Category Archives: San Rafael Desert

Bluejohn Canyon

On Friday, the 13th of October, Chris and Ken and I descended the main fork of Bluejohn Canyon. We had camped less than 40 miles away from Bluejohn for our semi-annual geocacher gathering so it was a relatively short drive. Thinking it would help save us some road-walking, we brought two vehicles–my truck and Ken’s Jeep–but it was largely unnecessary since it cut less than a mile off our total hiking distance. We didn’t have a solid plan for our exit from Bluejohn Canyon, so we left my truck at the head of the West Fork, which would be convenient whether we exited through the West Fork or took the shortcut route. Then we took Ken’s Jeep south and parked just north of the Y-junction of the Ekker Ranch and Hans Flats roads, where we began the cross-country hike toward Bluejohn Canyon. It was roughly a mile-and-a-half walk around the head of the Little West Fork to the start of the Bluejohn Canyon slot. We scrambled down into the canyon and past a small downclimb before reaching the first rappel.

Walkin’ across the desert
Walkin' across the desert

Entrada Sandstone formations
Entrada Sandstone formations

Above Bluejohn Canyon
Above Bluejohn Canyon

The head of Bluejohn
The head of Bluejohn

Ken in Bluejohn Canyon
Ken in Bluejohn Canyon

Ken above a downclimb
Ken above a downclimb

The first rap was a little awkward but the three of us sailed through it. The second rappel was problematic, particularly for me. There were two existing anchors, each one around a pinch-point between a large chockstone and the canyon wall. Chris rappelled off the farther-upcanyon anchor, but when he got to the bottom and tested the rope pull, the rope wedged in the crack between the chockstone and canyon wall. I re-rigged the rappel on the downcanyon anchor, but since it was a couple of feet below the chockstone where I was standing to start the rappel it made for a very awkward start. I tried and tried to drop off the edge, but since the rope couldn’t take my weight until I’d dropped several feet, I had a difficult time committing to the drop. I felt as though I would either fall and then smash into the canyon wall once the rope became taut, or else I’d panic and let go of the rope with my brake hand. After much effort in struggling to drop over the edge, I finally gave up and looked at the other anchor again. I found a way to rig the upcanyon anchor so the rope went over the top of the chockstone instead of in the crack to the side, but in rigging it I dropped the quicklink! It landed just below the chockstone and out of reach from above. I ran the rope directly through the webbing, careful not to let any friction damage the webbing. I rappelled off the chockstone with ease this time, grabbed the quicklink and tossed it up to Ken, then finished the rappel. Ken re-rigged the anchor with the rope going through the quicklink, and when he got to the bottom the rope pulled down easily. Phew! After some more downclimbing, the third and final rappel went smoothly.

First rap anchor
First rap anchor

Chris on the first rap
Chris on the first rap

Ken on the first rap
Ken on the first rap

Second rappel
Second rappel

Below the second rap
Below the second rap

View up at the second rappel
View up at the second rappel

Below the rappels was a long section of nice, narrow canyon with a few easy downclimbs. One of the downclimbs had some unavoidable mud at the bottom, and I almost face-planted in the mud when the heel of my shoe became stuck in the crack above. We walked through the narrows, enjoying the cool air and occasional reflected orange light filtering in from above.

Ken in Bluejohn Canyon
Ken in Bluejohn Canyon

Downclimb into some mud
Downclimb into some mud

Logjam above
Logjam above

Chris in the Bluejohn Canyon narrows
Chris in the Bluejohn Canyon narrows

Things are looking up
Things are looking up

Ken and Chris in Bluejohn Canyon
Ken and Chris in Bluejohn Canyon

Walking under a chockstone
Walking under a chockstone

Orange light in Bluejohn
Orange light in Bluejohn

Tree wedged in the narrows
Tree wedged in the narrows

Bluejohn narrows
Bluejohn narrows

As the canyon widened we found ourselves in full sun most of the time. I was surprised to find two projectile points, one roughly worked and another that was more refined, though neither was all that great. Just above the junction with the Little West Fork, we came to the worst part of the canyon. A rockfall has caused water to back up into a large pool which was about 200′ long and mid-thigh deep. We slogged right in, our feet sinking in deep mud that smelled kinda shitty. We found the geocache just below the Little West Fork junction, then debated whether to ascend the West Fork or just take an early exit and walk cross-country back to the truck. The latter won out. After a short detour to the head of the Little West Fork to find another geocache, we hiked to the truck, picking up Ken’s Jeep on the way out. Then it was back to camp for some cold beverages and a few frames of bowling!

Worked piece of chert
Worked piece of chert

Another worked piece
Another worked piece

Lower Bluejohn
Lower Bluejohn

Lake caused by rockfall
Lake caused by rockfall

Climbing over the rockfall
Climbing over the rockfall

It’s like Ken is happy to be here
It's like Ken is happy to be here

Confluence of main Bluejohn (left) and Little West Fork
Confluence of main Bluejohn (left) and Little West Fork

Our exit climb
Our exit climb

At the head of the Little West Fork
At the head of the Little West Fork


Photo Gallery: Bluejohn Canyon