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River Skills and Anasazi Thrills: Kayaking and Rafting Utah's San Juan River

Program Number: 2111RJ
Start and End Dates:
9/7/2013 - 9/12/2013; 4/30/2016 - 5/5/2016; 9/7/2016 - 9/12/2016;
Duration: 5 nights
Location: Flagstaff, Arizona
Price starting at: $989.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Water Sports; Native American Studies Activity Level: n (see description)
Meals: 14; 5 Breakfasts, 4 Lunches, 5 Dinners    
Meal Options: Vegetarian    

Possessing both the physical and spiritual qualities of a “mini-Grand Canyon,” the San Juan River of Utah provides paddlers the opportunity to discover archaeological and geologic treasures often missed during an exploration of the Four Corners. Discover abundant 800 year old Anasazi ruins as well as some of the largest petroglyph (rock art) panels in the southwest, only accessible by river. This is a great experience for first-time and experienced paddlers alike.


• Enjoy three nights camping on the San Juan River and 29 miles of paddling from Sand Island to Mexican Hat.
• Visit a well-preserved, two-story Anasazi “River-House.”
• Travel through the stark beauty of the Navajo reservation with stops at Navajo National Monument.

Activity Particulars

Daily hikes of 1-3 miles. Daily paddling in kayaks and rafts of approximately four hours daily. First-time paddlers welcome.

River Permits cannot be acquired until six months prior to the start date of the program. Please check with Road Scholar before purchasing plane tickets as program dates may need to change.

Itinerary Summary

Arrival Flagstaff, Ariz., 1 night; van to Bluff, Utah, 3 nights camping on the San Juan River; van to Flagstaff, 1 night; departure.

Coordinated by Northern Arizona University.

San Juan River

The San Juan River has been a corridor for human activity for thousands of years as evidenced by rock-art panels and significant ruins, including the cliff-side homes of ancestral Pueblo Indians. The magnificent canyon was created 320 million years ago and is populated by desert bighorn sheep, eagles and lizards.


Nestled at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona, Flagstaff is a perfect departure point for trips to the Glen and Grand canyons or Sunset Crater National Monument. At 7,000 feet in elevation, this cool mountain city is one of the highest in the nation.

Hotel in Flagstaff. Camping on San Juan River from Bluff, Utah to Mexican Hat, Utah.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Mike Young

Mike Young has lived in Arizona for 40 years, and taught math and geology at Yavapai College prior to his work with Road Scholar. To convey the Arizona landscape, Mike uses a broad range of topics including botany, natural history and geomorphology. He has worked as a commercial boatman, designed and constructed his own home, and conducted field exercises throughout the intermountain west. He is an accomplished hike leader who challenges hikers of all skill levels.
Richard Stephens

Rich has been director of Northern Arizona University’s highly popular Road Scholar programs since 2001. He previously spent many years in the field as a program coordinator and group leader, where he honed his skills and learned the importance of detailed, pre-trip planning. Before making his home in Arizona’s spectacular red-rock country, Rich spent 10 years in Yosemite National Park and the Santa Cruz mountains as an environmental educator.
Jeff Strang

Jeff Strang's knowledge of the environment stems from over 35 years of hiking, paddling, and photography in the outdoors, his extensive experience as a naturalist, as well as from his education at the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School. In 1987, Jeff filed a precedent-setting lawsuit against Oregon polluters under the Clean Water Act. Jeff has been leading Road Scholar programs since 2002. In his free time, Jeff enjoys biking to work, hiking, kayaking, outdoor photography and studying geology.
Meals and Lodgings
   La Quinta Inn & Suites
  Flagstaff, AZ 1 night
   San Juan River campsites
  San Juan River 3 nights
   La Quinta Inn & Suites
  Flagstaff, AZ 1 night
 La Quinta Inn & Suites
Type: Motel
  Description: Convenient to all area attractions, restaurants and shopping.
  Contact info: 2015 S Beulah Blvd
Flagstaff, AZ 86001 USA
phone: 928-556-8666
  Room amenities: 25" cable TV, desk, coffeemaker, dataport phone, clock radio, iron/board, hair dryer.
  Facility amenities: Heated pool and spa, exercise room, free breakfast.
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: Seasonal Room rate varies with season. Check with hotel for rates.
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: Seasonal Room rate varies with season. Check with hotel for rates.
  Check out time: 11:00 AM

