Recent spring rains have brought out some nice wildflowers. Right after waking up yesterday morning I went for a mountain bike ride and enjoyed the cool air while stopping often to take photos.
Recent spring rains have brought out some nice wildflowers. Right after waking up yesterday morning I went for a mountain bike ride and enjoyed the cool air while stopping often to take photos.
For quite a while I’ve had a vague notion of where Unexpected Panel (also referred to by some as the “New Panel”) lie, and I finally took the time to find it. It easily ranks among the best rock art I’ve seen. Perhaps my favorite thing about its relatively recent discovery is knowing that there may be more great stuff out there to be discovered.
Today the boys and I took the new canoe to Joe’s Valley for its maiden voyage. I really would rather have run the Green River Daily, but I didn’t dare do it with no experience, so a reservoir seemed more appropriate. Loading and unloading the canoe was difficult for me to do alone. Traci offered her help getting it loaded on top of the Jeep at home, but since she wouldn’t be with us on this trip I insisted that I do it alone because I’d be without her help at Joe’s Valley. I left home with both kids and Torrey in the morning and hoped for calm waters. I unloaded at the bottom of the boat ramp, parked the Jeep, then returned to the water and we set off into the reservoir. Getting into and out of the canoe worried me the most, but it really was simple and easy to do. The boys took turns paddling, even though I did most of the work. A motorboat passed us, and I was worried about getting jostled by its wake so I turned us into it until the waters calmed again.
We paddled about a mile and a half south, into a moderate headwind and keeping a respectable distance from the shore. There was a nice spot among the boulders just south of the dam to land. We ate lunch there and then tried exploring the cliffs above the shore, but the hillside was a little steep for the kids. We relaunched the canoe and headed back to the boat ramp, and I spotted some writings on the cliffs near where we’d landed. I took a few photos from the water and was able to make out some initials written/carved on the cliffs. A closer inspection will be required in the future. We had a slight tailwind on the return trip and made much better time.
I struggled again to get the canoe secured to the Jeep once we got back to the boat ramp. Michael’s small amount of help was actually immensely useful, though. Back on the highway I was driving slowly and checking out some spots I’d noticed from the canoe while we were paralleling the shore. In an alcove that I’m positive I’d looked at from the road before, I spotted a sign that I hadn’t noticed. I pulled over and walked along the road and immediately saw some pictographs that I wasn’t able to see from the Jeep. I scrambled up into the alcove and spent about 15 minutes there. Besides the rock art, I saw a lot of charcoal buried in layers of dirt, animal bones, flakes of chert, swallow nests, and plant fossils in the ceiling. It was a remarkable place, and all the more surprising because I’d driven past it more than a dozen times without taking notice.
In February 2012 I hiked up Old Woman Wash as far as I could with Chris G. until we encountered a dryfall that prevented us from going farther up the canyon. That trip was primarily a rock art hunt, but it still irked me that I wasn’t able to hike the entire canyon. Last weekend I tried to remedy that. There are several ways to get into upper Old Woman Wash, but in my trip research I found an odd trail leading up the San Rafael Reef that I wasn’t previously aware of. Only very small portions of the trail are visible in Google Earth, but much of it can be seen in the higher quality Bing Maps (see here for an example). My initial thought upon seeing the trail on my computer was that it was an old mining road, much like the nearby Ekker Mine Road. However, this trail is a lot smaller than the obvious Ekker Road. I spent some time matching up the terrain in the satellite imagery between Google Earth and Bing Maps and created some waypoints to upload to my GPS so I could follow this faint trail up the Reef. I chose to camp at the rock chimney near Swazy Seep since I’d never camped there and it was closer to the trail. On Friday after work I drove down and parked at Swazy Seep and immediately began hiking to explore a couple of small canyons near my planned camp spot. They were nothing special, but I did find an arrowhead less than a quarter of a mile from where I’d parked the Jeep. It was nice to see some wildflowers in bloom, especially my first Claret Cup bloom of the year.
After hiking just over three miles and returning to the Jeep just after sundown, I started a small fire in the chimney and set up camp. I usually find myself wanting to go to bed early due to boredom, but this time I read the Jan./Feb. issue of Archaeology Magazine (a hand-me-down from my mom) and had to force myself to turn in around 10:30. While reading, I was absolutely transfixed by the brightness of the nearly full moon rising in the east. I took a few night shots before the moon rose, thinking that, judging by the brightness on the horizon, the moon must be about to appear any second. Still, it took a loooong time before the moon made an appearance. It stayed up all night and kept the interior of my tent lit up nicely. I slept comfortably, though still a little restlessly, until just before the sun hit my tent the next morning. I awoke and took a few photos, made coffee and ate a quick breakfast, then packed up camp and readied myself and Torrey for a long hike.
