UT – Bears Ears National Monument, Grand Gulch in Cedar Mesa

Where to go? Narrowing down the endless possibilities is always a chore. Introducing Nancy aka WhyNot?! to Utah canyon country presented another challenge. Do I take her someplace I’ve previously visited with known WOW factors or do we explore new territory? After a bit of discussion and research, we narrowed our decision to Bears Ears National Monument since it’s at risk of reduction or elimination. We’d just spent a few days with Joan aka Hemlock exploring trails in the Monument near Dark Canyon Wilderness (link to related post). We were both ready for more.

In 2015, I hiked a bit of the Kane Gulch trail and was WOW’d by geology and ruins (link to related post). With this tiny taste I was looking forward to further exploration. The best place to gather current trail, road, and water conditions report is the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. Beware it’s open limited hours; however after finding the dreaded closed sign, we were lucky to be welcomed by volunteers. This free trip planner they provided was very informative. 

Collins Canyon Trail

With a long day hike planned, we got an early start. 

The “trail” is a combination of slickrock, sand, and wash hiking with cairns as guides in many places. Decent route finding skills are required. 

Water is challenging to find or access in these canyons. This one was a winner in our book! 

Wet sand tells secrets of who shares the canyon. 

As the sand dries it turns into something akin to chocolate shavings. 

If you step on the drying mud too soon, it’s extremely slippery as I learned when I found myself slimed brown from a fall. This photo also shows how challenging water access can be, as well as water quality in comparison to the pot hole in earlier photo.Nancy showed me the secret of the cochineal (mealybug) which you find under cover of the white mounds on cactus. Yep red dye! Snopes confirms this is used in food products, “natural coloring.”

I was exciting to find flowers, I believe these are Evening Primose

If you want to find ruins or rock art in the canyons you need to keep your head on swivel, makes me feel like a bobble head doll. 

When you spy an artifact and want to explore, you need to find your mountain goat and cat-like skills. Please respect these areas and keep them intact for future generations by not touching any surface, minimizing tread on nearby ground, leaving objects at the site, and not posting locations publicly. Many sites are being targeted by vandals when published on social media. If you feel the need to share photos, please remove GPS coding and be vague about actual location. 

Ask at the ranger station about dispersed camping options. The night skies are magical. 

Bullet Canyon Trail

Another day of route finding; cairns mark the way. Slickrock, sand, washes . . . all mean canyon hiking. 

We visited two well known sites on this date, this one called Perfect Kiva for obvious reasons. 

Jail House Ruin is the other.

This window is said to be the namesake of Jailhouse Ruins

McLoyd Canyon Trail

After two long days of hiking, Nancy and I needed a shorter day. We’d heard about this permitted trail and figured if luck was on our side, we’d win a trip to this WOW destination. The Kane Gulch Ranger Station opens at 8am; we arrived early to be first in line. SUCCESS! So down into another canyon we go. 

We are rewarded with a visit to Moonhouse Ruin

The ruins were named after this room which is supposedly showing the phases of the moon, with the big circle representing the full moon. 

We disturbed this snake, which I believe is a Striped Whipsnake

This was another fun trip exploring Southern Utah. Grand Gulch did not disappoint and needs to be protected.

Hike Details:

  • Collins Canyon – hiked on 10/11/17, about 16 miles round trip
  • Bullet Canyon – hiked on 10/12/17, about 12 miles round trip
  • McLoyd Canyon – hiked on 10/13/17, about 5 miles round trip

Tips:

  • Check weather reports and be aware of flash flooding potential.
  • If you are depending on water, ask ranger for specific details.
  • The Kane Gulch Ranger Station is much more knowledgeable than the one in Monticello
  • Permits are required for day and overnight use, with special permits required in other areas like Moonhouse.

Links:

Resources:

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UT – Bears Ears National Monument, Dark Canyon Wilderness

Bears Ears National Monument was established by President Barack Obama in 2016. The monument protects 1,351,849 acres of public land surrounding the Bears Ears, a pair of mesas (see photo below). In 2017 protection became a highly debated topic. I anticipate many changes in 2018.

Back in 2015 I visited several BLM areas now included in Bears Ears National Monument including

This past spring, I hiked the Sundance Trail, an access point to Dark Canyon Wilderness, which is now included in Bears Ears National Monument. This post along with many more from my travels earlier this year are still pending.

With Dark Canyon Wilderness flagged as somewhere warranting further exploration, I suggested this area when my friends Nancy aka WhyNot?! and Joan aka Hemlock were looking for ideas for a 3-day weekend this past October. Rather than using the very popular Woodenshoe or Peavine trailheads, we accessed the canyon via The Notch trailhead on the east side of the wilderness. 

