Heart of the Desert, Swazy's Leap

Self-PortraitYesterday was an epic day of hiking and geocaching, with some exciting off-roading thrown in. Today’s my birthday so I had taken yesterday off work, and I wanted to do something really fun on my day off. Somebody recently placed a series of 20 geocaches in the middle of the San Rafael Swell called the “Heart of the Desert.” Finding those sounded like more fun than the rockhounding trip that I had originally planned, so early Friday morning I set out to find all 20 caches, plus several others in the area. I left home just before 7:00 and reached my parking spot for the HOTD caches at 9:00. By then it was already warm enough to have used the A/C in the truck on the drive there, but I came prepared to haul enough water to last me the entire hike. The first few caches were easy to get to by hiking across mostly flat ground. After that, the next few required some steep scrambling through small canyons and over hills. I reached the fifth cache in the series after an hour and 15 minutes, which would pretty much set the pace for the remaining 15. By the time I reached the halfway point, it was pretty damn hot and I had to stop and rest. I was on Indian Flat by then, and most of the remaining caches were reached by simply hiking across relatively flat ground.
Pronghorn AntelopeAt the fifteenth cache in the series, something strange happened. An pronghorn antelope began approaching me, and even though he obviously knew I was there, he just kept on coming. He was nonchalant about it, casually and slowly walking toward me while occasionally stopping to browse on some grass. I took some video of him which you can see here on YouTube. His behavior eventually started to spook me, so I shooed him off by walking toward him and tossing a few rocks his way. I then continued on my way to find the remaining few caches. Near the second to last one, I made a stupid mistake. There was a steep hill between me and the next cache, but I hadn’t done enough planning ahead and didn’t realize that the cache was on the other side of the hill–I expected it to be on top. I climbed the hill only to go back down the other side, when I could have walked around it much more easily. By the time I had finished finding all the geocaches and returned to the truck, I was too exhausted to even eat lunch. It took me just under six hours and the hike was over six miles, and all I wanted was to be on my way.
Truck on Swazy's Leap RoadThere was one other geocache nearby–well, about 25 miles away on an extremely rough road–that I wanted to find because it was the oldest unfound geocache in Utah. It was at Swazy’s Leap, which is in one of the most remote areas of the San Rafael Swell. The road going there just kept getting worse and worse, but I kept going and going because I thought to myself, “It can’t possibly get any worse that what I already drove over.” It turns out that, yes, it can get worse–much worse. The road wasn’t technically difficult to drive on, it was just rough and rocky. I only needed 4WD for one brief section on the drive out of the area. I finally reached the “end” of the road where the BLM has barricaded it from further vehicular travel, but the actual road continues another 2.2 miles to the cache at Swazy’s Leap. I was already nearly exhausted from the earlier hiking, and the drive to this place had taken a lot longer than I expected. I barely had a signal on my cell phone, so I decided to call Traci to let her know where I was and what I was planning on doing, just in case something went wrong. The hike started off badly. I thought I could get there faster if I left the road and cut cross-country, but I ran into a couple of deep canyons that had to be negotiated. Now I know why the road follows the course that it does. I eventually regained the road and decided to stick with it the rest of the way to the cache. I kept a fast pace, but my muscles were paying for it. It took me more than an hour to reach the cache, but it was an awesome place and well worth the effort. Swazy’s Leap is a relatively narrow spot along the canyon rim of the Lower Black Box, through which the San Rafael River flows. Legend has it that one of the Swazy brothers jumped his horse across this spot. It’s easily possible to hike down to the “Leap,” but I was too tired and the sun was sinking low in the sky. I snapped a few photos and hurriedly began the march back to the truck, this time not straying from the road much at all.
I covered the return hike in less than an hour, even though it was the same distance as the hike in. I called Traci again to let her know that I was on my way home, but that I’d be a while. The sun had set behind the cliffs to the west, and I began the long drive home as it began to get dark. The drive home was just plain shitty. It was stressful because I was in a hurry, but I couldn’t see the road as well and couldn’t go as fast as I wanted. My legs were sore and began to cramp up, and twice I had to stop the truck and walk around a little to loosen my leg muscles up. One nice thing about the drive home is that, when driving through Buckhorn Wash, I caught a glimpse of the sky out my window and noticed that the Milky Way was visible and extremely bright. Despite my hurry, I pulled over, turned the headlights off and shut the engine down so I could enjoy that sight for a few minutes. The drive home was only 75 miles but it took me three hours to make it there. I barely had enough energy to take a shower before I collapsed into bed. It was a tough day, but so far it’s been a great start to my birthday weekend.

6 thoughts on “Heart of the Desert, Swazy's Leap

  1. Happy birthday, Dennis. Looks like you made it a memorable one indeed. Nice write up on your adventures, too!

  2. Happy Birthday! Sounds like you had an adventure. That is weird with the antelope approaching you like that. Just got back from Sid’s Mountain and thanks for the coords it helped quite a bit.

  3. Happy Birthday! That’s my kind of birthday. That Pronghorn video is crazy, I’ve never seen one walk towards a person. Have fun

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