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

       

60 by 60 Slot Canyon Challenge

60 by 60 Slot Canyon Challenge

I have made the 60 by 60 slot canyon challenge as a personal goal for myself. I will explain at some other time what motivated the challenge.

The “60 by 60 Slot Canyon Challenge” is to hike, walk or see close up, 60 different slot canyons by my 60th birthday. I just turned 59 years old a few days ago and I hiked my first slot canyon in 2006 at the age of 51 years. The Buckskin Gulch hike was actually an impromptu scouting trip on our way back from a long photography road trip to Southern Utah. Robin and I stopped at the BLM visitor center just to inquire about any good hikes in the area and discovered Buckskin Gulch. This first slot canyon hike for us was an eye opener and introduced us to the world of slot canyon and I have been fascinated ever since.

I mostly focused on the photography aspect of slot canyons not the hiking part up until 2012 and have photographed a few different slot canyons over the years. In 2013 I made the big push to aggressively seek out and hike as many slot canyons that this big old man could handle. By the end of 2013 my total was approaching 30 including a few duplicate hikes, which I removed from the total count. I’ve been to Upper Antelope Canyon three times. Up until the end of 2011 when a stent was implanted to unclog a main artery, my hiking had been limited for the past decade due to angina. This stent has given me a third life.

This challenge is to celebrate 20 years of my second life and my 60th birthday. There was a time I seriously didn’t think I would make it to 40 and now I’m looking forward to my 59th year of life, hiking all around Utah.

Life Long Slot Canyon Total Count

End of 2012 – 10

End of 2013 – 27

Current Count – 27 (1/31/2014)

Part of my second career as a landscape and wildlife photographer is being a book author. I have self-published a number of books about my adventures that are available on amazon.com. I have a lot of fun exploring slot canyons and never knowing how far I can get before an obstacle forces me to turn around.

Part of my quest for finding wilderness slot canyons is that much of the directions and maps in books are rather vague but they will spend a page or two detailing every choke-stone, dry-fall, tree, pool of water or whatever by time into the hike, how long it took to approach that landmark only to tell you it probably will be totally different the next time the canyon flashes over.  Most of these authors are elite hikers and their times don’t apply to the average hiker and certainly not to this big old man. I have created a set of topographical canyon atlases for various regions in Utah just to make my exploration easier and they are available at amazon.com.

I have just put the finishing touches on the “Cedar Mesa 2014 Canyon Atlas” and the “Upper Lake Powell Slots 2014 Canyon Atlas”. My first trips this year will be to field verify these atlases and I hoping to head north as soon as the winter weather breaks in southern Utah. I will continue to update my book “Slot Canyon Hikes & Adventure” periodically to add new slot canyons and/or adventure stories.

See you in Utah soon.

Joe Berardi

Homemade Camper for Utah Slot Canyon Trip

Homemade Camper Sleeper

Here it is the end of January and I’m preparing for a big 2014 hiking season of hiking the slot canyons of southern Utah. I purchased a 2003 Ford Ranger at the end of last year and was able to make two trips to Utah before the weather turned wintry.

I’ve been designing in my mind for weeks a homemade camper for the pickup bed but didn’t want anything huge or heavy that would interfere with driving down rough dirt roads. I just wanted a place to sleep comfortably and lounge around a little. Setting up a tent each night and tearing down each morning is not only consuming but offers very little protection (animals or weather).

I finally started making sketches on paper about two weeks ago and last week went to Home Depot to purchase the materials. I originally planned on making it entirely out of wood but after seeing the steel studs in the store opted to use them because they are lighter and won’t crack like wood. My primary requirements are as small as possible but large enough for me (almost 6ft) to lie stretched out and also to sit in the camper.

I originally thought a box 72 inches long and 36 inch wide and about 38 inches tall. I settled for 70 inches long so it didn’t extend beyond the widest point on the truck (excluding mirrors) and 48 inches deep in case I wanted to squeeze two people in it for the night. I also settled for only 36 inches for the height to limit protruding too high above the truck cab but high enough for my normal sitting with a slight slump.

I started building a few days ago and worked with steel studs for the first time. From my high school metal shop days I learned some of the tricks for bending and cutting sheet metal and I put this very old knowledge to use.  I won’t brag about my mistakes but the construction went pretty much as planned and I painted the outside of the box yesterday.

Update 1/31/2014

I purchased a small unfinished wood cabinet that normally goes in a kitchen over the microwave. It was a fairly easy install inside the camper.

Making a door out of ¾ in plywood was easy but finding a locking door handle wasn’t easy. I settled for a locking hasp on the outside and a sliding latch on the inside.

I still need to put the finishing touch on the camper, caulking, a skirt for the bottom, maybe a little more storage cabinets.