According to my research,

The Dark Canyon drainage is primarily administered by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The Forest Service manages the upper end of the canyon, which includes the 45,000 acre Dark Canyon Wilderness Area. The BLM manages the lower reaches of the canyon as a primitive area. The Dark Canyon Primitive Area is 62,000 acres and includes a Wilderness Study Area. The extreme lower end of Dark Canyon is within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and is administered by the National Park Service. Source: Canyonlands Natural History Association

The aspens were showcasing their fall colors in this arroyo. 

We hiked through several arroyos. They are STEEP!

As is the case in most of Southern Utah, we found plenty of arches, geologic and ancient wonders. 

We also found October brings some surprises, like whimsical snow flurries. 

We hiked some other nearby trails where we found colorful oak leaves. 

I was reminded that we were in the desert. I neglected to put the handy comb and full size tweezers in my pack but we found my scissors be to be a good substitute. 

Water is a precious commodity in these arid lands. This was a welcome gem. 

I think Big Agnes should sponsor me! 

I enjoy fall foliage nearly as much as wildflowers. 

Hike Details

  • Date(s) Hiked: October 7-9, 2017

Tips:

  • Stop in Monticello at the Ranger Station and BLM office to determine road and trail conditions as well as water status.
  • Check weather reports and be aware of flash flooding potential.
  • If you are depending on water, ask ranger for specific details. For example we were told there were reliable springs near the Scorup Cabin. The spring wasn’t marked on our maps and we weren’t able to locate although we didn’t spend a ton of time.

Links:

Resources:

Oh Colorado, It’s a Wrap . . . at least for 2017

Experiencing the change of color in Colorado was on the top of my list for September/October this year. 

The smoke from wildfires in Wyoming chased me into Colorado where I found . . . more smoke. I quickly visited Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and Colorado National Monument before retreating to Utah. I tried Colorado again in mid September and found winter instead of fall on my traverse around Lizard Head Peak. Not deterred, I turned my “hike more drive less” trip into a “drive more hike less” leaf peeping trip. First stop was Lizard Head Pass on Highway 145, where I found a little color and a lot of people. 

Then I discovered Trout Lake

I might have even found my new summer home. 

And best of all I found the first vestiges of color. 

I drove around Trout Lake and down the road where I found Hope Lake Trailhead. If it hadn’t been 4pm, I would have hiked this trail. Instead I camped nearby where I could enjoy the sunset showcasing the colorful mountains. 

I even got to see Lizard Head Peak from a new angle. One thing I enjoy is observing landmarks from a distance that I’ve seen up close (link to my hike report).

With a limited good weather window, I chose to drive to my next trailhead rather than hiking to Hope Lake. My travel path took me to Ridgway on Highway 62, a very cute town with a great coffee shop, and onto Ouray on Highway 550, a town much too touristy for my taste. I camped with a view of the fall foliage where I’d begin my hike to Ice Lakes the next day (link to blog post). For more info regarding my car camping experiences, here’s the link to Me and My CRV posts.

I spent a day exploring Silverton before finding my way to the Highlands Mary Lakes Trailhead (link to blog post). 

After a return trip on the Million Dollar Highway from Silverton to Ouray (not for those nervous about heights and exposure), I continued on County Road 8 to Owl Creek Pass where I got to enjoy many views of Chimney Rock. 

I was a little early for peak leaf peeping at Cimarron Ridge

Color was popping at Silver Jack Reservoir

I quickly learned September weather in Colorado is variable. 

Living out of your car and backpack makes life challenging and not-so-much fun during extended storms. 

One day rainy, the next snowy, and then the sun reappears albeit under windy cold skies. I spent this day hiking and exploring roads near Crested Butte.

Not a very good photo, but I was pretty excited to come upon this group of moose thinking about testing out those water toys.

Given an overnight temperature of 24 degrees, I was happy to be staying with friends in Crested Butte. Bonus was this colorful sunset. 

I frequently am asked if I get lonely on my travels. Well when I do, I always seem to find new friends.

On Highway 285 I found Kenosha Pass and the Colorado Trail. It was a perfect day for a jaunt by foot (link to blog post).  With more bad weather coming in, I spent a couple days in Dillon with another new friend. Meet Phurba!

Before reuniting with Nancy aka WhyNot?! 

We spent the next few days together at the ALDHA-West gathering in Keystone (link to blog post). October roared in with a bit of winter fury signaling my exit to warmer climates. 

This is my third or fourth visit to Colorado and the most indepth to date. I’ve barely scratched the surface and can’t wait for extended time. My dance card is overflowing. See you in 2018 Colorado, mark your calendar. It’s a date!

Readers: do you have suggestions for my next visit?

