In recent years the Colorado River has reclaimed over 40 miles in Cataract, Narrow, and Glen Canyons from under reservoir Powell. In Cataract, several rapids up to class three and many more riffles have reemerged. In the side canyons like Dark and Clear Water amazing hiking have become available, once buried underwater and sediment that has been scoured away.

The Returning Rapids Project started as a simple question among a few interested Moab locals: “when will we see historical rapids return to Cataract Canyon as Lake Powell recedes?”

A welder, river guide, librarian, and pilot tasked themselves with answering this question. It started as simple trips down Cataract matching historical photographs of landmarks and the river, and soon blossomed into a much bigger mission. Mike DeHoff, Meg Flynn, Peter Lefebrve, and Chris Benson have donated thousands of hours of their time to understand the changes happening in Cataract Canyon. Click here to donate to the Returning Rapids Project. 

Their hard work is paying off and since 2019 RRP has become the a focus of researchers from several universities, groups, and universities. In the last three years they have led three large scale multi-disciplinary efforts down the river to study changes happening as the reservoir leaves Cataract Canyon, and several other smaller trips to the region. These science trips have helped researchers understand how sediment is impacting the canyon, by what processes lake sediments develop and mobilize, and at what rates. They have also been very effective in mapping the river – getting the first full river profile in 100 years, including many regions that are still managed as a reservoir, but are very much so a river.

Returning Rapids Project has either directly or helped researchers publish several guides, essays, and reports to help define the changes happening in the river corridor. See their recent Science Report, buy a copy of the 2022 Field Binder, read Cari Johnson’s report on sediment in Waterhole Canyon, or read Mike’s paper “Who is in Charge of the Mud?”. You can also visit their website here.

Glen Canyon Institute has brought the Returning Rapids Project under our 501(c)3 non-profit, providing funding, supporting field operations, and administration. If you are interested in directly supporting their work you can donate here.

Mike DeHoff, Principal investigator from the RRP pointing to the returned Gypsum Rapid and the Dominy Formation which makes up the river bank along the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.