San Rafael Fall 2012

I’ve taken the past week to recover and relax after last weekend’s San Rafael geocaching event–yes, it was that fun! With Utah’s schools having no classes on Thursday and Friday, I drove down Tuesday evening after work in the hopes of beating the rush of campers heading out for the four-day weekend. The spot I’d chosen for the event is the only good place in the area of Black Dragon Wash for a large group of people, so I knew if I didn’t get the spot we’d be shit-outta-luck. I pulled into the site at the mouth of Spring Canyon just as the sun was dipping behind the San Rafael Reef. There was a Nissan Frontier with a small camper already set up there, but it was about 300′ away from where I wanted to camp so I found a spot to drop my trailer. I waved at the couple camped there but I wouldn’t see them again until the next morning. I did the usual setting up of camp–unloaded the ATVs from the trailer, set up the fake grass and picnic table, and unfolded the seats and beds inside the trailer. I grilled some kielbasa and whole jalapeños for dinner and then boredom set in. It was too dark outside to do much, and I’d forgotten to bring a book or magazine to read, so I went to bed very early around 9:30. Just before midnight I was awakened by the sound of a vehicle pulling in, and I looked out the window to see a truck pulling a camp trailer turning around and leaving. I grinned, happy that I’d beaten the crowds to this spot, then pulled the covers back over my head and slept.

After setting up camp on Tuesday evening

After sunset on Tuesday

I was awake well before sunrise on Wednesday morning. I stepped outside wearing my pajamas and took some photos in the pre-dawn light, then went searching for a cairn that a friend, Darren, had cryptically told me he’d left for me the previous weekend to find. I found the cairn and a laminated piece of paper with GPS coordinates written on it. Hmm, an adventure, perhaps? I returned to the trailer, got dressed and made breakfast and coffee, then went back outside as the sun was starting to light up the San Rafael Reef. I was first going to find the location of the GPS coordinates that Darren had left (which were only a few hundred feet away), then hike up the northern rim of Spring Canyon, but I saw the woman from the Nissan heading the same direction I was (looking like she was about to do her morning business) so I turned toward Spring Canyon instead. I passed by the couple’s camp and the man was outside his camper so I stopped to chat. They were from Washington and they visit the San Rafael Swell occasionally, and had spent the previous day exploring the canyons in the area. I told him I hoped I wasn’t ruining their solitude because I had a larger group joining me throughout the next few days, and he assured me it wasn’t an issue because they were planning on moving on later in the morning anyway.
A cairn that Darren said he'd left for me the previous weekend

Cottonwood before sunrise on Wednesday

Camp before sunrise on Wednesday

The San Rafael Reef at sunrise

The wash below camp

I continued along toward Spring Canyon with the hopes of finding my way into the bottom of the canyon above the dryfall. I’ve written a separate trip report for this hike, so I’ll only cover it briefly here. I hiked up the northern rim of the canyon and ended up having to go way beyond the dryfall before I found a route into the canyon, then I descended a rough, bouldery section to finally find myself standing at the top of the dryfall. I found some webbing tied around a chockstone where somebody had rappelled off the dryfall. My canyoneering gear was back at camp, but if I could find an easier route out of the canyon I planned on returning with some rope. I did end up finding a much easier and shorter route out of the canyon on the south side. It had taken me more than three hours to reach the top of the dryfall, but it only took about 30 minutes to return to camp via the shorter route. On my way back to the trailer I stopped at Darren’s second set of coordinates and found a small container hidden under a pile of rocks, and it contained yet more coordinates that were more than a mile away. I returned to the trailer for lunch, then hopped on my ATV and set out to follow Darren’s trail of clues to see where it would lead me. The next stage was near the San Rafael River, and the one after that was also near the river but farther south, hidden in a dead cottonwood tree. The next stage was about halfway between the previous two, and the coordinates led me to a sandstone ramp that I walked around and began searching at the base of a cliff on the far side of the ramp. I saw footprints in the dirt and found an obvious stack of rocks among the ledges, but there was nothing behind the rocks. Perplexed, I decided to walk back around and ascend the ramp. At the top of the cliff where I’d found the decoy hiding spot, I found an ammo box/geocache stashed under a ledge with a giant can of beans next to it. Leave it to Darren to bring something fun to blow up in the campfire! 😀 That afternoon and evening a few more people showed up to camp. Traci brought the kids down in the Jeep, Chris and Ken & Jan arrived, and we had a low-key night around the campfire.
Yellow trees near the San Rafael River

Out for a ride finding Darren's multi-cache

The cache location and my ATV

What an awesome first-to-find prize!

