25. Confluence, Rock Creek and Green River, Desolation Canyon, Utah.jpg

Confluence, Rock Creek and Green River, Desolation Canyon, Utah

Carved deep within the cavernous fold of a plateau bordering both sides of the Green River is a remote canyon that traverses eastern Utah’s desert. “We pass through a region of the wildest desolation,” wrote John Wesley Powell, thus naming the canyon during a historic 1869 river expedition that eventually carried him and his crew through the Grand Canyon.

Rock Creek begins at the 9800-foot crest of the Roan Cliffs, cascading down to the Green River 5,300 feet below through Ute tribal lands and past ancient rock art sites. In an otherwise arid climate, this stream provided fresh water to Rock Creek Ranch, where the Seamount family planted fruit trees and irrigated cattle pastures from 1914 until personal tragedies and poor economics forced them to abandon the farmstead a decade later. Today, the site could be mistaken for the set of an old Western.

On this October evening, clear Rock Creek dissolves into the Green River, “a river surcharged with sand and silt, seldom green,” wrote Edward Abbey. Willows and cottonwoods border it, now turned autumnal yellow. Waterfowl nest here, and deer and elk have begun to winter in the protected canyon. Desert sage and bunch grass backdrop the riparian riverbanks; further above, snow has covered the steep, rocky slopes. Camping here reminded me of a passage from Ann Zwinger’s book Run, River Run, “There is a beautiful solitude to this canyon. Now, in the dusk, the river muses, as if to itself… I fall asleep listening to moonlight and the old cottonwoods...”

- James Baker