I have finally published the 4th edition to the popular Slot Canyon Hikes & Adventures book.
It has the latest adventures and maps.
Some of the reference information was updated.
I have finally published the 4th edition to the popular Slot Canyon Hikes & Adventures book.
It has the latest adventures and maps.
Some of the reference information was updated.
I updated my website for several Utah slot canyon hikes located in the Paria River drainage and the San Rafael Swell.
Click on following link for the hike page with a blog and photos.
Trip Report Feb 2015 Utah – San Rafael Swell – Ding Dang Canyon, Farnsworth Canyon
© Joe Berardi books are available at amazon.com
Here it is Feb 22, 2015 and I’m home despite leaving for Utah on the 19th. When I was heading toward Utah I gambled the weather would be good enough for a hiking trip to the San Rafael Swell. Since I’m doing a full Art Show schedule this year (selling photography) my trips out of state for hiking is very limited. Well to sum it up I was chased out of southern Utah by winter weather but managed to get two good hikes in for the trip plus some scouting done. I didn’t hike on Day 3 since the wind was blowing constantly with 20+ mph winds and gusts were over 50 mph.
I drove from home to Hanksville, Utah which is plenty of driving to fill a day. Upon arrival the restaurant/campground had a sign up closed for the season and my impromptu attempt to get a campsite failed. So plan B was a motel I stayed at the previous February. This is a very small town with very few choses for lodging, gas and food. Some of the businesses close for the winter season.
From Hanksville, I drove directly to the San Rafael Swell and the Ding Dang Trailhead. Both canyons share the same trailhead. On this trip I had the GPS coordinates and finding the minimal trailhead with a small information sign was easy. There was no map on the information board rendering the hike obstacle description almost useless other than there are lots of obstacles in both canyons and Canyoneering experts can make a loop out of it.
I headed upstream in the wash which is the trail and after 1 mile a minor looking tributary coming in from the right is the wash from Ding Canyon. Although you can see the break in the ridgeline up high to the right it wasn’t obvious that this wash would take you into Ding Canyon. I had already seen some minor drainage feeding the wash I was hiking and the GPS coordinates from the San Rafael Swell 2015 Canyon Atlas (draft copy) said I was close but not quite there yet. I continued upstream a short ways to confirm this was it and backtracked to the junction and hiked up the wash that winded back and forth before approaching the obvious Ding Canyon. It didn’t take long to start hitting the obstacles and I lost interest after awhile and decided to try Dang Canyon which required going back to the junction and hiking further upstream. Hiking into Dang Canyon is a no-brainer since basically you are hiking Dang Wash from the beginning and Ding Wash is only a minor tributary to it by the size of the sandy/gravel streambeds.
Along the way I noticed several tributaries feeding in from the west and was trying to correlate to the one shown on the map. I started running into obstacles but unlike my first canyon entry every obstacle I came across in Dang had an easy bypass and it was getting interesting finding a short route around each one. Not only was I enjoying the obstacles but was able to continue making progress right into a very distinct slot canyon. Lower Dang is the classic slot with a narrow passageway only 2 to 4 feet wide with nearly vertical canyon walls. This was the slot canyon experience I was looking for and I found it. I did find a shallow pool of water less than a foot deep and about 20 feet long which meant either getting your shoes or feet wet or both.
I had marked my waypoints along the way and used the Olympus Point & Shoot GPS camera to capture documentary photos. At the slot I pulled out the Canon T2i DSLR and set up the tripod for some selfies. The sun was splitting the canyon with shade creating the typical mid-day photographer’s nightmare for dynamic range. I chose to wait around until the sun moved enough to get better photographs. I didn’t wait last year at Peek-A-Boo and now regret it. At that time I was doing a loop and my route was uncertain so I didn’t want to waste any time. Today it is a up and back hike and I had plenty of time to sit around, have a snack and impatiently measure how much the shadow moved every 15 minutes or so. After the entire slot was in the shadow I snapped a final set of photos, packed up and headed back to the pickup. I had not seen another person along the way but there was a second vehicle at the trailhead.
I drove the short distance to Goblin Valley State Park and got a campsite for the night. It was still light out so I drove to the Goblin viewing area and snapped some shots of the Goblins although I was tempted to hike the trail down into the valley but decided I had enough hiking for today.