 San Juan River campsites
Type: Tents
  Description: The San Juan River cuts its way from the peaks of Colorado's western slopes through the high deserts of northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah and finally into Lake Powell and the Colorado River. It runs cool and silty at the launch point at Bluff, UT 26 miles downstream to Mexican Hat, UT, and offers sandy campsites below spreading cottonwoods and willows which line its banks. This trip will be a combination of oar rafts, paddle rafts, and/or inflatable kayaks. At low flows we will use a combination of oar rafts and kayaks, at high flows a combination of oar rafts and paddle rafts, and at medium flows oar rafts, paddle rafts and inflatable kayaks.
  Contact info: San Juan River
Mexican Hat, UT 84531 USA
phone: xxx-xxx-xxxx
  Room amenities: Starry views, Tents available if needed.
  Facility amenities: Sandy riverside campsites. Amazing views. Babbling river. Delicious meals cooked by your guides. No TVs, no phones; aaaahhhh.
  Smoking allowed: No

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Road Scholar program registration between 4:00 - 4:30 PM, followed immediatly by program orientation and introductions.. You will be staying at La Quinta Inn & Suites that night.
  End of Program:
Program ends at hotel after breakfast. You will be staying at La Quinta Inn & Suites the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Please note that there are 3 forms which need to be returned: 1) Participant Information Form 2) NAU Outdoors Liability Waiver/Assumption of Risk Form 3) NAU Outdoors Equipment Request Form We realize it is cumbersome to complete these forms and appreciate your compliance. All forms can be sent to: Northern Arizona University Road Scholar PO Box 5604 Flagstaff, AZ 86011-0001 or fax: 928-523-5991 or scanned and emailed to please put your program number (#2111) in the subject line.
  Parking availability:
Free at La Quinta for entire program.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Flagstaff, AZ
  Nearest city or town:  Phoenix, AZ 150 mi south
  Nearest highway: I-40 and I-17
  Nearest airport:  Commuter - Flagstaff; international - Phoenix
  From End of Program
  Location: Flagstaff, AZ
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details

Flagstaff, AZ to/from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport


To Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
US Air
phone: 800-428-4322
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


$140.00 or less
Prices are subject to change.


USAirways Commuter Air From Phoenix Airport to Flagstaff Airport, taxi to hotel or train station (appx. $12.00). Air fare to Flagstaff much cheaper (exact cost varies) if flight to Phoenix is also on US Air. Phoenix to Flagstaff distance 150 miles; 45 min flight time. Five flights daily.


Flagstaff, AZ to/from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport


From Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
Arizona Shuttle
phone: 877-226-8060
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Approx. $45.00 one way ($41.00 Internet Reservation); $5.00 each way drop off/pickup at La Quinta
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


Approx 3 hours 




150 Miles


Call Arizona Shuttle for departure times PRIOR to booking flights. 9 shuttles daily from/to the Phoenix airport. Upon arrival into Phoenix airport, check in required at shuttle desk in baggage claim area of airport,15 minutes before shuttle departure. Flagstaff La Quinta Hotel drop off/pick up by advanced reservation ($5.00 extra charge per reservation BY MENTIONING ROAD SCHOLAR); otherwise the drop off/pick up is at Flagstaff Amtrak (Visitor Center). Advanced reservations required.


Flagstaff, AZ to/from Starting Destination


To Train Station




Public Transportation
phone: 800-872-7245
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Varies with starting / return destination
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


From Flagstaff train station to hotel: 5 minutes taxi ride. 




From Flagstaff train station to hotel 2 miles.


Westbound train arrives 8:51 PM and departs at 8:57 PM Eastbound train arrives at 4:36 AM and departs at 4:41 AM.

