Last weekend I went on my first camping/hiking trip of the year. After the death of my dog, Loa, and my son crashing and totaling my Jeep, I hadn’t felt much like getting outdoors for the last couple of months. That time wasn’t wasted, however. Everything I saw on this trip I only learned about recently, most of it by spending an extensive amount of time immersed in Google Earth. We’ve had a good snow year so far, and I only decided to go on this trip and settled on a location the day before I left, when snow/mud conditions seemed to be favorable in Arches National Park. After work on Friday I hopped in the truck and made my way southeast. On the way I stopped to see some rock art that I’d only gleaned the location of a week or so earlier, and I still wasn’t even positive I was correct about where it was. Luckily I was able to spot the panel through binoculars before making the sketchy climb up to it in the snow. It was a mix of Barrier Canyon style pictographs with newer (probably Fremont?) petroglyphs next to and even over the top of the painted figures.
Next I drove to Salt Valley where I’d be spending the next two days. Along the dirt road I stopped to look at some promising cliffs with binoculars, and when I lowered the binos I noticed a fox staring back at me from the side of the road. Before sunset I found a spot to camp at the upper end of Salt Valley near Sunshine Wall. The truck isn’t an ideal camping vehicle when it’s not towing my RV. I had my cot set up in the bed of the truck but spent all evening in the cab reading until it was time for bed. Shortly before bed I turned on a propane heater in the bed of the truck to take the edge off the cold night.
My alarm went off at 7AM and I awoke to some pretty clouds before the sun rose above the cliffs. It had gotten down to 29 degrees inside and I used the heater again while cracking a couple of windows for ventilation. After breakfast I drove deeper into Salt Valley. I stopped a few times to glass the patina on cliffs and boulders, and went for a short walk to get a closer look at some old inscriptions dating from 1915-1930.
Next I drove a short distance off the main Salt Valley road to check out a collapsed cabin just outside Arches National Park. I hiked a bit up a rough 4WD road to the cabin and saw some fresh bobcat tracks. There were at least three refrigerators in the rubble of the cabin, and a large area nearby covered with rusty cans.
After entering the park I went for a longer hike, still only a few miles total, but probably somewhere few people ever go. My goal was something I’d seen in Google Earth. It didn’t really appear to be a cabin or other structure, but it was definitely something man-made. I reached the area and found that it was probably the flatbed off an old truck. Nearby were other vehicle parts, a chicken coop, a few large piles of chert, and some inscriptions dating to 1926 at the oldest.
I got back to the truck just after noon so I ate lunch and then headed to my next destination, which I knew was an old cabin way off the main road. In some of the satellite imagery there’s an old road visible leading to the cabin, but even in person it was almost impossible for me to follow. I wanted to walk the old road as closely as possible to find anything that might have been discarded along it, and I wasn’t disappointed. Besides a large can dump and possible location of a boiler (maybe used to drill for oil?), I found a 1971 license plate, part of a leg-hold trap, and some bat research equipment.
I got to the cabin and found two corrals constructed by a few different methods. Some sections were made from thick steel cables and railroad ties, while others were made from thin wire and slats. I would guess the cabin was originally a single room but was later added on to. Outside were a lot of interesting artifacts, including the stove. The inside was relatively barren, but what I found the most interesting were walls plastered with Collier’s magazine pages dating to the late 1930s.
I hiked back to the truck on a more direct route rather than following the old road. Along the way I found what is presumably a mining claim in a tobacco tin, but the lid wouldn’t open so I couldn’t get a peek inside. I also saw what I first assumed was a mylar balloon but turned out to be a Doritos bag that I packed out. After the hike I returned to my same camp spot outside the park and saw a nice sunset while once again reading before bedtime.
For Sunday I had only one hike planned, which was longer than any I’d done the previous day. It was to another relatively remote cabin I’d spotted using Google Earth. Both cabins really appealed to me because I couldn’t find any photos or information online about either, but I felt a little let down after visiting this one. As soon as I started hiking I saw quite a few recent footprints in the wash. I was hoping as I approached the cabin the footprints would continue in the wash while I exited it to see the cabin, but instead they led right toward it. Somebody had been there in the last week, and I’d guess it was a group of older people considering the hiking pole marks in the dirt. The location of the cabin suggests it was related to mining rather than livestock, but I didn’t see any signs of mining nearby.
I kept hiking beyond the cabin to Secret Spring, an unofficial name given by Jim Stiles in his article in the Canyon Country Zephyr. I’m sorry to report there is still no sign of the Secret Spring re-emerging, even after the relatively wet winter we’ve had this season.
I continued hiking up the wash to a couple of corrals visible in the satellite imagery. That was another 1.5 miles that I probably didn’t need to hike because there was nothing at the corrals that I couldn’t see in Google Earth. However, on the return hike I left the wash to shortcut a couple of bends and found a couple of aluminum tags presumably left by the National Park Service where they’d taken photos in 1988 before their tamarisk removal project. I also found a concrete structure built into the bank above the wash. This one was enigmatic since the slope both above and below it was quite steep, making it difficult to access from any direction, and it definitely didn’t appear to have been used for habitation or any other discernible purpose.
I returned to my truck and drove back up Salt Valley on the way home rather than taking the paved park road. I could have made it home on my remaining fuel but stopped in Green River to fill my tank because it was much cheaper there than at home. As much as I don’t enjoy off-roading an F-250, when I got home I ordered new BFG All-Terrain tires for the truck since I don’t plan on replacing my Jeep until I pay off a couple of other vehicles–surprisingly my insurance paid me a fair price for my WJ, but I’d rather hold out for a newer JK once I pay off my camp trailer and wife’s new car. That was a big worry on this trip, getting the truck stuck because of its highway tires, but luckily there wasn’t really any mud or snow on the roads.
Photo Gallery: Salt Valley