North Salt Wash

At the rim of North Salt WashMichael and Bradley and I hiked down into North Salt Wash yesterday in search of what looked like a natural arch at the mouth one of its side canyons. I’d seen it earlier this year from about half a mile away, but from that angle it was impossible to tell whether it was an arch, or just an illusion. We’d stayed up very late the night before, and we slept in Saturday morning. We didn’t leave home until 10:30 in the morning, which put us at the trailhead a little after noon. We brought lunch to eat after the hike, but it was already lunch time before we started the hike. The kids decided they wanted to save their lunch for after the hike, so we ate a quick snack at the truck before setting off down into the canyon, and we each brought a couple of granola bars to eat along the way.
Scrambling down into the canyonThe kids had been into North Salt Wash once before in April 2009, so I was sure that they could handle the steep scramble into and out of the canyon. However, that time they only hiked a short distance after reaching the bottom of the canyon, and this time we were planning on going much farther. On the way into the canyon we reached a spot where a lot of spherical concretions had eroded out of the Navajo Sandstone, much like moqui marbles except not as hard as most. Michael and Bradley each picked out a glob of concretions to take home, and left them on the side of the trail to pick up on the hike back up to the truck.
Water seeping out of a cliffIn the bottom of North Salt Wash, it was fairly easy hiking. There was a bit of bushwhacking through rabbitbrush and tamarisk at first. We crossed some standing water in the wash by picking our way across some small stones in a shallow spot, and after the water crossing the brush thinned out and the hiking became easier. There were some soft sandy sections of trail that we slogged through, and we stopped once in the shade of a cliff to cool off and eat a snack. We followed the base of that cliff through a lot of cottonwood trees before reaching a steep cutbank with a small drainage channel cutting through it. We followed the drainage up onto a flat just above the floodplain in North Salt Wash, and continued following the base of the cliff all the way to the side canyon we’d come to check out.
Concretions in the Navajo SandstoneWe reached the mouth of the side canyon and realized that the arch I thought I’d seen was just an illusion. It was a large dryfall with a pothole above it and a deep underhang below, so when viewed from the side it appeared that the lip of the pothole was an arch. It may someday become an arch if the pothole deepens enough to cut through to the underhang. There was a pool of water below the dryfall, and I left the kids there while I scrambled around above trying to find a way to get on top of the dryfall. I was unsuccessful, so we hiked down the drainage a short distance until we found a steep and narrow ridge to hike up that looked like it would eventually top out above the dryfall. It took some tricky routefinding, but I found a way up the ridge, passing some even more interesting layers of concretions. Once above the first dryfall, there was yet another that we had to scramble around and up until we were finally in the bottom of the canyon with some relatively easy hiking ahead of us.
A pothole in the side canyonAfter some more hiking and a bit of scrambling, we reached a section of canyon where it had a relatively flat sandstone bottom and steep sides. The boys were starting to wear out at that point, so I left them in some shade to eat another snack while I continued up the canyon for a few hundred more yards. I reached yet another dryfall that I tried climbing up, but the overhang was too far out for me to keep my balance while trying to make it over the edge. It would probably be doable with a partner assist, or maybe even by stacking up rocks, but I had no partner and didn’t want to carry big rocks (the nearest of which were about 100′ away) up the canyon with my gimpy arm. I placed a geocache there, and while doing so I faintly heard the kids yelling for me. They’d become worried because I was gone longer than I said I’d be, so I hurriedly finished up with the cache and jogged down the canyon. Michael and Bradley were relieved to see me.
Cottonwoods in North Salt WashWe hiked down the canyon and retraced our steps, taking a few shortcuts where possible. It was 3:30PM by the time we started heading back, and we were all hungry for lunch. We didn’t stop much on the way back, and it took a little less than two hours to get back to the truck. It was closer to dinner time when we sat in the shade next to the truck and ate lunch and enjoyed the cold drinks that had been waiting for us. There was an unoccupied vehicle parked next to us when we got back (a Toyota Tundra with California license plates), and I was surprised to see that somebody else was hiking in this area. They’d obviously gotten a later start than us, and I couldn’t help but wonder where they were hiking–Sid’s Mountain, perhaps, or maybe Saddle Horse Canyon? Despite just having hiked in some beautiful and interesting country, I was envious that somebody else was out there enjoying it still. 🙂


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