I would only need a day or two to get ready to leave but the mild winter weather has left and I will be waiting for better weather, there is poor weather in the 10-day forecast for southern Utah.

 

Utah Trip Report 10/31/2013

Joe Berardi Utah Trip Report – Oct. 2013

See SlotCanyonsUtah.com for more details and photos.

 Joe Berardi books are for sale at amazon.com

This year I have made quite a few trips to Utah for hiking. I just returned from another trip into Utah Slot Canyon Country where I spent four days hiking all new location.

Day 1 – Drive to Escalante, Utah

Day 2 – Spencer Canyon

Day 3 – Egypt Canyons 0, 1

Day 4 – The Gulch

Day 5 – Lick Wash and drive home

© Joe Berardi

 

The weather forecast for this area was too good for me to pass it up. I originally was planning a photo-shoot for Buckskin Gulch to upgrade my 2007 scouting photos from that trip but decided to go it solo and gather some mundane information such as mileage and GPS points. This trip would allow me to hike some new canyons and with my new-used pickup truck I could venture down some rough roads that were out of reach with a minivan.

Day 2 – Spencer Canyon

I didn’t even try Old Sheffield Road on my previous trip (September) to Escalante because of the poor road reports. With new tires on the Ford Ranger, I was ready. The road was rougher than all of my previous trips here this year and at about 3 miles the road was washed out. With my HCV pickup and new tires I decided there was no stopping me and I forced my way through the ditch, sand and loose dirt. I continued to the fork in the road where a track continues east while the main road curves south. I drove about another mile east where a stick sign proclaimed “No Vehicles” and it was positioned dead center of the track. I didn’t contemplate running it over but I was surprised that nobody had done it yet. I parked near a tree and there was another vehicle already parked here. Because of where I parked, I already added about an extra mile of hiking each way from the good old days. There are many hike/trail description on the internet and many are out dated. Since this is a recent Wilderness Study Area you can no longer just drive up to the canyon in a jeep or ATV like you could many years ago.

I put on the backpack, my atlas in hand with some additional notes, a GPS handheld unit and started hiking east. It didn’t take long before I could see the unique looking butte in the distance that is clearly defined on the map. The once 2-track is now merely a sandy trail and after coming to a wash it got really sandy for about a mile before transitioning into rock. This is about the point where you must decide which entrance (fork) you are heading for to get into Spencer Canyon.  The multiple tributaries (ravines) make it difficult to walk around them when at the canyon because they are the deepest there. I headed for the south fork knowing there was a major dry-fall there but I wanted to see it and the waterholes that are near it. The only way down from here is to continue east and hike down a fairly steep drainage filled with vegetation including small trees. I explored the area and decided not to venture very far into the canyon since it would make too long of a day hiking for me. I headed back and spent more time enjoying the rock, cracks, colors, some wildflowers and used my camera. There seem to be trees spread out along the way at the correct interval for a rest in the shade. Although the temperature was only in the sixties I still worked up a sweat. This was a very pleasant hike but my primary goal was getting some GPS points and the lay of the land.

Day 3 – Egypt

Before heading to Utah I called the Escalante BLM Visitor Center and inquired about the condition of Egypt road. I was told it was just graded and I would not have a problem driving a pickup truck to Egypt 3 slot canyon.

I arrived at Hole-in-the-Rock Road to find it extremely washboard and it was 16 miles to the Egypt Road turnoff.  Although HITR road is usually maintained fairly well, sometimes the culverts can’t handle the water flow and get washed away; the road does get repaired fairly fast. So what I found is HITR is usually passable but many times it is washboard which really restricts how fast you can travel. There are two different strategies for driving an extremely washboard road. Some people will drive 40 to 60 MPH in an attempt to ride above the constant dips in the road; the car body remains fairly smooth while the wheels are violently jumping up and down. The hazard here is the extreme jarring and vibrations may loosen or brake just about anything on the vehicle. If you do lose control you end up flipped over going through the roadside drainage ditch. The other strategy is to go slow enough where the vehicle isn’t jumping around violently. On my previous trip here I chose the ride over the waves but on returning home found a broken hose on the engine. The ripples were even worse this time and I chose going slow and traveling at 10 MPH which will take what seems like forever to go 16 miles. I finally made it to Egypt Road and found it to compose of soft dirt and sand much of the way. It was recently graded and the ridge of dirt along both side of the road showed the results of plowing the dirt road. Any rain water would erode the soft dirt and it hadn’t been done yet.  Even though it was a lesser road I was able to travel faster in the soft dirt because it wasn’t washboard. There were a few short sections where the rode was rough but in general the pickup truck had no problems handling it even through the steep up and down through some of the washes. I eventually came to a hard rock section with protruding bumps of the rock. This was a place where you could get high centered (wheels of the ground) or even worse bang the engine or other parts and cause severe damage. I proceeded very slowly until reaching a steep and long section of a hill climb with soft dirt all of the way up the hill. I parked and got out to survey the situation.  Because of the bumpy hard rock approach I would be barely moving at the base of the dirt hill. The pickup has only 2WD and the only way I had a chance of getting up a hill like this is with a running start (30MPH) and I still may not make it. Starting out at a dead stop would be impossible. While contemplating what to do next a large pickup approached and they stopped to talk to me. They had 4WD and had driven this road before.  They thought I might be able to make it but I watched them approach it and drive up the hill very slowly and this confirmed to me without 4WD I had little chance. I turned around here and was very disappointed. If I had consulted the map a little more I would have realized I was at Egypt 2 but not quite to the normal trailhead or starting point. Egypt 3 is considered the best nontechnical canyon here. I forgot to mention when passing by Egypt 1 there was a group getting ready to rappel into Egypt1.

