San Rafael Spring 2019

On the last weekend in April I got a bunch of geocachers together for a camping trip near Red Knoll in the San Rafael Swell. As usual I drove down solo on Tuesday after work and claimed our camp spot. I set up camp and then went for a short hike with the dogs, then retired to the trailer for dinner and some reading before bed.

Lonely camp on Tuesday evening
Lonely camp on Tuesday evening

South end of Red Knoll
South end of Red Knoll

Boulder digging
Boulder digging

Boulder and Torrey begging for some of my dinner
Boulder and Torrey begging for some of my dinner

I took Torrey and Boulder for a hike on Wednesday morning, circumnavigating Red Knoll. I expected to find some inscriptions, but was surprised to find a couple of writings by Warren Allred from 1935 and 1939–he was well outside his usual turf in the central Swell. Torrey is getting old enough (she turned 12 in January-ish) that the hike left her exhausted, so we just chilled at camp for the rest of the afternoon until Traci arrived. We drove to the Wedge Overlook for sunset, the first of three such trips during this outing.

Red Ledges at sunrise
Red Ledges at sunrise

Vernell Rowley inscription
Vernell Rowley inscription

Red Knoll and Red Ledges
Red Knoll and Red Ledges

West side of Red Knoll
West side of Red Knoll

Faded Warren Allred inscription from 1935; “Rain””
Faded Warren Allred inscription from 1935; "Rain"

Balanced rock
Balanced rock

Lizards sunning
Lizards sunning

Warren Allred 5-12-1939
Warren Allred 5-12-1939

Red Knoll and Little Cedar Mountain
Red Knoll and Little Cedar Mountain

View of camp from the Red Ledges
View of camp from the Red Ledges

Wednesday’s sunset from the Wedge Overlook
Wednesday's sunset from the Wedge Overlook

On Thursday morning I went to Fuller Bottom to check out the San Rafael River flow (it was way too high to drive across), then did a short hike to a corral that I’d spotted in Google Earth. There wasn’t much to see there.

San Rafael River at Fuller Bottom, running at 262 CFS
San Rafael River at Fuller Bottom, running at 262 CFS

Fuller Bottom corral
Fuller Bottom corral

Bed spring
Bed spring

Rafter J brand that I’ve also seen in North Salt Wash
Rafter J brand that I've also seen in North Salt Wash

Next I drove to Little Holes to look for some rock art I’d read about in a guide book. I didn’t find the rock art but I did see many grinding slicks in a nearby wash.

Grinding slick and sandal petroglyph
Grinding slick and sandal petroglyph

Grinding slick
Grinding slick

Grinding slicks
Grinding slicks

Water at Little Holes
Water at Little Holes

After lunch I hiked from camp south along the Red Ledges. I didn’t really see anything of interest after a couple of miles of hiking, but while I was gone five more people arrived at camp. The wind kicked up that evening and we endured quite a dust storm which settled down after the sun went down.

Hiking along the base of the Red Ledges
Hiking along the base of the Red Ledges

Small natural arch
Small natural arch

Camp is filling up while I’m hiking!
Camp is filling up while I'm hiking!

Dust storm
Dust storm

Paul, Ken, and I went for a bit of a drive on Friday. Since we couldn’t ford the San Rafael River even in Ken’s Jeep, we drove the long way around through Castle Dale and Ferron to the Red Ledges north of Horn Silver Gulch. We hiked down through a little canyon that cuts through the Red Ledges and found some Fremont pictographs that a friend had told me about years ago. Bright sunshine made the rock art difficult to photograph, so we sat down and took a break until clouds obscured the sun and I finally got some decent photos.

Natural arch
Natural arch

Entering a small drainage
Entering a small drainage

Fremont Pictographs in the Red Ledges
Fremont Pictographs in the Red Ledges

Exiting via a small canyon
Exiting via a small canyon

Next we drove to Molen Seep Wash to try finding some rock art. I had been there exactly 10 years and one day earlier but a storm was rolling in and I didn’t dare stick around to search for the rock art then. This time the weather was still threatening but we persevered and located some pretty nice pictographs!

Molen Seep Wash pictographs
Molen Seep Wash pictographs

Molen Seep Wash pictographs and petroglyphs
Molen Seep Wash pictographs and petroglyphs

Molen Seep Wash pictographs
Molen Seep Wash pictographs

We returned to camp and found it pretty full with about 23 people there. We again drove to the Wedge Overlook for sunset and it turned out to be a beauty!

Dark clouds over Little Cedar Mountain
Dark clouds over Little Cedar Mountain

Full camp
Full camp

Driving to the Wedge Overlook just before sunset
Driving to the Wedge Overlook just before sunset

Sunset progression at the Wedge Overlook (1 of 4)
Sunset progression at the Wedge Overlook (1 of 4)

Sunset progression at the Wedge Overlook (2 of 4)
Sunset progression at the Wedge Overlook (2 of 4)

Sunset progression at the Wedge Overlook (3 of 4)
Sunset progression at the Wedge Overlook (3 of 4)

Sunset progression at the Wedge Overlook (4 of 4)
Sunset progression at the Wedge Overlook (4 of 4)

Saturday was the day for our easy group trip, and we drove along the old railroad grade at the base of Cedar Mountain finding geocaches, rock art, and inscriptions. I attempted to drive over what appeared to be a large dried mud puddle but ended up sinking to the axles in mud. Luckily Kenny was there to winch me out, and one other truck had to be extracted from another similar mud hole.

