By Michael Lanza

Our two prop planes climb to 2,000 feet above the Green River, flying north from the tiny airport in the one-horse town in southeast Utah that shares the river’s name. The brown current far below wiggles between castle-like walls in a canyon carved deeply into the Tavaputs Plateau, a twisting labyrinth of towers and sharp edges that looks not much more decipherable from up here than it does trying to navigate it down there. The early-morning sun slashes across the tops of the tallest formations—which are about level with us—but has not yet reached the shaded canyon bottom.

Most conspicuous, though, is what’s unseen: any significant footprint of civilization beyond an occasional rough, rambling line of hardened earth and rocks that constitutes what passes for a road out here. We are heading into one of the most inaccessible patches of the U.S. West and one of the largest roadless areas in the Lower 48, to float through that yawning canyon.

A rafting and kayaking party floating the Green River through Desolation Canyon.
” data-image-caption=”Our rafting and kayaking party floating the Green River through Desolation Canyon.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Deso2-016-A-rafting-party-on-the-Green-River-in-Desolation-Canyon-Utah..jpg?fit=300%2C170&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Deso2-016-A-rafting-party-on-the-Green-River-in-Desolation-Canyon-Utah..jpg?fit=900%2C509&ssl=1″ width=”900″ height=”509″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Deso2-016-A-rafting-party-on-the-Green-River-in-Desolation-Canyon-Utah..jpg?resize=900%2C509&ssl=1″ alt=”A rafting and kayaking party floating the Green River through Desolation Canyon.” class=”wp-image-50990″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Deso2-016-A-rafting-party-on-the-Green-River-in-Desolation-Canyon-Utah..jpg?resize=1024%2C579&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Deso2-016-A-rafting-party-on-the-Green-River-in-Desolation-Canyon-Utah..jpg?resize=300%2C170&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Deso2-016-A-rafting-party-on-the-Green-River-in-Desolation-Canyon-Utah..jpg?resize=768%2C435&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Deso2-016-A-rafting-party-on-the-Green-River-in-Desolation-Canyon-Utah..jpg?resize=150%2C85&ssl=1 150w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Deso2-016-A-rafting-party-on-the-Green-River-in-Desolation-Canyon-Utah..jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Our rafting and kayaking party floating the Green River through Desolation Canyon.

Thirty minutes or more after taking off, the pilot banks our plane left and all seven of us passengers—including my 23-year-old nephew, Marco Garofalo, getting full value from the co-pilot’s seat on his first bush flight—gaze out the windows to see what manner of runway awaits us in this desolate expanse of uninhabited desert.

Ahead of us appears a narrow strip of earth in a lighter shade of brown than the surrounding landscape—in the desert, the eye quickly recalibrates its sensitivity to the full and rich spectrum of brown. Minutes later we touch down and bump along a rocky airstrip that seems better suited to mountain bikes than aircraft, rolling up beside the other plane carrying the rest of our party, which landed just ahead of us.

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