UT – Grand Staircase Escalante – Boulder Mail Trail . . . a day for wandering and pondering

My plan was to spend the day exploring Hell’s Backbone Road, the Highway 12 Scenic Backway from Escalante to Boulder, but alas my plans were foiled when I found a CLOSED sign. So what’s a traveler to do? There’s always a Plan B, C, D . . . which is how I found myself back at the Boulder end of the Boulder Mail Trail. 

It’s fascinating to think of this as an old mail delivery route. 

The first couple of miles switchback down through the forest. 

Then it becomes a game of following cairns. Most “trails” in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are “routes” which require good navigation skills as discernible paths are frequently absent or intermittent. Map and compass should be considered necessities of travel in this area.

I became a giddy kid when I reached this  slickrock plateau. 

All thoughts of a destination became secondary to slickrock exploration. 

Before scampering down some of these slopes, be sure you’ve scouted out a way back up. 

Such diversity. Oh geology, how I love thee!

This was an anomaly when compared to the slickrock landscape.

Looks like a species of cryptantha, another unusual sighting.

This was a day when the Universe knows better than Jan. I was supposed to be right here playing in this sandbox not rolling along the roads as an observer.

What does wandering look like? Yes, I could have made Death Hollow my destination as recommended in the guidebooks and I’m sure I would have had a fantastic day, but I had so much FUN playing on the slickrock instead. Follow your heart and intuition. Live life without regrets!

Date(s) Hiked: April 6, 2016

Road Trip Day(s) #47 out of 88

Tips:

  • Stop by one of the BLM Visitor Centers to obtain the latest information on trail conditions, etc. They had handouts on specific areas including rudimentary maps. The National Geographic Canyons of the Escalante map includes the Boulder Mail Trail.
  • Permits are required in many areas, some for day use, everywhere for backcountry overnight trips.
  • Many roads require 4×4 or high clearance 4×4. Know before you go.
  • Beware of flash floods in the washes and heavy rains making dirt roads hazardous. Watch the weather!
  • Walk gingerly. Avoid cyptobiotic soil crusts which are fragile with lengthy recovery time. 

 Resources:

Links:

UT – Grand Staircase Escalante – Wahweap Hoodoos . . . geocaching for Paiute ghosts

If you want to find the statuesce overlords of Wahweap Creek, you’ll need to do a little research and some hiking. There isn’t a marked trail nor an official trailhead. You can obtain a map and GPS coordinates at the Visitor Center. Treasure awaits those willing to hunt. Wahweap means bitter water, which is quite descriptive of this alkaline wash one must follow to find the hoodoos. 

Spending the night under the watch of these massive sandstone sculptures was a special moment, not soon to be forgotten. But first I was gifted this magnificent sunset. 

Early morning view of the Riverside Cove hoodoos. I read that the Paiutes believed hoodoos were the remnants of people who were turned to stone. Were you once a Chief?

Hidden in the next cove was Hoodoo Central

The third cove is called Towers of Silence. It took my breath away.

Hoodoos weren’t the only treasure. 

Extra credit! 

Date(s) Hiked: March 31 – April 1, 2016

Road Trip Day(s) #41-42 out of 88

Tips:

  • I parked in the 2WD parking area which made for about a 12 mile round trip hike.
  • Stop by one of the BLM Visitor Centers to obtain the latest information on trail conditions, etc. They had handouts on specific areas including rudimentary maps. I haven’t found a good topo map yet. The National Geographic Canyons of the Escalante and Paria Canyon maps both exclude this small section.
  • Permits are required in many areas, some for day use, everywhere for backcountry overnight trips.
  • Many roads require 4×4 or high clearance 4×4. Know before you go.
  • Beware of flash floods in the washes and heavy rains making dirt roads hazardous. Watch the weather!
  • Walk gingerly. Avoid cyptobiotic soil crusts which are fragile with lengthy recovery time.
  • Climbing on and around the sandstone features leave long-lasting impressions. Please practice LNT

Resources:

Links:

UT – Grand Staircase Escalante – The Toadstools . . . no toads, but plenty of top hats

Photo Credit: Pinterest

 

What is a toadstool? In the world of biology, it’s a stool for toads.

But in the world of geology, it’s a formation which has a boulder perched on rock of a smaller diameter giving the appearance of a mushroom aka toadstool.

Wait, I thought these were called Hoodoos? Indeed they are. It’s a Toadstool Hoodoo!

To add to the confusion, sometimes these are called Balanced Rock Hoodoos.

The Grand Staircase is composed of five geologic periods covering 6,000 vertical feet, ascending from the top of the Grand Canyon (250 million years old) to Bryce Canyon (50 million years old). Each period is subdivided further. According to the American Southwest website regarding the Paria area of GSENM, “all the formations are composed of Entrada sandstone, specifically the red and white Gunsight Butte member, while the flat lands in front of the hoodoos are the top of the Carmel formation, and the highest layers of the cliffs behind are from the Dakota formation.”

