Moab Rafting & Canoe Company

Rafting and Canoe Excursions

Conservation of Rivers on the Colorado Plateau

fisher-towersWater in the desert is as precious as gold; any flowing water in an arid land will be the source of contention and competition.  The rivers of the Colorado Plateau have drawn controversy to them like bees to honey.  Powell’s exploration of these rivers opened the region to a settlement boom which has yet to abate in 130 years.  With settlement came the need to contain these rivers in order to “reclaim” the desert.  There are few free-flowing rivers left in the Southwest.  A flurry of dam-building begun early in the century has left most of them chained and impounded in a series of reservoirs and dams that have created the largest plumbing system outside of the Columbia River.  Very little of the Colorado’s life-giving water that once flowed into the delta at the Gulf of California, now reaches its destination.

The ecological impacts to this region are beyond severe.  Upstream, where the waters still flow, the impacts have been no less important.  Native flora and fauna have disappeared from many stretches of the river and daily fluctuations in water released from dams upstream have caused important changes in the character and ecology of the river systems.  Clear, sediment-free water scours the beaches and sandbars, and changes in water temperature affect the native fish and other riparian creatures.

Dams and reservoirs are not the only threat to these fragile ecosystems, however.  Mining can send dangerous chemicals into the water, agriculture adds pesticides and salts to the rivers and their soils.  Development removes riverside vegetation and habitat to make way for homes and towns.  Water is diverted for agriculture, and grazing tramples and fouls tiny tributaries to larger streams.  In addition, human visitors often damage or destroy fragile habitat with careless use of recreational vehicles.

Riparian (riverside) habitat is the most diverse and precious habitat in the arid lands, supporting a disproportionately greater number of wildlife species than any other habitat.  More than 90% of the original riparian habitat in the arid lands has been destroyed since settlement began in this area and estimates are that as much as 80% of the remaining amount is in seriously endangered condition.  A recent report by the Defenders of Wildlife listed Southwest riparian habitat as one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States.

Moab Rafting and Canoe Company supports conservation and educational efforts on the Colorado Plateau, and we encourage and practice low-impact camping.  It is our belief that only through education and mindful stewardship of the lands on which we work and play can we develop a healthy relationship to our planet, and preserve these lands for our children and all those who follow.  There are many organizations that are dedicated to education and conservation efforts in the region.

Map of Colorado Plateau


Colorado Plateau River Guides
P.O. Box 344
Moab, UT 84532

Glen Canyon Institute
P.O. Box 1925
Flagstaff, AZ 86002

Headwaters Institute
138 J Street Second Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 442-3155



Sierra Club
2273 S. Highland Drive #2D
Salt Lake City, UT 84106
(801) 467-9294

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
P.O. Box 968
Moab, UT 84532
(435) 259-5440

Utah Rivers Council
1471 South 1100 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84105
(801) 486-4776

Wild Utah Project
165 S. Main Suite 1
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
(801) 328-3550

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A Land Like No Other

Only 130 years ago, maps of the United States showed a great blank space in the southwestern corner of the continent labeled "Terra Incognita" - Unknown Land. What lay within the boundaries of this vast and unexplored territory was only speculation until John Wesley Powell launched the first journeys into the heart of this region, which we know today as the Colorado Plateau. He discovered a land of color and form, of light and shadow, of immense space and time - a wrinkled country of canyons, plateaus, and rivers so expansive
that it defied imagination.

The Colorado Plateau straddles the region known as the Four Corners, where the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico join boundaries. The
Plateau's physical statistics are remarkable: an average elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level encompassing 240,000 square miles (approximately the size of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York combined). There is a greater and more complete span of Earth's history exposed in the rocks of the Colorado Plateau than in any other comparably sized region in the world, with a greater number and variety of strange and wonderful erosional land forms than in any other land: mesas and buttes, hoodoos and monuments, arches, windows and spires, rock fins, reefs, and canyons.

Thousands of canyons: Tiny slot canyons carved into smooth sandstone and so narrow you have to turn sideways to walk through, wide canyons eroded out of painted rocks, impressive enough in their own right to be called national parks in any other part of the country. The Colorado Plateau is drained by the two main rivers that are the heart of the southwestern United States - the Green and Colorado rivers and their thousands of tributaries large and small which have been home to ancient peoples for at
least 12,000 years. They have been the focus for life in an arid land whose vegetation is sparse and precious. They have drawn people from around the world to work and play in a land that once discovered is hard to leave. Impressive as they are, the physical statistics for the Colorado Plateau reveal little about the nature of the land, about its heart and soul, and about the experiences awaiting the visitor to the country. Visitors to these lands gain new perspectives on time and space and on themselves as well - and one of the best possible ways to see this place and feel the heart of the country is on one of its