I returned to Egypt 1 and rim walked the canyon for nice views of the slot canyon. This is clearly a technical canyon from the very start to finish.

I also stopped at Egypt 0 and partially hiked it and also rim walked it.

I was disappointed for not making it to Egypt 3, mostly because I was told I could make it. Egypt 3 is a highly rated nontechnical (most of it) slot canyon.

Day 4 – The Gulch

I knew from the start this hike wouldn’t be a slot canyon hike unless I was able to find an easy exit point out to the east where there are several nearby canyons with slots. The Gulch goes a long ways before entering the Escalante River, it is known for a perennial stream and I wasn’t disappointed. Both of the adjacent canyons drain into The Gulch but that also would put it out of reach for a day trip hike. Although there are some narrows at the mouth of The Gulch it was well out of my normal day trip range. I try to stay under 6 to 8 miles for a normal day trip and on very special occasions I will attempt a 10 mile hikes or more.  Even if I could physically hike that far, at my normal rate of travel at 1 MPH I’m in jeopardy of running out of daylight except during the summer months when it is too hot for me to on a long hike.

I ended up enjoying hiking down The Gulch so much because of the scenery and fall colors that I ended making an 8 hour hike and it also measure about 8 miles from my GPS waypoints.

The stream was small enough where I didn’t get my feet wet despite crossing at least 10 times each way. Although I missed the peek fall colors there were pockets of trees covered with yellow leaves. The rock formations were interesting including the Toadstools and caves in several places. I was keen on looking for exit points to the east but everything was so large so investigating a tributary could require hiking up to a mile or more. I hiked about 4 miles down the Gulch and returned. The weather was just about perfect being mostly cloudy with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. It was a little too dark and cloudy for good photography but perfect for a long hike.

Day 5 – Lick Wash

Lick Wash has been on my Slot Canyon hike list for years but has been a low priority because of the reviews. Since I’ve done so many slot canyon hikes this year I wanted to round out my portfolio. Lick Wash eventually drains into the Paria via other washes. Although it would have been closer to approach from the north I needed to check out access from the south or Kanab and through Johnson Canyon. Skutumpah Road can be rough going from the north since the road goes through several washes without culverts. I took this road on a previous trip to Willis Canyon and wanted to find out firsthand what the road conditions were like coming in from the south. It was easy driving from the south but once you’re on the dirt road Skutumpah it became a little confusing since most of the major junctions are forks in the road not a tee intersection that is shown on the map. So after each fork I was left wondering am I still on Skutumpah or not. When you first drive into Deer Spring Ranch the “No Trespassing” sign and the “No Hunting” sign was a little alarming. In some states it is legal to confront (shoot) trespassers when your property is posted so I hesitated, trying to determine if it was safe to drive on private property. After several miles or so driving on the ranch I decided to check the GPS coordinates to see how far I was from Lick Wash. It turns out I was within a mile and continued down the road to a large wash that had “Flood Advisory” signs. There was a roadside sign for Lick Wash and I parked at the trailhead which has an information sign and register.

I hike down into Lick Wash and it was easy going and within about 15 minutes I was entering the narrows. I found the narrows to have great rock formations, steep cliff walls and narrow. The negative is the lack of color of the rocks here which have a lot of calcium carbonate making then whitish to grayish in color. I found the rocks grooves and gouges gave them a lot of character. I found the lack of color did not detract from the beauty of this narrows. The narrows has a few twist and turns making it more interesting than a straight canyon. I hiked completely through the narrows that ended about a mile into the hike. The wash continues for several more miles but that was the end of the narrows. I enjoyed this short hike and think that Lick Wash is underrated and would recommend it to anyone in the area. The bonus is it is easy to drive to and easy to hike.