Dates of Travel: 9/4/17-10/2/17

Links:

ALDHA-West Gathering 2017, Keystone Colorado

I first learned of the American Long Distance Hiking Association (ALDHA-West) while hiking a section of the PCT in 2013. Each fall this organization holds an event to bring together hikers and the trail community. I wasn’t sure this was my community as I hadn’t thru hiked any of the long trails, so I resisted attending in 2013, and as the years went by for some reason or another continued to skip this event. Well in 2017, I vowed if I was near the vicinity near the event date I’d attend.

One of the highlights is Triple Crown Awards, recognizing those who’ve hiked the three long trails, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Appalachian Trail (AT).  That’s about 8,000 miles of walking!

It’s a great place to connect with friends and make new ones. A surprise for me was finding Chili and Pepper, a father son team whom I provided trail magic in 2011. There were several who I’d been facebook friends with for years and finally got to meet in person. My reunion would have been incomplete without Buddy Backpacker whom I first met when he was hiking the PCT in 2016. 

And, now at 9 years old, he’s a record-setting Triple Crowner. Outside Online’s article, “This 9-Year-Old Completed Thru-Hiking’s Triple Crown,” is a good place to catch the details of his accomplishments.

The presentations were outstanding. I especially enjoyed hearing about two gals who hiked the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) in 1979, the same year one of my friends did the same. I was able to reunite them. 

Who doesn’t like games? Especially ones related to hiking like how fast can you pack, or dig a cat hole, or filter water, or eat trail mix? 

Trail angels enhance our journeys, and therefore it was only fitting that ALDHA-West includes recognition in this program. This year long-time, much-loved PCT trail angels, the Dinsmores were honored. Here’s a link to the podcast

My thoughts about this organization and event:

  • The leadership gets an A+. I was very impressed with the team. They are go getters, balancing professionalism with fun.
  • The event is also deserving of an A+
    • The time police kept the program running according to the itinerary
    • There was adequate time for visiting along with the formalized program
    • The eats and drinks were well matched to this group
    • Accommodations were adequate
    • Presentations were a nice mix of topics
    • Location was good
    • Price was acceptable
  • Did I belong as someone who still hasn’t thru hiked one of the big 3 long trails?
    • YES!
  • Would I go again?
    • Maybe, it was a little overwhelming for me, but there were many things I enjoyed . . . so probably if the location and timing fit my schedule.

 

Want to know more? I encourage you to check out the ALDHA-West web page and consider joining the organization. At $15 per year it’s a great value.  You can read more about this event in their recent Gazette article.

Links:

 

CO – Colorado Trail, Kenosha Pass

After too many days sightseeing and too many miles in the car, I needed to stretch my legs. I happened upon this trailhead at Kenosha Pass. 

As I started hiking, I immediately knew I was exactly where I needed to be. My fall agenda included experiencing the changing colors of the aspen in Colorado. 

The prior couple weeks gave me a good idea of early fall weather in Colorado. I found evidence of recent hail in this stump. 

A little later I found more evidence in a shady area. 

I hiked for several hours north and south of the pass. It was such an enjoyable trail, I wanted to hike forever. Look at those colors.

This was my turnaround spot, but the trail invited continuation. 

I found several of these shelters near the trail. Anyone know who builds? maintains? uses? 

I’d considered a night on the trail but the uncertain weather had me thinking otherwise plus with limited daylight hours I decided I’d rather spend time hiking vs loading my pack. Another storm blew through that night, with wind, thunder, hail, snow and temperatures in the low 30’s. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 26, 2017
  • Mileage (per ViewRanger): about 10 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain/Loss (per ViewRanger): about 1,400 feet
  • Elevation Low/High (per ViewRanger): 10,000’/10,500′
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: none
    • Overgrowth: none
    • Signage: excellent
    • Terrain: excellent
  • Navigation Skills: minimal
  • Water availability: unreliable
  • Camping availability: plentiful
  • Solitude: It’s a very busy trailhead but after a couple miles there were few others around
  • Bugs: none
  • Wildlife: none
  • Precip: none this day but I was prepared
  • Temp: 35 overnight
  • LNT: for a busy trailhead, trail was in great shape
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4 cherries (out of 5)

Tips:

  • Bikes share the trail with hikers, so be extra alert. There were also quite a few dogs on and off leash.
  • There is a nearby campground as well as areas for dispersed camping.

Links:

Resources:

CO – Highlands Mary Lakes Lollipop Loop – Weminuche Wilderness, San Juan NF

The access road to this trailhead near Silverton makes this hike a bit less popular than the one to Ice Lakes. The first couple miles are mostly through forest interspersed with waterfalls. 