I call this a hoodoo graveyard. 

Some formations are red, others are white.

I’m not sure the cause of the pitting but I’m guessing it’ll hasten erosion.

See the heart shape? Gotta love nature. 

Stringy sandstone, I wonder the cause? 

On this short 1.6 mile round-trip trail, there is plenty to see beyond toadstool-shaped hoodoos. 

Date(s) Hiked: March 31, 2016

Road Trip Day(s) #41 out of 88

Tips:

  • The Toadstools Trailhead is on Highway 89 so no special vehicle or skills needed to access the trail.
  • Stop by one of the BLM Visitor Centers to obtain the latest information on trail conditions, etc. They had handouts on specific areas including rudimentary maps. I haven’t found a good topo map yet. The National Geographic Canyons of the Escalante and Paria Canyon maps both exclude this small section.
  • Permits are required in many areas, some for day use, everywhere for backcountry overnight trips.
  • Many roads require 4×4 or high clearance 4×4. Know before you go.
  • Beware of flash floods in the washes and heavy rains making dirt roads hazardous. Watch the weather!
  • Walk gingerly. Avoid cyptobiotic soil crusts which are fragile with lengthy recovery time. Climbing on and around the sandstone features leave long-lasting impressions. Please practice LNT

Resources:

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NM – El Morro . . . a monument of surprises

What happens when your friend works at a National Monument? Why you go visit of course! Joan aka Hemlock provided the impetus to include New Mexico in my early spring travels. Who wouldn’t want a personal tour guide?

El Morro in Spanish means “the headland” or “the bluff.”

At first glance it easy to be impressed by the towering rock, but wait . . . there are surprises within this giant rock formation. For example note the dark concave vertical spot on the back wall in this photo. 

It’s the spillway that feeds the 12′ deep, 200,000 gallon pool shown in the below photo. Protected in the shade of the bluff and  dependent on rain and snow melt, this water source has been used by travelers since the days of Ancestral Puebloans. Surprisingly it seems to remain clear and free of algae and other floaties.

The sandstone contains over 2000 inscriptions and petroglyphs left by travelers dating back several centuries. Federal law prohibited further carving in 1906. It’s a thought provoking debate. When does graffiti become historical and of archaeological significance? The stories available as a result of these markings are fascinating. El Morro has done an outstanding job making the information available to modern day visitors.

Another hidden treasure was this nearly fully enclosed natural corral. I could see it as a daycare center. 

I loved the way these stairways enhanced and protected the sandstone. Capstones on sandstone formations depict age much like tree rings. 

Atsinna was the cherry of all surprises, a pueblo of over 800 rooms, population 1000-1500. 

Date(s) Hiked: March 10, 2016

Road Trip Day(s) #20 out of 88

Resources:

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NM – El Malpais- Sandstone Bluffs, The Narrows and La Ventana Arch

Conveniently located on Highway 117 just off Interstate 40 near Grants are three attractions worth a stop. You can easily spend a day or two exploring these areas. Be sure to stop at the El Malpais Ranger Station for maps and information.

Sandstone Bluffs

Mount Taylor dominates the skyline. 

The Chain of Craters, which I’d visited a few days earlier, is denoted on the left as Cerros (mountains in spanish).

Walking on this flat sandstone mesa is a pleasant contrast to the lava rock terrain I’d experienced on the Zumi-Acoma Trail

Beyond the views were nooks and crannies to be explored. 

Looking toward The Narrows mesa and the lava flow separating it from the Sandstone Bluffs mesa.

Talk about a bathtub with a view. 

THE Narrows or Narrows Rim Trail

I enjoyed the topography of the lava flow and seeing the Chain of Craters cinder cones from a different perspective.

This is called The Narrows as the lava flow stopped just short of this 3-mile long, 500-foot high escarpment, leaving a narrow corridor which naturally became a path of travel.  You can see the road below the rocks in this photo. 

The colorful rocks provided a stark contrast to the black lava field.

Look at those cracks and circular patterns.

You can see the forest beginning to take shape. Amazing anything can take root in these black crusted fields. 

Beyond the views, I enjoyed the sandstone sculptures and geologic features.

Caverns and crevasses warrant exploration. 

Finding nests and watching birds soar was another highlight. 

La Ventana Arch

This view is via a short trail along Highway 117. You can also begin or end your hike on the mesa of The Narrows Trail where a much different perspective of the arch is afforded. Without a second vehicle I didn’t have sufficient time to complete this as an out and back hike.

I was there at the wrong time of day for best viewing and photos.