It was a cold night in the mini-camper and I need to be retrained at the beginning of the hiking season. I could have been more comfortable but never got things set up correctly for the big chill. I headed out at about sunrise and by the time I got to I-70, exit 116. I finally realized the low gas situation was making me nervous enough to call my wife to find the nearest gas station. I ended up driving about 25 miles to a small town, Ferron and filled up at the only gas station. I returned via a simpler route but slightly longer and found the dirt road leading to Forgotten Canyon. The wind was blowing hard and the gusts were incredible. I could see the predicted snow storm clouds in the distance and pretty much made up my mine even if I made it to the trailhead via the 4WD jeep trail with my 2WD Ford Ranger pickup I was not going to make the hike because of the weather. I was totally uncertain about this jeep trail that had a “More Difficult” rating and making far enough in a 2WD vehicle. I didn’t want to get stuck in the soft sandy dirt with a snowstorm approaching. I slowly drove the road to near the remote trailhead that is really in this case, only a convenient place to park where the road turns and starts heading away from Eagle Canyon. I approached a significant wash from a hill top and decided the flat spot on the top of the hill was closed enough for parking and starting the hike. I had slowly made the drive to this spot and it was mid-day, late for starting a totally remote hike with pending bad weather forecast for late in the day. I chalked up this adventure to scouting and slowly returned to Moore Rd.
I drove to Green River for a late lunch and contemplated rather to drive home or stay the night. Many of the small motels looked closed for the season but Motel 6 had a good price displayed on their sign. I decided another night in the mini-camper wasn’t an option. I called Robin again for weather information and decided that there may be an opportunity for one more hike the next day. I stayed at the motel for the night.
I decided to get an early start since bad weather was arriving late in the day. I wanted to be at the trailhead by sunrise so I left the motel in the dark. I had on another trip scouted out hiking Farnsworth Canyon and had the exact GPS coordinates where I would park. The jeep trail to Farnsworth is just that and I could only make it to within one mile of the trailhead with a 2WD pickup. I drove the familiar dirt road and got to about 300 feet from my designated 2WD parking place and decided not to drive through a small rough wash to go only 300 feet further (GPS distance). I parked at a flat spot near a tree. I got out of the pickup and started to get ready for the hike. I seldom wear a jacket since this big guy heats up quickly hiking but it was cold and mean looking clouds were all around. I decided not the light denim jacket, not the heavy insulated denim jacket but my hooded winter waterproof coat which I don’t liking hiking with a backpack since the material is slick and makes everything unstable. I wanted to make sure that I would be comfortable when it started raining or snowing. I knew there would be two miles of hiking a jeep trail much less the hike from the trailhead to the canyon so I chose not my usual mid-weight tripod but a lighter tripod for the hike. Several of my tripods have a common mounting plate so the plate is usually left on the camera body.
I head off on the hike and mark waypoints and finally make it to the obvious trailhead without an information board and no signs other than two stick signs blocking the legacy jeep trail to the canyon. The “No Vehicle”, “Wilderness Study Area” signs were the only thing marking the trailhead. A worn path could be seen leading away from the signs toward a dirt hill and the crack in the San Rafael Swell. I entered in the GPS coordinates for the canyon and everything was a go and I followed the worn path. To my surprise I was still wearing the winter coat with the hood on since there was a slight breeze, cool and cloudy skies. The trail faded away into the slickrock and I approached the wash which required descending about 50 feet down into the dry sandy/gravel streambed. There wasn’t anything (cairns) marking the entry route so I worked my way down finding the gentlest slope and avoiding any scrambling. I marked a huge X in the sandy streambed with my shoe to mark the exit point even though I was marking GPS waypoints.