Joe Berardi

 

Utah Slot Canyon Trip Report

Joe Berardi Utah Trip Report – Sept. 2013

See SlotCanyonsUtah.com for more details and photos.

 Joe Berardi books are for sale at amazon.com

This is by far the most exciting hiking trip for me in years. I just returned from a trip into Utah Slot Canyon Country where I hiked five slot canyons in five days.

Day 1 – Drive to Kodachrome Basin SP

Day 2 – Willis Creek

Day 3 – Escalante River Ravine

Day 4 – Capitol Reef NP – Grand Wash and drive to Green River

Day 5 – Crack Canyon

Day 6 – Devils Canyon and drive home (arrived 3AM Sunday morning)

I needed to “field verify” some of the maps that I’m working on and I also needed information for more detailed hikes descriptions and driving directions to the trailhead.

What separates this trip from most road trips is; I brought along a hiking companion. My wife has accompanied me on many of my journeys but our age and her arthritic knees are slowing us down so she opted not to try this trip. I managed to persuade a fellow landscape photographer Brent Cox to come along so I wouldn’t be doing backcountry hikes solo. One of the hiker’s rules is to never hike alone and I usually ignore this rule but on this trip I planned some long hikes into the wilderness and I needed a companion for safety reasons. 

Before I could even start this trip I also needed a vehicle capable of taking me somewhat close to the area to be hiked thus I needed a high clearance vehicle and the two minivans we own were obviously not up to the challenge. Actually I have tried using them on previous backcountry trips and one of them had incurred major damage on a trip so another vehicle had to be acquired. I retired a Chevy S10 Pickup Truck with 250,000 miles on it three years ago. That small pickup had been a reliable explorer for me but I wore it out and there were too many problems with it at the end to make the repairs so off it went to the auto salvage yard. My photography portfolio suffered during those three years since I had limited backcountry travel and my new venture into producing hiking books required a high clearance vehicle thus one week prior to making this trip I purchased a 2003 Ford Ranger pickup truck outfitted for towing with helper springs but it does have one major disadvantage that it has a long-bed which and like my previous S10 has the bed extend past the rear axle by several feet. This means driving out of a wash almost guarantees the rear end is dragging. This new to me pickup truck had 132,000 miles and the tires that were barely legal, the amount of tread on the tires but it was acquired because it fit my limited budget and has a high clearance. Some people thought I was crazy for buying a worn out pickup for this long backcountry journey but I took the risk. I figured a tire or two would have to be replaced along the way since they also appeared to have the “Arizona Sunburn”. The rubber on the tires will dry out and crack from the blazing Arizona sun.

There were several challenges before even beginning this trip. I was pressed for time between art shows and couldn’t plan and prepare for the trip that much. The first challenge was traveling and carrying everything in an open truck bed. I did install my old S10 toolbox for the truck-bed but it is a small box. The second challenge was bringing camping stuff such as sleeping bags, tent, and cot, blankets and camp cookware. I also had a passenger and had to carry all his stuff too including camera gear.

Day 1 (Travel)

We got off to a late start Monday, Sept 23 because we both had business errands to do from the weekend art show. We drove from Mayer/Cottonwood, Arizona to Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah. It was almost dark when we arrived at Cannonville, Utah and headed south on Cottonwood Rd, the highway UT-12 junction has a large sign for the turnoff. Although the road is paved all of the way to the state park, I drove cautiously down this dark winding road. We made it to the park and got the last available tent camping spot, #18. I paid for two days although we only planned hiking Willis Creek the next day.

Day 2 (Hike Willis Creek) Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

We started our day at first light, ate a very quick breakfast, leaving behind the camping stuff and used my new book “Paria River 2013 Canyon Atlas” for directions to Skutumpah Rd and Willis Creek.  I anticipated that Skutampah Rd would be suitable for 2-Wheel Drive High Clearance Vehicles based on the internet road report. The monsoons were very wet this year wiping out roads at the washes and many had not been repaired from the storms of a few weeks ago. The road report stated the road to Willis Creek was okay.

As soon as you enter Skutumpah Rd from Cottonwood Rd it drops down into Yellow Creek. On this day there was two small streams of water flowing which I drove across and up the small hill out of the creek. Many of the back roads either have no signs or use a mix of street names and numbers. County Road 500 is Skutumpah Rd and after several miles we came to a fork in the road marked “500” left and “530” right. We went left and were at the Willis Creek parking lot after only 6.3 miles down Skutampah Rd. Not only was there a large sign for the parking lot just prior to the creek but a large area had been cleared to make room for parking vehicles maybe for 20 or so. Along the way we drove through Averett Canyon and Sheep Creek. Sheep Creek had a small concrete dam at the right side of the road and it was letting a trickle of water run across the dirt road.