Contact between the Entrada and Curtis

Crescent moon about to set behind the Reef

'Round the campfire

On Thursday my family and Chris piled into the Jeep and Ken & Jan followed in their Jeep and we drove to the rock art panel in Black Dragon Wash. We checked out the rock art for a while, then everyone except Ken and Traci scrambled up the boulders and went into the cave. I brought my tripod this time and got a few nice photos of the sunlight streaming into the cave. I was the last to emerge and start scrambling back down the boulders, and when I got back into the daylight I noticed a large group of people at the bottom photographing the rock art. It was a photography class from BYU-Idaho, and some of them had heard from Ken and Traci about the cave, so I passed a few of them on my way back to the canyon floor and told them how to find the cave entrance.
The "Black Dragon," which is actually a few different figures and not a dragon

Human figure atop the Black Dragon

Our Jeeps parked in Black Dragon Wash

Black Dragon Cave

Chris with his light saber in Black Dragon Cave

Black Dragon Cave

Leaving Black Dragon Wash

We drove back to camp and had lunch, then Chris and I grabbed our rope and gear and started hiking up the Reef so we could rappel down the dryfall in Spring Canyon. I told Traci that if she waited 10 minutes and then hiked up the bottom of the canyon, she should get there in time to watch us rappel. Chris and I reached the top of the dryfall easily using the route I’d found the previous day. We got to the dryfall just in time to see Traci and the boys and Ken & Jan bushwhacking to a spot below the dryfall. We inspected the anchor and found it to be acceptable, though we’d brought extra webbing and quicklinks just in case. Chris rappelled first double-strand on his 200′ Canyonero rope. He reached the first ledge below the dryfall, then tried descending further hoping that his rope reached the bottom of the second drop. We couldn’t see the end of the rope from above, so Traci looked at it from below and said we were 10′ short. Bummer. I rappelled next and found that I didn’t get the nervous rush that I normally do when rappelling. I suppose I’m getting used to sliding down skinny rope. We returned to camp and a few more people arrived that evening, and again we had a nice night around the fire, blowing up a 1-gallon can of pineapple. 🙂
Climbing down into Spring Canyon above the drop Moderately difficult downclimbing into Spring Canyon

Rope hanging over the drop

Down to the first ledge, but unfortunately the rope didn't reach the bottom of the next drop

Spring Canyon alcove

A 1-gallon can of pineapple in the fire

For Friday’s activity, Chris and I descended High Spur Canyon. I wrote a separate trip report for the canyon but, in brief, it was excellent. High Spur is beautiful, challenging, and yet easy enough for a novice like me to descend with a competent partner. We spent almost seven hours completing the route, including the 2.6-mile walk down the road because we chose not to do a vehicle shuttle. We ran into some cold, nasty-smelling water near the end of the canyon, so during the drive back to camp I texted Traci asking her to turn on the water heater in the camp trailer. For the first time since buying that trailer years ago I used the shower that evening. Darren and Russell were there when Chris and I arrived back at camp, and so were about a dozen other people. We had a rowdy and late night around the fire that evening (even though we didn’t blow anything up). Chris overdid it and went to bed early, but I stayed up ’til almost 2AM with Darren and Kim and Russell.
High Spur

High Spur

High Spur

High Spur

A sign of good times in High Spur--muddy clothes and gear

Saturday was a lazy day for me. Chris and I went for a ride in Chris G.’s UTV and brought back a huge load of firewood from a dead cottonwood tree I’d seen earlier in the week. Chris left early to turn in some assignments at school, and I just chilled around camp most of the day. That afternoon a woman, Amanda, arrived in her UTV with her two kids. She’d had a blowout on her trailer tire, then she got lost and stuck on her way to our event. She was able to unload the UTV from the trailer and somehow found us after driving down Highway 24 for a while. I let her and her kids hop in my truck, and Terry followed with his truck full of spectators. We found Amanda’s truck 16 miles from camp somewhere north of the Goblin Valley turnoff and east of Highway 24–yeah, she was really lost. The 2WD truck was stuck where the rough dirt road crossed a wash. Terry and I hooked up a tow strap and I used my truck to pull Amanda’s truck out of the wash, then we changed the tire on the flatbed trailer. On the way back to the highway the hitch slid out of her receiver and the trailer was dragging on the ground (somehow she’d lost the pin) and one of the welds broke on the trailer’s ramp and it was was also dragging on the ground. Of all the luck. Once on Highway 24 we made it to camp without further incident. That evening we had a huge potluck dinner and then blew up cans of stuff in the fire (always a crowd favorite).
Chris G. at the end of the road through camp

'Round the fire

It took everyone a while to get moving on Sunday. Most people had a longer drive than me so they left early in the day, but a few of us Price locals went for a quick hike. I wanted to check out a canyon between Spring Canyon and Black Dragon Wash. The lower part of the canyon was quite a bushwhack, and beyond that was a nice pool of water with a dryfall above it. We scrambled to get above the dryfall and found a spot where the kids enjoyed playing on some boulders in the shade of the canyon walls. Torrey and I continued up the canyon and found a nice spot overlooking Black Dragon, and though I wanted to explore further up, I didn’t think the group was up for a longer hike. We returned to camp and everyone finished packing things up and we all drove home. It was a really enjoyable six days for me and I think it’ll be difficult to top, but we’ll try again in the spring.
Setting out for a hike on Sunday morning

Yellow trees in the canyon

Above the pool/dryfall

Resting and playing in the shade

Torrey and I explored farther up the canyon

View through a small arch

Photo Gallery
GPS Tracklog and Photo Waypoints (Google Earth .KMZ File)
GPS Tracklog and Photo Waypoints (Google Maps)

3 thoughts on “San Rafael Fall 2012

  1. Thanks, Richard. I finally got around to finishing up this entry today after starting it on Sunday, but not before catching up on my blog reading. I hope Abby’s doing better.

  2. I can’t thank you guys enough for getting the truck and trailer out. I owe you a bunch of pineapples and other canned goodies by the gallon. I’m very lucky to have met such an amazing group of people. Lord knows what kind of trouble I’ll get into next time.

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