Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

From Obstacle to Opportunity: Running the Mighty Green River


Dublin Core


From Obstacle to Opportunity: Running the Mighty Green River


Historic obstacles to travel on Utah’s Green River are now considered opportunities for adventure.  

Fast waters, deadly rapids, high cliff walls, and an unknown course have long been obstacles that limited human activity on Utah’s Green River.  The brave souls who first floated this river did so for many reasons: money, science, and sometimes, just for fun.  

The first people known to have traveled down the Green were the trappers who accompanied William Ashley in his search for beaver.  In 1825, Ashley and his men floated the Green in bullboats made from buffalo hide.  Used to transport pelts on smaller streams, bullboats were hardly suited to the rapids and perils of a major river.  Yet, the group managed 200 thrilling miles before pulling out in the Uinta Basin. 

Forty-four years later, the transcontinental railroad spanned the nation, but the canyons of the Green River were still a blank spot on the map of the West.  In 1869, John Wesley Powell set out to rectify that by conducting a scientific expedition in a region that others thought impassable.  Within the first two weeks, Powell and his crew wrecked one of their boats and lost most of their provisions.  One crewman left at the first opportunity, saying, “I have had more excitement than a man deserves in a lifetime.”  The group scouted rapids and often portaged or lined their boats for nearly 1,000 miles.  

By the time Bus Hatch began running the Green River in 1929, he had access to maps and better boat designs.  Curious about what lay upstream from his Vernal home, Bus went exploring for fun.  His enthusiasm for river running spread and soon people were asking to come along.  A business was born.  By the 1950s, the company was bringing hundreds of clients downriver to experience the joy of running those same rapids that obstructed Ashley and Powell.  Today's commercial river running industry started with Bus Hatch’s family business, which helped transform the obstacles of the Green River into opportunities for modern adventure.


Linda Wilson for the Uintah County Heritage Museum © 2014


Image: Powell Expedition (2nd). Scene probably at the start of expedition in Green River, Wyoming. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society. 

See Roy Webb, If We Had A Boat: Green River Explorers, Adventurers, and Runners, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1986; Roy Webb, Riverman: The Story of Bus Hatch, Rock Springs, Wyoming: Labyrinth, 1989; Alan Blackstock, ed., A Green River Reader, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005; Harrison Clifford Dale, The Ashley-Smith Explorations and the Discovery of a Central Route to the Pacific, 1822-1829, with original journals, Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1918.


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org