I probably say this after each San Rafael geocaching event, but this last one was one of the best ever. I managed to cram a lot of fun into five days and four nights. Dave drove down from Provo Wednesday morning and met me at my place, then we fueled up and convoyed to the campsite in the Temple Mountain/Goblin Valley area. We parked our trailers and took our time setting up camp. I ate a quick bite for lunch and walked around the campsite taking a few photos, then we went for an ATV ride in a counter-clockwise loop around Temple Mountain. We rode up North Temple Wash and I was impressed with how beautiful the canyon was. It has a brief narrow and twisty section with a flat sandy bottom that’s really fun to ride in. We tried finding a geocache in the canyon but couldn’t locate it, so we moved on. We tried getting to another geocache, but we weren’t sure which road to take. We passed up one left (west) turn, and about a third of a mile farther there was another road leading to the left which we took. It took us past an old cabin on the east side of Temple Mountain and then curved around the north end of the mountain. On the northwest side of the mountain there was a lot more evidence of past mining activity. We rode down off the mountain on the west side and headed southeast through South Temple Wash back to camp. I wandered around that evening and took some night shots around camp. Dave and I sat around the campfire for a while and then went to bed by about 10:00PM.
The firewood I’d brought to camp (that I picked up the previous weekend with Chris while we were on the Wasatch Plateau) didn’t burn very well the night before–it was too green. So, on Thursday morning Dave and I rode our ATVs around to other nearby campsites looking for any wood left behind by other campers. We found a bit, but not enough to last the weekend. I went for a drive in the truck and found quite a bit more, and after we had a pretty good pile of wood, Dave and I went for an ATV ride along Wild Horse Creek just west of Goblin Valley. We found five geocaches, four of which hadn’t yet been found. The first two were pretty easy finds, not far from the primitive campsites where we parked the ATVs. The third required quite a hike. Dave waited below while I scrambled up the hillside, gaining almost 400 feet of elevation over the course of about 900 horizontal feet. It was steep and loose, and my shoes filled up with dirt. It took me more than 20 minutes to get to the cache, and I rested there for a while before literally running back down the hill. The dirt was so soft and loose that I could take a huge leap down the hill and the soil would break my fall and form a horizontal step underneath each foot. I reached the bottom in two or three minutes, then Dave and I rode farther south in search of two more geocaches. One was an easy find near a dead cottonwood tree on the edge of Wild Horse Creek, but the last cache gave us some problems. There was no obvious way to get there, either on foot or on the ATVs. We rode up and down the road a couple of times looking for a way around the steep cutbanks and huge thickets of tamarisk between the road and the cache, but never found a good way there. We eventually rode south for nearly a mile before finding a way into the bottom of Wild Horse Creek (which, despite the name, actually doesn’t have flowing water for most of the year). From there we rode back to the north along the stream bed until we were within about 100 feet of the cache. It was an easy walk from there, and after finding the cache, we continued north until reaching the gravel road, then returned to camp. That evening a storm rolled in, and it alternated between merely sprinkling and full-on raining. Ken and Jan showed up in their motorhome, then Chris in his car, and finally Terry and Karen with their trailer. The rain didn’t keep us from starting a fire and spending the night sitting around it. Chris and I were up until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, and he ended up sleeping in my trailer instead of braving the rain in his tent.