On my way to upper Old Woman Wash, I checked out a small drainage visible from camp. I’d spotted some patinaed cliffs the previous evening and, sure enough, there were some faint (though not terribly interesting) petroglyphs there. There was also an alcove with soot stains on the ceiling, indicating that this was once an ancient habitation site. A friend had told me that metates would often be turned upside-down to protect the grinding surface, so when I saw such a rock that could have been an upside-down metate, I lifted it up to see the underside. The rock was layered and a few of the layers fell back down as I lifted it, but in that split-second I saw a strange coiled shape underneath the rock. It didn’t immediately register what that shape was, so I foolishly lifted the remaining layers again and found a small rattlesnake. I freaked a little bit and dropped the rock on the snake, but it was apparently lethargic in the morning cold and maintained its position there. I kicked the rocks off of it and snapped a photo. The snake stayed put, not bothered by my disturbance. I decided then to end my exploration of this site, but I did spot a small piece of plain gray pottery on my way back down to the wash which I intended to hike up.
That wash held some promising-looking cliffs that could have held more rock art or old habitation sites, but I cautiously checked them out and found nothing. I left the wash and began following the trail I’d seen in the satellite imagery. The flat sections just outside of the wash certainly looked like they had been traveled by full-sized vehicles and possibly created by heavy equipment. I saw some fresh footprints along that old road, but soon even those disappeared. As I climbed higher away from the canyon, the trail became more clear in spots, though it was narrower than I was expecting. It was apparent to me eventually that this was an old motorcycle trail! As much as I like to hike, I can’t help but wonder how fun it must have been to ride a dirt bike up the Reef. The trail was obviously old, probably predating the BLM’s travel plan and closures. It amazed me to see the technical sections where people had ridden their bikes.
Although I was carrying four liters of water, and Torrey had another 1.75L in her pack, I was on the lookout for potholes for the mutt to sneak a drink from. Along the trail I saw a section of canyon about 300′ away that held some water. I encouraged Torrey to go down for a cool-down drink, and surprisingly she abided and went down for a swim and drink. We stopped to take a break there, then continued ascending the San Rafael Reef. I kept seeing signs of dirt bikes on this section, though they were quite old, and eventually the footprints I’d seen lower in the canyon reappeared. Whoever made them must’ve stuck to the canyon bottom for a lot longer than I did. I eventually reached the Ekker Mine Road and followed it for a short distance before peeling off cross-country in search of upper Old Woman Wash.
The evidence of human travel off the Ekker Road surprised me. Just after leaving the old, unused road, I saw a cairn and an arrow constructed of rocks pointing the opposite direction I was traveling. Whoever built the arrow had to have been going the wrong direction. I descended into a small valley where Torrey and I took our second break. After our rest, we ascended a small saddle into a side-canyon that joined up with Old Woman Wash. I was hoping to follow the side-canyon directly into OWW, but from above it was apparent that it was rugged and held at least one large dryfall. I followed the rim of the canyon the best I could, straying off-course once to bypass a cliff band, until eventually I could see a route directly down into Old Woman Wash.
It was a steep route into the canyon–nothing I haven’t done before, but daunting due to it’s remoteness. I felt relief once I reached the bottom of Old Woman Wash, despite knowing I’d have to re-ascend this same route. I first went up-canyon to check things out. There were a couple of bare deciduous trees there that held my attention. I thought their presence indicated a spring, but the spring was apparently dry and the trees were dead. I returned down-canyon in the hopes that I could reach the top of the dryfall I’d encountered last year. There were some small narrows along the way which were easy to navigate through. However, I reached a narrow stretch with a small drop that was too sketchy for me to attempt alone. With a partner it would have perhaps been easy to climb back up, but on my own I didn’t dare. Sadly, that ended my exploration of this canyon today, leaving 0.7 miles of canyon that I have yet to see.
I made the steep climb out of the canyon and followed a different route back to the Ekker Mine Road. This route was much easier than that I’d taken in, and again I was surprised to see faint trails and human footprints along the way. Once I neared the old mining road I found what must have been a miner’s camp. A large rock firepit had been built there, with the remains of an old wooden structure nearby. Beyond that was a pile of rusty cans, the most interesting of which was a steel Olympia Beer can with an aluminum top. I cruised down the Ekker Mine Road, stopping only once to give Torrey a drink from her pack. Once I got close enough to my entry route I left the mining road and joined up with the canyon where I’d started my hike. It was a relief to see mine and Torrey’s footprints from that morning. Upon reaching the Jeep I drank some lukewarm Powerade and Torrey had her fill of water, then we set off for home.
Almost two weeks ago (yes, I’m trying to get caught up on my trip reports this week) I hiked in the San Rafael Reef between Little Wild Horse Canyon and Chute Canyon. I chose the location largely because the fins/cracks in the Reef east of LWHC intrigued me. I also liked that there was a semi-major drainage between LWH and Chute for which there was no information on the web. It was perfect for my kind of exploration, but any lesser drainage in the Reef would have been fine. I parked the car on the shoulder of the paved Little Wild Horse Road and started hiking by 10:15AM. The weather forecast called for partly cloudy and a 20% chance of rain, though the clouds were light and high and fast-moving, with plenty of blue sky between. I hiked cross-country and encountered a pronghorn who seemed disturbed by my presence. He made a strange noise–sort of a mix between a snort and a raven’s caw. He kept getting closer to me until I lost sight of him behind a hill and never saw him again.