I purposely try not to learn too much about a future hike because I want the adventure of the unknown but I do learn enough to be prepared for the hike. For this hike I knew it should be easy going and it was, all the way through the slot section about ¾ of mile further up canyon where large boulders make the hike more challenging in a wider section of the canyon. I returned back to the slot section to set up the tripod and take some selfies. I carried a lighter tripod that normally does not get used and as I try to mount the DSLR, I quickly realize this tripod uses a different mounting plate than the one on the camera. I thoroughly looked through backpack for the correct one (plate) without any luck. So here I am with a tripod I can’t use but need to. I have straps on the backpack used for mostly carrying extra clothing as I strip down on a hike. I pull one of the straps out of the tight backpack loop hole and attempt to strap the camera onto the tripod. I finally get it secured enough to trust that the DSLR won’t fall to the ground and take numerous photos of me in the slot canyon. I’m in no hurry and look for good composition and move the tripod several times. I have a snack and head back. The first few hikes of the season are always the toughest for me since I am mostly inactive during the winter months. I have no problem finding my way back to the exit point and the sun is starting to break through the clouds occasionally and I strip off the coat and tie it to the backpack using the two straps. As I hike the last half mile my leg muscles start complaining with a muscle burn, which I missed for over a decade because angina had restricted my activities. Since 2011 stent implant in my main artery I’m on my third life. I have been carefully controlled my blood pressure for the past few years and suddenly realize even though I had made two good hikes they had been angina free. This big old man, sixty plus, was really having an adventure and enjoying the great outdoors despite the burning leg muscles. This muscle burn brought flashbacks of my youth snow skiing, racing down the mountains of upstate New York non-stop with my high school skiing buddies to see who could make it the fastest and farthest without crashing or resting.
I eventually made it back to the vehicle by mid-day thinking I still had some time left to do some scouting so I drove to some other jeep trails to check them out. After scouting I started heading for home deciding to drive through Moab and check out my books being sold at Back O Beyond Bookstore in the core of downtown tourist district. After this stop I made a beeline home arriving about midnight.
The winter weather not only hit southern Utah but made it down to Flagstaff, Arizona where they had 8 inches of snow the following day. This was my first Utah adventure for the year.
Arizona Superstition Wilderness – Jan 2015
Robin and I decided to go on a mini-adventure last weekend (Jan. 24, 25) down to the desert. We headed to Globe, Arizona which is near the eastern boundary to the Superstition Wilderness. While much of the country was entrenched in winter this past week, Arizona on the other hand has had a mild winter. It was perfect hiking weather for the weekend with temperatures mostly in the sixties and mostly sunny. The Sonoran desert offers its own beauty and the Superstitions have been calling me ever since I first laid my eyes on them in 1975 on the way to Tempe, Arizona. I have returned to the Superstitions many times over the years but have always entered from the western trailheads and usually at Lost Dutchman State Park which has a very convenient entry.
Photographing the Flat Irons at sunset is a favorite for many photographers. I once wandered fairly far into the wilderness at sunset and by the time I was done it was totally dark. I was prepared with a flashlight but hiking among cactus in total darkness by the beam of a small flashlight can be dangerous. Once you have walked into a cactus full of needles you will know the danger. On that photo-shoot I was very concerned about trying to return by the minor winding trail that crossed many washes that got me into that predicament. So I pulled out the map and decided hiking cross-country would get me out of the desert the quickest and to a paved road. Warning hiking the desert at night is only asking for trouble. I managed to find my way through the desert with an insufficient flashlight to a paved road only one mile away. From the paved road I walked another two miles or more in total darkness with an occasional car going by forcing me off the pavement.
So for this adventure I wanted to verify some maps I had been working on for the “Arizona Superstition Wilderness Topo Atlas” that was in its final stages before publishing. This trip ended up being more of a driving adventure with little hiking. We did hike into a large stand of Saguaros and posed among these desert giants taking photographs. We drove a forest road (FS-287 & FS-287A) through a large mining operation to the very eastern edge of the Superstition Wilderness and to my surprise with an elevation of around 4,000 feet there was no desert in sight.
We spent the night in Globe and headed west toward a southern trailhead to the Superstitions. Again we drove another forest service road, this time a road (FS-357) that provided access to many ranches before going on another road (FS-172) breaking away toward the mountains. We started the day out early and there was very little traffic going down this high clearance rough dirt road first thing in the morning. I have big plans for the Ford Ranger in Utah so we drove very cautiously avoiding any damage to the pickup on this back country drive.
We took out time and walked around a little enjoying the scenery. On our return there was a bunch of jeep, SUV, ATV and motorcycle traffic heading toward the Superstitions. For those who don’t know all roads end at the wilderness boundary. For those looking for good hiking weather this February come on down to the Arizona desert.
I plan on going back to the San Rafael Swell (Utah) again in Feb/Mar 2015 for hiking and photography. The timeframe has to fit into my Art Show schedule and good weather. I prefer cool hiking weather but without snow or mud so going this early may be risky.
I may be interested in meeting up with an experienced hiker that doesn’t mind hiking at a snail pace. I have a 2WD pickup truck with a mini-camper on it. Us 60+ hikers don’t move very fast, especially at the beginning of the hiking season. This area is so remote, rugged and undocumented I prefer not going alone. You must be in shape to be walking all day with a backpack.