By Friday morning it was still sprinkling on-and-off and the clouds were below 6,000′, obscuring the top of the San Rafael Reef west of camp. Chris and Terry and I had planned on finding a geocache on top of the Reef that had not yet been found, even after more than a year of being there. We hopped on the ATVs and Ken and Jan followed us up North Temple Wash to find the geocache and Dave and I couldn’t find on Wednesday. Chris had already found it and knew where to look, so we were able to quickly get it out of the way. The three of us pressed on while Ken and Jan drove back down the canyon. We followed an old mining track around the northwest side of the Reef and parked the ATVs in the bottom of the wash near Farnsworth Canyon. We hiked up the wash for a while, then followed another mining track up the backside of the Reef to a steep, bouldery gully that leads to the top. Once on top, it was a fairly easy walk to where the geocache was located. We were exploring the general area near the cache, and Chris had stepped down through a break in the sandstone until he was under a big overhang just below the top of the Reef. He called me down to check the place out, and when I stepped down through the break in the sandstone, the small boulder I was standing on gave way beneath me and started tilting downhill. I caught myself with both hands on another boulder and bruised and scraped both hands enough to draw blood, but luckily I didn’t tumble further and end up falling off the cliff below. About a minute after that Chris was standing on a small thin ledge when it broke away underneath him. He got a big scrape on the side of his ankle that bled for a bit. There was a series of small canyons near the geocache where there was supposed to be three natural arches. We hiked around the rims of the small canyons and spotted two of the arches, but didn’t locate the third. We hiked back toward the steep gully leading back toward the ATVs, but detoured briefly to look at an interesting canyon before starting the scramble down the backside of the San Rafael Reef. While scrambling down, Terry dislodged a big rock above his head that rolled down and smacked him in the face–he said it felt like being punched. We’d all three had a small but potentially dangerous incident, and we hoped that would be the last. We got back to the ATVs about three hours after we’d begun hiking, and the hike turned out to be about 3.9 miles long. Back at Camp, Traci and the boys had arrived in the car, and Kim showed up later in the evening. Everyone went about fixing their dinner, then gathered around the campfire for the rest of the evening. I spent quite a bit of time taking night shots. The kids did some light painting, and I got some interesting photos of some campers throwing a lighted frisbee up and down a cliff behind our camp. Chris even joined in on the action and threw the frisbee a few times. Chris and Kim and I walked around while I took photos of them and some random strangers camped nearby.
On Saturday I’d hoped to do some activity that everybody could join in, but the group had such a variety of skill levels (and vehicles!) that it wasn’t easy to come up with something we could all do. Instead, Dave and Chris and I went for an ATV ride up the south side of Temple Mountain. Our goal was to get to the geocache that Dave and I didn’t get to on Wednesday. We explored several short side roads leading to mine shafts and shacks, and we were surprised by all of the huge drill cores (3′ in diameter) scattered around the area. All of the mine shafts had been either filled in or grated, but there was one large headframe intact over a grated shaft that was interesting. There was also an old concrete foundation and some collapsed wooden walls near the geocache. We left the area traveling east and dropped down into North Temple Wash on the road that Dave and I had passed a few days earlier. After getting back to camp, Dave let Chris borrow his ATV, and Chris and Traci and I went for a ride with the kids. We had only planned on finding a geocache near the top-end of Little Wild Horse Canyon, but it turned into a bigger adventure. We had to ride along the Behind the Reef trail to get to Little Wild Horse. My first-ever ATV ride was on that trail in 2007, but it seemed much more difficult this time. At the very start of the ATV trail climbing out of Chute Canyon, we stopped to stack some rocks up in one spot that probably would have high-centered my smaller Honda Ranchers (though Chris, on Dave’s larger Honda Foreman, probably would have made it up just fine). We rode over a few more tricky spots where we had the kids dismount while we crawled over them in 4WD. It was slow-going, but it no worse than some other rides we’ve done. We finally reached Little Wild Horse a bit later than we’d planned, and hiked a third of a mile down the flat, sandy wash bottom to find the cache. Upon returning to the ATVs, Chris and I noticed that there was another cache near Ding Dang Dome that wasn’t much farther down the Behind the Reef trail, so we pressed on. On the way we stopped at the old miner’s cabin just west of Bell Canyon, and while there we heard some thunder and noticed some very dark clouds coming over the horizon to the northwest. That was our cue to hurry up. We cruised over to Ding Dang Dome and Chris and I hiked to the cache there, then back to the ATVs where Traci and the kids were waiting. We backtracked a short distance along the Behind the Reef trail and, instead of following the trail back the way we’d come, we