The first mile-ish wasn’t very interesting–just a simple walk through a sandy/gravely wash. As the San Rafael Reef rose ahead of me and the canyon narrowed up, the canyon bottom became rough with typical Carmel Formation rocks. That section quickly passed behind me and I encountered the top of the Navajo Sandstone. There, potholes had formed and Torrey was able to get a drink. I came to a fork in the canyon and took the left fork, which I’d already decided upon based on my research in Google Earth. The right fork looked more interesting, but I was saving that for the return hike. The canyon was your standard Reef canyon–sandy bottom mixed with slickrock, with occasional dryfalls and potholes–except that my upstream progress ended in a box canyon with a jumble of rocks instead of a dryfall.
I climbed up a small gap in the canyon wall to my right (northeast) into another small valley. I knew that from there I’d need to navigate some cracks and fins to get farther northeast into the upper right fork that I’d passed up earlier. I immediately saw a fin that looked like it could be ascended to get me into the next valley, but I explored the current valley up- and downstream looking for an easier route. Finding none (but trying a joint between fins that narrowed down to nothing), I returned to the fin and started the climb. A couple of spots that looked sketchy from below turned out to be quite easy. I found out just how easy because, before I could get a close look, Torrey would ascend and disappear over each spot with little effort.
The topography on the other side of the fin was crazy. I descended into the next valley easily enough, but once I reached the bottom of the drainage I immediately ran into a pothole that, once I entered it, I probably couldn’t climb back out of on the up-canyon side. Since I couldn’t see far beyond the pothole I decided not to drop into it. I climbed out of the canyon and did some thinking. I wasn’t confident that the terrain would be easy enough to return to the car down this drainage in a reasonable amount of time. I also didn’t want to return the way I’d come. I decided to give myself 30 minutes to try descending this part of the canyon and, if it didn’t look promising by then, I would turn around and retrace my entry route.
I went high above the canyon rim to where the terrain leveled out a bit and followed the rim downstream. Barely 20 minutes later I was back in the bottom of the canyon, and the going had been easier than it appeared from farther up. There were some deep, water-filled potholes ahead of me but they looked easy to bypass, so I sat down on a ledge and took a rest/snack break. The pothole section was followed by a slot section filled with some water. I dropped back into the canyon just below the slot then hiked up it a short distance to have a look. This canyon would definitely be fun to fully descend with the proper equipment.
The rest of the canyon back to the fork was easy. It was mostly a flat, sandy bottom with one easily bypassable dryfall. I wasn’t at all surprised to find a broken arrowhead before reaching the fork–I’d been keeping my eye out for them the entire hike. When I was almost back to the car, I turned up a small wash and explored it for a short distance and found a nice pictograph panel near a small alcove. Part of the alcove had collapsed and it had a tiny seep of water coming from the back wall. I’m sure it would have made a decent shelter a few hundred years ago. The pictographs were a little unusual, but many of the details were typical of San Rafael Reef rock art (such as designs scratched over the top of the pigment). The main figure was large, perhaps 18″ tall, and the other designs were unclear or possibly unfinished. Seeing both an arrowhead and rock art on this trip served to make it nearly perfect. Maybe a bighorn sheep or rattlesnake sighting would have completed it. I got back to the car about 5.5 hours after starting the hike and I covered 6.6 miles. Yes, you can tell I dawdle quite a bit, but that’s precisely why I venture out there.
This year’s semi-annual San Rafael geocaching/camping trip had a cold start. Dave got to Price shortly before I was off work on Tuesday. I loaded a few last-minute things into the trailer and, despite the high winds, we drove south pulling our camp trailers into the heart of the Swell. There was a headwind as we made the long pull up Spotted Wolf Canyon, but I managed to do between 45 and 55 MPH. Not having Traci’s ATV on-board probably helped with that. We pulled into our planned camp spot just off exit 131 near the Wickiup and found an older (1990s) Cadillac parked next to a tent there. When I asked, the camp’s occupant, Dan, said he was planning on being there for the rest of the month. Not wanting to crash his party, Dave and I drove a few hundred feet away and found another spot, though Dan followed like a lost puppy and ended up spending a lot of time with our group through the weekend. For dinner Dave provided some jalapeños filled with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon, and I grilled that along with some kielbasa and whole jalapeños. We enjoyed that wonderful dinner with some salad that Dave brought, topped with jalapeño ranch dressing. The temperature got into the mid-teens that night, and it was 26° in my trailer when I awoke at 7AM on Wednesday morning. I slept fitfully during the night because the covers kept sliding off my head and the cold woke me several times. I remedied that the next night by wearing a hat to bed. Everything outside had a thick layer of frost on it and mine and Dave’s trailers’ water lines had frozen solid.
