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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.
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.
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.
Just rim walking Todie Canyon is a great hike where you will see several Anasazi Ruins.
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.
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.
This was a great hike and the Fallen Roof Ruins is very photogenic.
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.
This was a nice hike but I never made it to the prize.
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.