Date(s) Hiked: March 9, 2016

Road Trip Day(s) #19 out of 88

Resources:

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NM – El Malpais – Zuni-Acoma Trail

In my wilderness travels when I see scat and tracks, I ponder, who walks here? With this trail there is no question of who walked here. This is a historic route between two communities of pueblo peoples, the Zuni and Acoma. Hikers of the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) now have the privilege of sharing tread with the ancient ones. 

Mt Taylor, at 11,305′, is a significant directional landmark for the area.

This is a cairn-based trail, which means you won’t find much barren smooth surface travel, instead piles of rocks (cairns) mark the way. Sometimes they are easy to follow, other times it takes a few minutes to find the next one, especially in fields of lava rock. 

Within this lava flow, there are varied geologic formations, offering plentiful exploration opportunities. It gives you a feel as to why the Spanish named this area El Malpais (badlands). Here Joan (aka Hemlock) explores the inside of a lava tube. 

Caves, canyons, crevices and rock bridges were made for discovery.

Of course my friend had to go in for a closer look. Me, I can skip those dark places where critters might live. 

I’m happy to be the photographer. 

I liked the smooth surface flows; made for a nice textured walking surface and a fantastic break from the ankle-twisting, lumpy, bumpy rocks. Photo credit: Joan

The ceiling of a cavern (covered in webs).

Date(s) Hiked: March 7, 2016

Road Trip Day(s) #17 out of 88

Resources:

Links:

Photo Credit: Joan

Thanksgiving . . . a day for giving thanks

top-100-badgeRecently I received notification from Feedspot, an RSS reader service, that my blog had been selected as one of the Top 100 Hiking Blogs on the web.

According to their site,  blog selection is based on the following criteria:

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

Being suspicious by nature, my first thought was is this a scam or marketing ploy. So I’m ranked #62, what does that mean and who cares?

top-100-listing

top-100-ployIt is indeed a marketing ploy, but to be fair they do offer a one-year free trial.

Feedspot updates their stats weekly, so who knows how long I’ll be on the list but it’s an easy way to check out blogs others seem to like.

With many familiar names on the Top 100 Hiker Blog List, this notification gave me the opportunity to introduce you to some of my favorites and to thank them for the content they provide. You can subscribe directly to their blogs if you aren’t a fan of an RSS service such as Feedspot.

#1 Section Hiker – It doesn’t surprise me to find Philip Werner in the #1 spot. His reviews, recommendations and educational posts are top notch.

#13 The Hiking Life – Cam “Swami” Honan is a man of international travel with more miles on his legs than most anyone I know.

#29 PMags –  Paul “Mags” Magnanti  is a well known name on the Trail Show and now Trail Groove Magazine.

#42 Walking with Wired – Erin “Wired” Saver may be the most well known blogger besides Section Hiker in the world of social media. Wired provides extremely detailed blogs of long trails. Her willingness to share and mentor is unparalleled in this regard.

#45 Lady on a Rock – Christy “Rockin'” Rosander was my first blog addiction. I think she was one of the first to open her knowledge banks of experience by creating a very useful blog. Not only does she inspire through her physically demanding adventures, but leads by example through her creation of tHInK outsidE, an educational module for kids.

#57 Bike Hike Safari – Brad “Shepherd” McCartney is a man of action. In many ways his lifestyle mirrors mine. He worked hard, saved harder and is now living life on the move.

#76 The Mountains are Calling – Mary “Monkey Bars” Emerick shares tidbits of her hikes, just enough to entice others to get out and explore, but the difference between hers and many other blogs like mine, is that she’s a published author and wordwise storyteller.

A couple of other blogs I follow worth mentioning include:

  • Not Waiting To Live – Manny was one of the last to finish the PCT this year. I stumbled upon his story just as he was regrouping in Mazama to, as I like to say, “live to hike another day.” His philosophy is one that resonates with me. “Simply put, I was waiting to live. Young, capable, and free to pursue my own American Dream I decided to walk into a more deliberate life.”
  • Patches Thru – Patches produces quality content. You can expect exceptional photos and well-researched documentation presented in an easy-to-read interesting format. Once again, a kindred spirit, “I am a maverick neuroscientist that has traded a university faculty position for a life on the trail.
  • Rambling Hemlock – Anyone who reads my blog knows that Joan aka Hemlock is one of my favorite adventure buddies. Her blog is filled with great photos, interesting factoids, and funny stories.
  • Dusty House Adventures – I recently discovered Angeline Duran and have been impressed with her posts. They remind me a bit of a National Geographic documentary. Her story, “I’m a mom, writer, hiking guide, documentarian, show host and adventurer.

What are your favorite blogs?

Since I’m giving thanks, I’d also like to give a shout out to Gossamer Gear. They have included my posts in several of their newsletters including two of my most popular posts to date.


Biggest thanks of all go to YOU my READERS!!!!

I create these posts because I love to share and inspire.


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