Not many people get to experience the silence and natural beauty of the San Juan River while traveling down its muddy water.
The San Juan is marked by its towering, sandstone canyons and clay-filled water, but there is more to this river than just the abstract landscapes that pass travelers by as they relax on its warm, chocolate-colored water.
The history of this river is powerful in itself.
About 1,000 years ago, Ancestral Puebloans inhabited this land and called it their home. They were able to leave behind their footprints through cliff art, petroglyphs, which line the river’s walls telling stories of the past. It is no wonder why almost 10,000 people travel down the river in a season.
River dwellers are drawn to the San Juan for the visual pleasures, wildlife and adventure it brings to the Colorado Plateau.
“The Colorado Plateau is magical,” said river guide Greg Skomp, from Denver, Colo. “I have backpacked through Southern Utah and traveled down many rivers, but this one has such great challenges and the scenery is breathtaking.”
Skomp, normally a canoer, is in his 13th season going down rivers. He explained how the season is normally from May to October because it becomes too cold in the winter months to be on the water.
“One of the more interesting things I have learned about the San Juan River,” Skomp said, “is that 30 to 40 percent of silt in Lake Powell comes from the San Juan.”
The sand and clay that layers the floor of the San Juan is what gives this river its chocolaty color throughout its 383-mile stretch through the Colorado Plateau.
The colors range from off-white to deep-reds in the sandstone canyon walls that surround your raft.
Theresa Butler, from Moab, Utah has been a river guide for 21 seasons. She found refuge in the water when her car broke down next to a River Camp and she decided to become a swamper, a person who works for free, in return for a place to stay. Soon enough she fell in love with the river – and she stayed.
Butler said she loves the challenges the San Juan brings.
“There is always a new challenge; whether it be the level of the water, the environment or the time of year, this river always bears a new challenge,” Butler said.
After being a guide 21 seasons, Butler started her own rafting company stationed out of Moab, Utah. When asked what drew her to the San Juan her answer was almost immediate.
“In one word, its beauty, but you have to want to be here,” she said.
Luckily the students from Castleton doing a semester in the Southwest were able to experience what Butler was saying. They traveled down the river on a three-day, two-night stay with Butler’s Moab Rafting and Canoe Company.
“Being on the river was a trip of a lifetime,” student Jessy Bono said. “After experiencing sleeping under the stars, rafting down the San Juan in a duckie, getting stuck on a rock in level 3 rapids, using a groover, and climbing up canyon walls, I can say this has been one of the best weeks ever.”