Colonnade Arch, Three Canyon, and Chaffin Geyser

Starting the Colonnade Arch hikeYesterday the kids and I went to the San Rafael Desert and hiked around a bit, hitting Colonnade Arch, Three Canyon, and Chaffin Geyser. It’s really too bad that my wife would rather sit at her mom’s house and cut out scraps of paper than get outside and explore the amazing natural world that we’re so lucky to live near. 😉 The drive was about two and a half hours, and we started hiking to Colonnade Arch at about 11:30AM. The hike was a little more than a mile, and navigation was pretty simple. I just tried to stay within sight of the rim of Twomile Canyon without losing too much elevation, lest we have to scramble back up to higher ground as we approached the arch.
Colonnade ArchThe approach to Colonnade Arch, at least for a first-time visitor like me, is pretty exciting. I’d only seen photos of the arch, and they can’t prepare you for how truly amazing the place is. You can’t even see the arch until you’re right below it–we just rounded a corner and there it was towering above us. I took a couple of photos of the front of the arch before letting the kids scramble up inside the alcove. They explored the inside of the arch while I took a lot of photos from inside. It was refreshingly cool in the shade of the alcove, and the breeze which had been picking up all morning was flowing through nicely. After thoroughly exploring the inside of the alcove, we scrambled around to the top and looked down inside the two skylights.
Three CanyonWe took a slightly different route back to the truck. I was keeping an eye out for this rock formation that Bill had seen on his trip to Colonnade Arch. I could have spent hours exploring and searching for that rock, but I don’t think the kids would have had the patience for it. We got back to the truck about two hours after starting the hike, then drove about two-tenths of a mile south until I found a place to park that was secluded and sheltered from the wind. Even so, it was still too windy to eat lunch sitting on the tailgate, so we ate inside the truck with the windows cracked to let a slight breeze through. After eating, we returned to the main road and headed back north and parked at the Saucer Basin turnoff and started the hike into Three Canyon.
Three Canyon narrowsI really had very little idea what to expect in Three Canyon. From looking at it in Google Earth it appeared that it might slot up a bit, but it obviously had some large vertical drops and eventually widened up quite a bit. It was a relatively flat one-third of a mile hike to the canyon, and we entered right where the sandstone layer became exposed. There were a few small drops that were easily downclimbable, then the canyon narrowed up. The narrows were very short, however, and after that section the canyon widened again and the bottom was sandy/gravely. A little more than a third of a mile after entering the canyon, we reached a huge dropoff. There were two sets of bolts with webbing attached for rappelling farther down the canyon, but it didn’t look like there was a way for us to hike farther down. We returned back up the canyon, and the kids stopped several times to climb the walls.
Chaffin Geyser bubblingOnce back at the truck, we headed north again and made a final stop at Chaffin Geyser. It was my third time there, and I hadn’t yet seen the geyser erupt the previous times. There was a Toyota Tacoma parked near the geyser but I didn’t see anybody nearby. I parked much closer to the geyser, and by the time the kids and I were standing at the small opening, I noticed a guy walking over from the other truck. He was from near Calgary and was traveling to see a friend in New Mexico, and was going to camp for the night at the geyser. He said it had erupted earlier in the afternoon, and I was disappointed because I assumed that I was too late to see it erupt again anytime soon. We chatted for a while, then he walked back over to his truck.
Chaffin Geyser eruptingJust after he left, the geyser began to sputter. At first a slow stream of water flowed silently from the opening, then it began to gain some altitude and eventually it was shooting up 15+ feet into the air. Between the angle of the geyser and the strong winds, the water was landing 25-30 feet away from the opening. I told the kids they could run through the spray, as long as they didn’t get too soaked. The water is so heavy with minerals that they came away with a white film on their skin, hair, and clothes after the water dried. The eruption lasted about 20 minutes, and it was still sputtering slightly when we left. It was a great way to top off an already good day.

Photo Gallery

GPS Tracklog and Photo Waypoints (Google Earth .KMZ Format)

GPS Tracklog and Photo Waypoints (Google Maps)

2 thoughts on “Colonnade Arch, Three Canyon, and Chaffin Geyser

  1. Hi Dennis, my friend robert and I went to colonnade arch twice (we called it the five hole arch) and the second time we drove on the trail north for a mile or two, then backpacked to the bowknot bend overlook about 2 hours out and spent the night. The view is great out there. I took off my pack, it was windy and my pack started rolling toward the cliff blown by the wind. I grabbed before it went over the edge, wow!
    Also camped at chaffin ranch site several times. I have been down that green river road from green river to the big ridge, down the flint trail, on past waterhole flat to the highway near hite many times. Just awesome country! Also been to standing rocks, lizard rock, doll house and maze overlook around the north side. Happy Trails Dennis!

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