I do guarantee (most likely) an adventure of a life-time.
I will be at the Mesa Art Center in Mesa, Arizona for a one day show this weekend, Sat. (Jan. 17, 2015). This is my first time at this venue, so we’ll find out if it is worth the travel time.
I will be selling my photography.
Matted Prints and Canvases
Since this is a one day show, I’ll have a fairly small setup.
I hope to see you there.
I have the pleasure to announce that “Back of Beyond Books”, a bookstore in Moab is carrying my line of hiking, photography and atlas books.
Back of Beyond Books, ABAA
83 N. Main
Moab, UT 84532
If your passing through Moab, stop by and take a look.
I am pleased to announce the publishing of “Photographing Slot Canyons 4” my latest endeavor regarding books on photographing slot canyons. This edition has over forty slot canyons that I have hiked over the years in my quest for 60 by 60. My total count today is at 45 with next year being my 60th year on earth. This book is loaded with topographical maps, photographs, trailhead directions and trail descriptions.
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 24, 2014)
Available at amazon.com
© Joe Berardi
Joe Berardi books are available at amazon.com
This was my sixth road trip to southern Utah for this year and to sum it up in one word, WOW. This trip felt a lot more like playing than work unlike some of my previous trips this year. There was no lurking book deadline waiting for me. This trip was primarily to make progress on my 60 by 60 slot canyon challenge and I’m proud to say my count is now up to 44. Yes, this old man has hiked 44 slot canyons or narrows since starting my quest at age 51, hiking my first in June, 2006. As of writing this blog I have one foot out of the door heading back to Utah.
I was anxious to start this trip and probably left a few days too early since rain was forecasted and I made do with it by scouting and visiting Capitol Reef NP more in hopes of getting some good photo opportunities. On reflection prior to this trip I realized that the photography part of things has taken a back seat to getting hiking information from many of my earlier trips. My second goal for this trip was to bring back some good photographs.
As my slot canyon count grows, I’m starting to hit some of the more obscure or lesser known canyons meaning I had very little information for these hikes. This trip was a real adventure not knowing what to expect. I dry camped at a RV Park in Hanksville. This was the first time camping here although I have stayed at a motel here a few times over the years. I prefer bathrooms and safety over setting up camp just anywhere on BLM land.
It rained on Sunday, my travel day. I spent Monday driving around scouting looking for trailheads, getting specific GPS coordinates or mileage. There was enough to do to fill the day. So Tuesday I went to hike a Maidenwater tributary hoping to make it to the narrows. This was a hike I planned strictly based on looking at a map. It was a bust; I hiked into wetland that was a bushwhacking jungle. I forced my way through it only to come across a large dry-fall that couldn’t be bypassed (not easily). It only took me about 80 minutes for this hike so I drove down the road to another tributary where you can see the narrows but it has a technical entry down into it. I knew about an easier gully entry nearby and hiked down it to within 20 feet of the streambed but without leaving a rope behind I was doubtful about coming back up alone. So this was my second goose-chase for the day. I scouted out Woodruff for later in the week.
It had rained overnight so on Wednesday it was plan B time. I spontaneously decided to drive the 30 miles or so to Capitol Reef in hopes of some photo opportunities. Along the way I was contemplating stopping here or there but ended driving straight to the visitor center. On arrival I noticed two things immediately, the parking lot was full and it was filled with 30 to 40 vintage 1930s type cars. Apparently this was a stop for a touring group but I noticed what was a large meeting out front of the visitor center was breaking up. You have to realize that I have a vintage car portfolio and got really excited about the prospects of adding to it. I noticed people were starting to go back to their cars and leaving while I couldn’t find a spot until one opened up. Now I was jumping out of the truck, grapping the Canon EOS T2i DSLR and trying to get some shots before they all left. These commotions lasted for about 5 minutes until most of them had driven off.
After the excitement was gone, I starting thinking about a nearby place that has been in the back of my mind for years. I have driven by many times what looks like a possible narrows from the highway and decided this was the time I would really check it out. So I drove over to it, found a place to park, starting hiking in a wide wash near the road. As the drainage went downstream away from the road it turned into just what I was hoping, a nice narrows with towering walls but it didn’t last very long and meandered back to the road. I stopped and took photographs along the way and got some nice shots of “The Castle” framed by the narrows walls. I returned to the pickup. This pretty much made my day and I started heading back with one more stop in mind. I stopped at Grand Wash trailhead along the highway to make a very short hike. I had hiked from the other trailhead to about midway on a previous trip and just wanted to see what I had missed. I headed back satisfied that the day was successful.