After we ate breakfast and warmed up a little, Dave and I went for an ATV ride to check out the water situation in the slot section of Reid Neilson Draw just before it meets up with Crawford Draw. I was hoping to bring the group there on Saturday for a hike, but the canyon tends to hold a lot of water after it rains/snows. It was a cold ride and we stopped a few times on the short eight mile trip to warm up. Dave, who had knee-replacement surgery after Thanksgiving last year, waited at the rim of the canyon while Torrey and I climbed down inside and hiked a little. I only made it a third of a mile down-canyon before encountering a too-deep pool of water. It appeared possible to scramble out of the canyon and follow the rim in order to descend back in below the pool, but I didn’t explore further. I decided if we had warmer weather on Saturday that I’d take the group there and we’d just deal with any obstacles we encountered. We returned to camp after noon and the water lines had thawed sufficiently. One other couple arrived that afternoon, and most of the rest of the group showed up on Thursday.
I took off alone on Thursday and explored northeast of Locomotive Point. I’d heard about some old cowboy names carved in the cliffs there but I got sidetracked and didn’t get close enough to search them out. Instead, I rode my ATV slowly searching for rock art near the road, then did a little hiking at the base of some cliffs above Horseshoe Bend. In the early evening I also rode to upper Straight Wash and did some hiking in the wash searching for arrowheads, since I know of two people who have found them in that area while geocaching the Heart of the Desert series. I found all 20 geocaches in the series five years ago, but I didn’t have “the eye” for arrowheads then. I came up blank this time, too. Traci and the kids got to camp shortly before I returned and we had a pretty relaxed evening around the fire.
Friday was my favorite day of the trip. The two Chrises, long-time friend and hiking partner Chris M. along with Christina R., and I were up for some adventure and I decided on checking out Red Draw. I’d never been there and didn’t have any information suggesting it would be a great hike, but I dimly recalled seeing some Panoramio photos suggesting it might be interesting. We hopped in the Jeep and drove through Red Draw until the road approached the section where the canyon deepened. From the get-go the hike involved a little scrambling to get into the bottom of the canyon, then it alternated between easy sandy sections and moderate downclimbs. We encountered a few places with deep pools or dryfalls that required us to climb out of then back into the canyon to bypass them. I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the Eardley Canyon confluence with relative ease. I’d fully been expecting to re-ascend Red Draw, but we consulted our GPS maps and decided to go down Eardley and scramble out of a side-canyon to a road that would lead us back to the vehicle. Eardley Canyon was super easy–just a stroll through the sand for most of the distance–but the canyon was deeper and prettier than Red Draw had been. We hiked about a mile in under 30 minutes, then took a break in the shade of a large boulder before beginning the exit climb. Ascending out of Eardley was difficult in spots. Chris R. and I took one route while the other Chris went another way, and I think he had an easier time of it. Once the exit route leveled out we walked along a now-closed road to the Jeep then returned to camp.
After a late lunch my family joined our trio and we drove to the Head of Sinbad area to find a place to rappel. Traci and the boys hiked up into the cliffs with us but didn’t rappel. I took one turn going down the rope while the Chrises each rappelled twice. The drop was about 50′, with an awkward start due to how low we anchored the rope. When done, we rejoined the group at camp and had two campfires that night: one for socializing and one for blowing up a 1-gallon can of green beans.
A group hike was planned for Saturday, and we returned to Reid Neilson Draw. I was hoping that it had dried out a little more and that the group would feel comfortable with the climb down into the canyon. We walked the rim to the pool of water I’d seen on Wednesday. A few guys climbed down to check it out while the rest of us waited, but while we were waiting we heard thunder in the distance. The drainage for this canyon begins eight miles away as the crow flies, and it wasn’t difficult to make the decision to stay out of the slot canyon due to flash flood danger. When the advance party returned from inside the canyon, we all drove to Swasey’s Cabin and began some easy hiking and exploring of that area. We hiked to the Ice Box and a couple of other alcoves behind the cabin, stopped at the Head of Sinbad geocache, visited the Lone Warrior pictograph, and goofed around a little bit in between. The wind kicked up for our potluck dinner at camp that evening. I ingested more minerals with my food than I’m used to, but I enjoyed all the good eats that were proffered by the group. It rained most of the night after dinner. About ten people holed up in my trailer and played cards, while another group took refuge in Ken & Jan’s motorhome. A few of us brave souls, including Chris and myself, ventured out into the rain and spent a few hours around a roaring fire (and we, of course, blew up some corn).