We parked and registered at the Willis Creek trail register and follow the trail sign pointing to the trail across the road. I have read on the internet the hike begins at the road dropping down into the creek but this trail ran parallel to the creek for a few hundred yards before making an easy transition into the streambed. I forgot my handheld GPS since I made a last second shirt change and ended up going back to the truck while my hiking companion killed time waiting for me. My secondary purpose of the hike was to get actual field data, GPS points, so I had to retrieve it despite being in no jeopardy of getting lost.

As we walked across the road a few hundred feet from Willis Creek I noticed a fairly large puddle of water where the road dips at Willis Creek. We followed the trail sign arrow onto a clearly defined path and arrived at the creek after a few hundred yards. Looking up-stream it looked like we bypassed a very shallow narrows and a small stream of water was flowing toward us. The streambed consisted of small gravel with a 3-foot wide stream of water of about 3 or 4 inches deep. Along the stream were small boulders and bushes and trees. It didn’t take long heading downstream for the creek to zigzag through building rock walls. Unlike many narrows this one had vegetation growing in the creek bed and on top of the cliff walls. Some of the cliff walls were sheer cliffs almost straight up while others had a very gentle slope. Then came an obvious narrowing of the streambed into a narrows of about 15 feet across which was lacking any vegetation and consisted mostly of small gravel with a few rocks the size of 3 to 12 inches. Some places the water flowed along the rock wall while other places it flow right down the middle of the small canyon. Inside the narrows it is completely in the shade from the sun while looking further down canyon the sun lit rock walls can be seen in the distance. At this point the rock walls have some texture but what is more noticeable is the sculpturing of the rock walls into smooth but large rounded indentations creating a ripple where the walls go back and forth by several feet.  Some places the shallow water runs almost entirely across the streambed, only an inch or less deep while other place only using one half or less of the width of the narrow canyon. Some of the canyon walls must be at least 50 feet tall at this point. The canyon opens up into a wide wash and a boulder the size of 20 feet or more must have dropped off the canyon wall as surely this little stream doesn’t have the force to push a large boulder downstream. At this point the canyon walls are 30 feet apart not allowing the boulder to choke off the streambed. On this cool fall day many of the weeds had yellow flowers to add to the green weeds and trees. The canyon walls cast large shadows making for a photographer’s nightmare of very high contrast. Some places the canyon walls are made of dirt carved by the creek rather than the rock walls. When we reach the end of Willis Creek we are staring at a very tall cliff that seems to be blocking Willis but it is where Sheep Creek runs and Willis is a dry tributary at this junction. The stream dried up about halfway between the trailhead and Sheep Creek. Also Averett Canyon terminates into Willis near the mid-point and I found on the internet that this was a possible return point back to the road to make a loop out of the hike. On the way down Willis Creek we hiked into Averett for a few hundred yards where it was clearly blocked by a 12-foot choke-stone wedge into the canyon with no possible way to bypass. My only thought was those internet accounts were either outdated or just plain wrong. This choke-stone was rather rectangular making it a vertical wall to climb and even with an aid of another hiker for a boost it is insurmountable. This choke-stone is a technical climb to overcome.

On the way back we had an opportunity to admire the upper canyon walls more, where holes, arches and caves have been sculptured. These are beautiful narrows concentrated toward the upper end of the hike and has provided an extremely satisfying hike that is suitable for the entire family. The elevation change is barely noticeable, there are no obstacles and no dangerous exposures (elevations) where one could fall and get injured. Some streambeds have long sections of sand or mud which really slows a hiker down but Willis Creek had none and were covered with small gravel making for an easy hike. If you’re looking for a challenging hike with many obstacles this is not it but it is a rather tranquil hike through several great narrows despite being popular and seeing several other hiking parties.

Day 3 (Hike Escalante Ravine) Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Our day started at first light, it took us awhile to pack all of the camp gear into the truck bed since we had stayed a second night at Kodachrome Basin SP. I originally found this ravine in a book but there wasn’t that much info on it. On a previous trip this year I scouted out the location and inquired at the BLM Interagency Visitor Center where they discourage this hike and provided no information other than it was a steep hike into the ravine. On that trip I was driving a minivan which meant the hike would have to start at the highway (UT-12). I was holding out for much closer. Being a book author I am always looking for hikes I could do but are rather “Off the beaten path” and this was one of them. I wasn’t afraid of a little scrambling unless the drop was more than 30-feet then it was time for plan-b. I made a tentative hike plan and when we arrived there was a car parked at the highway and the 2-track road went north and we had driven only a few hundred yards when a couple approached us and the young lady mentioned she had high-centered here full size pickup truck (large tires) and a friend of her arrived by car to help that was parked near the highway. The 2-tracks were deep ruts and the grass showed signs of people driving around this bad spot. I drove past the bad spot but decided not to risk getting stuck myself and parked my little pickup. In my worst case scenario from my scouting trip I thought I might have to hike from the highway, well I only drove about 0.3 miles before parking it.