On Thursday the air was cool first thing in the morning and I headed for North Fork of Trachyte Creek. Just a reminder, these are wilderness hikes, no official trailhead and in this case no place to park although the narrow shoulder had to make do. Actually I was a little worried about how close to the road I parked. There also was no trail so I headed down from the road down into a significant wash. I got the GPS coordinate from my Garmin and with map in hand started hiking downstream. The dry streambed was mostly sand and gravel and quite wide for the first half mile. There were a few places that had small rocks that required concentrating on my footing. Eventually sloping Slickrock walls began develop as I continued. Then all of sudden I was at a very large dry-fall at the box end of a narrows canyon below. I had researched this hike on the internet but was completely surprised by this obstacle. I started rim walking to the left looking for a way in. The canyon wall was steep but had a large step to it with a lower level maybe 50 feet down. I found a way down to the bench only to find no entry. I found a set of foot print at the very bottom leading up to the cliff edge and I had only one conclusion, they rappelled down and I had to look for another way. I came back up and continued along the rim and found another way down only to be stopped about 20 feet from the bottom. I was really disappointed and returned back to the top. I couldn’t see any way down in this direction so I backtracked a ways. I surveyed with my eyes, the wall on the other side of the canyon, looking for any way down. I slowly moved my focus foot by foot along the other side until I suddenly realized there was a wall collapse at the bottom of the cliff that was maybe 50 feet wide. Now I’m looking to see how I could get to it. I map out in my mind a diagonal route through a large boulder field down to the loose dirt wall collapse and down the wall collapse to the bottom. I go Eureka; I know I can do it. Now I’m looking back to the dry-fall trying to figure out if I can even get over to that side. I started moving my legs heading back before I decided if there was a way over there or not. I kept going until I found the rim spot that had the boulder field. Now I had a chance for a close-up look and said to myself, just do-it, no more contemplating. I started following the mental route I made from the other side and stopped about halfway down. I seldom leave a rock-pile marking the way since I mark waypoints with the GPS but now I’m thinking without the GPS this may be really difficult to find my way back up if the GPS breaks. I make a rock-pile and continue through the large boulders working my way down and stop to make another rock-pile. I’m satisfied that I will be able to them from the wall-collapse and hike down through the loose dirt and small rocks of the wall collapse to the very bottom. I stop for a moment to enjoy it, mark waypoints and decide to mark the streambed by dragging my shoe. I’m thrilled and start hiking downstream. I’m thinking to myself I wish it was that easy going back up.
I continue hiking until I finally come to a shallow slot section and stop to take photographs including setting up the tripod and getting some with me in the scene. I continue on not knowing what to expect but this is supposedly a hike through (non-technical) canyon to Trachyte Creek. After awhile I come to another Slickrock slot, this time very narrow, starting out with small choke-stones of two or three feet followed by larger chokes-stones of four or five feet but I manage to climb over all of these until I get to the last choke-stone wedge into the canyon wall followed by a 6 to 8 foot drop into a mud puddle. I can see the foot-prints of my predecessor leaving 2 inch deep tracks in the mud. Apparently he made the jump but I’m solo and wasn’t planning on making the loop which probably would be too much for me. So returning over this choke-stone would probably be too much for me so I’m satisfied to take as many photographs as possible from this vantage point of a long straight steep walled slot. I take a break and head back. I finally reach the dry-fall bypass and look up the wall collapse to the very top. I take a deep breath and start my way up. I look for the first rock-pile and finally make my way up to it huffing and puffing trying to catch my breath. I had been going at my usual leisurely pace but this was a lot of work for me. I wait until I’m breathing was normal again and continue going up. I finally make it to the top with my huffing and puffing out of control. I take another video while trying to catch my breath and I’m ecstatic that first I made it back up and second knowing I’m done with all of the hard parts of the hike. I eventually make it back to the pickup and town.
