I’ve driven the Flint Trail in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area several times, but usually I’m on my way Under the Ledge (below the Orange Cliffs) and don’t have time for exploring along the road itself. I spent a weekend in the area recently with the express purpose of wandering around the upper Flint Trail, between Hans Flats and the switchbacks. During the drive in on Saturday morning I was surprised to see major road work going on at the sand dunes near Middle Canyon. The sand often drifts across the road, causing problems for those who venture out into the desert using inadequate vehicles. Apparently either Wayne County or the BLM has decided to raise the road bed high above the dunes to keep the drifting sand from being deposited.
Just before Hans Flats, I stopped to inspect some cliffs on the north end of Twin Corral Flats that have always caught my eye when I drive past. There I found several inscriptions, including some from Faun Chaffin (an early cattle rancher in the area) (with illegible date), Paul Moynier (sheep herder from Price, Utah) 1935, and T. Hudson Apr. 14, 1911.
I passed the ranger station and followed the road as it curved south, stopping again on Gordon Flats. In Google Earth I’d seen a cliff there that appeared to be overhanging and could potentially hold some Indian rock art or cowboy writings. Sure enough, I found both! I first encountered some faint scratched glyphs, and then an inscription by J.A.R. with a possible 1880s date. Farther along the cliff were more petroglyphs, but none of them were terribly interesting.
I hiked back to the Jeep and drove on. I parked at the Flint Seep camp and hiked to a few points of interest from there. First I revisited the Flint Cabins, which I’d already been to somewhat recently last November. However, since that trip I learned about an inscription, likely made by E.T. Wolverton, on a stone in one of the cabins. The inscription reads “Nequoia MCMXIX ”, referring to the name of Wolverton’s oil exploration company that drilled for oil in Elaterite Basin but never struck any. I noticed a few artifacts on the ground that I hadn’t seen the last time, but there’s so much stuff lying on the ground there that one would likely see something new each time they visited.
I continued my hike to Flint Seep, where a constructed stock trail leads down to a nearly-dry seep at the head of Happy Canyon. I was surprised at how little water there was!
Next I wandered over to Harness-Up Spring which was just over a mile beyond Flint Seep. Much of my route was along an old, closed dirt road (upon which the Park Service was kind enough to stack tons of firewood for its entire length!), but whenever I wandered off the road I found abundant flint chippings littering the ground. At Harness-Up Spring I found an overhang with perhaps some signs of prehistoric occupation, a couple of inscriptions from the 1930s, a constructed stock trail leading to the spring, and just a bit of water flowing from the spring itself.
I hiked back to the Jeep and it was uncomfortably warm. I had the A/C on high while driving to the Flint Trail Overlook, where I would begin searching for the old, old Flint Trail. There have been at least three iterations of the trail. The most recent is the current road that was built/improved by the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s. The next oldest is a wagon road built by E.T. Wolverton and his Nequoia Oil Company in 1919 so that a drilling rig could be lowered down the trail. I visited and photographed the remaining portion of that trail on my November trip last year. The oldest trail is one I only recently learned about, but didn’t know its exact location. It was reportedly a constructed stock trail, with old cans and a stove somewhere near the top. Before I could start hiking from the Flint Trail Overlook to search for this portion of the trail, a man on a mountain bike approached from the direction of the switchbacks and asked if I had any water to spare. I had plenty, so I shared with him and we chatted about what we were each up to. His name was Bill, from Springdale, and had just ridden his bike from Hans Flats, down the Flint Trail to the Land of Standing Rocks, and then back up the Flint Trail, all since earlier that morning! He even hauled his bike up the Golden Stairs trail hoping to save time, but he said it ended up being harder than just riding the road. After Bill got back underway, I began hiking the rim above the Flint Trail looking for signs of a cowboy camp on top or a trail leading down the Orange Cliffs. I found the trail right about where I expected it to be, near the largest break in the cliffs. Just below the rim was an overhang with flint chippings, indicating it was a hangout for Native Americans at one point. I followed the trail, which was quite faint but obviously had some small amount of construction, until it ended just above the current road. There wasn’t much to it, unfortunately, though I did find a piece of broken plate along the trail. Back on top I searched for the cowboy camp and found it within a few minutes. There were a lot of rusty cans, broken plates and bottles, a tree carved into a watering trough, and part of a stove that didn’t actually look very old.
