Cataract Canyon

Colorado River, Utah

From the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers, which both flow quietly below Moab and Green River, Utah, respectively, the river flows through "The Graveyard of the Colorado." Lake Powell intrudes far up into Cataract Canyon, so that rapids like Dark Canyon are gone. But the Big Drop Rapids remain.

You can get to Cataract down either river. On the Colorado, you can launch below Moab. On the Green, you can make the long float from Green River or you can launch at Mineral Bottom just upstream from Canyonlands National Park. Cataract Canyon itself isn't very long, but then you need to cross 40 miles of Lake Powell to the first takeout at Hite.

I had a permit for Cataract in the summer of 1998, and we motored out across the lake just like we did on Lake Mead after the Grand Canyon the previous year. I have a small frame that fits across the front of my cataraft to carry my small outboard. Down on the lake, we mounted it up and spent a day going out.

Of all the Canyons on the Colorado River, Cataract is said to be the only one whose rapids have been formed by landslides, rather than by debris brought into the river by tributaries.

In 1981, we passed the confluence and stopped on the right where there's a sign warning of rapids ahead. Suddenly, rocks the size of bank buildings broke loose somewhere up above! They came crashing down, but very soon broke into smaller and smaller fragments until only small pieces remained. No rock entered the river, though there was a lot of dust. We were well out into the river by the time it ended, rowing hard! But no problem.

Less than a mile downstream, the same thing happened again! This time, we were underway and I had my camera nearby. No rock reached the river this time either, though giant boulders crashing down the cliff toward you have an official appearance about themselves.

Seeing a rockfall along a river is uncommon, and we'd seen two of them in the same mile, within fifteen minutes of each other. There had been rain falling in the area within the half-hour.

We had come down the Green River from Mineral Bottom, where there are some great tributary canyons to hike. One of them is Water Canyon and its tributary, Shot Canyon. There are beds of limestone up there, with pools and waterfalls.

There are a number of rapids in Cataract. One of them is Mile Long Rapid (below left), which at low water meant maneuvering among giant boulders. Scouting these rapids means moving over lots of loose rock, but scouting pays great dividends, as usual.


One of the biggest rapids is Satan's Gut (below), the last of three "Big Drop" rapids. At low water, the rapid is run on the left side, down a narrow slot that you'd best not miss. Satan's Gut is easy, if you hit the slot. There was a small wave just above that you could see. Hit that wave, and you hit the slot! These photos were taken at 4000 cfs, which is low. At levels much above 10,000 cfs, you run it on the right.


The takeout for Cataract is at Hite Marina, on Lake Powell. Hite can be approached from either side of the lake, because there's a bridge there. In 1981, we used the services of Redtail Aviation (then at both the Green River and Moab airports) who flew some of us from Hite to Mineral Bottom. Redtail has evolved into another air service now, the price has gone way up, and there are ground shuttle services available.

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