After climbing 1,300′, I found the first lake and wandered around two more while enjoying open alpine tundra views. I wasn’t as awestruck as I’d been when I saw Upper Ice Lake but found it enjoyable none the less.

I continued to follow the trail and/or markers up to the Verde Lakes viewpoint. 

I got teaser views of the Grenadier Range. Now those look like my kind of mountains! 

And found the Verde Lakes. I think I might like to visit the high lake to the left in photo. The topography is interesting and makes for easy off-trail exploration.

I continued climbing to connect the Highland Mary Lakes Trail #606 to the Colorado Trail (CT) / Continental Divide Trail (CDT) #813. There were occasional markers and tread but nothing clearly marked. The views became more and more WOW as I climbed. 

It’s always fun to be back on trail after spending time route finding. The CT/CDT was smooth sailing! 

Notice the HUGE cairn on the top right side of photo. I saw several along the CT/CDT. It appears these are a popular way to mark the CT although unnecessary except in snow, which can be long-lasting in the San Juans. 

To complete my loop, I transitioned from the CT/CDT to the Cunningham Gulch Trail #502

As I drove back to the main road from the trailhead, I noticed this  . . . looks to me like an old glacier???? 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 20, 2017
  • Mileage (per ViewRanger): 7.5-8 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss (per ViewRanger): 2,400′
  • Elevation Low/High (per ViewRanger): 10,800′-12,900′
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: moderate
    • Terrain: a few steep spots but mostly well graded switchbacks on actual trail otherwise fairly easy alpine tundra off-trail hiking; some wet and muddy sections.
  • Navigation Skills: minimal for trail sections, moderate for off-trail sections
  • Water availability: plentiful below tree line
  • Camping availability: moderate below tree line
  • Solitude: I only saw one individual fishing at one of the Highland Mary Lakes; otherwise it seemed I had the entire area to myself on the day I was there.
  • Bugs: None
  • Wildlife: None
  • Precip: None this date, but pretty windy
  • Temp: Unknown but would guess 40-50
  • LNT: Mostly excellent except at trailhead. I found a PB jar near the top of a bald.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4+ cherries (out of 5)

Tips:

  • Dispersed camping available near trailhead, but beware of mice problems.

Links:

Resources:

CO – Ice, Fuller and Island Lakes – San Juan NF

This VERY popular trail, not far from Silverton, met my criteria for wanting to witness the aspen display their fall colors. 

Lower Ice Lake was not much more than a pond this late in season. 

I was confused by this waterfall that looked to be encased in ice. 

Upon closer inspection I found bleached rocks. 

As I crested the hill, I was in awe by the color blue of Upper Ice Lake. It was a WOW moment! This is an unedited photo. 

Then it was off to find Fuller Lake

Fuller Lake

I climbed up further and obtained this view of Fuller Lake, an unnamed pond, and Upper Ice Lake

I was trying to connect to this trail but decided once I reached this talus field that it just wasn’t worth the effort. 

The pond looked pretty inviting on my return trip. 

Then it was time to find Island Lake. If you look closely on the right side of Upper Ice Lake you’ll see the faint trail to Island Lake. 

Island Lake was a sweet heart-shaped lake. 

If you are uncomfortable with exposure, you might want to skip Island Lake. There was a large section that was pretty sketchy as it looked like an avalanche had wiped out the trail. I watched one gal almost lose it. Thankfully she had a lucky recovery.

A nice view back into the Upper Ice Lake basin as I descended from Island Lake

The Island Lake trail also provided a good perspective down to Lower Ice Lake and the canyon from which I’d come. 

There were several waterfalls along the way, but the sun didn’t cooperate for photo-worthy captures. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 18, 2017
  • Mileage (per ViewRanger): about 10 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain/Loss (per ViewRanger): 4,000 feet
  • Max/Min Elevation (per ViewRanger): 9,863′ to 12,905′
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: Minimal
    • Overgrowth: Obvious recent trimming
    • Signage: Minimal
    • Terrain: Steep in places, but in general excellent conditions
  • Navigation Skills: There were a few social trails to waterfalls, campsites and peaks which could be a little confusing on the way to Upper Ice Lake. The trails to Fuller and Island Lakes are pretty obvious but unmarked.
  • Water availability: Plentiful
  • Camping availability: Moderate below tree line; there is also nearby dispersed camping and campground options.
  • Solitude: Expect plenty of company. It’s a busy trail.
  • Bugs: None
  • Wildlife: None
  • Precip: None on this day
  • Temp: Unknown but guessing 40-60
  • LNT: excellent given the amount of use this trail receives.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 5 cherries (out of 5) LOVED it!

Tips:

  • Avoid crowds by starting early, hiking on weekdays and later in season. Be mentally prepared for the trail being busy.

Links:

Resources: