By Michael Lanza
The momentarily sedate current of the Green River pulls our flotilla of five rafts and two kayaks toward what looks like a geological impossibility: a gigantic cleft at least a thousand feet deep, where the river appears to have chopped a path right through the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah. Sheer, cracked cliffs of burgundy-brown rock frame the gap. Box elder, juniper, and a few cottonwoods grow on broad sand bars backed by tiered walls that seem to reach infinitely upward and backward, eclipsing broad swaths of blue sky. A great blue heron stalks fish by the riverbank. We notice movement on river left and glance over to see two bighorn sheep dash up a rocky canyon wall so steep that none of us can imagine even walking up it.
These are the Gates of Lodore, portal to a canyon as famous today for its scenery and wilderness character as it was infamous for the catastrophes suffered by its first explorers, who set out in wooden boats a century and a half ago to map the West’s greatest river system.