On Friday I headed for the Woodruff Canyon trailhead. This hike I knew even less about except Woodruff and its side canyons are known as a great technical slot canyon. My goal was to hike as far as I can into the slot canyon. I had no idea how far that would be but I was game. This was another cool morning and I was ready for a long hike. It was a little treacherous getting down from the road into the wash but not a problem. This wash also starts out wide near the road but soon dirt walls of 10 to 15 foot high border the downhill side of the wash. I notice very little Slickrock near the streambed. Along the way I have noticed a lot of animal tracks but think little about it since the largest appears to be deer and cow tracks. It seems like I had been hiking for miles and I check the GPS, its 2.0 miles as the crow flies, I estimate on the ground about 2.3 miles. I had noticed a lot of greenery ahead and hike into to find a large shallow pool of water. I look at the map and it shows a spring here. I also notice animal tracks everywhere in the mud. Now I know where all those animal tracks were heading. I started fighting my way through the vegetation of these wetlands and was tough. It seem like it went on forever and I was thinking I was getting close to my hiking limit and would only press on only if the prize was close by. I fought my way through for a ways and decide this was going to be my turn-around point. I was dejected but pulled out the DSLR and was determined to come back with some good landscape photos. I normally use a point & shoot GPS camera while hiking and pull out the DSLR at stops. After getting out of the jungle and resting I’m eyeing everything as I take photos on the way back. I’m composing the canyon walls and framing with anything but mostly trees. I continue the walk a few hundred feet, stop and take a few shots and repeat. Then when I was composing a shot, I notice a crack in the canyon wall with a large tree in front of it. My first thought was it looks just like Long Canyon slot entrance in Escalante. I missed this crack on the way in and go over to investigate. As I walk to the tree I realize there is a ten to fifteen foot opening in the canyon wall here. It quickly narrows down to about 2 feet after only about 15 feet in. I walk up to the nearly vertical opening that is less than two foot wide and it looks very dark inside so I can’t see much. I dropped the backpack and tripod and wonder if I could squeeze through sideways. I squeeze into the slot traveling sideways when after about 15 to 20 feet it opens up into a small chamber. I say WOW, can you believe this. The bottom is covered with a cracked dried out mud pattern. I have the P&S in my shirt pocket and try to take a selfie. The camera refuses. It’s really dark and you always use natural lighting when shooting a slot canyon. I turn on the flash and take several selfies. I notice the opening on the other side of the chamber and wonder if I can squeeze into. I hike sideways into the second notch for a ways when I notice a bright light that is a ways off toward the top of the canyon. I can barely see the slot sloping upwards toward the light. I say WOW again and realize the notch has gotten slightly narrower and now I come to the point where this big old man can’t squeeze any smaller. I slither back to the chamber and think “this is really cool”. I go back outside and pull out the camera gear and setup the tripod for some shots with the DSLR. I’m thrilled that this place made my day. I eventually return back to the pickup and Hanksville.
On Saturday I head for the Irish Canyons. I had hiked Leprechaun about six months ago and decided to try Blarney this time even though I knew it was technical. It didn’t take me long to get to the first obstacle and I bolt back to the truck. I’m thinking Shillegh is only 0.2 miles away, walk or drive to it. I drive over to where the wash crosses under the road and can’t find any place to park. This highway is busier so I drive back to Blarneys side track. I walk the road back to Shillegh and start upstream. It doesn’t take long to get to side raving coming in from the right. The wash is rather wide at the confluence and I hike over to the ravine entrance where I can see into it and notice there is a slot back in there. I hike in exploring this little slot that goes on and on. I’m thrilled and take a bunch of photographs. Like many slots this one gets narrower the farther in you go and there are many small choke-stones that are easily climbed over. I stop where it looks like it getting too difficult for me and head back to the main drainage. I hike upstream and it is starting to look like a clone of the first slot. Again the drainage becomes a nice Slickrock slot that goes on and on. Again it gets too narrow for this big old man and I take lots of photographs. I return to the pickup and town.
For Sunday, I had put Death Canyon on the agenda. I had previously avoided this place because of the name and what little I have found out about it. I did know that a loop hiking on top and dropping down into the canyon was the preferred way but I wasn’t in the route finding mood and decided to do an up and back hike. I hiked up this fairly wide canyon that would be stretch to call a narrows although there are red sandstone canyon walls until it ends at a box canyon. It is only one mile in to the box so I return to the pickup thinking this is a good time for Black Creek.
I had scouted out Black Creek earlier in the week and decided if I needed a time-filler that this would be it. It turns out Black Creek was more a red sandstone narrows than my first hike and I explored and photographed it including hiking through the culvert running under the highway. It was lunch time by the time I finished here but instead of going to Hanksville I decide to hold out and drive to Blanding that is on the way home for me. I ate lunch in Blanding and the drive south to Arizona.