Most of the group left early on Sunday. The weather was quite nice considering the rain the night before, but many people had a long drive home. It was only a 1.5 hour drive home for me, so I was the last to leave. Before taking off, I drove with Chris to the Devil’s Racetrack to find one of the few nearby geocaches that I hadn’t been to. The Jeep scraped bottom a few times but made it through without any damage. At one point early on I had to stack a few rocks to get up a ledge. I’d love to try driving the entire Racetrack in the Jeep some other time, but with a capable vehicle for backup. The entire DRT is eight miles long and I only drove about 1.25 miles before finding the geocache and turning around. We returned to camp and found most people gone. Traci had gotten much of our stuff packed, and I helped with the rest before we pulled out and headed home.
I got a little behind in posting a few things here–perhaps because there were a few weeks where I did little of interest–and suddenly it got to the point where I was dreading writing anything to get caught up so I could post reports of the more interesting trips of late. So, here’s a quick summary of the less interesting goings-on from late March and early April.
I was a little embarrassed that I cut my GSENM trip short because I was feeling exhausted and out-of-shape, so I started riding my mountain bike more. I was riding nearly every day until an accident made me slow down–more on that later. During one ride on Luke’s Trail I was very surprised to find some plain gray pottery shards a few feet from the trail. I’d never seen nor heard of any Indian stuff in that area. In fact, much of the Price area and surrounding mountains and canyons are relatively devoid of rock art, ruins, lithics, and other signs of prehistoric life. I stopped there on several subsequent trips to search for more, even broadening my search area, but turned up nothing.
On March 30th I went for a hike and then a bike ride. I returned to some petroglyphs near Gordon Creek that I’d seen before but didn’t have GPS coordinates for. Then I hiked up both the North Fork and South Fork of Gordon Creek from the railroad trestle while looking for more rock art. I hiked an easy 1.5 miles and didn’t see anything worth mentioning. After going home I put a few more miles behind me on Luke’s Trail and Alan’s Alley.
The following day, after another bike ride, I put my bike in the garage and went into the house still wearing my sunglasses. It was dim in the stairwell leading to the basement and I failed to see a pencil box that one of the kids had left on one of the stairs. I’m sure it looked like a classic banana-peel fall. My feet slid forward out from under me and I fell on my ass, hard. For the first few seconds I involuntarily yelled, “OW!” repeatedly. Fuck, that hurt. I got lightheaded and thought I was going to pass out for a moment. After that passed, my face turned white and I began sweating badly. I’m not sure what kind of damage was done to the muscle under my right cheek, but it must have been somewhat serious. I had to cancel a canyoneering trip I had planned for that weekend because of it. It took five days for any sign of a bruise to show up, but when it came it was huge–about the size of a softball and dark purple and black.
It was about a week before I was able to ride my bike again. I rode a series of trails (Luke’s, IMBA Tween, Mead’s Rim, and Floating Rocks) for a total of ten miles, the longest I’d ridden all year at one time. I just now realized that ten miles doesn’t sound like much, but the singletrack trails around Price are semi-technical and pretty strenuous to ride. I got to within a mile of Kenilworth when I began to encounter rocks, logs, and downed trees that had been dragged across the trail. Apparently somebody doesn’t want mountain bikes up there. I didn’t complete the loop I’d planned because I grew weary of moving obstacles off the trail. I spent the rest of the day after the ride finishing preparations for my semi-annual San Rafael camping/geocaching trip.
This trip was supposed to be a number of different things. I’d been planning a trip with some friends to Anderson Bottom on the Green River in Canyonlands National Park since January for the weekend of March 16th, but I got cold feet due to some trust issues with my Jeep and worries about road conditions on the Flint Trail. Perhaps I made the right call–they rode in on their dirt bikes and found snow and mud on the switchbacks, and no full-sized vehicles had been down them yet this season. Since I already had the time off work, I instead planned a long trip to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I’d never been there except for a brief drive-through on the Burr Trail a couple of years ago. My itinerary was a little ambitious, but it seemed doable. I had five full days and I wanted to hike Phipps Wash to Phipps Arch on the first day, see the Zebra and Tunnel slots on the second, EscaVolcano on day three, Dry Fork slots on the fourth, and finally visit Willow Gulch. It all proved to be too much for me.
I took the long way to the GSENM area on Tuesday, March 16, after work. I had never driven Highway 276 and so I wanted to take it to the Burr Trail then cut across Capitol Reef to the town of Boulder. I found a few geocaches on the way and stopped several times to admire the Henry Mountains. Mts. Holmes and Ellsworth were of particular interest because for a few years I’ve dreamt of summiting them. I got to the Burr Trail at sunset and started driving north while looking for a place to camp just outside of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The light was amazing on the cliffs above Bullfrog Creek. I was left wishing my camera could capture it accurately. I found a spot to camp just before full dark right on the canyon rim above Bullfrog Creek. The first thing I did was grab the tripod and take a 15-second exposure of the canyon with the Henrys in the distance in the last light of day. I set up the tent and used my backpacking stove to heat up a can of dinner. I read a few articles in Discover Magazine before nodding off.
