Hiking & Photography Book: Photographing Slot Canyons 4

Announcement

I am pleased to announce the publishing of “Photographing Slot Canyons 4” my latest endeavor regarding books on photographing slot canyons. This edition has over forty slot canyons that I have hiked over the years in my quest for 60 by 60. My total count today is at 45 with next year being my 60th year on earth. This book is loaded with topographical maps, photographs, trailhead directions and trail descriptions.

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 24, 2014)

Available at amazon.com

Link

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Utah Slot Canyons Trip Report Sep./Oct. 2014

© Joe Berardi
Joe Berardi books are available at amazon.com

This was my sixth road trip to southern Utah for this year and to sum it up in one word, WOW. This trip felt a lot more like playing than work unlike some of my previous trips this year. There was no lurking book deadline waiting for me. This trip was primarily to make progress on my 60 by 60 slot canyon challenge and I’m proud to say my count is now up to 44. Yes, this old man has hiked 44 slot canyons or narrows since starting my quest at age 51, hiking my first in June, 2006. As of writing this blog I have one foot out of the door heading back to Utah.

I was anxious to start this trip and probably left a few days too early since rain was forecasted and I made do with it by scouting and visiting Capitol Reef NP more in hopes of getting some good photo opportunities. On reflection prior to this trip I realized that the photography part of things has taken a back seat to getting hiking information from many of my earlier trips. My second goal for this trip was to bring back some good photographs.

As my slot canyon count grows, I’m starting to hit some of the more obscure or lesser known canyons meaning I had very little information for these hikes. This trip was a real adventure not knowing what to expect. I dry camped at a RV Park in Hanksville. This was the first time camping here although I have stayed at a motel here a few times over the years. I prefer bathrooms and safety over setting up camp just anywhere on BLM land.

It rained on Sunday, my travel day. I spent Monday driving around scouting looking for trailheads, getting specific GPS coordinates or mileage. There was enough to do to fill the day. So Tuesday I went to hike a Maidenwater tributary hoping to make it to the narrows. This was a hike I planned strictly based on looking at a map. It was a bust; I hiked into wetland that was a bushwhacking jungle. I forced my way through it only to come across a large dry-fall that couldn’t be bypassed (not easily). It only took me about 80 minutes for this hike so I drove down the road to another tributary where you can see the narrows but it has a technical entry down into it. I knew about an easier gully entry nearby and hiked down it to within 20 feet of the streambed but without leaving a rope behind I was doubtful about coming back up alone. So this was my second goose-chase for the day. I scouted out Woodruff for later in the week.

It had rained overnight so on Wednesday it was plan B time. I spontaneously decided to drive the 30 miles or so to Capitol Reef in hopes of some photo opportunities. Along the way I was contemplating stopping here or there but ended driving straight to the visitor center. On arrival I noticed two things immediately, the parking lot was full and it was filled with 30 to 40 vintage 1930s type cars. Apparently this was a stop for a touring group but I noticed what was a large meeting out front of the visitor center was breaking up. You have to realize that I have a vintage car portfolio and got really excited about the prospects of adding to it. I noticed people were starting to go back to their cars and leaving while I couldn’t find a spot until one opened up. Now I was jumping out of the truck, grapping the Canon EOS T2i DSLR and trying to get some shots before they all left. These commotions lasted for about 5 minutes until most of them had driven off.

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After the excitement was gone, I starting thinking about a nearby place that has been in the back of my mind for years. I have driven by many times what looks like a possible narrows from the highway and decided this was the time I would really check it out. So I drove over to it, found a place to park, starting hiking in a wide wash near the road. As the drainage went downstream away from the road it turned into just what I was hoping, a nice narrows with towering walls but it didn’t last very long and meandered back to the road. I stopped and took photographs along the way and got some nice shots of “The Castle” framed by the narrows walls. I returned to the pickup. This pretty much made my day and I started heading back with one more stop in mind. I stopped at Grand Wash trailhead along the highway to make a very short hike. I had hiked from the other trailhead to about midway on a previous trip and just wanted to see what I had missed. I headed back satisfied that the day was successful.

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On Thursday the air was cool first thing in the morning and I headed for North Fork of Trachyte Creek. Just a reminder, these are wilderness hikes, no official trailhead and in this case no place to park although the narrow shoulder had to make do. Actually I was a little worried about how close to the road I parked. There also was no trail so I headed down from the road down into a significant wash. I got the GPS coordinate from my Garmin and with map in hand started hiking downstream. The dry streambed was mostly sand and gravel and quite wide for the first half mile. There were a few places that had small rocks that required concentrating on my footing. Eventually sloping Slickrock walls began develop as I continued. Then all of sudden I was at a very large dry-fall at the box end of a narrows canyon below. I had researched this hike on the internet but was completely surprised by this obstacle. I started rim walking to the left looking for a way in. The canyon wall was steep but had a large step to it with a lower level maybe 50 feet down. I found a way down to the bench only to find no entry. I found a set of foot print at the very bottom leading up to the cliff edge and I had only one conclusion, they rappelled down and I had to look for another way. I came back up and continued along the rim and found another way down only to be stopped about 20 feet from the bottom. I was really disappointed and returned back to the top. I couldn’t see any way down in this direction so I backtracked a ways. I surveyed with my eyes, the wall on the other side of the canyon, looking for any way down. I slowly moved my focus foot by foot along the other side until I suddenly realized there was a wall collapse at the bottom of the cliff that was maybe 50 feet wide. Now I’m looking to see how I could get to it. I map out in my mind a diagonal route through a large boulder field down to the loose dirt wall collapse and down the wall collapse to the bottom. I go Eureka; I know I can do it. Now I’m looking back to the dry-fall trying to figure out if I can even get over to that side. I started moving my legs heading back before I decided if there was a way over there or not. I kept going until I found the rim spot that had the boulder field. Now I had a chance for a close-up look and said to myself, just do-it, no more contemplating. I started following the mental route I made from the other side and stopped about halfway down. I seldom leave a rock-pile marking the way since I mark waypoints with the GPS but now I’m thinking without the GPS this may be really difficult to find my way back up if the GPS breaks. I make a rock-pile and continue through the large boulders working my way down and stop to make another rock-pile. I’m satisfied that I will be able to them from the wall-collapse and hike down through the loose dirt and small rocks of the wall collapse to the very bottom. I stop for a moment to enjoy it, mark waypoints and decide to mark the streambed by dragging my shoe. I’m thrilled and start hiking downstream. I’m thinking to myself I wish it was that easy going back up.

I continue hiking until I finally come to a shallow slot section and stop to take photographs including setting up the tripod and getting some with me in the scene. I continue on not knowing what to expect but this is supposedly a hike through (non-technical) canyon to Trachyte Creek. After awhile I come to another Slickrock slot, this time very narrow, starting out with small choke-stones of two or three feet followed by larger chokes-stones of four or five feet but I manage to climb over all of these until I get to the last choke-stone wedge into the canyon wall followed by a 6 to 8 foot drop into a mud puddle. I can see the foot-prints of my predecessor leaving 2 inch deep tracks in the mud. Apparently he made the jump but I’m solo and wasn’t planning on making the loop which probably would be too much for me. So returning over this choke-stone would probably be too much for me so I’m satisfied to take as many photographs as possible from this vantage point of a long straight steep walled slot. I take a break and head back. I finally reach the dry-fall bypass and look up the wall collapse to the very top. I take a deep breath and start my way up. I look for the first rock-pile and finally make my way up to it huffing and puffing trying to catch my breath. I had been going at my usual leisurely pace but this was a lot of work for me. I wait until I’m breathing was normal again and continue going up. I finally make it to the top with my huffing and puffing out of control. I take another video while trying to catch my breath and I’m ecstatic that first I made it back up and second knowing I’m done with all of the hard parts of the hike. I eventually make it back to the pickup and town.

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On Friday I headed for the Woodruff Canyon trailhead. This hike I knew even less about except Woodruff and its side canyons are known as a great technical slot canyon. My goal was to hike as far as I can into the slot canyon. I had no idea how far that would be but I was game. This was another cool morning and I was ready for a long hike. It was a little treacherous getting down from the road into the wash but not a problem. This wash also starts out wide near the road but soon dirt walls of 10 to 15 foot high border the downhill side of the wash. I notice very little Slickrock near the streambed. Along the way I have noticed a lot of animal tracks but think little about it since the largest appears to be deer and cow tracks. It seems like I had been hiking for miles and I check the GPS, its 2.0 miles as the crow flies, I estimate on the ground about 2.3 miles. I had noticed a lot of greenery ahead and hike into to find a large shallow pool of water. I look at the map and it shows a spring here. I also notice animal tracks everywhere in the mud. Now I know where all those animal tracks were heading. I started fighting my way through the vegetation of these wetlands and was tough. It seem like it went on forever and I was thinking I was getting close to my hiking limit and would only press on only if the prize was close by. I fought my way through for a ways and decide this was going to be my turn-around point. I was dejected but pulled out the DSLR and was determined to come back with some good landscape photos. I normally use a point & shoot GPS camera while hiking and pull out the DSLR at stops. After getting out of the jungle and resting I’m eyeing everything as I take photos on the way back. I’m composing the canyon walls and framing with anything but mostly trees. I continue the walk a few hundred feet, stop and take a few shots and repeat. Then when I was composing a shot, I notice a crack in the canyon wall with a large tree in front of it. My first thought was it looks just like Long Canyon slot entrance in Escalante. I missed this crack on the way in and go over to investigate. As I walk to the tree I realize there is a ten to fifteen foot opening in the canyon wall here. It quickly narrows down to about 2 feet after only about 15 feet in. I walk up to the nearly vertical opening that is less than two foot wide and it looks very dark inside so I can’t see much. I dropped the backpack and tripod and wonder if I could squeeze through sideways. I squeeze into the slot traveling sideways when after about 15 to 20 feet it opens up into a small chamber. I say WOW, can you believe this. The bottom is covered with a cracked dried out mud pattern. I have the P&S in my shirt pocket and try to take a selfie. The camera refuses. It’s really dark and you always use natural lighting when shooting a slot canyon. I turn on the flash and take several selfies. I notice the opening on the other side of the chamber and wonder if I can squeeze into. I hike sideways into the second notch for a ways when I notice a bright light that is a ways off toward the top of the canyon. I can barely see the slot sloping upwards toward the light. I say WOW again and realize the notch has gotten slightly narrower and now I come to the point where this big old man can’t squeeze any smaller. I slither back to the chamber and think “this is really cool”. I go back outside and pull out the camera gear and setup the tripod for some shots with the DSLR. I’m thrilled that this place made my day. I eventually return back to the pickup and Hanksville.

