San Rafael Swell, Fall 2017

The tradition of a semi-annual geocaching event in the San Rafael Swell was begun by DeViDe (husband and wife team Dewayne and Vickie) with their first gathering near the Wickiup in 2003. I didn’t attend my first such event until spring 2005, and I didn’t bring my family to one until that fall. For the first six years it wasn’t always a twice-yearly event. Sometimes there was only one per year, others times I would help plan an event to keep the tradition going. Starting in the fall of 2010 I’ve hosted them all, though DeViDe has attended a couple of those. The events have been a great source of fun and friendship, and I’m thankful to DeViDe for establishing the tradition.

This fall, for the 27th San Rafael Swell geocaching event, my wife Traci and I pulled the camp trailer down on Tuesday evening and set up camp in our favorite spot near the junction of the Temple Mountain and Goblin Valley roads. I love how accessible the spot it, the enormous amount of interesting terrain surrounding it, and, of course, the lovely views of both the La Sals and Henrys. After some time around a camp fire, we settled into the trailer early for a cold evening–the coldest of the entire trip.

Lonely camp on Tuesday evening
Lonely camp on Tuesday evening

La Sal Mountains
La Sal Mountains

Henry Mountains
Henry Mountains

On Wednesday, we went for a couple of hikes with the dogs. The first was to check on a very nice metate that I’d discovered and re-hidden several years ago. I’m always anxious when approaching the area ’cause I’m worried the metate will have gone missing, but it was still there. We hiked in another area where I’ve had good luck seeing arrowheads in years past. To my utter disbelief, I found another one in the same short stretch of sandy wash where I’ve seen two other points. I also found one broken and one whole metate in the vicinity, neither one as splendid as the first that we’d visited that day. We had another camp fire and again went to bed relatively early.

"The Metate"
"The Metate"

Traci and the pups
Traci and the pups

Ooh, a pretty rock!
Ooh, a pretty rock!

Broken metate
Broken metate

Pinyon pine in a small canyon
Pinyon pine in a small canyon

Metate
Metate

Traci and me and a camp fire
Traci and me and a camp fire

Traci and I went for a longer hike on Thursday to visit an alcove that I’d been to years earlier. Above the alcove were some mediocre pictographs, and inside were two metates that I hoped were still there. The walk up the canyon through the San Rafael Reef was very pleasant. The temperature was perfect and there was plenty of pothole water for the dogs. Traci waited below with the dogs while I scrambled up to the alcove. The metates were still there, though not upside-down as I had left them. I was surprised to find a large potsherd, probably a piece of a plate, with decorations painted on one side. It’s both the largest and most decorative piece I’ve personally seen in all of the Swell. I also saw a couple small potsherds with a similar design. Back at camp that afternoon a few friends arrived. I went for a 30-mile ride on my dirt bike on mostly easy roads before retiring to camp for the evening.

Boulder above a large pothole
Boulder above a large pothole

Pictographs
Pictographs

Spikes on the snake’s back
Spikes on the snake's back

Broken metates
Broken metates

Large, decorated potsherd
Large, decorated potsherd

The DRZ near Wild Horse Butte
The DRZ near Wild Horse Butte

Friday was a good day. Chris, Ken, and I descended Bluejohn Canyon, and nobody lost any appendages. I’ll write a separate trip report for the canyon, but included below are a few photos. On Friday evening we went bowling! Three years ago Chris found a bowling ball in the Upper Black Box, and three weeks ago we found six bowling pins near Lakeside. It made for a fun evening at camp now that the entire group had arrived.

Heading toward Bluejohn Canyon
Heading toward Bluejohn Canyon

Ken above a downclimb
Ken above a downclimb

Chris at the second rappel
Chris at the second rappel

Bluejohn narrows
Bluejohn narrows

Orange light in Bluejohn
Orange light in Bluejohn

Bowling!
Bowling!

Most of the group hiked with me through Farnsworth Canyon on Saturday. We went a couple of miles up the canyon, through the narrows and past the drill hole, before returning back down the canyon. A few of us made a side trip on the way back to camp to check out some pictographs. That night Kenny locked his keys (and cell phone and wallet) inside his Jeep. We took my truck to where we had cell service and he called AAA. The nearest help they could find was in Loa, so it took the guy two hours to drive to our camp and two minutes to break into the Jeep. It was a good evening with more bowling and time around the camp fire.

Starting up Farnsworth Canyon
Starting up Farnsworth Canyon

In a crack in the side of the canyon
In a crack in the side of the canyon

Farnsworth narrows
Farnsworth narrows

Pictographs in the San Rafael Reef
Pictographs in the San Rafael Reef

Breaking into Ken’s Jeep
Breaking into Ken's Jeep

On Sunday morning most of the group headed home. I rode my motorcycle to the Wild Horse Creek trailhead and then hiked for a couple of hours. I’d picked out a couple of canyons on a topo map that looked like good hiking. En route to the first canyon I passed through an area where it looked like someone had camped for some time. There were several trees with firewood piled up beneath, and I found a spoon carved from wood. It was strange, since there’s no road nearby. I encountered a natural arch that Lynn Sessions has named Squint Arch. The canyon was easygoing at first, with a wide, sandy bottom that yielded all sorts of animal footprints. It eventually narrowed up and became choked with brush, and I gave up trying to reach the head of the canyon. I descended and rounded a bend to enter the next canyon south, but it looked like a narrow bushwhack almost immediately and I abandoned that plan. I descended the drainage into Wild Horse Creek and found a broken arrowhead in the sand just below a pothole. While walking up Wild Horse Creek I stopped to look at some sandstone cliffs and found many faint inscriptions. The only writing that was legible was made in 1916 by John Duncan Gillies, who was Butch Cassidy’s cousin. I got back to my bike, headed to camp, and helped my family pack up for the drive home. It had been a long and wonderful several days of camping, though I was glad to have Monday off work to help recover from the festivities.

Carved wooden spoon
Carved wooden spoon

Squint Arch
Squint Arch

Above Squint Arch
Above Squint Arch

Sandy canyon bottom
Sandy canyon bottom

Bird tracks in the sand
Bird tracks in the sand

Porcupine tracks in the sand
Porcupine tracks in the sand

End of my up-canyon travel
End of my up-canyon travel

Another small canyon choked with brush and trees
Another small canyon choked with brush and trees

Ooh, a pretty rock!
Ooh, a pretty rock!

Clear pool in the lower canyon
Clear pool in the lower canyon

Wild Horse Creek
Wild Horse Creek

Inscription by John Duncan Gillies (cousin to Butch Cassidy) dated 9-21-1916
Inscription by John Duncan Gillies (cousin to Butch Cassidy) dated 9-21-1916


Photo Gallery: San Rafael Swell, Fall 2017

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