Driving Directions
  Flagstaff La Quinta From I-40 Take the I-40 to Flagstaff, AZ and exit at 195 north for Flagstaff and Grand Canyon. This puts you northbound on Milton Road. At the first stoplight, Forest Meadows, turn left. Continue west on Forest Meadows for a quarter block to the next light at Beulah Blvd. Turn right on Beulah and continue for a quarter block. La Quinta is on the left, 2015 S. Beulah.
  Flagstaff La Quinta from I-17 Travel north on 1-17 until it ends, becoming Milton Road in Flagstaff, AZ. Turn left at the first stop light on Forest Meadows. Continue for quarter block to the next light on Beulah Blvd. Turn right on Beulah and drive for a quarter block. La Quinta is on the left, 2015 S. Beulah.
Elevation Note: Above 6,000 feet. Those with respiratory or heart conditions should check with a physician before.

Equipment Requirements: All rafting equipment, guiding, and supplies are provided by the kayaking/rafting vendor, "NAU Outdoors", which is a separate University office from NAU Road Scholar. If you have your personal camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, ground cloth), please bring it with you or, if you desire, these items can be provided. While the tents and sleeping bags that NAU Outdoors can provide are acceptable quality, we find that people tend to be more comfortable with their own gear. Please fill out your intentions at the bottom of the "NAU Outdoors Liability Waiver" form and return along with your health form.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Registration/Orientation
(Saturday, September 7)
 Afternoon: Road Scholar program registration between 4:00 - 4:30 PM. followed immediately by program orientation and introductions.
 Dinner: Walk to a nearby restaurant.
 Evening: River orientation. Meet your raft guides and review all the particulars of the trip. Each person will receive one large and one small dry bag to pack their things into. We will review packing suggestions and what to expect on the river. NOTE: If the San Juan River is running too high to allow safe kayaking, we will still have lots of fun on the trip with a paddle raft(s) and oar boats for gear. If the River level is in between we will have both Inflatable Kayaks and paddle rafts. We will not know river levels until just before the trip starts. For questions contact the Provider (Northern Arizona University) at (928) 523-2359; or
Accommodations: La Quinta Inn & Suites
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Navajo National Monument and Monument Valley National Monument
(Sunday, September 8)

Note: Today's hike is about 1.5 miles while we visit Navajo National Monument. Trail is paved and has 200' of elevation drop/gain. We will he hiking at over 6,000' in elevation.

 Breakfast: Continental breakfast at the hotel prior to departure
 Morning: We start our day with a 1 hour "Geography of the Colorado Plateau" discussion to get people oriented to the places and peoples of the areas we will be traveling. Immediately following we will load up the vans and embark for the river. On our journey we will drive through the San Francisco Peaks Volcanic Field, past Sunset Crater National Monument, and onto the Navajo Reservation with a stop at historic Cameron Trading Post, a center for trading of Indian arts and crafts for over 90 years. En route, your guide will discuss the geology and history of the area. After a rest stop, we continue on through a part of the Painted Desert to Navajo National Monument.
 Lunch: Picnic lunch at Navajo National Monument.
 Afternoon: After lunch we watch a 20 minute video about the Betatakin Cliff Dwellings We walk down the short Sandal Trail to an overlook above Betatakin Cliff Dwelling and discuss the development and evolution of Puebloan Culture. Then back into the vans to continue the drive through Monument Valley, and a stop at the Goosenecks of the San Juan State Park for a quick peek down into this amazing example of the River's handiwork. Finally it is on to the Sand Island Put-In. We meet the rest of our river guides and set up camp next to the River. .
 Dinner: Dinner will be riverside after we have set up our camp.
 Evening: Begin to let the magic of the San Juan River seep into your being. It is a place of surreal vibrancy and beauty, an enormous natural museum millions of years in the making. Our recipe for a great trip starts with a river that is calm and friendly and then spiced up with some fun but easy class II and III rapids. Mix in some great hikes, a wealth of archaeological sites, stunning petroglyphs, geologic wonders, and amazing scenery. Finally toss in the companionship of your fellow Participants and your guides.
Accommodations: San Juan River campsites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Kayak/paddling demonstration and begin river trip/Explore Anasazi Petroglyphs
(Monday, September 9)

Note: Today we are in the water for up to 4 hours with paddling difficulty dependent on the flow of the river. In general, today is our shortest day on the water with least amount of white water. Walking of up two miles to view Petroglyphs and Anasazi ruins

