Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vacation Day 3: Westwater Canyon

We had to be at Moab Adventure Center at 7:30 am and by golly we made it.  We went through the usual formalities, signing releases etc.  I struck up a conversation with Clint, the lead guide and another guide Jen who grew up in Lynnwood and graduated from Meadowdale High - Class of 1999.

We rode a bus to the put-in, an hour and a half trip that might have been more pleasant had it not been for the blasting air conditioning.  The put-in was at the Westwater Ranger Station, off of Interstate 70 a few bumpy road miles.  The Bureau of Land Management manages Westwater Canyon.

The guides got all the rafts ready, fitted us into life vests, and soon we were launched into the current, three paddle rafts and an oar raft.  We had nine people in our raft, us, another family of three, and two women from Minnesota.  Our guide was Mack, a soft spoken guy, probably late thirties.

The first part of the trip is about seven miles of relatively flat water.  We spotted a couple bald eagles that had a nest in a big cottonwood tree.  The canyon gradually narrowed and the walls grew higher.  We paddled and paddled for what seemed like an interminable time.

The cliff forming unit of the canyon is the Wingate Sandstone, late Triassic to early Jurrassic, roughly 200 million years old.  The Wingate is formed from ancient sand dunes and one can readily see some nice cross bedding in the cliffs.  The Wingate sits atop the Chinle Formation, also late Triassic, composed of softer shales and sandstones formed in lakes and meandering rivers.

What is really unique about Westwater Canyon is that it cuts into Precambrian metamorphic rocks, the black-colored Vishnu schist, which itself is cut by granitic bodies known as the Zoraster granite.  The only other exposure of this rock is in the Granite Gorge of the Grand Canyon.

As we floated down the river, looking at rocks and pontificating about their origins, it became evident that there was another geologist in the group, Andy.  Andy was in our raft with his wife and son, the family being from Massachusetts.

We pulled off for lunch on a sandy bank.  The guides prepared a sandwich bar, which in our experience is the standard raft trip lunch.  After lunch, we received a thorough safety briefing before we launched into the next leg, where we'd hit a series of rapids, including Funnel Falls, Skull, and Last Chance.  The river was flowing about 11,000 cfs and the rapids were rated about Class III.  Still, we hit some good sized waves and got thoroughly splashed.  It reminded me a little of the Wenatchee River, only much warmer.  Mack deftly maneuvered us through the rapids and we didn't lose anyone.  One of our rafts had a couple swimmers go in at Skull.  They were quickly back in their raft.

The last stage of the trip was over flat water, more miles of mindless paddling.  At least the scenery was awe-inspiring.  We finally made it to our take-out at Cisco.  We loaded back into the bus and drove for another hour and a half back to Moab.

We had dinner at the Moab Brewery which was excellent.  I had the Scorpian Pale Ale, a hoppy brew to finish a great day.

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