San Rafael Swell – Spring 2011

Camp on Wednesday eveningLast weekend began early for me. As soon as I got off work at 3:00PM on Wednesday, I did a few last minute things before jumping in the truck and pulling the trailer down to the San Rafael Swell. The campsite I’d chosen was near South Salt Wash just off of exit 108 on I-70. It was windy when I arrived, and I set up camp quickly while keeping the trailer closed as much as possible to keep the dust out. Dropping the ramp to unload the ATVs let plenty of dust in, however, and after that you couldn’t even tell I’d swept and mopped the trailer before going camping. I’d hoped to do some ATV riding that evening, but at times visibility was only a couple hundred yards because of all the dust being kicked up by the wind, so I stayed holed up inside the trailer and started reading a book (The Split Sky by Tom McCourt). I’d planned on grilling some kielbasa for dinner, but instead I stayed in the trailer and pan-fried it. I turned in to bed early and slept well most of the night.
Upper Muddy Creek GorgeOn Thursday morning I woke up early. It was cool, but calm and sunny outside, and I finished setting up camp after a light breakfast of banana bread and coffee. At 9:30AM I left on a 4-wheeler ride with no particular destination in mind, other than that I wanted to travel south and possibly find a nice overlook of Muddy Creek. I crossed the Muddy on the bridge at Lone Tree Crossing and eventually found myself riding east on Lone Tree Wedge. I passed through what appeared to be an old gypsum quarry, and just east of there the road turned into more of an ATV trail, though there were recent tire tracks from a full-sized vehicle. I stopped at two overlooks with nice views down into the incredible scenery of the upper Muddy Creek gorge. The trail simply ended at the second overlook, and I turned around there and rode back toward camp. I stopped briefly about 1.3 miles south of Lone Tree Crossing to hike across the exposed Entrada Sandstone, hoping to find some interesting goblin-like formations. The topography was interesting there, but nothing like I was hoping to see.
Around the campfire Thursday nightI got back to camp and ate lunch, then went for another short ride south of camp toward an old gravel pit that was used when I-70 was being built. On my way south I saw some horsemen herding a large group of cattle north directly toward camp. They were in a wash bottom but nearly to the road when I passed them, and I decided not to take that way back to camp (lest I get stuck behind a slow-moving group of cattle with no way around). I had to ride in a wash bottom to connect the two roads that officially dead-end (according to the BLM travel plan) near the gravel pit, then took a different road back to camp. When I got there, Terry and Karen had just pulled in, and so had the group of cattle. Terry told me he’d had truck problems on the drive down from Ogden–the engine had lost power and was blowing black, sooty smoke out the exhaust. The guy apparently in charge of the cattle-gathering operation came over and let us know that they planned on watering the cattle at the pond just across the road from our camp, then they’d turn ’em loose nearby for the night, then gather them back up in the morning and ship them out by the truckload. Slowly throughout the afternoon and evening people started showing up at camp. That night we had two trailers, a motorhome, a camper, and two tents in the site. We had a nice, quite evening around the fire.
Horizon ArchThe following morning Eric and Sherie set out in their Jeep, along with Craig in his Jeep, to go to Colonnade Arch and do some other exploring in that area. Chris and I hopped on the ATVs with the kids and rode out to Horizon Arch, and Ken and Jan came along in their Jeep. Traci stayed at camp and enjoyed some time without the kids. I’d driven the truck to Horizon Arch five years ago, and though it was a fun drive, it was long, and we didn’t spend much time hiking around then. This time it was a pretty quick jaunt from camp, and on ATVs it went even more quickly. We parked at the end of the road near Horizon Arch and hiked around to three geocaches, only one of which I hadn’t found before. When we were finished hiking around, Ken and Jan headed back to camp while Chris and I took a side road that led to the head of Pancho Wash. The travel map showed the road ending after less than a mile, but I was hoping it would continue farther and possibly get us closer to Muddy Creek from the north side. Unfortunately it did indeed end where the map showed, near a strange reservoir that had been dug out and lined with plastic, but had no inlet and was completely dry.
Around the campfire Friday nightBack at camp, several more people arrived that evening–one more trailer and a bunch of tents. We threw a 1-gallon can of green beans in the fire and blew it up better than anything else we’ve tried. The partially full can of butane/propane wasn’t even as explosive as the green beans. 🙂 I got a text from Eric saying that he’d broken a u-joint on his Jeep and was limping it back to Green River with Craig following him. He made it to town alright, then he and Sherie crammed into Craig’s Jeep for the drive along the interstate back to camp. They arrived after all the campfire fun, and we got to spend some time around the fire enjoying the evening.