We proceeded to follow the rutted track to a fence and it made a sharp left turn at a creek crossing and continued north and slightly to the east. As we approached this rather deep canyon we followed a worn path going east along the canyon. We actually found a rock pile (cairn) and realized this marked entry into the canyon. The canyon wall was rather steep and my first time hiking partner turned to me and asked, “You want to go down there”? The expression on his face and the tone of his voice was precious and said it all. He didn’t believe this fat old man could make it and I’m not sure he had much experience with this kind of hiking. The ranger at the visitor center was right, it was steep, but after finding a second rock pile I knew it could be done without ropes. I’m a non-technical climber and have never relied on a rope. This was a hard rock canyon slope with very little vegetation or dirt. I was a little more cautious than usual since I promised a safe return for my first time hiking companion. I was gaining confidence as I surveyed the landscape for the easiest route down. I noticed the canyon wall had cracks ranging from 10 to 20 feet long and from a few inches to a foot wide. These were nature’s expansion joints. I explained to my hiking buddy how we were going to use these cracks to climb down the canyon wall. He was still questioning the soundness of this climb and basically I was telling him, don’t worry, be happy. I finally got him to agree and off we went heading down the steep canyon side composed of rock. I was relieved to find out the cracks greatly assisted our descent and I made sure my partner noted exactly where we made are descent pointing out several rock features on the cliffs edge. I did this for myself too so we knew exactly where to exit the canyon. I also had my handheld GPS and marked the way. Although I’m post stent implant (2011) and overweight, I figured it would be a challenge for me to physically climb up this canyon wall. We made short work climbing down as I picked the route utilizing the cracks in the canyon wall. My partner mentioned it wasn’t as hard as he originally thought and we found the streambed of red rock and sand and headed downstream. After several hundred yards we approached the first pool of water. Then another pool, several pools with some of the holes in the Slickrock dry. My buddy decided to set up his tripod and DSLR and I anxiously continued downstream not knowing what to expect. I saw little chance of us getting lost or separated but we had agreed to meet at the truck if we got separated. I saw some rather large pools of water and found a down-fall so deep that I was having a hard determining the drop. From the contour intervals on the map, I was guessing at least a hundred-foot drop into the slot canyon and it was straight down. Wow, came out of my mouth and I was thinking how are we going to get down there. I tried and tried to find a way and after a long time yelled out to my hiking compassion to confer about the situation. We agreed this was the end of the trail for us, ropes and anchors would be required to continue. We snapped a few more photos and took a break. We headed upstream without incident and climbed the canyon wall. This time I was fighting gravity and age and slowly climbed the canyon wall taking many breather breaks. My hiking buddy conferred with me about the route as he led the way up. We had no problems making it nearly to the top when the final ascent was confusing, the waypoints from the top and the descent waypoints were overlapping because we were only 20 to 30 feet from the top. We had zigzag down and I didn’t recognize the final ascent point. We finally agreed just to do it and made it back to the top. It took us awhile to get oriented and we finally were back on our waypoints and easy sailing back to port. The pickup truck was still there and the ice-chest was still very cold as we enjoyed the cold drinks. In summary this was a fun hike which I would recommend only for experienced hikers. We spent the night in a camping cabin in the town of Escalante. The trip was otherwise a bust to Escalante since many of the roads were still washed out from the wet monsoons only a few weeks ago.

Day 4 – Grand Wash, Capitol Reef NP

We stopped at the Capitol Reef Visitor Center where we stuck around to hear a lecture on the geology of the park and I purchased a very comprehensive geology book for Utah which material will be useful for my books.

As a reward for the previous day challenge, I gave my hiking partner the pick for today, any place to photograph on the way to Green River. I was looking for an easy hiking day or a day of rest while my buddy photographed. He picked the Grand Wash and although it was an easy hike (only 1.3 miles to the narrows and 2.25 mile one way) we were on the trail for about three hours.

The name is appropriate since this is a large wash (wide) in most places with very tall canyon walls looming in most directions. In many places the wash or streambed is flat with small gravel and 10 to 20 feet wide. In some sections along the streambed is another 5 to 20 feet of sloping gravel/rock mix with small trees/bushes growing. Occasionally along the way are sections of the creek bed where boulders of 6 inches to several feet have accumulated as they flowed down stream.  I’ve seen this phenomenon many times and I think it has to be the water flow velocity is slower in some spots causing the larger rocks to accumulate.

