There are few instances in the United States or the world where a river runs free and wild without dams, highways, railroads, or other manmade creations for its entire length. The Yampa is a symbol of wild rivers around the world, and it is the only major tributary of the Colorado River system without a dam controlling its flow. Students paddle through deep sandstone gorges and class II-IV rapids with their expedition mates. The Yampa is one of the most sought after rivers on any river-runner’s list, due to the exhilarating whitewater, rich Native American history from over one thousand years ago, storied recent political history and riverside wildlife.
One of the most rugged and beautiful canyons in the West, Cataract Canyon cuts through the heart of Canyonlands National Park. Natural wonders and ancient ruins are found in the canyon on the way to the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. The Colorado River roars through 31 exciting rapids that rate with those of the Grand Canyon in power and difficulty, including the famous Mile Long Rapids and “the Big Drops."
Whitewater on the Green River begins where the river enters the imposing Gates of Lodore. Red sandstone escarpments rise up 2,000 feet above the river as it carves a 45-mile course of placid flat-water and raging rapids through three dramatic canyons — Lodore, Whirlpool and Split Mountain. This section of river is enclosed within Dinosaur National Monument, and students will be privileged to witness the towering cliffs as well as rock art from the Fremont Indians, who called these canyons home over 1,000 years ago.
Deeper in some spots than the Grand Canyon, Desolation Canyon is characterized by spectacular rock formations, ancient Indian rock art and abandoned ranches including the McPherson Ranch (once frequented by Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall gang). The tiered rock walls of Desolation give way to the earthy bluffs of Gray Canyon, creating a striking contrast in scenery for the last 25 miles of the journey.
The San Juan River in southern Utah, a major tributary of the Colorado River, flows 83 miles through the deeply incised sandstone slick rock country of the Colorado Plateau in many tight bends. The San Juan is world renowned for archaeological sites of ancient Indians featuring both petroglyphs and spacious cliff dwellings accessible on side hikes from the river. The San Juan River is also well known for its exquisite natural scenery as you’ll soon find out once you are deep within the towering canyon walls.
The most spectacular aspects of the Utah landscape are the hidden treasures found within its vast canyon networks, formed by millennia of wind and water erosion. The canyonlands of Southern Utah are still as stunning, mysterious and wild as they were for the Ancestral Puebloan and Fremont Indians who roamed these lands over 800 years ago, and whose ruins and rock art still abound in the canyons. The sandstone canyons are a geological playground with scrambling, teamwork and rappelling. They are composed of a spell-binding labyrinth of alcoves, fins, pinnacles, buttes, towering walls, ledges and arches just waiting to be explored.
A large plateau called Cedar Mesa lies just north of the San Juan River in southeast Utah. The landscape is filled with sandstone that has been eroded into an endless variety of mesas, towers, grottos, hoodoos, arches and canyons. The canyons abound with hidden wonders: clear springs seeping from the rock, gnarled junipers, delicate soils that host communities of life, the powerful silence, hues of varnish creating tapestries of the canyon walls, stunning sunsets and much more.
Cedar Mesa is world renowned as being the home of one of the largest concentrations of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in the world. The Ancestral Puebloans lived in this area for hundreds of year, eking out an existence in this austere environment. Their subsequent abandonment of this area is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Southwest.
The Uintas are Utah's highest mountain range with Kings Peak rising more than 13,000 feet above sea level. The Uintas are dotted with alpine lakes and have vast expanses of terrain above treeline within one of Utah's largest designated wilderness areas.
The La Sal Mountains rise dramatically out of the desert, towering 9,000 feet above the surrounding canyonlands and the sporting mecca of Moab. The La Sals are known for their groves of aspen, rich amount of wildlife, high summits and incredible views overlooking Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and the Four Corners area. Hidden lakes dot the landscape. Peaks in the La Sals range from 10,000 to just under 13,000 feet and include the highest peaks in Southern Utah.