Pictographs in Kimball DrawEric and Sherie left the next morning (Saturday) to tow their Jeep to Moab to get fixed, and I was bummed that we didn’t get to spend much time with them. Traci and I took the kids on a 4-wheeler ride that day through Kimball Draw and Cat Canyon. We stopped to find one geocache in Kimball Draw and ran into some geocachers from Colorado who’d stopped briefly at camp earlier in the morning. We ended up running into them a couple more times later in the day, and I learned later that they’d gotten their Jeep stuck in a sandy ditch near Link Flats and that Terry pulled them out with his ATV. Anyhow, after finding that first cache, we stopped at some pictographs in Kimball Draw. As we were riding along the wash I noticed an alcove with what looked like just graffiti, but some of the circles didn’t look quite like spray paint. I stopped to check it out and realized that the circles were genuine pictographs, and there were smaller and fainter pictographs all over in the alcove. I had no idea any of that was there, and it was really too bad that it had been so badly vandalized. We very briefly checked out a very old drill site, then continued along Kimball Draw until eventually the road climbed out of the wash and over a pass, then down into Cat Canyon.
Steel dam at the head of Cat CanyonCat Canyon and the area surrounding it were just awesome. It was my favorite place to visit all weekend. The road drops into Cat Canyon at about the point where the Navajo Sandstone becomes exposed below the Carmel Formation, and then the road follows the wash bottom all the way to Link Flats. We only went as far as an old steel dam where there was a geocache, and we ate our lunch there. We all hiked up the shallow, narrow slot canyon above the steel dam, stemming over the parts where the bottom narrowed down to a point too small for our bodies to fit. I hiked alone up one side of the canyon, around the head of the canyon, then back down the other side to where Traci and the kids were waiting. There were ponderosa pine trees all over the area, and a lot of flat, sandy areas surrounded by large seas of rolling slickrock. I’ve already decided that I need to ride my ATV back to the area and spend a couple of days camping and hiking around. We returned to camp and had an awesome potluck dinner that evening, and spent a crazy night around the campfire (Torrey got really crazy). We blew up a 1-gallon can of corn, had some drinks, and a few even stayed up ’til almost daylight (not me, I turned in early–around 2:00AM).
The Red Ledges and Lookout PointEveryone was slow to rise on Sunday morning. Traci and I started taking down camp, then I went for a quick ride with Michael (and Terry for part of the way). We rode north along South Salt Wash to the Moore Cutoff Road, then headed west for just over a mile, then turned north again and followed the road along Sand Bench. We ended up working out way east to the Sid and Charlie rock formation and stopped to find the geocache there, then we headed back to camp. Some had already left by then, and everyone else was getting ready to go. Terry had decided he was going to try driving his truck home despite the engine troubles, but he asked me to pull his trailer to Price and leave it there until he could come get it. Traci and I were the last ones to leave camp. I pulled the trailer to Price and dumped it at the RV dump, then dropped it in the driveway and unloaded the back of the truck. I fueled up and left for the Swell again, picking up Terry’s trailer and bringing it back to Price, dropping it in the dirt lot next to Traci’s parents’ place. It made for a long day, and I slept well that night after having had such a full and long weekend.

Photo Gallery

GPS Tracklog and Waypoints (Google Earth .KMZ Format)

GPS Tracklog and Waypoints (Google Maps)

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