 Breakfast: Breakfast will be river side as we load the boats to start our river journey.
 Morning: After breakfast, break camp, walk to the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel. Petroglyphs are rock art that is pecked into the desert varnish in the sandstone cliffs along the river. The Sand Island Panel includes styles ranging from Archaic (about 2500 years old) to fairly recent Indian and Cowboy carvings. Kokopelli, the humpbacked flute player of ancient Pueblo mythology, is represented by many figures on the panel. there is a parade of bighorn sheep, deer, and snakes. This panel presents a good overview of the different styles in the surrounding area. Then listen to the Safety Talk, Watch the kayaking/paddle raft demonstration, practice kayaking/rafting, and begin paddling downstream. The trip begins at the most popular put-in for San Juan river trips, at the Sand Island Put-in. This is along a part of the river that is wide and braided, traversing open country full of rock art, archaeological sites, and other evidence of pre-historic habitation. The San Juan here cuts down into a layer of Navajo Sandstone, with magnificent sweeping cross-bedding lines, and stained with desert varnish.
 Lunch: Lunch on the river.
 Afternoon: After lunch next to the river, we get back on the river for more paddling and a stop, if conditions allow, to explore the Butler Wash Petroglyph panels. This spot is accessible only from the river or by a long hike. The Butler Wash Petroglyph Panel is over 200 feet long, with overlapping carvings from different ages.
 Dinner: Enjoy dinner in the wilderness prepared by our guides.
 Evening: After dinner, settle in to camp, trade stories and lies with your fellow paddlers, and relax under the Southwestern skies.
Accommodations: San Juan River campsites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Explore Anasazi "River House" ruins and continue river trip
(Tuesday, September 10)

Note: Up to two miles of hiking over sandy washes with no elevation change. Today we experience many small white water rapids and one class two level rapid. Time on water up to 5 hours in length. Participants can try different water craft to fit their strength and skill level.

 Breakfast: Riverside breakfast prior to loading up the boats.
 Morning: Breakfast in camp. Walk to the River House Ruin. This ruin contains 14 rectangular rooms for living and food storage, and two circular kivas for religious and other uses. It is built in a south facing alcove,under an overhang that protects if from the intense overhead summer sun but lets in the low angled winter sun. The petroglyphs here include human hands, spirals, mountain sheep, long undulating lines. pot sherds, fragments of stone tools, and corn cobs can be found in the ruin and nearby. There are visible fingerprint lines left in the mud used to mortar the rocks in place a thousand years ago. This is one of the most impressive and best preserved cliff dwellings found along any river in North America. Nearby is the route that in 1879-80 early Mormon Pioneers took around Comb Ridge to the Bluff area, and the ruins of the Baton Trading Post. Pack up and paddle downriver. Today the river cuts through Comb Ridge, which is a 90 mile long fold in the earth's layers and passes the mouth of Chinle Creek which originates in Canyon de Chelly, 75 miles to the south. Take a short hike with your guides and explore the side canyon carved by Chinle Creek.
 Lunch: Lunch on a riverside beach.
 Afternoon: After lunch, continue paddling and exploring. The river enters a canyon with 800 foot high walls and alternating layers of red and gray rock, and it becomes narrower, swifter, and rockier. Paddle through the canyon in the Lime Ridge Anticline, and through Eight-Foot Rapid and Ledge Rapid.
 Dinner: Celebrate our big day with another scrumptious dinner.
 Evening: Recount the day's activities at dinner and afterwards in camp. Sleep beneath the stars, listening to the river lull you to sleep.
Accommodations: San Juan River campsites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Continue river trip with take out at noon; drive back to Flagstaff/Celebratory Dinner
(Wednesday, September 11)

Note: While today the river turns tranquil, the slower water can mean more constant paddling and less "easy" floating as we work our way down the river. Possible hiking of one mile with 800' elevation gain, dependant on water flow.