Once I felt satisfied that I’d thoroughly checked the remainder of the rim between the overlook and the top of the switchbacks without finding anything else of interest, I walked back to the Jeep and drove past the ranger station to find a camp spot on BLM land. Camping alone is always boring, but I’d made good use of all the available daylight. I spent a couple of hours lying in the back of the Jeep reading a book before going to bed.
The next morning I headed back into GCNRA and parked near French Spring, then hiked down the East Fork of Millard Canyon. I didn’t have any specific plan there–just wanted to poke around and see what’s what. I got to a big pouroff in the East Fork, then crossed over a short divide and peered into a branch of the main part of Millard Canyon. I considered climbing to the top of Observation Rock, but the top bit looked a little steep. With as warm as it was already, I wasn’t inclined to exert myself that much so I headed back to my vehicle.
I left GCNRA and started heading toward home, but I still had two places I wanted to visit. The first was some old corrals on Twin Corral Flats. Two of the corrals are close together and are probably how the flats got their name. The other two, which I call the Round Corral and Square Corral, were within easy walking distance from the Twins. There wasn’t much in the way of old cowboy trash at any of them, but a lot of work certainly went into constructing the corrals.
My final stop before heading home was at Runt’s Knob, which is mis-marked on the latest USGS topographical map. The map shows Runt’s Knob at or just southeast of point 6340T, when it is in fact a short distance to the north, right at point 6316T. A road goes right to the Knob and it seemed like a likely candidate for a cowboy to have scratched his name into it. I did find a couple of inscriptions, but nothing exciting. One name appeared to be Arrel Jensen, with no date, but the lettering appeared more old-fashioned and the writing was covered in the same amount of light-colored minerals as the rest of the surface of the cliff. Another inscription simply read Ayala 1-6-03, which again judging by the letter style and mineralization, it must be from 1903.
That wrapped up my relatively easy weekend of driving, hiking, and exploring around the upper end of the Flint Trail. I managed to get in one night of camping to help with my goal of camping at least once each month this year–I won’t count the five nights earlier in April that I camped in the trailer–that seems like cheating. 🙂
Photo Gallery: GCNRA Wandering: Upper Flint Trail
4 thoughts on “GCNRA Wandering: Upper Flint Trail”
Hi Dennis. I enjoyed your latest adventure on and around the Flint. One of my favorite areas. I found a very interesting pdf. An interview with Ned Chaffin, by some NPS employees. The interview was made some time ago. I saw the reference to Chaffin in your picture gallery and thought I would share this with you if you haven’t seen it already.
Looking forward to another installment.
Thanks, John! I’ve read both of the NPS interviews with Ned Chaffin, and another with Kent Frost, all of which led me to search for the Old Flint Trail on this trip. I’m very appreciative of the Park Service’s efforts in preserving the early Anglo history of this area. I have several more days worth of exploration left to do in this region, so there will almost certainly be another few installments coming. 🙂
What is the history behind Frenches Spring? There’s an old steam engine there and a couple of cabins.
I don’t know much about it, particularly the cabin and the boiler. The boiler may have been left over from Wolverton’s Nequoia Oil Company from the late 19-teens. The cabin and nearby water tank appear to be much newer–perhaps 1950s era? The name of the spring apparently came from early French sheepherders who used the area. The spring was developed by Joe Biddlecome (who also built many corrals in the region) around 1910. I would guess Joe was responsible for the tank carved/blasted out of the sandstone, but obviously the BLM made the existing stock tanks in 1955.