Memorial Weekend 2011, San Rafael Swell

Abandoned school busThis was my first holiday weekend camping in the San Rafael Swell. It was a great time! My family normally doesn’t go camping on holiday weekends, ’cause the weekends of Easter, Memorial Day, and Labor Day are usually extremely crowded in the desert. The weekend prior to Memorial weekend, however, was so wintry that we canceled our trip for that weekend and decided to hang out with the huge crowds the following weekend. Luckily for us, our friend Dave Huntsman was also looking to do some camping that weekend and drove down from Utah County on Wednesday to save our spot. After my niece’s high school graduation on Thursday (boy, does that make me feel old!), my family hopped in both vehicles (me in the truck and Traci and the boys in the car) and drove down to meet Dave at the northwest end of Buckhorn Flat at the base of Cedar Mountain. Dave was out geocaching when we arrived, but he showed up while we were setting up camp. After Traci and I got things set up, Dave and I went for a 4-wheeler ride to see some nearby rock art and an abandoned bus.
Bat in Calf CanyonOn Friday, we all went for an ATV ride down Buckhorn Wash. We stopped to see the Buckhorn rock art panel. I’d never been up Calf Canyon or Pine Canyon, so we turned up both canyons and rode to the end of each. In Calf Canyon, the trail appeared to end at a small pond, though at home later I looked at the imagery in Google Earth and discovered that the trail may keep going up the canyon. We ended our progress at the pond, however, and I spotted a bat crawling on the ground there. When I got close with the camera to take some photos, it began chirping at me. After I took several photos, the bat flew off up the canyon and landed in the grass a few dozen feet away. I assumed that was the last we’d see of it, but a short while later it flew back down the canyon and landed in some tree branches. It stayed there for a while, but before we left the area it fell to the ground again, which is where we last saw it. Here’s a short video clip of the bat as it flew off the first time:

Bradley through old railroad culvertFriday’s ride was just a warm-up for Saturday. We took our time getting ready in the morning, then we set out for a ride along the old railroad grade that follows the base of Cedar Mountain. We stopped at several geocaches along the railroad grade, all of them at geocaches that draw attention to the real points of interest. There’s a lot of rock art all along the grade, and I even saw some that I hadn’t seen before. After reaching the Green River Cutoff Road, we left the railroad grade and rode to Box Flat. We’d hoped to meet a friend there, but she had ended up staying in town, so we ate lunch on Box Flat and set out to look for a cave.
Box Flat caveLast month, somebody e-mailed me to tell me about a cave he found near Box Flat. He hadn’t explored the entire cave because it was too deep to explore fully without a flashlight (a rarity in the San Rafael Swell), so I went fully prepared. After a quick lunch of PB&J sandwiches at the same spot where we Eastered in 2009, we hiked over a hill and scrambled down some boulders to the cave entrance. I’d actually seen this canyon before, but hadn’t seen the cave entrance, and I had no idea what to expect. There was an obvious water course flowing out of the cave entrance, and I dropped all my bulky gear there and walked inside with only a flashlight and camera. Torrey followed me while Traci and the boys stayed at the entrance and waited. I followed the sinuous water course into the cave. Eventually I was far enough from the entrance that I couldn’t see daylight entering. I cautiously and curiously followed the water course until it curved back toward the entrance. It turns out that all the water runoff from Jackass Flat flows down a wash, enters the cave through a jumble of boulders, then flows several hundred horizontal feet under the cliff before flowing back out not far from where the water enters. It was very cool inside the cave compared to the heat outside, and it was still damp from recent rains. After exploring the entire cave, we walked back down to the ATVs and took the main road back to camp. The kids and I hiked up Cedar Mountain above camp that evening and wrapped up a long day of exploring.
Hamburger RocksSunday was supposed to be our last day of camping, but with the heavy winds that picked up throughout the day I was unsure whether I wanted to pull the trailer home. We set out for a ride to Hambrick Bottom, with a quick stop at Hamburger Rocks where the kids got to play on the interesting sandstone formations. I’d never been to the end of the road at Hambrick Bottom, so we checked out a couple of dead-end roads there. We followed a side road that ended at the San Rafael River, and it would make a nice place to camp (already duly noted for a future camping trip :)). The river was running high and swiftly, and my desire to float the river faded slightly after seeing how quickly it was running. We also followed the main road to its end, and where the road crossed the normally-dry Red Seep Wash, we drove through water where the high-running San Rafael River had backed up into the wash. The road ended at the northwest end of Hambrick Bottom, where it pinched out between a steep hillside and the river. From there, we reversed course, but instead of following the main roads back to camp, we took a detour over to Sand Bench Rim where I’d hidden a couple of geocaches two years ago. We stopped for the first geocache so Dave could sign the log, and the wind had picked up and was very intense. Just before reaching the second geocache, I saw a gopher snake and stopped to take some photos. Traci stopped right behind me, and when I crouched down to snap a photo of the snake, it turned back toward the road and climbed right up into Traci’s ATV! It wrapped around the bottom of the front differential, and no amount of prodding or pulling could get it out. We left it alone for a while as we found the geocache, but upon returning to the ATV, it was still snuggled up securely under the front diff. I finally prodded it in the head enough to get it to unwrap itself from the ATV, and it slithered off apparently unscathed and we continued on our way back to camp.
ATV parked on Little Cedar MountainThe wind storm picked up that afternoon and rocked the trailer heavily while we debated whether to head home that day. I went for a solo 4-wheeler ride despite the weather. I rode along a trail that climbed up Cedar Mountain just above and north of camp. It’s the same trail that Traci and I rode a few years ago, but we came in from the other end and weren’t able to ride the entire trail that time. This time I made it to the summit along the trail above camp, so now I can say that I’ve been on the entire trail. I turned around at that point and rode up the old mining track near the abandoned bus near Little Cedar Mountain. The first part of that trail was also pretty rough and steep, but eventually it reached the main road up Little Cedar, and I rode all the way to the summit. The views were awesome from there, and I radioed to Traci back at camp and she could see me at the summit from about 1.3 miles away. When I got back to camp, Traci had already started to pack things up, so apparently that meant we were heading home that evening (I was still torn between enjoying an entire day at home before returning to work, or spending an extra night camping). We got home in plenty of time to get the trailer backed into the driveway and partially unloaded before sundown, while Dave spent an extra night at the campsite and returned home the following day. For spending the long weekend in an area I thought I was familiar with, we sure saw a lot of stuff I wasn’t expecting.

Photo Gallery

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

GPS Tracklog and Photo Waypoints (Google Maps)

2 thoughts on “Memorial Weekend 2011, San Rafael Swell

  1. Dennis….. You are an awesome photographer. You should seriously consider a second career. I always enjoy reading your blog posts.

  2. I am commenting on your post about the cave in the swell. I have gone there every year for almost twenty years . If you head west from that area there about 2 miles there us 3 more caves about the same size! One of them still had Indian pottery it. But the like one in your post you follow a canyon up that looks a dead end, but if you follow the boulders and squeeze the cracks you’ll find it. It was the most amazing thing I’ve screen in that area. I’ll send pictures to you, if you would like. Thanks for the post, really glad some else enjoyed the cave.

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