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On Saturday I head for the Irish Canyons. I had hiked Leprechaun about six months ago and decided to try Blarney this time even though I knew it was technical. It didn’t take me long to get to the first obstacle and I bolt back to the truck. I’m thinking Shillegh is only 0.2 miles away, walk or drive to it. I drive over to where the wash crosses under the road and can’t find any place to park. This highway is busier so I drive back to Blarneys side track. I walk the road back to Shillegh and start upstream. It doesn’t take long to get to side raving coming in from the right. The wash is rather wide at the confluence and I hike over to the ravine entrance where I can see into it and notice there is a slot back in there. I hike in exploring this little slot that goes on and on. I’m thrilled and take a bunch of photographs. Like many slots this one gets narrower the farther in you go and there are many small choke-stones that are easily climbed over. I stop where it looks like it getting too difficult for me and head back to the main drainage. I hike upstream and it is starting to look like a clone of the first slot. Again the drainage becomes a nice Slickrock slot that goes on and on. Again it gets too narrow for this big old man and I take lots of photographs. I return to the pickup and town.

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For Sunday, I had put Death Canyon on the agenda. I had previously avoided this place because of the name and what little I have found out about it. I did know that a loop hiking on top and dropping down into the canyon was the preferred way but I wasn’t in the route finding mood and decided to do an up and back hike. I hiked up this fairly wide canyon that would be stretch to call a narrows although there are red sandstone canyon walls until it ends at a box canyon. It is only one mile in to the box so I return to the pickup thinking this is a good time for Black Creek.

I had scouted out Black Creek earlier in the week and decided if I needed a time-filler that this would be it. It turns out Black Creek was more a red sandstone narrows than my first hike and I explored and photographed it including hiking through the culvert running under the highway. It was lunch time by the time I finished here but instead of going to Hanksville I decide to hold out and drive to Blanding that is on the way home for me. I ate lunch in Blanding and the drive south to Arizona.

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Cedar Mesa Utah Trip Report – August 2014

Cedar Mesa Utah Trip Report – August 2014
Joe Berardi books are available at amazon.com
Cedar Mesa Hiking Guide (published Sept. 2014)
Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge 2014 Canyon Atlas
I’m continually updating and creating new books.

I’ve been anxious to head back to southern Utah and come out of hibernation. We desert dwellers do it the opposite way as our northern brothers. I live in central Arizona and it gets just plain hot during the summers with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day. For those of us who don’t have to leave the house such as a book author, we rely on Air Conditioning for surviving the summer months. Robin and I went to the California coast for a week during 4th of July week to enjoy some cool weather.

I’ve been anxious to go back to Cedar Mesa for my fourth trip this year to complete a book I’ve been working on for the past year but some minor health issues, author commitments and finding good hiking weather have made scheduling tricky. I had monitored the Cedar Mesa weather forecast closely and noticed a cooler than normal long term forecast but ended up leaving about half way through this cool spell.

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Day 1 – 8/25/2014 – Travel Day
I drove to Blanding, Utah and then to Natural Bridges National Monument. I figured the campground would fill up every night so I just reserved by paying for the entire week. I ended up leaving home about 8 am after getting everything loaded into the pickup.
I made a side trip to the Kane Ranger Station to determine if their mini-cell tower service worked when they are closed during the summer. I also was curious if they would open two days early to cover the Labor Day holiday weekend. The phone worked but the closed sign was up, no clue to when they would open other than the website information. My wife likes me checking in daily so knowing about the cell phone service was important for planning the week.
Since I had time I drove to UT-276 scouting out the county road to Collins Springs Trailhead. This would make planning the hike day more efficient.

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Day 2 – 8/26/2014
Johns Canyon Main West Fork
My goal for today was to find the trailheads for some of the forks for Johns Canyon and hike one. I needed field data, GPS coordinates and mileage and road conditions.
The day was starting out fairly cool in the 60s but I slept on top of the sleeping bag and blanket last night in the mini-camper on the pickup truck. The skies were overcast in the morning.
I knew the highway 95 milepost for the county road but drove past it without seeing. I returned from the other direction and missed it again. I starting thinking about punching in the GPS coordinate to get a fix but decided to drive very slowly this time between mileposts and finally found it. There is a gravel stockpile partially hiding the road along with a diagonal junction instead of a normal T junction at a paved road.

I drove through a wash, past the BLM Information sign and trail register to the first side track which had a large sign stating “Stay on designated roads”. I knew where this jeep trail went but was more interested in the next. Along the way I saw several marginal jeep trails and when I came to the official but not labeled jeep trail I was looking for I really wanted to verify it so I continued on to the sharp right bend in the road.

When I went to Comb Ridge on a previous trip I pulled in to a jeep trail, verified the GPS coordinates were fairly close but was not exact and started the hike on a worn path. The path died in a jungle in Butler Wash and I returned. Driving down the road only 0.2 miles more not only yielded the correct GPS coordinates for the trailhead but a BLM stick signs pointing the way. So for this trip I wasn’t messing around, I wanted to know for sure which jeep trail was the winner.
Although I have a high clearance pickup, I decided to leave it at the country road and hike the jeep trail to the parking loop which is the unofficial trailhead for the Main West Fork of Johns Canyon. With the GPS in hand I punched in the coordinates and set the unit to compass mode. I was ready and started walking south knowing I couldn’t miss the canyon unless I tried really hard. I didn’t notice any paths so I jumped into a wash and followed it. I came across a jeep trail going the opposite direction and ignored it. It didn’t take long for me to be standing at a canyon edge where I noticed several rock piles. I saw an entry point at one of the rock piles but decided to follow them along the rim wanting to know where they went. I found another entry point but made up my mind that the first one was the one for me but I continued following the rock piles to the other branch and picked up a jeep trail. Of course this was not a designated road and I returned to the first entry point and hiked down into the canyon just below a fairly large dry-fall, maybe 15 ft high and 20 to 30 feet wide. I headed down into the canyon just exploring, seeing if I could spot any ruins in the alcoves. I wasn’t planning on hiking very far and didn’t. This place looked like a typical canyon in the area but it does develop into a rather substantial canyon.
I returned to the campground about mid-afternoon just in time for the 2 hour rain. I stayed dry in the mini-camper taking notes, eating and planning the next day. I was concerned about it being too wet for the big hike the next day. I planned on hiking Collins Canyon down to the Grand Gulch.

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Day 3 – 8/27/14 Johns Canyon Middle Fork
I was awakened by the sound of thunder booming over me at 2 am with a show of lightning flashes and a few minutes later rain drops pounding the roof of the camper. The campground is at around 7,000 ft in elevation and I was starting to think where the safest place to be for not getting hit by lightning. A few years earlier I was at Canyon de Chelly, at the rim edge, photographing a storm when I felt static electricity go from the umbrella I was holding, down my arm until I dropped it. There was a huge boom and flash and the lightning struck the ground only a few hundred feet from me. My ears were ringing for hours after that incident. Since then I take lightning very seriously.
I waited out the thunderstorm in the mini-camper and the rain ended after about an hour. I got up at dawn as usual and noticed the storm had cooled off the temperatures. I figured it was going to be too muddy for the big hike but started driving toward the Collins Spring Trailhead anyways to verify it. I never made it to the dirt road and turned around because I could see puddles of water everywhere.
So it was Plan B time and I headed for Johns Canyon Middle Fork where I could park at the highway and walk a very short ways down the county road into the wash running across the road to start that fork hike. Unlike the previous days hike, this one starts much closer to the head of the drainage where the wash slowly develops into a major drainage going downstream. I hiked down canyon until I’ve seen enough but managed to negotiate several significant dry-falls before having enough fun. If I was looking for a very long hike I could have come up another Johns Canyon fork but decided to make this an up and back hike.

