue-green water flowing from limestone springs, and me. Until a black water snake sprinted like a whip across the pool.
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I sort of knew what I was searching for and sort of didn’t. After rowing around a bend in the Green River, Rock House Canyon opened dramatically ahead. I tied my raft to shore and walked up a dry creek bed. Above rose buttes and fins of orange-brown rock, part of the Green River Formation. This geologic unit is comprised of crumbly shales and sandstones which were deposited millions of years ago when the region was flooded by the long-gone Lake Uinta.
The cliff faces shone brightly in the morning sun of early August. Somewhere near here was a Fremont Culture petroglyph panel—but I didn’t have any specifics about size, subject matter, or precise location. Also, based on the fresh claw prints in the beachside mud, there might be a nearby bear who shared my interest in rock art and amateur archaeology.
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The view was startling. By standing on an old stone wall, in a
clearing just off the gravel shuttle road, Big Piney Creek was visible
far below. It was making one of those photogenic meanders, a nearly
circular 180, like the famous Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. But instead of
slicing sharply into bare sandstone, this sweeping curve was etched over
500 feet deep into the densely vegetated Ozark Mountains, which rolled
endlessly toward the horizon.
Ignoring the shattered beer bottles, crumpled wet wipes, and a tattered condom at my feet—my adventure detective skills suggested the previous visitors possessed a fascinating combination of traits, including drunk but hygienic, okay with littering and sexually responsible—this type of viewpoint was exactly what I’d been searching for. A wide overview of a typical Ozarks watershed to include in my upcoming paddling guide.
Please continue reading on the Duct Tape Diaries blog!
Dubbed ‘One River, Many Voices,’ the 1,700-mile, 135-day expedition sought to connect with river canyons and residents along the way
It was September, about a month into the expedition, when Mike and Jenny Fiebig encountered their first challenging whitewater. The rapid was Hells Half Mile in Lodore Canyon on the Green River. And their boat was a custom dory built by Hog Island Boat Works in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and Eddyline Welding in Moab, Utah. The dory had a roto-molded plastic hull, expertly fitted aluminum decking, and one missing feature the Fiebigs were about to experience first-hand: Unlike other boats Mike had rowed during 20 years of raft guiding, this one wasn’t self-bailing.
Continue reading at CanoeKayak.com!
Part I: Solo trip or death sentence? • an eclipse on the river • just some regular old symmetry-focused topographic detective work.
the beach at Sand Wash, I’d been chatting with a dude, let’s call him
“Guy,” about the first expeditions down the Green and Colorado rivers.
For over two hours.
“So you’re a Powell fella,” he’d observed. Our kindred spirits took it from there, as we chatted about books, theories, and favorite tales — all colored by Guy’s tendency to swear like a sailor at a spelling bee.
Continue reading at canoekayak.com!
Bike-rafting Georgia’s Cumberland Island during the government shutdown.
It’s the morning of New Year’s Eve, and the exact moment I step out of my tent, I spot a dorsal fin. It rises briefly into the mist from the placid Brickhill River and vanishes. I blink sleep from my eyes. After 10 minutes waiting for a repeat appearance, I’m uncertain it was a fin at all. The tide is moving swiftly past, carrying a caravan of floating reeds. Maybe that’s what I saw.
Continue reading at adventurecycling.org!
The government shutdown inspires a weekend expedition to the Southeast’s wild national seashore
VHWIRRRR, through dense fog, the sound of an approaching motorboat rises.
I swivel my head left and right, listening closely to place the direction. There’s no way they’ll see me at speed, I realize, slightly panicked. But if I paddle in any direction, even backtrack, I might move right into their path.
I’m floating in my packraft on the Cumberland Sound, part of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Continue reading at canoekayak.com!
As I push off from Corn Creek into the clear blue waters of the Salmon River, I feel that rush of excitement that comes with paddling a new river. The canyon hillsides mix dark metamorphic outcrops with tall stands of pine and green grasses, making a mid-July fade into gold. Across the river floats my kayaking buddy, the Perfessor, and the oar-rig with three of his friends. About this classic week-long trip on the Main Salmon, I know very little…
Continue reading on the Duct Tape Diaries blog at NRS.com!
We were at put-in for the upper Gauley, and I was sorting straps like a medic in a war movie frantically searching for morphine. To say I felt out of my element was an understatement. After kayaking in the Ozarks and Southeast during the past decade, my six seasons of California raft guiding before that felt like a set of vivid but patchy memories…
Continue reading on the Rafting Magazine website!
In the second week of August 1869, John Wesley Powell and his crew of eight—down one man who departed after the Canyon of Lodore—camped for a few days at the Little Colorado River. Today, this tributary in the Grand Canyon is best known for summer rafters who swim through turquoise waters when the creek is low. But during Powell’s expedition, the monsoon was in full effect and the LCR was running high and brown…
Please continue reading on the Duct Tape Diaries blog at NRS.com!
Like plenty of stories, this one begins with winning a launch date for the Grand Canyon. Where this story maybe takes a sharp turn was finding a kayak that I could cram a bunch of books inside…
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Mary Shelley traversed glaciers, sailed Alpine lakes, and climbed peaks, taking notes every step of the way.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Published in 1818, when she was only 20 years old, her celebrated novel is about an arrogant scientist who comes to despise his hideous yet sentient creation. But through countless adaptations, Mary’s most-famous story has become just as misunderstood and distorted as Victor Frankenstein’s so-called “monster.”
Please click here to continue reading at adventure-journal.com!
A Weekend Expedition that redefines a classic North Carolina run
I was practically sprinting downstream in my packraft through dense fog, persistent rain, and increasing rumbles of thunder. Not only was this predicament unexpected, I wasn’t even sure I’d make it. But, to clarify, by make it I didn’t mean make it out alive. Or even make it to takeout before dark. By make it, I meant I wasn’t sure if I’d make it in time for a dinner date with my wife…
How many ways can you paddle this iconic river canyon on the John Wesley Powell route in northeastern Utah?
Can a paddler get too much of a good thing? I was wondering this as I started on my sixth overall pass–fourth on this early June weekend–through the startling sandstones and cliff-clinging pines of the Green River’s A Section in Red Canyon. It was Saturday evening and there were only a few scattered fishermen putting on, after a typical hundred-boater glut at mid-day. Like a magician, I’d saved the best for last–a bomber run in my Pyranha Machno. Though the real trick was convincing my worn-out wife to run this final shuttle down to Little Hole Rec Area.
Please click this link to read the story at Canoe & Kayak Magazine:
Red Canyon, Green River, Golden Opportunities
The search begins for a new Colorado River adventure on the John Wesley Powell Route in Canoe & Kayak’s new series chasing two-day paddling adventures
I was in upper Ferry Swale Canyon, with packraft and camping gear on my back, following a sandstone ridge toward powerlines. The Colorado River was beneath the plateau and out of sight. In the distance, the golf course oasis of Page rose atop an orange hillside. I was definitely on track. But the deep sand I sunk into with every plodding step had fatigued my legs. Should I have just paid a hundred bucks for a backhaul motorboat ride up from Lees Ferry?
Please click this link to read the post at Canoe & Kayak Magazine: A Glen Canyon to Lees Ferry Loop?
Please click the image below to read the entire story on the Revelate Designs blog!
Plan B in Tennessee – Bikepacking Big South Fork Rec Area