This was a photography day and my hiking companion had set up his tripod and DSLR and was taking his time. I proceeded up the wash shooting along the way but for me this was an information gathering hike and I wasn’t using a tripod. This is a very popular trail with only a short drive on a maintained gravel road and the hiking trail difficulty is rated easy unless you’re going to the arch where it is rated strenuous. I was enjoying the Zion like canyon walls and the streambed occasionally did a sharp zigzag resulting in a different look of the wash such as rock piles along one side. In some places the large canyon walls had stripes of black running from top to bottom known as desert varnish. As the canyon wall tightened closer to each other either part or the entire canyon was in the shade. A brightly lit canyon wall could be seen in the distance making for a high contrast scene.

I had left my hiking companion behind over an hour ago when a young couple stopped me and asked if I was the slot canyon expert. I responded that I have written several books on the subject. They proceeded to tell me my hiking partner had fallen and wrecked his camera and lens. I inquired about his injuries which were just a few scratches and bruises on his legs and mostly his ego was hurting. I flashed back in my mind the previous day’s hike where a mistake could have resulted in a several hundred foot tumble but we successfully made that hike. Today we were on a very easy hike and I wasn’t worried about injuries. I had seen enough of this canyon and started heading back and shortly met up with my hiking companion. He was embarrassed to recount his trip over a rock in the streambed and mentioned he had wrecked his camera gear. He pulled out the body and lens from his backpack and it looked fatal to me. I did not want to dwell on his bad news and changed the subject. We returned back to the truck without incident and left Capitol Reef NP and headed for Green River.

Day 5 – Crack Canyon, San Rafael Swell

My original plan for this trip did not include going to the Swell since we had a limited amount of time. I always have a backup plan and I had the need to come here. The wet monsoons around Escalante had wreaked havoc on the back roads and I decided it would be too difficult to attempt several planned hikes. On my previous trip here earlier in the year, I didn’t have a High Clearance Vehicle (HCV). Now I was ready to take on Crack Canyon from the northern trailhead which is closest to the narrows.

As usual we started our day at first light and arrived at the trailhead at 8:27 AM. There was a small parking area, a trailhead sign and an information board which had a faded map of the area at the official trailhead. Although maps show a road (track) going south of the trailhead, I didn’t dare to drive past the trailhead sign although it was obvious that ATVs were doing so. We didn’t have to walk very far to enter the streambed and after awhile a wood fence which originally blocked the entire wash was now only partially there but a “No Vehicle” sign was still intact on the fence. We continued down canyon which looked like a typical wash for this area. We came to a small dry-fall made of red rock and easily bypassed it. One thing that is more prominent here is the canyon walls have lots of holes in them ranging from several inches to several feet. At the bottom of the dry-fall was a commonly found waterhole and this one actually had some muddy water in it. Eventually we came to a more narrow part of the canyon where it looked more like a cave tunnel with a crack in the roof about 3 feet wide with a zigzag in the opening at the top running for several hundred feet. If I was naming this canyon, the “crack” between the canyon walls seems like an obvious name. The canyon walls have narrowed at this point and we were definitely hiking through a narrows that curved back and forth before opening up into a wider wash. This wider wash had scattered boulders and weeds (yellow wildflowers) to add to the variety. Some of the sections of the rock walls were filled with hundreds of holes or mini caves making it difficult to stop staring at the walls and paying attention to where we were walking. We conversed about the holes many times because they were so fascinating. Occasionally there was some large boulders in the streambed but not large enough to slow our progress. We made steady progress heading down stream and approached another narrows where a 10 foot dry-fall had to be overcome. The climb was aided by pieces of the wood fence we saw at the beginning of the hike. This stretch of the canyon requires some scrambling and had some pools of water. It eventually opened up again making a good turn around point. We returned to the truck and spent several hours scouting other hikes and entry points.

Day 6 – Devils Canyon (San Rafael Swell)

I was really looking forward to returning here since my visit earlier in the year fell under the category of misadventure. I had the minivan on the first trip and parked on top at the ATV parking area. I had read on the internet it was possible to descend the steep canyon walls of Devils Canyon just south of the parking area. On the first trip here I had no problem finding the steep canyon but finding an entry point eluded me despite searching every ravine and drainage into the canyon along at least a mile stretch looking for an entry point. I finally resigned to the fact that the jeep road was the only entry point into the canyon from the north side.