Day 4 8/28/14 Collins Canyon
I have been eager to make this hike since this is supposed to be the easiest way to hike down into the Grand Gulch and its narrows. First light was about 5:00 AM AZ time and I got off to an early start. I parked at the trailhead at 7:01 AM AZ time. Here are a few things about Collins Canyon. First it is a great canyon hike with a rather gentle slope except for four distinct sections that make a rapid elevation change. Second this is a walk-through canyon hike that does not require any scrambling, all obstacles have been removed. This is fairly rare in the Cedar Mesa area. I hiked down to Grand Gulch and set up the tripod for a few shots. There was a lot of water lingering at the Grand Gulch confluence and I didn’t want to make this a water hike. I returned to the campground by mid-afternoon.

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Day 5 8/29/14 Lime Creek
I originally wanted to check out the jeep trail going to the east head of the canyon but the jeep trail was just that and a little too much for my 2WD pickup. So plan B was going down Cigarette Springs Rd and hike cross country to the canyon. I parked at an unofficial trailhead and didn’t see an obvious path so I punched in the GPS coordinates and headed south. I prefer hiking washes as a route although you have to manage the obstacles because it is a natural route plus I figured it would eventually drain into Lime Canyon or one of its tributaries. I ran across a worn path, not sure but it looked more like an animal trail going in the correct compass direction so I hopped onto it. I came across an obvious man-made barrier of dead trees and branches that ran for probably a quarter of a mile along this path. I figured it was a livestock barrier for the canyon. I eventually made it to Lime Canyon and what a view. I rim walked to the east and took photographs. I didn’t see any easy entry points and decided not to try to force it. I was mesmerized by the number of alcoves and was looking for ruins. I returned back to the campground.

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Day 6 8/30/14 Owl Creek
I made it the trailhead after going down a dirt road for 5 miles. I arrived at 8:38AM AZ times. There is an official trailhead with a register, pay-station and a pit toilet here. This may be the first time where I have seen a trail mileage sign. The drainage feeding Owl Creek runs near the parking area so it was easy to get started and follow the rock-piles. I would call them cairns if they had a wire mesh around them but these really are just rock-piles marking the way. I made it to the entry point which is well known for being difficult and I started making the descent through the boulders when I finally realized this may be too much for this old man to do solo. I was struggling going downhill and knew coming back up was going to be hell. I have been making a list of hikes for when I bring a hiking partner and this is one of them. I finally returned to the top and rim walked the canyon spotting a ruin in an alcove with standing rock walls. Unfortunately I wasn’t carrying my long lens since I was traveling light expecting a difficult hike.
The temperature today was the hottest so far for the trip and the cool spell was fading away as predicted. I decided it was going to be too hot for anymore hiking on this trip since it was still August and I made a beeline home.

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Photo Gallery – Leprechaun Canyon

These are photos taken on a short hike near Hanksville, Utah.

This is the photo gallery for one day of the March 2014 Utah trip, the trip report was posted earlier.

Click on photo for a larger view.

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Utah Anasazi Canyon Hikes – Trip Report – April 2014 -1

Joe Berardi books are available at amazon.com

© Joe Berardi

Utah Trip April 2014-1

I ended up making two road trips to Utah during April 2014 and this is the trip report for the first trip.

Cedar Mesa – Anasazi Ruins

The goal for this trip was to find, explore and photograph Anasazi Ruins in the Cedar Mesa area. On my previous March trip to the area I concentrated on exploring the Comb Ridge ruins and also taking in a few hikes outside the Comb Ridge area too.

Day 1

Travel / Mule Canyon Seven Towers Ruins

I drove to Blanding, Utah and immediately headed for the campground at Natural Bridges National Monument. I stopped at the visitor center and was told there were only three openings about an hour earlier with the check-in at the campground.

This was one of those “I just made it moments”, I found campsite #10 open and paid for five nights. I had stayed in that spot before and was very happy to get it again. It was about 4:00 PM local time and getting kind of late for finding a place to stay for the night.

I normally don’t like hiking much on a travel day but wanted to squeeze in this low priority hike. I headed out for Mule Canyon Seven Towers. I never been there before but was expecting a short drive down a dirt road and a short hike. I arrived at the gate near MP102 and proceeded through it and found a rough road but managed to make it to the drill-hole site and camping spot. With my Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas in hand and a few loose updates I headed for the trailhead. Like many places there were no signs, register or toilets but I used the GPS to guide my way. I walked the 4WD jeep trail to the end and picked up a pedestrian trail at the end. It didn’t take long to find the remains of several towers with only one having any significant amount of the wall still standing. When the rock walls collapse it creates a pile of rocks along the original structure and sometimes the pile is only a foot or two high other times several feet or more of the original wall remains standing with rocks piled on both sides of the wall.

I snapped photos and decided this was a morning shoot and the long late afternoon shadows were killing the photo opportunities. I snooped around looking for more ruins and knew there were some in the canyon not just the towers on top of the rim. I located some other towers across the canyon and decided to go around the ravine. Again most of the ruins were mere rock piles but there was one significant structure wall (15 feet) still standing with a nice opening in the wall at the bottom. Again the backside with the chaotic rock pile was lit by the sun with a dark shadow splitting the tower into two. I recorded the GPS points for each ruins so some of them will end up in the Cedar Mesa /Comb Ridge 2014 Canyon Atlas.

I ended up setting up the tripod for some self portrait shots. I was running out of daylight and was rushing the photo-shoot. I started this trip report two months ago and only now finishing it so I had to look at the photos taken and my trip notes to refresh my memory. From the photographer’s point of view it was poor lighting and I didn’t want to stay for sunset since I had big plans for the next day. Looking back across the canyon (east) I could see several alcoves with ruins. I start thinking about if there was an easy way down to them and then I continued shooting because I was running out of daylight. I make back to the pickup about 7:00 PM local time and headed back to the campground.

Day 2

Todie Canyon

I planned on hiking Todie Canyon from the eastern trailhead to Grand Gulch. This hikes difficulty rating ranged from easy to strenuous from researching books and the internet information. The problem with books written by elite hikers is everything is easy. I’m an old man hiking solo, so I take the cautious approach on hikes. I went to the Kane Ranger Station to get a permit and after talking to the ranger I thought this probably was going to be a no-go hike. I needed the trailhead information (mileage/GPS) for my book anyways so off I went heading for the trailhead.

The ranger described the entry into the canyon of scrambling down into the canyon through a boulder field. I told her about my hiking experience and she just came out saying “you’re not built for it” and probably wouldn’t make it. This was a subtle way of saying you are too big and heavy for this hike. I had no problem finding the trailhead or picking up the trail. After about a half mile I came to the entry point which was marked with several rock piles. I gave it a good look snooping around looking for the easiest way down and concluded the ranger was right. If I had a hiking partner, it may have been a different story but I opted out.

I decided Plan B would be to rim walk the canyon and many times the ruins are in an alcove high up so sometimes the better view is looking down into the alcove. Like many hikes, people don’t turn when they should so I continued on west and picked up a path. The first question was does it go anywhere or is it just going to dead-end when people realize they are going the wrong way and turned around.

I noticed a few things; Todie Canyon is really large and deep. Second, the trail wasn’t exactly running close to the rim edge. I wanted to rim walk it and peer into the canyon as I hiked. I ended up getting off the trail and walking along the rim which is more difficult because of the terrain. Occasionally I returned to the trail running parallel to the canyon. I had spotted ruins across the canyon down in an alcove and was shooting with an 18-250 mm lens so I could zoom-in pretty well from this view. The sun position was making for high contrast shots and I did my best. Although I’m not using a tripod, I bracketed the exposures anyways. This is a classic situation for using HDR. Although the Canon T4i does have a built-in HDR mode for JPEG files, I stuck with the RAW files and needed a tripod to do it right. As I walked along the rim I got a slightly different view and realized this was the 25 structure ruins. I didn’t count all of the individual decayed structures but this was it. There is a ravine coming in from the south that had to be walked around near this point.

I continued hiking and came across another ruin, actually two, one down near the canyon floor while the other was much higher. I’m thrilled that I found some more Anasazi Ruins. I’m marking GPS point and ended rim walking almost to the Grand Gulch. From what I could see it looked rough going and I wasn’t going to make it to the ruins in Grand Gulch. I turned around and headed back to the trailhead. On the way back I spot another ruins before the scramble entry that I had missed coming in. I returned to the campground for an early dinner and planned the next day’s hike.

Summary

Just rim walking Todie Canyon is a great hike where you will see several Anasazi Ruins.

Day 3

Sheiks Canyon / Target Ruins

Sheiks Canyon is the next canyon north of Bullet Canyon and I wanted to hike to the Yellow House Ruins and possibly to Green Mask Ruins at Grand Gulch. Again the information I found was sketchy but that is what an adventure is, not knowing what you’re going to find.

Driving to the trailhead was less straight foreword than some but I had no problems getting there with the pickup truck, although I parked on the side of the track not making it all the way to the trailhead. I parked about 0.2 mile from the trail register and probably could have made it with the pickup.

This ended up being a short hike when I came to a dry-fall that was only about 6 to 8 feet high but I didn’t have a rope or a hiking partner. I wasn’t worried about getting hurt just worried about getting stranded. I knew I wasn’t going to make it back up without a rope or boost. This was very disappointing. I returned back to the vehicle.