I arose before sunrise on Wednesday and exited the tent to snap a few photos before breakfast. Since I’d just be setting up camp again that evening, I folded the tent and air mattress into my sleeping bag and tossed it in the Jeep before hitting the road. I continued up the Burr Trail, making a quick side trip to the Halls Creek Overlook before continuing through Capitol Reef. In Boulder, I stopped at Hills & Hollows and topped off the fuel tank and got some good advice from Darren about where to start the Phipps Wash hike. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive south on Highway 12. I’d only driven that highway to the north of Boulder before.
I parked at a small pullout along the highway, west of Phipps Wash, and started hiking down the slickrock. The approach was a little longer from the highway but there was less elevation loss/gain from there. There were many full potholes in the side canyon approaching Phipps. Torrey didn’t need a drink from the water in her pack for the entire hike. I bypassed numerous small dryfalls, and one final large dryfall before reaching Phipps Wash. Once in Phipps I turned and followed the wash downstream to the north. I ran into a section that’s perpetually shaded this time of year where the sand was frozen solid with skiffs of snow trapped in the ripples. I ran into a German couple (judging from their accents) who spoke English very well hiking the opposite direction. They’d made it almost to the Phipps Arch but couldn’t make the final climb up to see it. About three miles into the hike a spring sprung from the bottom of the wash, and from that point on there was a small, continuous flow of water that sometimes presented an obstacle to travel–I didn’t want to get my brand-new shoes wet (Richard, I got the black ones this time).
There were a lot of trees and brush after encountering the spring, but hiking wasn’t overly difficult. I reached the small side canyon just south of Phipps Arch and began ascending out of the canyon toward the arch. I helped Torrey up a couple of ledges but at what appeared to be the last ledge before getting to the arch I had a problem. I was able to stand on a log propped up against the cliff below the ledge and lift Torrey over my head, but I couldn’t lift myself up. Getting myself up the ledge required an awkward climbing move with nothing much to hold on to, and I didn’t dare try it. I had to heft Torrey back down before scouting around for another route up. I didn’t find one. I now have a nagging feeling that I didn’t try hard enough, but turning around wasn’t a difficult decision at the time. I wearily trudged back up Phipps Wash toward the highway. It felt hot but it couldn’t have been more than about 70 degrees. What was this I was feeling? Fatigue? I was pretty beat when I got back to the Jeep, not realizing I’d hiked 9.6 miles. I hadn’t precisely measured out the hike beforehand and was thinking it would only be about six miles long. Still, it was apparent I’d gotten out of shape this winter season.
I got cell service just as I returned to the Jeep and I had a few texts waiting. One of them was from Nick, saying, “We meet again! Tagged ya!” I assumed that meant he’d slapped a BCP sticker on the Jeep on his way to Llewellyn Gulch, but I looked all over and couldn’t find it. I drove a short distance to the Spencer Flat road and found a spot to camp at the place where I’d originally planned to start the Phipps Wash hike. Boy, am I glad I didn’t start from there–the initial drop into the wash was tall and steep. The view was great, though, as the sun went down. My camp routine was the same as the previous evening’s: photos, tent, dinner, read, sleep. I didn’t sleep well and woke up with a headache and still-sore muscles and joints from the Phipps Wash hike. I packed up camp and decided to continue to my next destination along the Hole in the Rock Road. I spent a little extra time driving around Escalante ’cause I’d never been there before.
Driving down HITRR, I made a brief stop at Devil’s Garden. There were three vehicles there but I only saw one person while exploring the rock formations. It was a nice enough place, but I think the few photos I’ve seen of it covered it well enough. I stopped for lunch and was sitting in the driver’s seat eating when I spotted Nick’s BCP sticker wedged under the windshield wiper! With my headache still not quite gone, I decided next to hike the Dry Fork slots since the approach is very short. I arrived at the trailhead and was surprised to see a shload of cars there. I readied myself and Torrey for the hike and chuckled at the sign at the trailhead.
