A few months ago we started discussing a Dixon family adventure trip. 20 years ago David, his brother, and his parents went on a rafting expedition through the Grand Canyon and it was decided a similar style rafting trip would be a great choice for our Dixon crew, ages 7 to 70+.
We chose the 5 Day Desolation Canyon rafting trip on the Green River in Utah through Moab Adventure Center. We researched what to pack, got the whole crew to Moab, showed up excited! Despite our rafting experience, we still didn’t have a full understanding of the adventure that lie ahead!
The first day of the trip started off at the Springhill Suites in Moab. The bus picked us up at 7:15 AM. Dressed in bathing suits and wide brim hats, we loaded our duffel bags and were whisked off to the airport.
It was a short drive to the part I was initially most nervous about, the small plane ride to our river launch site. Hailey kept saying how she hoped it would be bumpy and I just tried to keep a brave face.
David, Hailey, Kaitlyn, and I loaded into one of the planes, with four others, and we were off. I had a death grip on takeoff, but soon eased up. The 40 minutes flight to the middle of nowhere was stunning!
We landed on a a dirt track on top of a mesa and began our hike down to the river. We were told it was about a mile, but we all agreed it had to be at least two. Kaitlyn led the way and the rest of us just tried to keep up!
At the launch site we applied sunscreen, got on our life jackets, and were told today would mostly be a day of motoring as we got into the canyon. All the rafts were tied together, and not really knowing what to expect, we climbed aboard.
They were right. We motored for several hours. During the journey we ate lunch (chicken salad wraps and apples or oranges), shook things up with a paper scissor rock tournament (loser got water dumped on their head), went over safety precautions, and even got rained on (which is quite rare).
Late afternoon, we arrived at our first camp site. We set up the fire line to unload the rafts, then were shown how to assemble our cots, chairs, and a tent (if desired). Then we were off to find a spot to camp while the guides set up the kitchen and the groover (bathroom spot).
We wandered through the shrubs a bit before deciding to set up our spot a bit closer to the rafts, for ease on transport and less bugs.
Setting up four cots, arranging sleeping bags, hanging a dry line, and getting the kids situated into dry clothes took a little time. Soon, the guides announced it was time for dinner and we hungrily filled our plates.
As it started getting dark, the girls needed to empty their bladders. I tried to figure out how to manage this as close to the river as possible.
Experienced campers we are not, and there was little water front access, so after trying to teach them to hold onto a raft and squat without getting wet, I gave up and decided we should wander over behind a big rock and just strip them from the waist down.
We hiked the water’s edge to the big rock. I stepped up on it and immediately a BIG snake came into view and my eyes grew about five times in size.
I immediately told the girls to turn around and go, both their eyes getting wide as they scrambled to obey. We hightailed it out of there and upon arriving back at the camp spot, flustered, the guides assured up it would be fine for the girls to both go #1 in the groover in these situations. We accepted!
I’ll be honest, at this point, I was fried.
The long day, hot sun, and snake siting had tuckered me out. After a little conversation, I tucked myself into my sleeping bag along with the girls as the sun went down. I figured I’d wake up refreshed in the morning, however…
In the middle of the night (no clocks to know for sure, but it was pitch black), I awoke to whimpering sounds coming from Hailey. David and I sat up with her while she continuously told us she was going to be sick.
She’s not a child that lightheartedly complains about not feeling well, so I knew she was serious. About 15 minutes later, she did get sick, right off the end of her cot. I was holding her hair while David held down the cot so it wouldn’t flip over.
Soon afterwards, she needed a bathroom for the other end.
Have I mentioned it’s pitch black, they have warned us about bears, I had already seen a snake, and the groover is a community metal box with a toilet seat attached set up in the middle of nowhere?
I did what any mom would do. I grabbed a headlamp in one hand and Hailey’s hand in the other and we set off to find the groover.
I was certain we’d run into a bear, but we found our way there. The whole time I was wearing my brave face trying to point out how beautiful the stars are, worrying about if we are going to emergency evacuate my poor sweet child by helicopter in the morning.
She finally felt some relief and we returned to our cots. Have I mentioned it was also freezing?
For a place that is so hot during the day, it was impressive how cold it got at night. Even with beanies and long sleeve shirts and sleeping bags, we were all freezing. To ensure Hailey could get some sleep, David and I gave Kaitlyn and Hailey our sleeping bags to keep them warm.
As I wrapped myself up in my sheet, David lay next to Hailey, making up stories about some fictional character named Cowgirl Jessie until she finally fell asleep. Despite our collective exhaustion, it was really quite sweet.
Gratefully both girls slept hard after that. David and I both faded in and out a little bit, but were happy to see the sun start coming up about an hour or so later. What. A. Night.
As soon as the sun rises, the guides start making coffee. As soon as it was ready they announced it, and I’m pretty sure David and I were first in line.
To my happy surprise they had tea and I almost cried happy tears as I brewed some earl grey.
Slowly everyone emerged and our crew sat and sipped coffee at our campsite. As we sipped, someone said something like “so… this is an adventure, huh?” and it broke the awkward dam, allowing us to all be honest that this was more of a rustic adventure than we expected.
As we shared, we laughed so hard that some of us cried. It was such a happy way to bond us and after that I felt relief that I wasn’t the only one wondering “how the heck did we get here?!”
From that moment on, I felt a renewed perspective and appreciation for this experience. It wasn’t a weekend at a five star resort; it was a family adventure. And we were here for it. Bring it on!
We were so grateful that the girls slept hard, that we waited until the very last moment possible to wake them.