Whenever I plan a trip I make a backup plan for the trip and individual days. My backup hike was the Target Ruins in Butler Wash West Fork. I hurriedly headed for the trailhead since this would be a late start. This would not be a long hike but more of a route finding hike. The hike description I’ve seen were very vague but I had the GPS coordinates for the ruins. I already knew where the trailhead was so getting there was easy. I started hiking up Butler Wash and veered left into the West Fork. There was some running water but crossing the stream was easy.

Shortly, I come to a ravine and headed west as instructed. From here on I really didn’t have a route description but I did have the GPS coordinates. I head edup the ravine. Basically I followed this drainage until it turned into a box canyon. There were no ruins in sight and I needed to go further north. I back tracked a ways and then went up a mostly Slickrock hill. When I finally made it to the top there was a great distant view but no ruins. From my GPS coordinates I knew I was close and I walked north a ways where there was another ravine. I walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down and there it was, the Target Ruins in plain sight and not very far away. I could also see a trail going up this second ravine from the east.

The only problem was there was no chance of me making it down to the ruins because of the steepness of the cliff and the type of terrain. I snapped away with the camera for quite awhile. Then I started thinking if only I could get a more level view instead of looking down so much. I surveyed the rim and all along the rim edge and noticed a bench about half way down. If only I could find the way down to the bench. I eventually made my way down to the bench, some scrambling required, some loose dirt and small rocks. I very pleased with the less downward looking view and took a lot more shots. Then I realized this is an extremely well preserved ruins and one of the best I’ve seen.

I had really no reason to try to get into the ruins but I was curious about where the trail led to the east. So when I returned to the West Fork I headed north. This time I was looking for entry into the second ravine. It turns out you can’t see the second ravine from the streambed but I found a path going up the steep sandy dirt hill right at the same latitude as the ruins so I now knew how people were getting into the second ravine. I went further north to find some other ruins in the West Fork and then returned back to my vehicle. I returned to the campground and made an early dinner and worked on planning the next day better.

Day 4

McCloyd Canyon / Road Canyon / Fallen Roof Ruins

I started the day heading for Mccloyd Canyon. From UT-261 I headed east on Snow Flat Rd. It didn’t take long to come to a fork on this dirt road which transitions into a 2-track. I headed right and found myself at the entrance to a ranch within a mile or so. The fork and the ranch road don’t show up on the map so I returned to the fork and headed down the other direction. By the time I made it 3.4 mile down the road it had deteriorated into 4WD trail or just driving cross country. I turned around and headed back to the highway.

I now started heading for Road Canyon and turned onto Cigarette Springs Rd going east. Since I had scouted this trailhead on a previous trip I knew exactly where to go and made a beeline to it. From the parking area is a worn path heading northeast for entry into a ravine feeding into Road Canyon. There was no getting lost between the worn path and rock piles marking the way down the switchbacks. At the bottom I continued northeast until the junction with Road Canyon and headed right or mostly east from there. I’m all business heading east looking for the Fallen Roof Ruins and did not stop to take any photographs. I really didn’t know if I could see the ruins from the dry streambed or not. I was looking for any evidence of hikers breaking to the left (footprints) or a rock pile marking the way. I did know there a rock pinnacle nearby which I easily spotted before seeing a rock pile in the streambed. It turns out you cannot see the ruins from the streambed and you have hike up the Slickrock canyon wall quite a ways before locating the alcove.

I arrived at the Fallen Roof Ruins which I recognized from photographs, took GPS coordinates with the Garmin and snapped shots with the Olympus TG-830 which tags the GPS coordinates. Climbing up to the ruins was a little bit of a challenge for me but not really that difficult. I dropped everything (backpack, tripod) and unpack the Canon T4i and start snapping away freehand at first and then with the tripod. One thing I have learned the hard way is to take photographs of the prize before anything happens. Sometimes it’s the sun or clouds or rain or snow or a crowd of people. You just never know what is going to happen. I just got to the point where I could catch my breath when I noticed an old man in uniform with a walking stick was making his way toward the ruins. This was a volunteer ranger who had maybe five or ten years on me. We chatted for awhile and it turns out that this type of ranger regularly hikes to the ruins to do a status check on them. I got some great shots even with the point & shoot camera.

We parted ways as I headed down hill. The Slickrock had only a few rock piles and there was a lot of tight Switch-backing involved so trying to follow the waypoints back down got confusing but eventually I made it back to the streambed. The canyon had a fair amount of short trees and other vegetation. It was also littered with boulders and other minor obstacles. I snapped some canyon shots on the way back. I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to the entry switch-backs which only three years ago would have taken me half a day to get up. I found the rock arrow I had made with seven rocks pointing to the ravine and the way up. I took my time and spent maybe an hour going up to the top.

Summary

This was a great hike and the Fallen Roof Ruins is very photogenic.

Day 5

Slickhorn Canyon East Fork / Perfect Kiva / Travel

The goal for today was Slickhorn Canyon and the Perfect Kiva Ruins in the Grand Gulch. This hike consensus is a moderate to strenuous so I wasn’t confident of making it to Grand Gulch. There are some ruins along the way but as it turns out again, you won’t see them from the streambed. It looked like too much work climbing up the canyon walls looking for ruins although I made two endeavors. I hiked just short of the Grand Gulch junction bypassing one very steep dry-fall and when I approached the well documented one near the junction it look like too much for me to handle alone. Between the trailhead location and where I hiked to, it just felt like I wouldn’t see anybody for days or weeks if something happened here. I didn’t see any footprints which means this was a lesser used hike. I was content seeing the Grand Gulch but not actually making it to the junction. The Perfect Kiva was just around the bend, oh well.

I finished the hike around 1:00 PM local time and even though I had plans for several more days; I had enough information for this trip and headed home.

Summary

This was a nice hike but I never made it to the prize.

Miscellaneous

Not really documented very well during this trip but I had driven to Blanding for ice and gas. Along the way I scouted out several other trailheads.

 

Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge, Utah – 2014 March Day 3

Utah Trip Report 2014 0313

Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge, Utah

Monarch Cave

Joe Berardi books are available at amazon.com

Day 3

To sum up my second trip to Utah for 2014 is WOW. I traveled to the Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge region in early March. I also made a day trip further north for another slot canyon adventure. I’m already falling behind on my 60 by 60 slot canyon challenge but I needed field data for the Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas.  This trip was an Anasazi Ruins adventure.

Finding the trailhead for Monarch Cave was the trickiest. The Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas book specifies the mileage at 6.9 miles but there is a track at 6.7 miles with a large developed parking area. I compared the GPS coordinates from the atlas to actual and noted the book called for N37.35897 but I was at N37.35710 which means I was only good to 2 decimal places with the third off by almost .002 which was a fairly significant error which indicated I should be further north. This error assumed the trailhead coordinates were correct. I decided it was close enough for me to find my way and there was a worn path from the parking area going down into Butler Wash. I didn’t think it was a cattle trail but you never know. I followed the path down a hill into a jungle in the wash and lost it. I couldn’t find an exit point and the wash wall was about 20 feet high making it a formidable barrier.  After floundering in the wash for about 5 minutes I concluded this was not it and I had enough bushwhacking. I returned to the vehicle and drove further north to a 6.9 mile track and parked at the end. My GPS coordinates had me at N37.35878 now meaning the first three digits matched and the fourth digit was close. This time the path leading down into Butler Wash had a stick sign pointing the way. I followed this worn path although it was barely a path in a few places through some green trees until I came across a BLM sign warning about disturbing archeological sites. I was clearly in a drainage at this point running east-west and there was no getting lost now since the cave is at the head of the drainage. At first I started getting glimpses of the top of a cave or alcove. Even though the drainage will take you directly under the cave at some point prior to this you need to break right and there was a very short stick sign pointing the way to the right. Once the vegetation opened up there was a good view of the Monarch Cave with the ruins. The entry is along the cliffs edge where a long shallow alcove leads the way. There is an ammo box lying on the ground chained to a large tree branch. You are supposed to make an entry although there isn’t any sign indicating this.  I head for the alcove. There are some painting on the alcove wall and a fairly large area under the alcove that is chained off to prevent trampling of the vegetation.  To enter the Monarch Cave requires a bit of scrambling for those not afraid of heights or slipping off the Slickrock. This is one of the more photogenic and significant ruin in the Comb Ridge area. I spent a fair amount of time shooting it from various angles for different composition. It was an easy and pleasant hike going in and going back was even better since it was slightly downhill.

 

Summary

This was a very enjoyable hike with an excellent prize at the end. The ruin is beautiful and the hand paintings are a bonus.

 

Sand Island Petroglyphs

There is a large sign along the highway (US-191) between Bluff and the gate for CR-262 for the Sand Island Petroglyphs Boat Launch and campgrounds. BLM website says entrance on US-163, I used the US-191 entrance since this is what I was driving by every day.  The rock art is fenced off and extensive. I didn’t measure it but probably over a hundred feet long. This is another classic example, just because it is very easy to get to doesn’t mean it is a second rate experience. This panel is first class and large.

I put the photos on my web site. http://www.slotcanyonsutah.com

Joe Berardi

 

 

Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge, Utah – 2014 March Day 2

Utah Trip Report 2014 0313

Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge, Utah

Procession Panel

Joe Berardi books are available at amazon.com

Day 2

To sum up my second trip to Utah for 2014 is WOW. I traveled to the Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge region in early March. I also made a day trip further north for another slot canyon adventure. I’m already falling behind on my 60 by 60 slot canyon challenge but I needed field data for the Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas.  This trip was an Anasazi Ruins adventure.