Cedar Mesa Utah Trip Report – August 2014
Joe Berardi books are available at amazon.com
Cedar Mesa Hiking Guide (published Sept. 2014)
Cedar Mesa / Comb Ridge 2014 Canyon Atlas
I’m continually updating and creating new books.
I’ve been anxious to head back to southern Utah and come out of hibernation. We desert dwellers do it the opposite way as our northern brothers. I live in central Arizona and it gets just plain hot during the summers with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day. For those of us who don’t have to leave the house such as a book author, we rely on Air Conditioning for surviving the summer months. Robin and I went to the California coast for a week during 4th of July week to enjoy some cool weather.
I’ve been anxious to go back to Cedar Mesa for my fourth trip this year to complete a book I’ve been working on for the past year but some minor health issues, author commitments and finding good hiking weather have made scheduling tricky. I had monitored the Cedar Mesa weather forecast closely and noticed a cooler than normal long term forecast but ended up leaving about half way through this cool spell.
Day 1 – 8/25/2014 – Travel Day
I drove to Blanding, Utah and then to Natural Bridges National Monument. I figured the campground would fill up every night so I just reserved by paying for the entire week. I ended up leaving home about 8 am after getting everything loaded into the pickup.
I made a side trip to the Kane Ranger Station to determine if their mini-cell tower service worked when they are closed during the summer. I also was curious if they would open two days early to cover the Labor Day holiday weekend. The phone worked but the closed sign was up, no clue to when they would open other than the website information. My wife likes me checking in daily so knowing about the cell phone service was important for planning the week.
Since I had time I drove to UT-276 scouting out the county road to Collins Springs Trailhead. This would make planning the hike day more efficient.
Day 2 – 8/26/2014
Johns Canyon Main West Fork
My goal for today was to find the trailheads for some of the forks for Johns Canyon and hike one. I needed field data, GPS coordinates and mileage and road conditions.
The day was starting out fairly cool in the 60s but I slept on top of the sleeping bag and blanket last night in the mini-camper on the pickup truck. The skies were overcast in the morning.
I knew the highway 95 milepost for the county road but drove past it without seeing. I returned from the other direction and missed it again. I starting thinking about punching in the GPS coordinate to get a fix but decided to drive very slowly this time between mileposts and finally found it. There is a gravel stockpile partially hiding the road along with a diagonal junction instead of a normal T junction at a paved road.
I drove through a wash, past the BLM Information sign and trail register to the first side track which had a large sign stating “Stay on designated roads”. I knew where this jeep trail went but was more interested in the next. Along the way I saw several marginal jeep trails and when I came to the official but not labeled jeep trail I was looking for I really wanted to verify it so I continued on to the sharp right bend in the road.
When I went to Comb Ridge on a previous trip I pulled in to a jeep trail, verified the GPS coordinates were fairly close but was not exact and started the hike on a worn path. The path died in a jungle in Butler Wash and I returned. Driving down the road only 0.2 miles more not only yielded the correct GPS coordinates for the trailhead but a BLM stick signs pointing the way. So for this trip I wasn’t messing around, I wanted to know for sure which jeep trail was the winner.
Although I have a high clearance pickup, I decided to leave it at the country road and hike the jeep trail to the parking loop which is the unofficial trailhead for the Main West Fork of Johns Canyon. With the GPS in hand I punched in the coordinates and set the unit to compass mode. I was ready and started walking south knowing I couldn’t miss the canyon unless I tried really hard. I didn’t notice any paths so I jumped into a wash and followed it. I came across a jeep trail going the opposite direction and ignored it. It didn’t take long for me to be standing at a canyon edge where I noticed several rock piles. I saw an entry point at one of the rock piles but decided to follow them along the rim wanting to know where they went. I found another entry point but made up my mind that the first one was the one for me but I continued following the rock piles to the other branch and picked up a jeep trail. Of course this was not a designated road and I returned to the first entry point and hiked down into the canyon just below a fairly large dry-fall, maybe 15 ft high and 20 to 30 feet wide. I headed down into the canyon just exploring, seeing if I could spot any ruins in the alcoves. I wasn’t planning on hiking very far and didn’t. This place looked like a typical canyon in the area but it does develop into a rather substantial canyon.