The descent into Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch was short and easy. I hiked all the way up the Dry Fork slot, encountering a group of six or so people coming down. I let Torrey off her leash then and let her run ahead of me. I didn’t know how long the narrows would last and was surprised that they kept going for about 0.9 miles. Near the end of the narrows I ran into a friendly couple with a kid and a big Great Pyrenees/Border Collie mix named Winston. Torrey only needed help up one spot going up the slot, and I carried her pack after that point so she could scramble up the few remaining easy obstacles on her own. I rested for a while after descending back out of the canyon, the made an attempt at the Peek-a-Boo slot. I hadn’t done any research on these canyons and had no idea the initial climb up the canyon was so difficult. I got Torrey up the first ledge and climbed up to the second ledge myself when I heard some people descending the canyon. I didn’t want to be there struggling to get my dog up while somebody was coming down, so I snapped a quick photo of the double arch just above the climb then went back to the bottom. At that point I was done. I wasn’t feeling up to doing any of the other hikes I’d planned and I didn’t think I’d feel better the next day, so I hung my head low and hiked back to the Jeep (where there where two shloads of cars now) and started the long drive home.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Traci and I to leave southern Utah after attending the annual geocaching event there. Three days wasn’t nearly enough time to get our fill this year, even though we packed a lot of fun into those three days. Eric and Sherie once again offered us a room at their house for the weekend and this time we brought our kids and dog, and Chris stayed there as well. My family and I left home as soon as I got off work on Thursday and met Chris in Cedar City during the drive south. We spent what little was left of the evening simply hanging out at Eric and Sherie’s house. On Friday morning we all met up with friends and fellow geocachers Kenny and Paul. We convoyed our Jeeps (two Wranglers and two Grand Cherokees) up onto Sand Mountain to do some rappelling. A few weeks earlier Eric had placed a geocache in the middle of a cliff in the same canyon we’d checked out together when I was camping in the area with my sons. Nobody had tried finding the cache in those three weeks, so the rest of us went there hoping to get the coveted first-to-find. We used Kenny’s Jeep as an anchor, and Chris, being the most experienced, rappelled first after waiting for Sherie and Traci to drive two of the Jeeps to the bottom of the rappel so Sherie could belay Chris. Paul went second, then me, then Kenny, and finally Eric. (Incidental side note: as I was typing the last sentence, another geocacher called me asking for help on finding this cache.) With the help of the belayer we all signed the log in the geocache on our way down, except for Kenny who was trying to focus on the rappel. He didn’t have a lot of experience before this weekend but now he’s got a few more rappels under his belt.
We piled into the two Jeeps at the bottom of the cliffs then drove down the canyon a bit. Several of us waited in the canyon while a few got into the most capable Jeep (Eric’s) and drove up a steep sand dune to retrieve the other two Jeeps, the rope, and any remaining gear. When they returned we all stopped for lunch at the place where I camped last month. After lunch we ended up on the opposite side of the canyon from the previous rappel, and we found another place to rappel and place yet another geocache. This rappel consisted of two vertical drops down a dryfall with a nice platform in the middle where Chris hid his geocache. All the guys rappelled at this location as well, then we split up for a couple of hours to get cleaned up. We met back at Eric and Sherie’s place for burgers and cocktails that evening.
Saturday was the big geocaching event at Golden Corral in St. George. It’s usually the biggest geo event in the state, although the best part about it is the after party. People often gather in the parking lot before breakfast and make plans for the day. In the past two years we’ve gone to the Grand Canyon at Toroweap and the Tri-State Corner where UT, AZ, and NV all meet up. This year, our small group had already made plans to hike around the interesting rock formations south of Yant Flat. I’d seen this area several times online in the past month, purporting to be a secret location, but it was easy for me to ascertain the location. We drove there after breakfast with the same group as the day before, except with a few extra wives this time. The first part of the hike was along a now-closed dirt road. It was a pretty easy mile and a half along the road before reaching the slickrock portion of the hike. The scenery exploded into a colorful, textural wonderland after that point. We stopped for lunch after reaching the slickrock, then those able to do so explored the sandstone formations. I knew Nick would be there and we met up and chatted for a while, but somehow I missed meeting up with Lisa and Yvonne who were exploring a different part of the area. I found a couple of arrowheads and a piece of pottery while hiking the area. We didn’t have time to explore the entire place, but I got a good feel for it. We returned to civilization and cleaned up again before meeting up at Kenny’s house for dinner. My kids ended up staying there Friday and Saturday nights because of their allergies to Eric and Sherie’s cat. I’m tremendously grateful to Kenny and his wife for letting those brats stay there.
Our plan for Sunday was to meet up for some more rappelling. However, Kenny got called out on a search-and-rescue mission to a place where he himself had been rescued a few years ago. He placed a geocache where he’d gotten his Jeep stuck then, and now he found himself in the place of the rescuer three years later. Paul and his wife couldn’t make it on Sunday. Anyhow, our smaller group did some rappelling at Cougar Cliffs. On our way there, Sherie took pity on a homeless man riding his bicycle up the hill west of the Quail Creek Reservoir turnoff, and we lost a bit of time towing him up the hill. “Lost” may be a poor term for me to use, ’cause I’m sure the guy and his two dogs really appreciated it. The kids and noobs did some easy rappels after we got to Cougar Cliffs, the we moved along to a 130′ rappel that gave pause even to those of us with more experience. It was my longest continuous rappel to date, and somehow I ended up going down the rope first. It was exhilarating! Kenny even made it there to do the long rappel after his rescue mission. Since we’d gotten a late start that day, after the rappelling it was time for my family to start the long drive home. It was difficult to leave. To make matters worse, we ran rain and snow on the drive home, doing the space warp over Salina Canyon when the snow was at its worst and I was driving with only the fog lights on.