I normally like to start my day with a cup of coffee and time in the restrooms especially when I know I will be out on the trail for hours. I had everything required to make a cup of coffee in the camper but really just wanted to buy one. Dawn started about 6:00 am (AZ & UT time) and I was up and ready to go. The only problem was there wasn’t anything open at 6 am. As part of my book research, I need to know these things. I drove around a little; Bluff is a very small town, not much driving to be done. I parked the truck and enjoyed the sunrise and a few Sandhill cranes squawking and flying by. I noticed a few cars in front of the Twin Rock Café at about 6:40 am despite not being open. I guessed employee parking and was right since the restaurant opened at 7:00 am. I noticed the sign announcing extending the hours to 7:00 am starting in March. Not only did I get a cup of coffee but decided on a light breakfast of French toast with 2 slices of bacon. Breakfast was sitting on the table by the time I returned from the restrooms. I leisurely enjoyed breakfast and then headed out. Because of the limitations of the camper space I have a daytime and nighttime quarter’s arrangement. Basically at night some stuff, 2nd backpack, clothing bag, tripod and a few other items must be put into the cab of the truck to make room for sleeping in the camper. I keep the photo backpack with me at all times since it has the cameras and lenses. In the restaurant parking lot I converted into the daytime camper configuration and replenished the fluids in the photo backpack containers. It’s was about 7:45 AM and I arrive at the gate at 7:55 AM. The gate to CR-262 and I did a trip odometer reset. The Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas says 6.1 miles from UT-163 but the track at 6.3 miles has the GPS coordinates that match the first three digits in the atlas for the trailhead for Procession Panel. I figured this has to be it and as I drive down the track and see logs marking the parking spots. Again there is no sign designating the trailhead but I find a worn path going down into the wash which has tall but dormant vegetation and back up and out of it. After a short while I approach another wash but this time there is one of those brown BLM stick signs with an arrow sticker and a hiker image sticker pointing the way to go. I follow the worn path through sandy soil into a 2nd and 3rd wash crossing.  I hike up a sandy drainage and after awhile hit a large Slickrock area and hill. Fortunately a second stick sign points the way. Even though I’m getting pretty far away from the camper, maybe a half mile, I can see it in the distance looking down hill. The trail has turned into solid rock with only rock piles leading the way. Although I don’t have waypoints, I brought along a map with a few key GPS coordinates, one for canyon entrance, midway point and destination coordinates. I keep following the rock piles across the hard rock and come across a 3rd stick sign at the end of the Slickrock and pointing the way at a sandy trail.  I was now past the midway GPS coordinates and lost the trail but I had the destination coordinates. I clearly see a cliff wall to the right running east west and know the Procession Panel is toward the west end of it and I’m about 0.2 miles away. I head for the cliff and struggle along the cliffs edge with all of the obstacles that have fallen off the cliff. I finally realize traversing along the cliff is in vain and head back down. From the stick sign I was heading north-west in a straight line for the panel, I had the destination coordinates but couldn’t find a route along the cliffs edge. I retreated down to low ground away from the cliffs edge and couldn’t pick up a trail again so I followed the low ground heading west thinking I may have to loop around the west end of the cliff. I eventually came to the west end of Comb Ridge, a very sharp drop and a great view for many miles looking west. But that was the end of going this way. Looking at the destination coordinates I’m still about 0.1 miles away (500 ft too far south) but even worse about 170 feet too low. I head back for 0.2 miles near where I made the first approach to the cliffs wall. I study the terrain carefully and then I see it, there is a subtle uphill bench about midway between my first and second route. It wasn’t real clear to me on getting onto the sloping bench and I marked several “maybe” waypoints until it became obvious this was the route. There were no rock piles marking the way. I kept checking the GPS coordinates and elevation along the way verifying I was on the correct route. I finally made it to the prize, Procession Panel which was still in the shade but it looked like it would be in direct sunlight in a short while. I know this hike is a favorite for many but I consider the prize a letdown and maybe it is a favorite more for the hike and less for the prize. Although the panel size is significant, it is not huge or full of figures like I have seen other panels. I now have lots of GPS waypoints so returning was not a problem plus I could see the camper when I was about a half mile away. On the return there was one Slickrock hill that is steep going up, it had me scrambling and huffing puffing, I didn’t even notice it coming in since it was downhill. I returned back to the camper and did my usual recovery ritual drinking lots of Gatorade. The two couples on ATVs saw my camper and pulled up to me to chat. They told me about a few of their hikes and got me interested in Wolfman Panel/ Ruin. 

Summary

It was about a 3.5 mile hike round trip, maybe 4.0 with the detours and a pleasant hike over quite a bit of Slickrock with great distant views. The Procession Panel itself was okay and for this kind of hike where the destination isn’t obvious a handheld GPS is very useful.

Wolfman Panel / Ruins

It is a short hike but rated moderate for some minimal scrambling. I drove back on CR-262 to the BLM Info Board and the wire fence. The track running along the south side of the fence leads to a parking area. Three stick signs blocking a well worn jeep trail marks the trailhead. Eventually you come to another stick sign and log going across the legacy jeep trail. It doesn’t take long to reach the edge of Butler Wash overlooking the ruin across the wash in an alcove. It’s a pretty good view but the condition of the ruin is poor. There are several rock piles leading the way to Wolfman Panel. It doesn’t  take long it get to a large boulder maybe 20 feet long where there is only about a 16 or 18 inch place to squeeze sideways through. For an average person this is not a problem but for this big guy there was no extra room.  Right after the boulder is a moderate scramble down Slickrock. I opted to leave the photo backpack and tripod on top of the large boulder and travel light for the scramble. Since I’m solo I was more concern about the scramble back up and getting stranded. After the scramble heading south is a short hike to an empty alcove / shallow cave. There is a drainage area in front and below the alcove and I wasn’t sure where Wolfman Panel was but thought it must be past the drainage along the cliff wall past the alcove. I spent some time contemplating another moderate scramble to get past the drainage and looking for alternatives. I noticed a worn path prior to the drainage heading away from the cliff wall thinking it couldn’t go anywhere. I came to the conclusion it wasn’t an animal trail but a people trail and followed it. I came to the dead-end and turned around and was rewarded with a good distant view of the Wolfman Panel. Unfortunately I didn’t have the DSLR and snapped some shots with the point & shoot and updated the GPS coordinates. I decided to go down to the dirt bench about midway where a distinct path was heading toward the ruins. This yielded a lower but similar view of the ruins from the first viewpoint. There was a rock pile marking a drainage going down into Butler Wash. It is possible to scramble down into the wash and back up the other side into the ruins. It was starting to get late and this was my second hike for the day. I’ve seen enough and returned back to the camper. I filled up the gas tank at K & C Store with Sinclair Gas and bought an egg salad sandwich.

Summary

Well worth the short hike, maybe 1.5 miles roundtrip to the ruins.

I put the photos on my web site. http://www.slotcanyonsutah.com

Joe Berardi

Utah Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge – 2014 March Day 1

Utah Trip Report 2014 0313

Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge, Utah

Double Stack Ruins

Joe Berardi books are available at amazon.com

Day 1

To sum up my second trip to Utah for 2014 is WOW. I traveled to the Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge region in early March. I also made a day trip further north for another slot canyon adventure. I’m already falling behind on my 60 by 60 slot canyon challenge but I needed field data for the Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas.  This trip was an Anasazi Ruins adventure.

Let’s talk about the weather first, this time of year it is still winter in southern Utah and after talking to the locals, I’ve found out it has been a dry winter regarding the amount of snow that has fallen. Daytime temperatures were in the fifties and night time temperatures were in the lower thirties. Although the weather forecast was very similar to my first trip, there was less snow to be seen at the higher elevations and I avoided any extremely frigid nights on the second trip. Maybe some of it was being better prepared for the cold nights with a very nice blanket/quilt and of course using a sleeping bag. This was my second trip with the homebuilt mini-camper where I spent five nights car camping. After the first trip I realized a warmer blanket was needed and during the second trip I realized I needed a slightly larger sleeping quarters to be comfortable while sleeping. I barely fit lying flat in the diagonal direction across the camper, feet touching one corner and head touching the opposite corner. I’m writing this report several weeks after the trip and have I already made a slide-out compartment on the passenger side of the camper/truck. Hopefully the extra eight inches will allow me to lie straight across the back of the camper and be able to roll over without making a major production out of it.

Usually the first and last day of my Utah trips are considered travel days but it only takes about six hours to drive from my house to Bluff, Utah so I planned a short hike on the travel day. Although I have driven through the towns of Bluff and Blanding many times as a professional photographer, it was always on the way to Moab or Colorado and has never been a destination before. I had decided to make Bluff base camp for the first part of the trip.

My goal for the first hike on this trip and most others is a short easy day-hike to start the adventure. On my previous trip here I drove CR-262 from the southern access at Utah highway 163 to the northern access at Utah highway 95 for scouting, gathering information about the quality and character of the dirt road and the side tracks leading to the trailheads.  I didn’t go down any of the side tracks but took GPS coordinates.

