A hard-ass, one-armed Civil War veteran named Major John Wesley Powell led the first team to descend the turbulent waterways that have since become America’s best-known rafting rivers. The 1869 Powell Expedition traced the Green River from Wyoming to the Colorado River, and continued downstream through Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon to the mouth of the Virgin River. The stout whitewater of the Colorado challenged Powell’s team to the brink of death. Beginning in the Cataract Canyon, the crew was forced to portage their wooden dories around every rapid—backbreaking labor that continued until journey’s end. Of course, the stagnant head-pond that flooded Glen Canyon’s billowing whitewater now bears Powell’s name, but the 46-mile Cataract Canyon within Canyonlands National Park still flows unregulated, unlike the Grand. —CM
Redux Route: Largely on account of the significant stretches of flatwater (read: 60-plus miles) that bookend the big stuff, it’s way easier to score permits to paddle the Cataract Canyon than to play the competitive Grand Canyon lottery. Yet the scenery and whitewater, when you reach it, is on par with the Big Ditch, including 23 Class III-IV sets within a 14-mile section. The National Parks Service issues 4,000 permits a year, with no application deadline. (Info: nps.gov/cany)
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The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak
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