I’ve been to southern Utah twice already this year and I’m left craving more. Traci has even been talking about moving there (which is pretty amazing considering how attached she is to her family here!). In another couple of months it may be too hot for me to venture down south, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be back at least a couple more times this year.
I had a somewhat lackluster camping trip last weekend. Michael’s birthday party was on Saturday and we took him out to dinner that evening, and because of those plans I’d been thinking I wouldn’t be able to do an overnighter during the weekend. That changed mid-week when I got an e-mail from payroll at work telling me to have my timesheet submitted early on Friday because Monday was a company holiday–I didn’t even realize I had President’s Day off! Despite knowing I had a three-day weekend, I didn’t begin to plan a trip until Sunday morning. I woke up, threw my gear into the Jeep, uploaded a few waypoints to my GPS, then hit the road. I drove toward the Head of Sinbad area with the intention of repeating parts of a trip that Chris and I did two years ago. On the way there I stopped to find some petroglyphs that a friend had told me about. I knew roughly where to find them and it only took me a couple of minutes to find the rock art (along with some bees!).
I continued toward my destination, exiting I-70 at exit 131 and driving toward Swasey’s Cabin. After leaving the main graded road I found increasing amounts of snow on the road. In one place the road is cupped down below the surface of the ground and a lot of snow had drifted up there. It appeared that an ATV had managed to drive over the snow, but from the mess in a couple of spots I could tell that some full-sized vehicles had become stuck at one point. I tried plowing through the snow but lost forward momentum a couple of times, then I did like most everyone else and left the roadway, driving parallel 20 feet or so to the side. I made it to Swasey’s Cabin and tried finding the “Ice Cave Double Bridges” seen in Google Earth. There was more snow than I was expecting there and I simply didn’t feel like exploring while hiking through it, so I only got as far as the Ice Box before turning around. Strike one.
My next plan took me south into Rod’s Valley to try finding the Family Spurs geocache. It’s a multi-stage geocache where the first location has information that leads one to the final. I found the information welded onto a drill hole cap, crunched some very simple numbers, and found that the final was too far for me to drive to and still make it to my planned camp spot before dark. Strike two. The short excursion to the drill hole wasn’t a complete bust, though. I saw what must have been hundreds of ravens in flight over the pinyon/juniper forest at the north end of Rod’s Valley. Never had I seen that many in one place. I also found a downed pinyon pine near the road, which I bludgeoned with the blunt end of a log splitter to get enough wood for a nice campfire.
I searched around the Head of Sinbad for a place to camp. The first place I had in mind turned out to be breezier than I would have liked, and I ended up at the same spot where Chris and I camped a couple of years ago. I set up the tent, built a fire ring, then hiked around the ledges and cliffs above camp briefly before the sun went down. I heated some canned dinner over the fire, then read a magazine until I got chilly enough to hit the sack. That sack, by the way, was a new Marmot 0° down sleeping bag that I bought for backpacking, and this was my first time sleeping in it. The temperature got into the mid-teens and the bag kept me plenty warm. I pulled the drawstring tight so that there was a hole only about four inches in diameter above my head. A thick layer of frost formed around the hole during the night, so that when I crawled out to piss at 5AM my sleeves and beanie cap ended up slightly damp (from the frost, not the piss).
I roused slightly after 7AM and fixed some coffee, which I sipped while sitting in the sunshine on a ledge above my camp. Despite the cold air temperature, the sun felt quite warm and I thoroughly enjoyed that moment more than any other on the trip. I quickly packed my gear up. Since almost everything was covered in frost I didn’t bother packing it up properly. I wadded the tent, air pad, etc., up and stuffed it inside the Jeep, which made for a quick departure from camp. I explored a couple of the roads in the area and found the remains of a collapsed cabin. It was presumably a cow camp, as nearby there’s a cove surrounded by steep sandstone on three sides and a fence on the final side where I’m sure cattle were corralled. I also found some old cowboy names inscribed on the rocks, the oldest of which was from 1893.
After finding the cowboy names I started driving out to the main road following a different route than I’d taken in. The snow on the road hadn’t been traveled at all, and as I tried powering through it the Jeep bogged down until all the tires were spinning and the axles and body were sitting on the snow. I had to dig for a couple of minutes with a shovel to free myself, then I drove a short distance cross-country to reach the main road. Twin Knolls was my next destination. Chris placed a geocache there which nobody has found in the two years since. Since I didn’t make the climb up either of the Twin Knolls on that trip, I really wanted to do it this time. I hoped for less snow there than I’d seen around Head of Sinbad. I drove as far as I could on the 4×4 route before the trail turned into a motorcycle-only designation, but I was disappointed by how much snow was there. I wasn’t willing to hike the four miles round-trip to get to the geocache. Strike three. I drove home on the freshly graded dirt and gravel road to Buckhorn Wash and realized how desensitized I’d become to that view. One of my first trips through the Swell was along that road. I’ve been through there many times since, but on my way home this time I had a little more appreciation for it.