I returned to the campground about mid-afternoon just in time for the 2 hour rain. I stayed dry in the mini-camper taking notes, eating and planning the next day. I was concerned about it being too wet for the big hike the next day. I planned on hiking Collins Canyon down to the Grand Gulch.
Day 3 – 8/27/14 Johns Canyon Middle Fork
I was awakened by the sound of thunder booming over me at 2 am with a show of lightning flashes and a few minutes later rain drops pounding the roof of the camper. The campground is at around 7,000 ft in elevation and I was starting to think where the safest place to be for not getting hit by lightning. A few years earlier I was at Canyon de Chelly, at the rim edge, photographing a storm when I felt static electricity go from the umbrella I was holding, down my arm until I dropped it. There was a huge boom and flash and the lightning struck the ground only a few hundred feet from me. My ears were ringing for hours after that incident. Since then I take lightning very seriously.
I waited out the thunderstorm in the mini-camper and the rain ended after about an hour. I got up at dawn as usual and noticed the storm had cooled off the temperatures. I figured it was going to be too muddy for the big hike but started driving toward the Collins Spring Trailhead anyways to verify it. I never made it to the dirt road and turned around because I could see puddles of water everywhere.
So it was Plan B time and I headed for Johns Canyon Middle Fork where I could park at the highway and walk a very short ways down the county road into the wash running across the road to start that fork hike. Unlike the previous days hike, this one starts much closer to the head of the drainage where the wash slowly develops into a major drainage going downstream. I hiked down canyon until I’ve seen enough but managed to negotiate several significant dry-falls before having enough fun. If I was looking for a very long hike I could have come up another Johns Canyon fork but decided to make this an up and back hike.
Day 4 8/28/14 Collins Canyon
I have been eager to make this hike since this is supposed to be the easiest way to hike down into the Grand Gulch and its narrows. First light was about 5:00 AM AZ time and I got off to an early start. I parked at the trailhead at 7:01 AM AZ time. Here are a few things about Collins Canyon. First it is a great canyon hike with a rather gentle slope except for four distinct sections that make a rapid elevation change. Second this is a walk-through canyon hike that does not require any scrambling, all obstacles have been removed. This is fairly rare in the Cedar Mesa area. I hiked down to Grand Gulch and set up the tripod for a few shots. There was a lot of water lingering at the Grand Gulch confluence and I didn’t want to make this a water hike. I returned to the campground by mid-afternoon.
Day 5 8/29/14 Lime Creek
I originally wanted to check out the jeep trail going to the east head of the canyon but the jeep trail was just that and a little too much for my 2WD pickup. So plan B was going down Cigarette Springs Rd and hike cross country to the canyon. I parked at an unofficial trailhead and didn’t see an obvious path so I punched in the GPS coordinates and headed south. I prefer hiking washes as a route although you have to manage the obstacles because it is a natural route plus I figured it would eventually drain into Lime Canyon or one of its tributaries. I ran across a worn path, not sure but it looked more like an animal trail going in the correct compass direction so I hopped onto it. I came across an obvious man-made barrier of dead trees and branches that ran for probably a quarter of a mile along this path. I figured it was a livestock barrier for the canyon. I eventually made it to Lime Canyon and what a view. I rim walked to the east and took photographs. I didn’t see any easy entry points and decided not to try to force it. I was mesmerized by the number of alcoves and was looking for ruins. I returned back to the campground.
Day 6 8/30/14 Owl Creek
I made it the trailhead after going down a dirt road for 5 miles. I arrived at 8:38AM AZ times. There is an official trailhead with a register, pay-station and a pit toilet here. This may be the first time where I have seen a trail mileage sign. The drainage feeding Owl Creek runs near the parking area so it was easy to get started and follow the rock-piles. I would call them cairns if they had a wire mesh around them but these really are just rock-piles marking the way. I made it to the entry point which is well known for being difficult and I started making the descent through the boulders when I finally realized this may be too much for this old man to do solo. I was struggling going downhill and knew coming back up was going to be hell. I have been making a list of hikes for when I bring a hiking partner and this is one of them. I finally returned to the top and rim walked the canyon spotting a ruin in an alcove with standing rock walls. Unfortunately I wasn’t carrying my long lens since I was traveling light expecting a difficult hike.
The temperature today was the hottest so far for the trip and the cool spell was fading away as predicted. I decided it was going to be too hot for anymore hiking on this trip since it was still August and I made a beeline home.