On my second trip here I was prepared by having a Ford Ranger pickup track that was a HCV. I was hoping to make it to the bottom of the canyon. Upon returning to the Escalante and the Swell I noticed that all of the roads were rougher now than earlier in the year. The road to the ATV parking lot was much rougher now than in the spring. As we drove past the ATV parking area the ruts in the jeep road were so deep that there were several bypasses that were not much better. There also were tracks going every which way. We finally made it to the signed junction pointing the way to the bottom. The road started dropping faster and the road was crossing stair-stepped rocks ready to crack open an oil pan. I parked the pickup after retreating from a nasty stretch and turning around finding a suitable spot to park it. We had to hike the last mile of the jeep trail down to the streambed.

I had the GPS point where the jeep trail entered the streambed and we were exactly where we wanted to be in the streambed to start the canyon hike. We started heading east for the best narrows following the main channel noticing a small tributary entering from the left. After hiking for awhile I pulled out the compass to verify we were heading southeast as planned. As we continued everything seemed correct when we noticed another tributary entering from the left. I had a distant GPS point we were heading for but at this point even if I checked distance and the track I probably would not noticed something was awry. We had come to a sign with road numbers and things started getting strange. We continued hiking the wash until we came to a dry-fall blocking our progress. We had already noticed we were traveling more south than expected but the streambed was curving back and forth making it difficult to determine our average direction. Once we came to the obstacle, I plugged in the destination GPS coordinates and went to the map mode where it showed us going south away from the starting point and destination point. Oops, we were enjoying the hike but not heading for the narrows.  We by now had consumed several hours and I picked up the pace heading back. Shortly after we passed the road signs we ran into a motorcyclist that was driving cross-country (east coast to west coast) and he was as lost as we were. We told him the ravine we had just hiked was a dead end but he was looking for a road and had his own GPS. We heard him buzz into the ravine and return shortly where he probably found the jeep trail road. We returned to the second tributary and checked the GPS coordinates and realized this was not it. We headed back to our starting point but stopped at the first tributary. I consulted the GPS unit and suddenly realized what we thought was a small tributary was the streambed heading east of Devils Canyon and what we just returned from hiking is the South Fork (my name). Now we were back on track and hiked east. It took about a mile before the canyon developed into a narrows with pools of water. We explored the area and headed back. The climb back up the jeep trail to the pickup truck took this tired old man awhile but mission was accomplished.

Joe Berardi books are available at amazon.com

My website is SlotCanyonsUtah.com

Rocky Mountain NP Elk Rut Trips

Rocky Mountain NP – Park Status from flood

Last year this time I was wrapping up my greatest photo shoot ever of the elk rut at RMNP.

Since I have photographed the rut six times previously at RMNP, I was hoping for better than the dismal 2011 trip where just about everything that could go wrong did including health and car problems. The 2012 trip was not only successful but I had the perfect day for photographing elk at RMNP doing their yearly ritual. I have had only one perfect day ever for the elk rut and 2012 filled my dream photo shoot big time. I started my routine day about two hour prior to first light (45 minutes prior to sunrise) and headed into the park in total darkness. It was a cool, damp and on and off rainy day with some fog to add to the drama. Well it didn’t take long to hear the bugling and watch the bull elk duke it out. I was almost three weeks earlier than the prior year. It was the beginning of the rut. The older bulls were starting their roundup, the cows were ready and the younger bulls were jealous about missing the fun. So they were in the mood to test each other before trying to take on the big guy. I saw elk everywhere I went, my regular good spots and any place I looked. My shutter finger was feeling weary. I photographed in at least ten different locations young bulls bucking their rack while a much bigger and older bull was nearby. Their was so much action I forced myself to move on to another location after about an hour (get in car and drive) only to find another great setting a short distance away. I park and shot for an hour and moved on again. My regular routine is to go back into town about mid-morning and mid-afternoon for a break and eating. No resting on that perfect day and I shot through the breaks. Over the years I have accumulated a bunch of memory cards so I can be on the road for two weeks without running out of memory cards. I was shooting all day and into the evening non-stop moving on to a new location about every hour. I came back from that trip with over 2,000 good photos and many more that didn’t make the first cut.

Weather is everything to a photographer including a wildlife photographer and my primary location for the 2012 Fall trip was Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP. The wildfires and smoke near the Tetons forced me north earlier than planned and the action at Yellowstone was slow. I did manage a great sunrise mystic elk shot there. I always plan a detailed backup plan for my long  road trips and decided it was time for plan B and headed for RMNP. My plan A did not include RMNP since I was there the previous year. I have been on road trips before where closed roads, flooding, wild fires and even dreary skies had caused me to change plans.

Between the YNP and RMNP photos this was a very successful trip despite the abrupt change in plans.

I had no need to travel to RMNP this years despite being one of my most fun places to go but I’m heading north soon to Utah where the slot canyons are waiting for me. The monsoons are hanging around late this year which may cause me to adjust the Utah road trip.

Please visit my website.

http://www.slotcanyonsutah.com/

Joe