The Double Stack Ruins was chosen for the first hike on this trip since it was only a 2.4 mile roundtrip hike and rated easy.  This part of Utah is still the Wild West, at least like it was in the 1800 after they started stringing barbed wire.  The Cedar Mesa and Comb Ridge area are known as federal lands and managed by the BLM. Since this historically has been a low usage area, there is very little management being done and the only ranger station in the area is only open during peak hiking season and is manned mostly by volunteers. The reason I called it the Wild West is the primary road through Comb Ridge is a primitive dirt county road.  (Not gravel or improved) Although they have run a grader through here and installed culverts at several of the major washes, basically you’re driving cross country following the terrain going up and down driving down into the wash and back up to higher ground at each wash or drainage. Some of these dips are twenty feet deep. Although there are a few sections where the road is Slickrock and you can see the grind marks to cut down the bumps this really isn’t a road for low-clearance passenger vehicles. I have noticed many book authors will tell you can drive an unimproved road with your car if you’re careful but this is taken from the perspective of someone driving a 4WD jeep and is wrong in most cases. I went for three years between pickup trucks where I had only two mini-vans to choose from and I can tell you from experience that a 6 or 7 inch static clearance will only result in damage to the vehicle or getting stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

Back to the Wild West, the side tracks are made by people driving (jeeps, ATV, pickup) off the main road and once a number of people have driven the same path the ground gets compressed and create a semi-permanent track also known as 2-track.  There are many more side-tracks here than trailheads so finding the correct side-track for a specific trailhead can be a challenge. A reminder, that a trailhead may be a general starting area for a hike without any signs or official parking or official designation of the trail. On these types of adventures on my pre-trip planning I strive to get enough information to have a successful adventure but not too much to bias my exploration or follow someone else’s adventure step by step. I had the trailhead GPS coordinates, destination coordinates and mileage down the road (CR-262) using the Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas. The issue with using mileage is the tolerance of the vehicle odometer to measure mileage accurately. Shortly after buying the Ford Ranger pickup I purchased a set of slightly over-sized tires and calibrated the odometer. The reading is about 5 percent low or you have traveled 5 percent farther than the odometer reading. So when a book says to drive 3.8 miles you might want to ask yourself is it really 3.8 miles or just 3.8 miles on the author’s vehicle or how accurate is my odometer reading. A 5 percent error on 3.8 miles is .19 miles and did the author round up or down his measurement. The point I’m making is it is not an exact science but an approximate measurement. I stopped at a track at 3.7 mile on my odometer and was gathering the GPS coordinates when two couples on two ATVs stopped and we started discussing where we thought we were. They also told me they were staying at the Cadillac Ranch RV Park. They continued on up CR-262 while I drove down the side-track. The side-tracks along CR-262 aren’t very long normally only 0.1 or 0.2 mile but usually the parking is near Butler Wash which runs north-south while the hikes are from east to west. I parked in a well worn area but no signs were in sight. I verified the first 3-digits of the GPS coordinates matched the ones in Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas and thought this is it, close enough. I purposely parked the truck in an open area so it can be easily seen from a distance. I found a worn path on sandy soil through a fairly flat ground with small bushes. Almost all of the plants are still dormant from winter. It doesn’t take any navigation skills to see the ridge line of Comb Ridge to the west from here since it is very prominent. Following a well worn path I hike through the washes and onto the Slickrock which was marked with rock piles (primitive cairns) leading the way to the canyon in Comb Ridge. It really doesn’t take very long to get close since it is only about a mile to travel although I’m doing everything in slow motion, marking waypoints on handheld Garmin etrex 30 GPS and entering notes, taking photos with Olympus TG-830 that records GPS coordinates, occasionally taking photos with the Canon DSLR and verifying the map in the atlas. The wikiup is the sentinel guarding the ruins and I know I’m getting very close. I walk through the sandy drainage into the small canyon and I can barely see an alcove off to right through the bushes and trees. I start getting excited about seeing the prize, a ruins wall can clearly be seen from here. I come across another wikiup. As I continue hiking I can hear voices echoing off the canyon walls and know I won’t be alone soon. Then I get my first glimpse of the ruins down low in the canyon which is below the alcove and slight west of it. I’ve made it to the Double Stack ruins along with the two couples I previously met on the road. They had driven their ATVs to the next side-track and started their hike from there. I marked my GPS coordinates and started snapping away with the DSLR. Down low are two sets of structures about 20 feet apart with partially intact walls running from about 10 to 20 feet high? These ruins are in a shallow cave while another ruin is up in an alcove maybe 50 feet up and over several hundred feet to the side. As I explore around the ruins I’m careful not to touch any of the walls or disturb the ground. I come to the realization that these ruins without protection will be destroyed by visitors within a century although they may be 5 or 6 centuries old. Most people are cavalier when visiting sites like this and don’t realize the damage they are causing by walking through the ruins or touching the ruins or artifacts in the ruins. The other group wrapped up their visit here and I now had solitude. I snapped away freehand down low and tried to get a better view of the ruin in the alcove above. The ruins down low were in the shade even though the sun was shining.  I headed back and another thing nice about this hike is not only is it down hill heading back but I could seen my white truck with the white camper from a great distance and there would be no problems finding my way back. I headed for Bluff and decided to stay at the Cadillac Ranch RV Park getting a tent site for 3 nights. I didn’t set up a tent but the $16 per night is well worth it for flush toilets, showers and outlets to charge batteries.

Summary

Double Stack Ruins is a nice easy short hike with an excellent prize at the end of the hike (Anasazi Ruins).

 I put the photos on my web site. http://www.slotcanyonsutah.com

http://www.slotcanyonsutah.com/hike-double-stack-ruin.html

Joe Berardi

 

Utah Slot Canyons Trip Report – 2014 Feb

Utah Slot Canyon Adventures

Copyright Joe Berardi (books available at amazon.com)

Trip Report – 2014 Feb

Day 1 (Feb 9) Travel

I had been planning and preparing for this trip for a long time. My last expedition into Utah was November of last year. Even southern Utah gets winter weather that brings on cold temperatures, winds and a heaping of snow. Since most of the roads in this area are unimproved dirt roads, travel is nearly impossible during the winter months once leaving the paved highways of UT-95 and UT-276. Only these roads are available for exploring the Upper Lake Powell Slot Canyons in the winter months. It has been a very dry January in the Hanksville to Blanding area but snow did return in early February. Hanksville is a very small town and has a few motels, restaurants and gas stations. For those not prepared for dry-camping this town is it for a base camp for hiking the Lake Powell slot canyons. I decided to build a mini-camper for the Ford Ranger pickup so basically I could stop and set up camp anywhere.

The Hite marina of the Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area has a ranger station and visitor center. The heated restrooms with flush toilets were too good to pass up and I made the paved parking lot near the dry lake-bed home for three nights. Camping is $6 per night paid via a machine using a credit card. I have an annual parks pass that allows entry into the park. On my way up here I had noticed the high elevation near Natural Bridges National Monument and quite a bit of snow on the ground and elected to travel to Lake Powell lower elevation.  I arrived at Lake Powell at dusk and parked in a large empty parking lot.

I had built a camper just barely big enough for me to lay down in it or sit in it when the floor board is removed to make sitting possible at the door. I can sit with the door open or closed but staring at the door one foot in front of my face only offers protection from the weather. The camper is outfitted with one kitchen cabinet and homemade built into the stud space storage shelves.  The design worked out pretty good and an 750w inverter with a power strip are attached to a wall inside the camper while a deep discharge battery lies under the floor of the camper in the truck bed. I needed this power for convenience of recharging batteries that also could be done through a smaller inverter when driving. I also wanted the AC power for a 150 Watt light-bulb that can be used as a mini-heater for the camper. I didn’t use it until my fourth night of camping which was at Natural Bridges National Monument. I had snow on the ground only ten feet from my pickup truck and it had been sitting there for about 4 or 5 days. This just shows how cold it had been at the campground. I checked in at the Visitor Center and the ranger told me I would have the pick of the camping spots and there was no fee during the winter. At least I didn’t have to pay to freeze but again the heated restrooms with flush toilets were a powerful draw to these campgrounds. When going to bed I hadn’t used my camper heater yet saving the battery and I awoke around 2 AM with icicles around my nose and decided it was time to turn it on. At first I tried the 40W bulb and after about 30 minutes decided it wasn’t enough and switched to a 150W bulb that finally started warming up the camper. I left it on until I got up for the day but had to use my hat to cover my eyes from the bright light. Oh, I was just joking about the icicles.

Day 2 (Feb 10)

I decided the most efficient use of my time plus I needed to field verify some atlas map locations to complete my book (Upper Lake Powell 2014 Canyon Atlas) and was to drive from Hite to Hanksville and down UT-273 identifying the important landmarks, slot canyons, drainages, trailheads, potential parking places and significant mile markers. I took GPS coordinates and did a lot stop and go. I filled the gas tank in Hanksville and called Robin from town giving her an update. To my surprise the Hogs Springs Picnic Area was developed a lot more than expected, a large parking lot, vault toilets, a pedestrian bridge over North Wash, running springs but the trail to the three hog canyons was closed and barricaded although that doesn’t always stop me but I thought there may be too much snow in the canyons. The second surprise was the trailhead sign and the names for the North Wash tributaries. The USGS maps have no official names but the hanging USGS map was labeled (with marker) with names and a description for the three Irish canyons. Although I had seen a hiker’s website identifying these canyons with Irish names I had never seen anything official and it looks like the BLM has accepted those names for these canyons. I’m assuming these are official BLM maps although in recent years some of the federal agencies are using donated maps and trail information signs.

