A wonderful paddle on a desert river not far from busy Yellowstone but with a real feeling of isolation.
Date Paddled: Wed. August 17, 2016
Nearest City: between Cody and Powell, WY
Put-In: below Corbett Dam
Take-Out: above Willwood Dam
Duration: 4 hours
River Miles: ~11
Shuttle: 9 mile bike shuttle on fairly level county roads and US Hwy 14A
Weather: mid- to upper-80s, mostly sunny and calm
Difficulty: mostly swift current with class I and II rapids spread over first 9 miles
(By Peter) This was a truly delightful trip on a section of river about a dozen miles downstream from the popular gateway city to Yellowstone, Cody, Wyoming. It is rarely used – we saw no one at the put-in or take-out, nor anywhere in between. Nor was there any real sign of civilization, save for the ubiquitous power poles visible where transmission lines crossed the Shoshone. After camping at the put-in, we were ready to go first thing in the morning. I left Diana and made the bike shuttle in a bit over an hour, so we were on the water by 10ish.
Diana noticed the water in the Shoshone rising significantly and fairly quickly. The flow in this section of the river, below the junction of the North and South forks and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir is controlled for irrigating 100,000 acres in the larger region. Though the water had started to drop by the time I returned, there was plenty of flow to propel us through and over all the obstacles that followed.
Right from the put-in the current carried us swiftly along through riffles and small waves – easy class I rapids and nice quickwater. But the river seemed strong and Diana and I both had a feeling that we might be better to put on our spray skirts. Finally Diana insisted, and – just in time! Around the next bend was one of the toughest drops, a wavy class II rapid that was fun and easy to negotiate, but left me with a wet shirt (would have been a lapful of cold water). Diana earned herself an extra slice of blueberry pie for that prescient decision!From here the rapids continued intermittently as the river cut back and forth next to ever-rising bluffs of eroded sandstone that eventually reached several hundred feet high on our right bank. The morning sun illuminated the beautiful rock formations with wonderful light creating a magical setting in which to drift along and dodged the rocks and waves of the splashy rapids.
Our early start meant that we avoided the heat of the afternoon, but the sun was still very strong whenever the scattered clouds parted, and there was little breeze to provide cooling as the temperatures rose into the afternoon. We were glad to find occasional shade under the Russian Olive trees (a highly invasive but attractive species that dominates the riverbanks here), and the water was a chilly 68 degrees or so, and a delightful dark greenish hue. So we remained comfortable with the occasional splash of water from the rapids to help cool our bodies.As the journey progressed, we left the highest bluffs and the canyon opened up, providing gentler banks and the opportunity to see more wildlife. As we were not disappointed! Numerous hawks plied the air currents above the bluffs or sat on the ledges watching us approach. Great Blue Herons also perched on cliff edges or fished the shallows that became more plentiful along the gentler river banks. We were blessed to see a large pronghorn antelope, poised on a high bank, come sauntering down to the water’s edge for a drink – he allowed us to come quite close before scurrying back up the bank. He continued to eye us for a few minutes before ambling away. We also saw a kingfisher, many mergansers and a cormorant, sandpipers, pigeons, and a good number of sage grouse on the banks and in the cliffs along the river. Probably also heard a pheasant – I saw one on my bike shuttle – and we saw what were likely some pelicans in the distance as we neared the take-out.
We came to a section where there were numerous seeps or springs trickling water out of various spots on the bluff on our left. There were bands in the cliffs where enough water seeped out to support thick stripes of green vegetation that contrasted remarkably with the reddish and tan sandstone rock layers. This was an especially magical spot, as the calm river allowed us to hear nothing but the dripping water from above and the chirping of birds all around us.The last mile or so became flatwater with little or no current as the river widened and slowed behind the Willwood Dam, which diverts a large portion of the Shoshone’s flow into an irrigation canal. The flow below the dam was noticeably lower and a paddle on the ensuing section might be quite scratchy!
As usual, Vincent was awaiting our return, and we quickly loaded the boat and gear and made our way into the heat of the afternoon thankful for some air conditioning – but far more thankful for the wonderful paddle we had just experienced!