 Breakfast: Breakfast in camp by the river.
 Morning: Explore fossil site along the river with crinoids and brachiopods. when the river emerges from the canyon, tie up your boats and go for a scenic hike up the "Stairmaster Trail." This 800 foot climb lives up to its name, but rewards you with a 360 degree panoramic view from the top, with the buttes of Monument Valley spread out along the southern horizon and the Mexican Hat rock formation off to the west. Here the river is once again out in the open, but it is a very different redrock country as it heads toward the town of Mexican Hat. Paddle past the Mexican Hat rock formation to the take out in early afternoon.
 Lunch: Lunch on the river at the Take-Out.
 Afternoon: Load the vans for return to Flagstaff. Drive through Monument Valley one more time on way to Flagstaff
 Dinner: Celebratory dinner back in Flagstaff
 Evening: Enjoy a peaceful night of rest back in the hotel.
Accommodations: La Quinta Inn & Suites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Departures
(Thursday, September 12)
 Breakfast: Continental breakfast in the hotel lobby.
 Morning: Program ends after breakfast.
Meals Included: Breakfast

Free Time Opportunities
  Flagstaff, AZ Flagstaff, AZ
Points of Interest w/in 2 hours of Flagstaff: Walnut Canyon NM, Wupatki NM, Sunset Crater NM, Museum of Northern Arizona, Downtown Flagstaff & old Route 66, Lowell Observatory, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona Red Rocks and the Secret Mountain Wilderness, Montezuma’s Castle NM, Tuzigoot NM, Jerome, AZ Ghost Town, San Francisco Peaks and the Kachina Wilderness, Hopi & Navajo Reservations, La Posada Hotel / Restaurant at Winslow, AZ, Grand Canyon Railroad @ Williams, AZ and the Grand Canyon National Park. For additional information, visit
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

Ancient Ruins of the Southwest: An Archaeological Guide

Author: David Grant Noble

Description: This third edition of David Grant Noble's indispensable guide to archaeological ruins of the American Southwest includes updated text and thirteen newly opened archaeological sites. From Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument in Texas to the Zuni - Acoma Trail in New Mexico (including Canyonlands National Park, Grand Gulch, Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan River, Newspaper Rock and other Moab area rock art sites), readers will be provided with old-time favorites and new treasures. In addition to descriptions of each site, Noble provides time-saving tips for the traveler, citing major highways, nearby towns and the facilities they offer, campgrounds, and other helpful information. Filled with photos of ruins, petroglyphs, and artifacts, as well as maps, this is a guide every traveler needs when they are exploring the Southwest. Covers much of southeastern Utah including Grand Gulch Primitive Area, Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, and Canyonlands National Park. 238pp.

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West

Author: Stegner, Wallace

Description: Here Wallace Stegner, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, gives us a thrilling account of Powell's struggle against western geography and Washington politics. We witness the successes and frustrations of Powell's distinguished career, and appreciate his unparalleled understanding of the West. "Stegner's most exciting work." (San Francisco Chronicle) 496pp

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Author: Reisner, Marc

Description: The story of the American West is the story of a relentless quest for a precious resource: water. It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecologic and economic disaster. In Cadillac Desert Marc Reisner writes of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise, and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests to ensure the city's growth. He documents the bitter rivalry between two government giants, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in the competition to transform the West. Based on more than a decade of research, Cadillac Desert is a stunning expose and a dramatic, intriguing history of the creation of an Eden--and Eden that may be only a mirage. 608pp

Desert Solitaire

Author: Edward Abbey

Description: Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, the noted author's most enduring nonfiction work, is an account of Abbey's seasons as a ranger at Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah. Abbey reflects on the nature of the Colorado Plateau desert, on the condition of our remaining wilderness, and on the future of a civilization that cannot reconcile itself to living in the natural world.

Everett Ruess - A Vagabond for Beauty

Author: W.L. Rusho

Description: Everett Ruess, the young poet and artist who disappeared into the desert canyonlands of Utah in 1934, has become widely known posthumously as the spokesman for the spirit of the high desert. Many have been inspired by his intense search for adventure, leaving behind the amenities of a comfortable life. His search for ultimate beauty and oneness with nature is chronicled in this remarkable collection of letters to family and friends.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Author: Jon Krakauer

Description: In 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered the wife and infant daughter of their younger brother Allen. The crimes were noteworthy not merely for their brutality but for the brothers' claim that they were acting on direct orders from God. In Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer tells the story of the killers and their crime but also explores the shadowy world of Mormon fundamentalism from which the two emerged.

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