Once we ensured Hailey was feeling better, we all loaded the rafts, layered on sunscreen, and were off for a day of adventure!
We hit our first rapids on day two, all level I or II. They were fun and not scary at all. My niece, Taylor, fell out on the last one and laughed as we pulled her back aboard.
In between the rapids, there was downtime when we just rowed along and gawked at the beautiful red rocks that surrounded us. However, on a raft of kids, scenery only gets you so far before they want something to do.
We tried pulling out Monopoly Deal, but it was too windy. We played endless rounds of Cowboy (a fun game, similar in complexity to paper, scissor, rock). Then our raft’s guide, Mark, who was such a nice guy and engaged with the kids, taught us a word game called Contact.
It was a hit!
For the rest of the trip, we played Contact endlessly.
We stopped mid morning for a short hike to some Native American petroglyphs. We spotted a bald eagle in a tree. We stopped for lunch at River Rock, an abandoned ranch, and ate mulberries off the trees and sandwiches for lunch.
After our lunch break, David and Kaitlyn took a turn on one of the two kayaks. The rapids feel so much bigger in the kayaks and it made for a really fun way to shake up the experience!
Mid-afternoon we arrived at our camp spot for the night. The guides cooked up fajitas and pulled out some games for the kids, including spike ball and kube. Once the sun started to dip behind the canyon walls, the temperatures were quite pleasant!
We hung out in chairs by the river edge, but Hailey, understandably, faded quickly after we washed our dinner dishes. She and I departed the group early to go hang out on our cots. She wanted to write in her journal and rest.
We stayed there for the rest of the night, watching the bats come out, followed by the first star, then, with an extra sleeping bag for warmth, went to sleep for the night.
On day three, I feel like we really hit our groove.
We hit our first class III rapid and it was a blast! We stopped midmorning for a hike to a land bridge. Being that we hadn’t yet visited Arches National Park, it was seriously impressive!
We got to camp quite early, which gave us time to set up our cots and line and play plenty of games. The guides really came through this night with a game involving two rocket boxes and a rope- that’s it! Each person would stand on a box, pull the rope until taut, then try to pull their opponent off. The kids LOVED it.
One of our guides had an art kit with her, which delighted Hailey. She sat in camp stringing beads, making a commemorative necklace for herself and for the guide (since it was both their first river trips).
It was a relaxing evening with spaghetti for dinner, games for the kids, and a cold beer and conversation for the adults.
Our last full day on the river began with omelets and some level II rapids. Sprinkled in between were a lot of games of Contact on our raft.
We stopped for lunch at a small beach next to a steep canyon wall and it was one of my favorite spots. The guides prepared a wrap and sandwich buffet while we warmed up on the rocks and the kids got stuck in the mud they were playing in.
We arrived at camp early afternoon again, this time it was a windy beach set up with a muddy bank, perfect for playing in.
We bathed in the river (brr!) to clean up for the evening’s captain’s dinner (toga togs required), a send off event couple with a non-talent talent show.
The talent show was such a fun event (Hailey’s favorite part of the trip). The girls’ talent was Hailey reading an entry from her journal while Kaitlyn made a mud ball. Uncle Chris juggled while Aunt Hilary instigated a super funny round of telephone. David and I orchestrated a giant Cowboy tournament. There were so many laughs.
By the time the talent show started winding down, Kaitlyn was flat out exhausted. Honestly, I was surprised at how well the kids hung in there with sunrise wake ups (6:00 AM), full days, and sunset bedtimes (9:15 PM).
I tucked her into her cot for the night as she sniffled out a “I think I’m done for the day” making me laugh.
That night camping on the beach was cold, but oh so beautiful. The number of stars you can see is indescribable and the Milky Way was so prominent. It truly is breathtaking.
On our last day on the river we hit another class III rapid. Both girls took turns on the kayak. On Mark’s raft (the guide I stuck with the whole time), we had all the kids and many rounds of Cowboy and Contact ensued.
We stopped for another short hike to some Native American petroglyphs. The kids really loved these short hikes as it gave them a chance to chase lizards, scramble over rocks, and crawl between boulders.
As we approached our final destination, we took one last “smile break” (which was code for needing to hop overboard and hold on to the raft to relieve yourself), then beached the rafts for lunch and unloading.
After lunch and saying our thank yous and goodbyes, we loaded onto the buses for the hour ride back to the shower. I mean the hotel. But really, I mean the shower!
Looking back, I can say this is one of the most unique adventures we have ever been on, and that includes our Caribbean sailing trip! It pushed our limits and challenged us both mentally and physically.
It’s funny though, even now just being a week out, the challenging parts are beginning to fade. I don’t sharply remember the cold at night or experience of the groover.
What is sticking are… the conversations I had with my nieces and nephews, watching Mema’s laugh as she held the girls over big rapids, braving the cold river with Hilary in the hopes of feeling a bit cleaner before camp, watching Grandpa take on the kids in the talent show Cowboy tournament, and watching David and Chris get a chance to hang out and enjoy brotherly conversation over a cold beer.
In today’s technology-based world it almost takes an off the grid adventure like this one to guarantee a cut off from the busy world and just a pure focus on bonding and time together.
I’m so grateful to have had this experience with the people I had it with. We will have laughs and memories and stories to share from this trip for the rest of our lives; what an adventure!
I have a list of questions from Instagram (thanks for sending them over!) and I’m going to answer them all in the follow up packing and FAQ posts, so if you’re curious about anything about this trip, send it to me and I’ll make sure to include it!