rode north on a trail that runs north-south between Cistern Canyon and Bell Canyon, and eventually meets up with the main road near McKay Flat. It began raining right after we left Ding Dang Dome and it continued for almost the entire ride back to camp. I’m not sure what would have been worse, riding Behind the Reef in the rain, or getting soaked taking a longer but easier way out. We got soaked though, and we got back to camp just in time for Traci and I to start our potluck dish for the group dinner that evening. As we were fixing our fried potatoes and keilbasa, I noticed that Alan Peterson had showed up unexpectedly. It was a pleasant surprise to see him and be able to talk while making and eating dinner. After dinner, while I was inside the trailer mixing a drink, Chris was outside doing something he’d wanted to do for a long time. Last fall he’d bought a 1-gallon can of corn and left it in our camp trailer. His original plan was–well, maybe I shouldn’t mention it here. Suffice it to say that I wouldn’t have taken part in it. His plan for this evening was to put the can of corn in the fire and watch it explode. He didn’t think it would do much, but I was worried about doing it at camp and damaging somebody’s trailer or possibly hitting somebody with shrapnel. Anyhow, I came out of the trailer with my drink and found the can of corn in the campfire. We all stood around contemplating when it would go off and what exactly would happen when it did. It finally went off with a low boom and sent embers from the fire everywhere across the sandstone. After a search, somebody found the can about 150 feet from the fire. There was a surprisingly small amount of corn scattered around, so we’re not really sure what happened to all of it. It was absolutely hilarious, but not something I would want to do in the middle of camp again. After that evening’s rain storm things were a bit colder, but we enjoyed dry weather for the rest of the night around what was left of the campfire.
Sunday was a much less eventful day than the rest, but it was still quite nice. The sun was shining for most of the day, though there were darker clouds threatening off to the west. Traci and I went for a ride with the kids up North Temple Wash, and stopped to let the kids scramble around on the sandstone there. I scouted out a route to the top of the San Rafael Reef from North Temple Wash. There was a geocache there that Chris and I had planned on finding later that day, and the route I found began only a quarter of a mile from that cache, rather than the more obvious route that began half a mile away. We went back to camp and Kim hopped on the back of my ATV, while Chris and Sylvia rode on Traci’s machine, and we went back up North Temple. The hike was pretty short and easy, and I was glad to be able to check one more geocache off my list. I had cleaned out the entire area, with the exception of a few caches inside Goblin Valley State Park which I didn’t really care to visit this time around. After returning to camp we began to load the truck and trailer for the drive home. Everybody slowly pulled out until there was nobody left except my family. Once we had the trailer hitched on and everything ready to go, we made one last short hike to a small cave/alcove that the kids had spotted from the hill behind camp. I had also seen that alcove, but more importantly I’d see what looked like some red pictographs near the alcove. The kids climbed around in the alcove while Traci stayed there to watch them, and I hiked a short distance to find the pictographs. I found them and was surprised at how interesting they were. I kept hiking around the base of the low cliffs beyond the rock art to see if there was anything else of interest, and I sure found something interesting. Torrey had wandered off in the wrong direction and I stopped to call her back to me, and once she was at my side again I began to walk again but stopped dead at the sight of a rattlesnake five feet in front of me. It was stretched out on the sandstone and unmoving. It was a smallish snake, maybe about 18 inches long, and with reddish coloring. Luckily Torrey didn’t show any interest in it. I backed off a bit, grabbed my camera, and took some photos and video at a full 10x zoom. I was surprised that I didn’t have to hold Torrey back–perhaps she sensed the danger that the snake posed. I yelled to Traci to gather up the kids just in case there were other snakes in the area. She came over to look at the snake I’d found, then went back to the kids and kept an eye on them. After getting some photos and video, I left the snake and much more cautiously walked back to the car. Traci dropped me and Torrey off where we’d left the truck, then she went ahead of me toward home while I took my time. It felt more like I was leaving home than going toward home. My house feels like the place I stay when I’m not at home outdoors doing what I really love. As I traveled north it began to rain, and by the time I got to the RV dump in Price it was coming down good. I got soaked dumping all of the trailer holding tanks. I dumped the fresh water tank too, just in case this was my last camping trip of the year, but I really hope I get out one or two more times in the trailer. I’m certain that I’ll get out again at least in my tent this year–February’s trip with Chris in the snow was too fun not to do again. What is usually my last camping trip of the year has whet my appetite for more.
Photo Gallery: San Rafael Fall 2010
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