A bit of morning meditation
A bit of morning meditation

Petroglyphs at the base of Cedar Mountain
Petroglyphs at the base of Cedar Mountain

Cool little figure
Cool little figure

Shield figure
Shield figure

Defaced Peter O. Madsen inscription
Defaced Peter O. Madsen inscription

The group checking out some rock art
The group checking out some rock art

Lone petroglyph
Lone petroglyph

Vernell Rowley inscription
Vernell Rowley inscription

Kiln along the railroad grade
Kiln along the railroad grade

Little Cedar Mountain
Little Cedar Mountain

But it looked dry!
But it looked dry!

Mud-caked wheel and tire
Mud-caked wheel and tire

Another vehicle being winched out
Another vehicle being winched out

Endangered San Rafael Cactus (Pediocactus despainii)
Endangered San Rafael Cactus (Pediocactus despainii)

The rest of the group headed back to camp after our traverse of the railroad grade, but Chris and I returned to Little Holes to try locating the rock art I’d missed a couple of days earlier. Not only did we find the petroglyphs, but we also ran into a few people who were there following the same guide book that I was!

Many grinding slicks
Many grinding slicks

Little Holes petroglyphs
Little Holes petroglyphs

Little Holes petroglyphs
Little Holes petroglyphs

Little Holes petroglyphs
Little Holes petroglyphs

On Saturday evening we again drove to the Wedge Overlook where there was some nice light on the cliffs and clouds at sunset. We returned to camp and threw a couple of one-gallon cans of vegetables in the fire for entertainment.

Window Blind Peak
Window Blind Peak

Orange/pink/purple clouds
Orange/pink/purple clouds

Little Grand Canyon after sunset
Little Grand Canyon after sunset

Exploding vegetables
Exploding vegetables

I don’t normally do much on Sundays during these outings but since we were camped relatively close to home, Chris, Dollie, and I decided to hike to the Horse Heaven natural arch. I brought Boulder along but left Torrey at camp with Traci since she couldn’t handle a longer hike. The canyon we hiked up to get to the arch had many potholes filled with water, so Boulder had plenty to drink and went for a couple of swims. We got to the natural arch and rested there, then headed cross-country to the old Smith Cabin.

Hiking into Horse Heaven
Hiking into Horse Heaven

Large pool in the Navajo Sandstone
Large pool in the Navajo Sandstone

Boulder on the Horse Heaven natural bridge
Boulder on the Horse Heaven natural bridge

Horse Heaven natural bridge
Horse Heaven natural bridge

The last I’d heard the cabin was still standing but was leaning quite badly. We arrived to find it with only one wall fully standing. There are still a lot of artifacts hanging around, including a stove and bed. We left the cabin and hiked down a different canyon back to the Jeep, and this one was just as full of water as the first.

Large cairn
Large cairn

Nearly-collapsed Smith Cabin
Nearly-collapsed Smith Cabin

Smith Cabin
Smith Cabin

Can lids sealing the gaps between outer wall boards
Can lids sealing the gaps between outer wall boards

Stove at Smith Cabin
Stove at Smith Cabin

The Estate Stove Co., Hamilton, Ohio, USA
The Estate Stove Co., Hamilton, Ohio, USA

Descending another pothole-filled drainage
Descending another pothole-filled drainage

1942 section corner
1942 section corner

Back at camp almost everybody had left. Traci and the kids had our trailer mostly ready to go home, so they took off while I hitched the trailer to the truck and headed home myself. I got to Highway 10 and got out to check on my dirt bike which was strapped to a rack on the back of the trailer, only to find it gone! I did a big U-turn in the middle of the highway and hauled ass back down the gravel road, dreading what I might find. After four miles I came across two young men standing next to a Jeep Cherokee, and my dirt bike was propped on its kickstand in front of the Jeep. They’d found the bike in the middle of the road and picked it up, then didn’t quite know what to do. I thanked them for moving it off the road and one of them helped me load it back onto the trailer. I strapped the bike down good and tight this time (and after the trip bought new tie-downs to prevent this from ever happening again). The only damage to the motorcycle was a broken throttle tube and bent handlebars, which cost me about $40 to fix. At least it was a cheap lesson to learn!

After picking up my motorcycle
After picking up my motorcycle

Tire and foot peg marks caused by the motorcycle bouncing down the road
Tire and foot peg marks caused by the motorcycle bouncing down the road

Bent handlebars
Bent handlebars


Photo Gallery: San Rafael Spring 2019