History buff explores Green River

Gene Eagle
I always take a hand gun or rifle with me when I travel into the back country. It gives me the sense of security I need when I travel alone. The deer, antelope, and waterfowl along the Green River corridor are so abundant that if I were to lose my canoe and get lost for a month, I certainly wouldn’t go hungry.

While spending my two week vacation in the city of Green River, Wyo. each of the past five summers, I have had the opportunity to interact with and photograph several bands of wild horses that roam the White Mountains.

A history buff, amateur archaeologist, photographer, buckskinner and an avid outdoors person, I researched, studied and photographed Native American Rock Circle sites and visited Expedition Island — the place John Wesley Powell embarked on his expedition down the Colorado River in 1869.

I also took a breathtaking motor boat tour through the spectacular Flaming Gorge Canyon, so named by Powell for the bright colors on the canyon rock faces when the sun shines on them.

At a 10,000 year-old prehistoric Native American archaeological site atop Black Mountain, southeast of Green River, I found a long abandoned stagecoach station built of cut and slabbed sandstone.

Recently I explored the site of the early day coal mining town of Gunn and the Coolie Caves.

At another archaeological site I was amazed to see fossilized bones of prehistoric animals and fossilized hinged clam shells embedded and  protruding from water, and weather worn sandstone rocks.

Last year I canoed a 23 mile stretch of the Green River, my first time on fast-moving water. I completed the run in nine hours and found it exciting and challenging — a religious experience.

Getting “up close and personal” with the river stems from my fascination with the Mountain Man and the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Era, from 1824 to 1840.

The mountain men held six rendezvous on the Green River. Over 500,000 emigrants crossed the “Green” on their way west during the 1800s. The Oregon/Mormon Pioneer Trail, California Pony Express, and Overland Trail cross the river in this region.

I enjoy researching and walking on these old trails and wagon roads that brought the explorers, trappers and pioneers west.

I like canoeing the Green River because of its history, its beauty and its ever-changing temperament, which makes it a physical, mental and spiritual challenge. I like the wild places and the creatures that live there.

With five days of my two week vacation left this past September, I was ready to start my second solo canoe trip on a 40 mile stretch of the river, planning to spend three days and camping out two nights.

With the help of my sister, we purchased the things I needed — good camp food, lots of bottled water, and a few good cigars.

The morning of my departure broke clear and cool. According to the previous evening’s weather report, temperatures over the next few days were predicted to be in the  70s, with a 20 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms.

At 9:30, my sister, niece and I arrive on the Green River, just above the historic Lombard Ferry site, about 30 miles northwest of the city with the same name.

The river was a major obstacle to the westward bound emigrants, and during the peak emigration months of May, June and July, they had to sometimes wait several days to cross.

Those who could not afford the ferry, or those too impatient to wait their turn, often lost everything when they misjudged the current or slipped off the narrow gravel bar that allowed safe passage. The river is better known for its swiftness than its depth and still claims hapless victims to this day.

We off-loaded the canoe, supplies and gear. This section of the river is within the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge and is 17 miles further upstream from where I put in last year. I bid farewell to family members on shore, pushed my canoe onto deeper water and climbed aboard, seating myself aft.

The terrain hereabouts is a fairly flat prairie land, dotted with sagebrush and prairie grass. The low river bank allowed me to get a glimpse of my surroundings.

Several ducks flew overhead and the only sound was my paddle breaking water. It was delightful to think I had all those hours before me to enjoy the sense of being as one with my new environment.

Moving through an unfamiliar landscape devoid of people, I wondered, “What lies ahead? Have I made the right decision to be here... alone? Should I be here?”

About four miles downstream I arrived at the mouth of the Big Sandy River, a tributary of the Green River. Here too is an historic emigrant river crossing. Wagon ruts and swales are still visible.

It’s easy to imagine a line of covered wagons creaking along with outriders in the distance and one of the dust covered lead riders reining up on the bank overlooking the river and turning back shouting, “It’s the Green, the Green River. We are here.”

It’s not hard to imagine the overwhelming joyful response from trail weary men, women and children. The cattle and other loose stock pick up the smell of water and move ahead at a quicker pace, and horses and mules in harness are given free rein as they press forward. This scenario no doubt has been repeated countless times.

Due to the remoteness of this region, most everything today still looks remarkably the same as it was described by early explorers and emigrants in their journals.

I saw several half-submerged rocks just ahead which I easily skirted around. It’s the rocks that are just beneath the water’s surface that concerned me most. Tell-tale turbulence on the surface revealed their presence, and I was successful in avoiding them also.

I noticed that the cottonwood and willow trees, as well as some of the underbrush along the river corridor, were beginning to take on their fall colors of yellow, rust and orange. They would reach their peak in about two weeks.

In the distance I saw about a dozen or more American White Pelicans, sitting on several large rocks in the middle of the river. They weren’t intimidated by my approach.

As I draw closer, they slip lazily from their rock perches and swim slowly ahead of me. A short time later they take flight, doubling back, most likely to the place they had just left.

These birds are primarily fish eaters, but unlike their cousins the Brown Pelicans, they never plunge-dive. They will soon migrate over deserts and mountains to winter on the Pacific coast, and return here again in April or May. I love these wild places and the creatures that live here.

The river gets narrower as it meanders between bluffs on both sides, constricting flow, and creating a swifter current. I am sent bobbing along at a speed that gives me little time to spot underlying rocks and sand bars.

Getting hung up and turning sideways in these stretches of the river is a bit scary because the current tends to push the canoe over. This is where I usually jump out, lightening the load, and redirect the canoe. This happens numerous times during my three day outing.

Throughout the day I see eagles, deer, antelope, ospreys, red-tailed hawks, herons, ducks and geese, but not in the large numbers I saw during last year’s run in mid-July.

Leaving the low bluffs behind, the river meanders wildly then widens again. A strong afternoon upriver breeze sweeps across the open expanse of water is making it difficult to maintain a frontal  direction.

A strong gust catches the bow and pushes the canoe towards the bank, and try as I may I cannot paddle hard enough to get back on course. I run into the bank, then wait.

When the wind subsides, I push the canoe out to deeper water and start anew. This condition persists intermittently throughout the afternoon.

At about 4:30 p.m. I begin looking for a place to pull in for the night. I head for a low place on the bank, jump out, and pull the canoe well out of the water, just below a grassy knoll.

I set up my first camp. A fresh pot of coffee, pork and beans, a couple of roasted hot dogs, and a piece of cake tastes better than the bologna and cheese sandwich I had for lunch.

After a quick camp cleanup, I scout the area and find deer, and what appears to be raccoon tracks. I literally stumble over an old notched log that appears to be from a log cabin. I find nothing else.

I head back to camp, take a Tylenol to ease the soreness in my shoulders and arms, and climb into my bed roll. I fall fast asleep.

Sometime during the night I hear something scratching on the side of my tent. I hit the tent and yell, “hey!” and  drift back to sleep. I am up at daylight. It’s cool and clear and shows promise of being a another pleasantly warm day.

I build a fire and get my coffee started. I see several paper towels I used to dry my eating utensils the night before, lay scattered along the river bank. On retrieving them I notice they had been chewed on, and were perforated with teeth marks.

I check and find the bread, buns, cakes and candies, left in the open overnight, untouched. I’m thinking it was a raccoon, a skunk, or maybe a coyote, as I recall hearing them howling sometime during the night.

 After a filling breakfast of potatoes, sausage and eggs, and burnt toast, I break camp, and set on out my second day on the river. I’m wondering how will this day go. The sun feels warm on my face...

To be continued