Day 3 (Feb 11)

This is my first hiking day but decided to go back south of Hite, not checked out the previous day and start at Fry Canyon. There is a slot that runs under the highway bridge that turns into a narrows shortly after. Finding the trailhead was easy, just parked of the road near the bridge. The word trailhead is used very loosely when referring to slot canyon hikes since there is almost never a sign marking a trail, information board or entry point. I went down to the slot and rim walked downstream under the highway bridge looking for an entry point. I continued until the slot faded into a narrows and continued getting deeper and wider. I returned to the bridge decided to make entry upstream. It didn’t take me long to find shallow sloping canyon walls allowing easy entry but there was a problem. Most of the visible slot had pools of water and it was too deep to go very far downstream. I took some photographs of the slot and enjoyed what little I did see. Upstream from the slot was a wire barb wire fence and it looked like the canyon opened up from here. I decided to cross the bridge in pursuit of another entry point further downstream and found one but again there was too much water in the slot. I had seen enough and returned to the truck.

Cheesebox Canyon was my second hike on the agenda. I headed down the highway for a few miles and found the trailhead for this hike. Again there were no sign but there signs of people using the area. I had GPS for a good starting point. I just headed east and eventually came upon a rock pile marking a trail. I followed the frequent rock piles that were usually less than 20 feet apart. This was one of the best marked trails I have ever seen and since much of it was over Slickrock, around boulders or small trees it was needed to follow the course.  The large canyon was obvious but the entry point wasn’t. I finally came to a cliff edge about two-thirds down into the canyon and lost the trail. I looked over the edge and said to myself there is at least another 50 feet to go to the bottom.  I walked in both directions along the jagged cliff edge in search of another rock pile. I couldn’t find one so I returned to the last rock pile. I carefully surveyed the landscape and said if I was going to find a way down how would I do it. I noticed to the far right the primary canyon wall which was a sheer cliff may have a very narrow bench running along it but there were many obstacles in the way, mostly large boulders and small trees with a hill in the way. I headed for the obstacles and guess what I picked up, the rock pile trail again. It was almost like the secret garden story, these obstacles and a tree hid entry to this narrow ledge that ran along the canyon wall. A very large section of rock from the canyon wall had fallen and this is what allowed a way to climb down to the bottom. I proceeded climbing down to the bottom verifying this was a real entry into the canyon. From the top I could see the narrows to left and the canyon open up but remain very deep to the right. I said to myself I had seen enough and I didn’t want to get too far away from the vehicle. This was my first hike of the year and I hadn’t built up my confidence for a long solo hike plus I normally carry more provisions when there are opportunities of being stuck on the trail overnight. I also knew it was going to take this big old man a lot longer to get back up to the top. The rock piles were very useful and I did not use the handheld GPS unit to find my way back out of White Canyon plus I needed my hands for scrambling. I returned to Hite for an early dinner and rest. I cooked some hot dogs and made a grilled cheese sandwich.

Day 4 (Feb 12)

My goal today was to hike Swett Creek Canyon that crosses under a bridge at highway UT-276. Entry near the bridge looked too challenging for me and I looked for an easier entry point by driving further south on the highway. I noticed a single car pullout with foot prints heading perpendicular from the road. According to my map Milk Creek wasn’t that far away and it is a tributary to Swett Creek. I headed for Milk Creek and followed some foot prints and found an occasional rock pile. The terrain was easy hiking on Slickrock and through small sandy washes with a few small rolling hills along the way. At Milk Creek there was a short but fairly sharp drop through the jagged Slickrock into the creek. There were only 2 rock piles in the area, enough for me to find an entry point but I was concerned about my return. The creek bed was loaded with rocks varying from an inch to about 10 inches. These worn smooth grey rocks were everywhere in the streambed and I bent over to grab one and it didn’t move. I attempted to pick up another rock with the same result. These weathered worn smooth grey rocks were partially submerged into the sandy creek bed but most of the rock was sitting on top of the sand. After about four attempts I decided to start kicking the rocks looking for loose ones. I finally found some that would move and made two rock piles. The first one was on a two foot high boulder in the creek bed and another on the red slick rock of the jagged canyon wall that had to be climbed to get out. This second one had grey rocks sitting on red rock making for a good color contrast that would be easily seen on my return. I started heading downstream (left) and realized several things, first the ground was frozen solid causing the rocks not to move and I wasn’t leaving any foot prints in the frozen sand. I soon learned that walking on all of these small rocks was going to be tedious and a trip hazard where I had to constantly watch where I was going to place my next step. Shortly after hiking in the Milk Creek I came across a rather large boulder of about 10 to 15 feet filling most of the creek bed but easily walked around. I made a mental note that this boulder was near the exit point and looking around it was the only large boulder in site making it a unique landmark. I had my handheld Garmin GPS unit and was marking waypoints but I wanted a backup plan. I was carrying my Tamrac photo backpack that was fully loaded with food for several days, two fluid containers (water, Gatorade), backcountry tools and a DSLR. I was also carrying a mid-size tripod in its own carrying case. Although I was a little light on the fluids the temperature was near freezing and I figured it should be enough for an all day hike. I would have been carrying twice as much fluid for a summer hike.  I could see patches of snow all around at the higher elevations.

I was ready for a long hike but wasn’t planning on going to Lake Powell  either which would take me more than one day but I just wanted to get acquainted with the canyon and return with some photos and GPS coordinates. I was carrying a second camera, a point & shoot, an Olympus TG-830 and this was my first trip using it. This camera cost about $200 but it has a special feature other than being a weather proof camera, it has a GPS and tags the photo files with the GPS coordinates. This is a great benefit of knowing where a photograph was taken but adds to the complication of using so much equipment at the same time since the DSLR is still being used. The creek had developed into a narrows as I continued hiking and now I come across another large boulder of 10 to 15 feet with numerous 2 to 3 foot choke-stones clogging the path around it but still an easy obstacle to get around. Milk Creek streambed continues to be littered with an infinite number of small grey rocks making each step tedious. I’m kept busy taking photos with 2 cameras and marking waypoints with 2 GPS devices. I got an early start so I’m mostly walking in the shade with the sun partially hitting the left (west) canyon wall. I finally decide to set up the tripod so I can make a self-portrait of me hiking in the canyon. Even though I researched Swett Canyon on the internet I try not to learn too much about other people’s hikes to prevent bias. I want this to be a spontaneous adventure not an AAA trip tick. As it is I already started the hike via Milk Creek which wasn’t in my original plan. With my atlas and GPS I know exactly where I’m at so getting lost is not an issue. I finally come to a fork in the canyon; going left will take me back toward the highway but up Swett Creek instead or going right will follow Swett Creek east toward Lake Powell. I head east after verifying my bearings. Even though I’m in another creek, the canyon walls and streambed pretty much looks the same. There seems to be an infinite number of small grey rocks making the hiking tiresome. Again I set up the tripod for another self-portrait but this time it is in Swett Creek. This is a partially cloudy day and much of the time I’m hiking in the shade either because of the direction of the canyon or the clouds blocking the sun. This part of the canyon is constantly changing directions. I hike through a distinct narrows but the nature of the canyon is slowly changing into a much wider canyon with a wash running through it and consuming a smaller amount of it rather than running from wall to wall. I come across several small patches of snow and eventually attempt a snow break only to find the snow frozen solid. Eventually I decide I’ve seen enough, take a break and start heading back.  Now I’m thinking about the fork in the canyon and wondering if I could hike up Swett back to the highway which would be shorter and find an exit point. I would walk along the road to finish the hike to return back to the truck. I shoot more photos along the way and make it back to the fork. I continue heading up Swett to see what is there instead of returning the way I came. The narrows continues on for awhile when the canyon starts getting narrower and transitions into a slot canyon. I’m getting really excited about the slot and set up the tripod and start taking more photos with the DSLR and tripod. Even though this is a sloping slot canyon the streambed channel has narrowed down to only a few feet and the canyon walls made of smooth sandstone has good color. Eventually I come to a choke-stone obstacle a little bigger than I can handle by myself.  If I forced it I’m sure I could have overcome it but I didn’t want to risk injury so I headed for the fork so I could return the way I came. Between the large boulder near the exit point and the contrasting color of the rock pile I made it easy for finding the exit point my way back and I didn’t use the GPS on the way back. I like testing my navigations skills and use the waypoints only when I have to. It was a great hike and I was thrilled to hike the upstream part of Swett where the slot was a hidden treasure.

I’ve dry camped for three nights and two days of hiking has made me tired and ripe. I was ready for a motel and a shower and headed for Hanksville. Although a very small town it is the only choice around for base camp. I called my wife since we haven’t been in contact for a few days and she did an internet search and I ended up at Whispering Sands Motel which had very nice rooms with furniture and since it was off-season the rates were very reasonable.  I ate across the road at Blondies restaurant and had a great hamburger with fries.

