For the 28th semi-annual San Rafael geocaching event, I mixed it up and tried out a new location near the Willow Springs Overlook in the southwestern San Rafael Swell. Campsites are scarce in that area, so when Traci and I arrived on Tuesday at the spot I’d chosen earlier in February, I was alarmed to find a group already camped there. In a fortunate turn of events, however, we were able to drive farther down the dirt road to find an even better spot that was inaccessible in February, thanks to the Emery County Road Department having graded the road within the last couple of months (thanks, y’all!). We set up camp and enjoyed a quiet evening without the kids, who were still at home and would join us after school on Friday.
On Wednesday morning I rode my motorcycle into Capitol Reef National Park. I had visited Capitol Reef a couple of times, including one trip a couple of years ago when I checked out upper Cathedral Valley. I missed out on the lower valley that time, so that was my goal on this trip. Since there were high winds in the weather forecast the next two days, I wanted to get the ride out of the way early in the week. I began the ride at about 8:30 in the morning, thinking it would take the majority of the day. While passing Birch Spring I noticed some rocks that seemed likely to hold some inscriptions, and there I found a couple dating to the mid-1940s. I entered the park at around 10AM, feeling nervous even though I was pretty certain my street-legal dirt bike was perfectly fine to ride in a national park (I’m always concerned about uninformed park rangers). Less than an hour later I was at the Lower Group, as it’s called, which includes Glass Mountain and the Temples of the Sun and Moon. I walked around both Temples, then headed back toward camp and found some geocaches that I’d passed on the way into the park. At Middle Desert Wash I took a different route than I’d taken into the park. I was immediately presented with a muddy wash crossing that I was certain would send me crashing to the ground, covered in mud, but I made it through the wash without incident. The rest of the route deviation consisted of very sandy roads, with which I have very little riding experience. By sitting far back on the motorcycle seat and applying judicious amounts of throttle, I was able to avoid dumping the bike in the sand. I did come across one spot where, judging by the marks in the sand, a fellow motorcycle rider had apparently laid his bike down and struggled to pick it back up, but I felt pretty good about not dumping my small, light bike. I returned to camp at about 1:20PM–much earlier than I’d hoped–after covering about 72 miles for the day.
Late that afternoon Traci and I went for a drive in the truck. We were seeking a spot I’d noticed in Google Earth that looked like perhaps a fence and a building foundation. What we found was much better. The “fence” was actually a retaining wall, and the “foundation” was another retaining wall at the entrance to an apparent underground explosives bunker used by the nearby Civilian Conservation Corps camp. The CCC built a lot of trails, roads, and livestock ponds, so surely they must have needed some explosives to move rocks and dirt out of the way.
On Wednesday evening several friends arrived. The following morning Ken and I hopped in his Jeep and took a trip westbound on I-70. There were several places I had been wanting to check out along Ivie Creek and in Salina Canyon, and since we were camped close to that area we set out to check them out. Our first stop was at a coal mine and cabin marked on the USGS topo map high above Ivie Creek. We crossed a creek and hiked an old road up to the cabin, which was still in good shape and looked relatively modern, with knob and tube wiring. The walls of the cabin had been insulated with cardboard, most of which had weathered away. Other than the coal spillage down the hill, there was little sign of an actual coal mine.
We followed the frontage road up over Emigrant Pass to the Salina Creek side of the interstate. There, we parked along the highway and hiked up what appeared to be a very old road, but some rails along the way identified it as an old tramway used to haul coal to the main canyon before I-70 even existed. We didn’t find the coal mine–though coal littered the ground much like the previous site–but the nearby cabin appeared to be much older, with more primitive construction methods and much older cans littering the ground nearby. The distance from any road has helped to preserve this cabin and its contents. Artifacts included a wheelbarrow, old stoves, broken porcelain plates, a chicken coop, and many other items. Some rough weather moved in while we were checking out the cabin, and by the time we returned to Ken’s Jeep sleet was starting to fall. We abandoned two other planned stops in the canyon and instead cruised into Salina for fuel, then headed back to camp where it was surprisingly sunny. That evening several more friends showed up. Chris brought some non-geocacher friends who turned out to be way cool, which added to the fun for the weekend.
My plans for Friday involved a hike up an old stock trail to some amazing pictographs. Everyone who was so inclined piled into my truck on Friday morning and we drove to the starting point of the hike. The trail, supposedly built by the CCC, was one of the best-constructed trails I’ve ever seen. The width of the trail and the amount of construction that went into the retaining walls certainly points to the CCC being involved in its construction. The rock art, which a friend had told me about, was still a huge surprise when we eventually found it. I’d seen photos of the pictographs, but didn’t realize they were so tiny. In addition, the enormous boulder upon which the rock art was painted had fallen down sometime after the art was painted, leaving the pictographs in a near-vertical position. After visiting the rock art, we returned to camp and had a fun evening.
On Saturday I led the entire group–seven vehicles and 20 people–on a loop drive south through the Last Chance Desert and then back across Mussentuchit Flat back to camp. I’ve been on the loop a few times and knew of several interesting places to stop, including a couple where I’d placed geocaches twelve years ago. I think the most fun was had wherever we found sand dunes! We had a potluck dinner at camp that evening, then enjoyed some time around a camp fire with some gallon cans of vegetables thrown in for fun. Our first can didn’t explode after 30 minutes, so I had to disarm it with my handgun. We threw a can of corn in later and it produced the desired effect.
Most of the group headed home early on Sunday. Even Traci and the kids wanted to leave early, so they helped to pack up camp before hitting the road. I stayed behind with the dogs to do one final hike. Since we had been camped on the southern rim of Rock Canyon, it had been calling to me all weekend for some exploration. I drove around to the north side of the canyon, where Torrey, Boulder, and I dropped in to check it out. There were a couple of obvious Indian/cowboy camps just below the rim, where I found an overhang with many lithic flakes. Dropping into Rock Canyon, there appeared to be a faint constructed stock trail leading into the bottom. Along the way were many inscriptions dating from the 1890s to the 1930s.
The bottom of Rock Canyon was a rocky, brushy mess! In the bottom of the canyon was a spring from which the dogs enjoyed long drink. Across the canyon from our drop-in point were more inscriptions and another overhang with a huge worked point lying on the ground. We only went a short distance up the rough canyon before I gave up and began looking for a way out without backtracking. I led the dogs up to the rim, climbing ledges and boulders until we reached level ground. From there we hiked cross-country back to the truck, where I saw the most dense lithic scatter that I’ve ever seen. Flakes of flint were everywhere! Before reaching the truck I ran into a woman and her young son from Springville who were looking for a specific plant (I didn’t ask why). She asked me if I’d noticed the huge lithic scatter, which told me that she was a well-informed outdoors-person. We chatted for a few minutes, then the dogs and I proceeded to the truck and then back to camp where I finished packing up and then headed home. It was sure nice spending time in a new part of the San Rafael Swell, including an excursion into Fishlake National Forest. It turned out being a great area to explore and I’m sure we’ll back again in another couple of years.
Photo Gallery: San Rafael Spring 2018