In Our Back Yard – Green River Secrets

gray canyon
Gray Canyon Rock Art Photo: Ed Helmick

This is another town about a two-hour drive from the Spanish Fork junction of I-15 and U.S. Highway 6. Another town that we usually drive right past or stop for gas and other necessities. It is like someone you see occasionally, but never really get acquainted with. There are some interesting and fascinating things to know about Green River, Utah.

A good place to make your acquaintance with Green River, Utah is at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum just east of the bridge on Main Street and across the street from the Tamarisk Restaurant. As the name implies, the museum is about the exploration of the Colorado and Green Rivers by John Wesley Powell. He had a huge impact on the history of the Colorado Plateau. The exhibits are second to none. The book store will prepare you for your personal exploration of the area and the gift shop has an excellent selection.

Crystal Geyser
Photo: Ed Helmick

The east side of the San Rafael Swell is known for cold water geysers and two of them are nearby. Cold water geysers are driven by CO2 gas pressure rather than geothermal steam pressure. Crystal Geyser is the most famous because of its 75-foot-high eruption. However, that only happens about every 18 hours. Chaffin Geyser has a smaller eruption of about 25 feet but erupts about every hour. On the way to Chaffin Geyser, you pass Fossil Point where you can find Jurassic era fossils embedded in the ground. The museum can give you directions to either geyser and both are about an hour’s drive south of Green River on a gravel road.

Green River Missile
Photo: Ed Helmick

When you drive Main Street through Green River you will notice a city park on the north side of the street with a tall white missile pointed skyward. That is a reminder of the days of the Green River Launch Complex of the White Sands Missile Range. This facility was active from the early 1960s until 1975, and at its peak activity, more than 200 personnel supported the assembly, launch, and tracking of the rockets. The overflight of the rockets was an issue in the proposed legislation to create Canyonlands National Park in 1964. As an interesting side note: the author remembers as a kid Jeeping around the Utah desert seeing signs posted on back country roads of launch dates. In addition to the missile in the city park, there are other remnants around, as you east on I-70 you will notice three support buildings on the south side of the Interstate that were assembly buildings. On a bluff on the north side of the Interstate are buildings for living quarters and launch tracking. Keep in mind that the interstate did not exist at that time.

The town of Green River came about because of the railroad and was a source of transportation for cattle and agricultural products. Huge tracts of farm land lie north of the town thanks to water from the Green River. The area is particularly noted for its watermelons. You can see some of this wonderful farm land if you turn north on Hastings Road on the east end of Main Street. About ten miles north on Hastings Road is a neat white sand beach, known as Swasey’s Beach, that is popular with the local people for picnicking and swimming, although you must be careful of the treacherous river currents. In the cotton wood trees beyond the beach is a wonderful small campground with vault toilets. No reservations, it’s first come availability basis and for some this campground will be a nice change from the commercial RV campgrounds along Main Street. Continuing up the river from the campground about 8 miles will find a nice pictograph panel on a ledge on the east side of the road.

You can not leave Green River without stopping at Rays Tavern. It is kind of an old-fashioned bar and restaurant that everybody that comes to run the river, or the dirt trails knows about. It is always crowded and for good reason. The food and service are always excellent, even when the place is crowded. For a little more upscale dining the Tamarisk Restaurant is always a good recommendation.


John Wesley Powell River Museum Mural
Photo: Ed Helmick