April 5, 2014, a semi-sunny Saturday, 10 people in 6 boats launched from the Mexican Hat boat ramp on barely 500 c.f.s. of water, to spend the next eight days picking up trash along the San Juan river. Immediately we started to find some big trash stashes and the random tire. We made only 4 miles that first day, camping at the bottom end of Mendenhall Loop. During the trip we basically walked most of the shoreline; not only picking up trash but walking all the regular campsites, doing casual camp site assessments, looking at plant growth along the river corridor (both native and invasive) and marveling at the wildlife and beauty of the San Juan River corridor. All of the trip participants were experienced trash pickers, some having been doing these trips twice a year for 14 years.
Jerry scouring the banks. (note the invasive Ravenna Grass and dead tammies)
With all that experience there were many discussions about the evolution in the trash we’re seeing along the river corridor. There are fewer and fewer glass bottles and not as many aluminum cans, but there’s been a big spike in the numbers of individual plastic water/drink bottles and there are still uncountable pieces of Styrofoam. The number of large appliances has decreased but the amount of tires seems to be stable. We had to leave a stash of 14 tires (and a washing machine agitator) below Ross camp for pickup during higher water in order to lighten some loads and make room for more bagged trash. We still ended up with 6 more tires by takeout!
Tim, Karen, Sue, Jerry
A big change over just the last several years is the invasion of weeds, in particular camel thorn, Russian thistle and Russian knapweed throughout the river corridor. Even in the most well used campsites the encroachment of these weeds is becoming serious. On the other hand the tamarisk have taken a big hit from the beetles and the willows are coming on strong.
As the week went on the water got lower and loads got bigger. by the time we got to Government rapid the river was in the mid or low 400′s. For the first time in my 34 years of running the San Juan we lined boats through Government. Our loads were so heavy and the water so low and the wrap potential so high…
Mark and Tim in the water, Joan at the oars, Mary fending off and everyone else on bow or stern lines.
We had multiple bighorn sheep sightings, and discovered several deceased bighorn during our shore walks. Observations and locations will be in a separate report to the BLM. There were lots of geese (many nesting) but only a few great blue heron. Several peregrine falcons, cinnamon teal, hooded mergansers, mallards and one lone seagull were also sighted.
By the time we reached Slickhorn we could hold no more trash, the river had kept dropping and we were all dreading the sandbars below Grand Gulch. The sedimentation issue below Government Rapid is getting worse. Low water with big heavy boats is a real test of one’s river reading skills.
Karen zig zags between the sand bars
Note from Jack: In a jpw daddy cat. Karen must be behind the load.
We left Oljeto Wash on our last morning to even less water, we had to drag most of the boats out to find a channel. Despite the low water and multiple shallow water/sand bar drags we made pretty good time. As the canyon walls dropped away and Clay Hills Crossing came into view we were feeling a bit tired but pretty good till the last quarter mile. As we got closer to the takeout the channel kept moving left but the take out is on the right; we came aground about 40 yards of mudflat short of the takeout. There we were boats piled high with trash, a NPS dump truck parked above the cut bank waiting for us and 40 yards of mud between.
Fortunately a couple of guys from another trip helped us hump trash across the flats to the waiting dump truck. When it was all portaged across we had an overflowing truck and another pile stacked up for a second truck load!!
Kenny wondering if he can drag his boat closer now that the trash is off it, as the NPS guys marvel at the amount of trash from only 6 boats.
It was a great trip, the weather was pretty kind to us, the pickins were good, the camaraderie was second to none, we ate well and even though it was a “work” trip, it was 8 days on the river in some of God’s most beautiful country.
Trip Participants: Sue Agranoff, Karen Carver, Mary Gillam, Tim Hunter, Doug Jacober, Mark Ott, Jerry and Joan Rohwer, Kenny and Patsy Smith.