Waterfall Still Blocks San Juan River

A 12-foot high waterfall continues to span the entire width of the San Juan River. The waterfall is located approximately three miles downstream of the popular Clay Hills take-out for the San Juan River segment below Mexican Hat, Utah. This waterfall, called Fatt Falls by local residents, is in a different location from the waterfall that formed in this general area in 1990-1991.

The new waterfall is a result of low water in Lake Powell, formed by Glen Canyon Dam. The San Juan is down-cutting into its sediment delta as the water level in Lake Powell continues to remain low. The river is traveling over a ridge of low sandstone hills well away from the pre-dam river channel, resulting in the 12 foot drop.

Dr. Tom Myers and Tom Martin recently paddled the San Juan from Clay Hills to Fatt Falls in inflatable kayaks. The river was flowing at 6,750 cubic feet per second. The following is from their description of the float:

The river passes the Clay Hills take-out heading west northwest, directly toward the Red House cliffs. In about 1/2 mile, the river turns left, to the southwest, and flows for another 1/2 mile along the base of the Cliffs. The river then turns south at a Class III riffle created by a rocky ridge entering the river on river right. Immediately after this, the river turns southwest again at another Class III riffle. The river proceeds another 1/2 mile and turns to the south again.

In approximately 1/4 mile, the river splits into three channels and pours over a two foot drop. The middle channel was the easiest for the inflatables. This drop is where the earlier Piute Farms waterfall was located in 1990-1991. The river turns to the southwest here and proceeds for 1/2 mile, then turns southeast for 1/4 mile. The river then makes a hard turn back to the southwest. At this point the river runs for 1/2 mile directly to the Fatt Falls pour-over.

The river banks are silt cliffs up to 10 feet high in spots, actively collapsing into the river. In the area just above Fatt Falls, the river's left bank is only a few feet high, with slow current at the shore's edge.

The falls are hard to see from upriver, and all river runners who find themselves in this area should exercise utmost caution. The potential exists for serious damage to watercraft and life threatening injury to occupants who may go over the falls.

Fatt Falls is roughly 1/2 mile west northwest of the old Piute Farms marina. A rough dirt road leads from the old marina site to within 150 yards of the clearly audible waterfall. A small path leads from the end of the road over very soft sand to the waterfall. Taking out at Fatt Falls is NOT recommended. Clay Hills is still the only viable take out for the San Juan below Mexican Hat.

Given the dynamic nature of the river actively cutting into the silt-banks, the present Fatt Falls may be bypassed by the San Juan at some future date. If this were to happen, the old upstream fall, now only two feet high, could quickly turn into a major un-navigable fall once again.

Recent photos of the waterfall can be seen at


Special thanks to Donnie Dove of Canyon REO and Denny Preisser of Kayenta, AZ, for their logistical assistance.