 

Day 5 (Feb 13)

I scouted out Maidenwater Canyon and decided it would be too much for this trip and looked for alternatives. I found a mini-slot canyon which is a tributary to Trachyte Creek and titled it West Fork 2 and spent maybe an hour hiking it. Entry was fairly easy going down a sloping Slickrock canyon wall almost immediately into the mini-slot. I continued downstream (east) for awhile seeing the tributary open up into a typical wash for the area. The only unusual part of the hike was finding a 50 foot long pipe about 4 or 5 feet in diameter with a tree jammed into it. This pipe had obviously washed downstream from the highway and had been replaced by a larger pipe and secured better with concrete. On my return I walked through the drain pipe under the highway and explored upstream before exiting out of the streambed and returning to the truck. This was a nice but a short adventure. I scouted around a little more but decided to head for Trail Canyon. It has a tributary that has a slot. I had already scouted Trail Canyon and knew exactly where to park and the entry point into the canyon.

During this hike I found more different animal tracks than probably ever before on a slot canyon hike. The animal tracks were from cows, deer, rabbits and either coyotes or bobcats and others.

I started the hike near the highway where three drainages merge. The plan was to hike the northern tributary to Trail Canyon. Like my previous hike the drainages were loaded with small smooth grey rocks from 1 inch to 10 or 11 inches. I headed across the drainage toward the northern most with GPS, cameras and atlas in hand. After hiking a few minutes, my right shoe caught on a rock and I attempted to lift my left shoe to recover and it also caught on another rock and I felt myself falling forward. Normally I use my hands and arms to break a fall but my hands were loaded with stuff, two cameras, a handheld GPS unit and an atlas. I felt my forehead hitting the ground first, followed by my nose smashing into the ground and then I got a mouth full. I had abruptly fallen with my gear crashing to the ground. I was stunned and spit the sand out of my mouth as I slowly got up. I looked around and realized how lucky I was. I probably should have headed for the casino. I had fallen on a soft sandy area that was about fifty percent covered with randomly placed rocks of random sizes. I could have easily hit a 10 inch rock with my forehead, nose or jaw and broken it. I could be laying here unconscious but as I look around stunned I’m saying to myself I’m still within sight of my vehicle and this is not the way to start a hike. It took me a few minutes to get my composure and I decided to continue the hike. My DLSR had slammed into the sand but it looked like it had survived. Since my hands were so full of stuff and I didn’t have an opportunity to swing them in the air to help recover my balance.

I am a schizoid because I can’t decide if I’m a photographer, book author or map maker. I had two cameras in hands, along with an atlas and handheld GPS unit, I call doing this, being an idiot.  I decided to keep less clutter in my hands.

When I got home from the trip my wife asked me how I got the cut on my leg and I told her I got along the way somewhere. These are not the stories to tell my wife since she once forced me to take a companion with me on a road trip when I was recovering from a medical procedure.

It doesn’t take me long to come to a dry-fall and I have to back track slightly to bypass it. I’m grumbling to myself all this trouble to get into the correct tributary and now I have to get out of it for the bypass. I headed upstream  It doesn’t take me long to come to another obstacle, a down-fall with a water hole below which actually had water in it. This down-fall was at a point where the canyon wall had grown on both side to maybe fifty feet high. The right side was mostly solid rock while the left had a lot more dirt. I study the map for awhile trying to decide how to bypass on the left or right. The hill on the right would be more of a sloping bench made out of slick rock and the hill on the left past the slick rock look more like a dirt hill with some vegetation growing on it. From the topographical map the elevation grade looks about the same for both sides but I opt for the dirt hill. As I approach it I immediately notice a deer trail and decide to follow it up the first hill. I walk down into drainage to gain access to a second hill and again find another deer trail going up over the hill and follow it. I follow the animal tracks down the hill and determine they were pretty much doing the same thing I wanted to do. I break off the trail to make my way back to the obstacle but on the other side. I snap a few more photos and then continue going upstream. The canyon at this point has about a 15 to 20 foot wide sandy streambed with hardly any rocks scattered amongst the sand. It is easier footing now and I pick up the pace toward the sloping canyon walls. There are several different bushes that announce entry into an abruptly narrower slick rock canyon with sloping walls. As I continue upstream the sand fade away and now I’m hiking a slot canyon with sloping slick rock walls and the bottom is only a foot or two in places.  The sand had been replaced by small water holes only a foot or two in sizes with only a few with any water in it. Since this is an east-west canyon the sun is shining from the south making the south wall shaded while the north wall is in direct sunlight. The light colored sandstone makes this a photographer’s contrast nightmare. I snap a few shots anyways. I continue hiking this sloping slot canyon and finally approach a large deep water hole about 10 feet long and maybe 5 or 6 feet wide making an oval shape opening but about 10 feet deep with a foot or more of water in it. This obstacle would require scrambling over slick rock across the opening of the hole. It looked doable for a skinny flexible hiker especially one with a partner but for this big old man hiking solo the risk was too great for falling into the water hole and not being able to climb out.  I had already had one incident and I wasn’t going to push it. This was my turn around point. I returned back to the truck and wrote notes for awhile and kept noticing how beautiful the mountain ranges in the background were and decided this has to be one of the most beautiful trailheads in the world.

I decided to start heading for Cedar Mesa, the next place on my agenda and find a camping place along the way. The small homemade camper on the pickup pretty much allows me to spend the night anywhere on BLM land. I head east and drive to Natural Bridges National Monument which not only has a campground with vault toilets, picnic table and a tent box for each site but the visitor center has a heated restroom with flush toilets. You might say so what but at 7,000 feet there is snow everywhere and I know the night time temperatures are going to be a lot colder than at the Hite Ranger Station at Lake Powell.  I make it there before the visitor center closes and talk to the ranger about the roads through Cedar Mesa. I also find out camping in the nice campground is free during the winter and I have the campground to myself.

Day 6 (Feb 14)

Today was necessary work but the more boring and tedious part of the trip. I was gathering field data for the Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas although an update probably won’t occur until after the next trip to Utah. I drove down UT-261 and recorded mile post numbers and every major track and signed intersection in my trip notebook, taking GPS coordinates when needed. The Kane Ranger Station was closed for the winter. I didn’t remember this road being paved except for the switchbacks. Many years ago I drove it when it was unpaved and it was a rough one. Now there is only three miles unpaved at the switchbacks. I drove to SR-163 and the town of Bluff to get orientated. I returned back to CR-262 (dirt road) and started the journey of driving north to UT-95 and recording every major track going off to the west and verifying the GPS coordinates in the Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas that were being used to mark the trailheads for individual canyon hikes to Anasazi Ruins. Even though I was hoping to hike to some ruins I lost my ambition along the way and just recorded the trailhead information. I didn’t have any problems driving the road with my Ford Ranger pickup although the farther north it got rougher. I’m sure people drive this road with passenger vehicles, low clearance but I wouldn’t recommend it. Since I decided to skip the ruins hikes there was no reason to spend another night on the road. I continued on to Blanding, ate lunch there and started heading back home. I figured I would be home in about 5 or 6 hours.

 Joe Berardi

 

Digital Camera with GPS for Utah Slot Canyon Hikes

 I needed a small cheap camera that could take documentary photos with GPS coordinates.

I’m a book author.

I’m not replacing either my Canon DSLR or Garmin Handheld GPS (etrex 30) unit but wanted to reduce note taking time for wilderness hikes. The Garmin allows putting in notes at each waypoint but I had no correlation of where the photo was taken unless I noted the image number and GPS coordinates on a piece of paper or put it in as part of the GPS notes. This is just too time consuming and prone to errors.

I didn’t have a lot of time for evaluating cameras and went to a Best Buy store. The salesperson had some knowledge of the GPS cameras and he also looked up on the internet for info on the cameras they had in stock. We spent about an hour on this and because of security measures he was able to put a memory card in only one display model. There were 4 models in my price and size range.

 I ended up buying an Olympus Stylus TG-830

Pros
It displays the GPS coordinates on the LCD screen along with an electronic GPS  compass.
The GPS coordinates can be updated with a push of a button.(on screen)
coordinates are stored with exif info for the photo file
It is an outdoor weather camera, waterproof down to 33ft
16MP (don’t know how many bits, hopefully at least 12-bit)
The viewer software is fairly powerful for editing (similar to DPP)
cost only $200
small lightweight fit into shirt pocket
histogram display
ISO 125 to 6400
AF (auto, spot, tracking)
Exposure (auto or spot)
image stabilizer
movies
sound 4sec for stills

Cons
no M, Tv, Av
haven’t found way to change GPS coordinates format (3 common formats)
not Canon (SX230 GPS was very crude compared to this one)

Neutral
The Olympus mapping software (PC) allows viewing tracking log route and photos placed on map by coordinates
the correlation between the log file and the photo files coordinates is confusing
5x optical zoom
camera has built-in map showing streets, city, state or natural landmarks and can be displayed on LCD screen
P mode the usual can be adjusted – exposure comp, timer, white balance, ISO, image size
no way to import coordinates into Garmin software
route logging interval not adjustable as seen on another camera

I only mentioned the features I’m most interested in or might use.
 There are scene modes but I normally don’t use them.

If the GPS function had a few more features such marking/retracing waypoints and entering in desired GPS coordinates (showing present location and desired location on map) it could almost replace the Garmin I’m using.

I won’t have a performance evaluation until after the Utah trip which I plan on heading out for in maybe a week.

 Joe Berardi