CO/UT – Dinosaur National Monument

I landed in Fairplay after my Lost Creek Wilderness backpack trip. I was on my way to a wedding in Boise. With a week and 800 miles before my deadline, it was time to update my loose itinerary. Options, options, options . . . 

Weather as usual would play a role.

I decided to put in a few driving miles on this weather day, pushing my way north to Steamboat Springs. I enjoyed seeing the fresh snow dusting the mountains, but most of all these glacier lilies. 

I took a stroll through the Yampa River Botanic Park in Steamboat Springs. It was impressive.

I found more signs of spring as I headed west. 

You know it’s gonna be a bad day when . . . my morning started by accidentally activating my pepper spray in my car, then this deer decided he should take a run at me from behind (surprisingly he/she survived).

Remember those new tires I got a few weeks ago? Well that front tire got smacked hard but no damage thank goodness, although the deer hair was embedded around the rim. I was lucky. My car was driveable and I wasn’t injured. 

Not only does Dinosaur National Monument straddle Colorado and Utah, but it also has several access roads and offers so much more than dinosaur fossils.  Canyon Visitor Center is on the Colorado side near Dinosaur, CO. I was on my way out Harpers Corner Road when the deer decided to smack me. Rather than continuing on into a more remote area I decided it was best to have my car check out. First though I stopped at Quarry Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall on the Utah side. 

I was beyond impressed with what I saw at the quarry. I could have never imagined such a display. My photos couldn’t begin to capture the x size with 1,500 embedded fossils. 

The area marked in red is what’s available for viewing and known as “the wall of bones.” 

The interpretive materials were outstanding. 

A shuttle bus takes you from the visitor center to the Quarry in the summer, or you are guided there on foot in other seasons. You have the option of returning to your vehicle via the Fossil Discovery Trail, a 1.2 mile jaunt. 

I found these beauties along the way. 

I drove Cub Creek Road, and using their interpretive guidebook found more photographic worthy subjects. 

Lots of geology to learn about. 

Petroglyphs can often be found on rocks with varnish (the dark areas) such as these. 

McKee Spring Petroglyphs

Rainbow Park deserves further exploration. 

Car maintenance was the first priority before further travels. 

It worked surprisingly well and held my car together for several months before returning home to have it properly repaired. Yes, it was a great conversation starter!

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 19-21, 2018


  • Fill your gas tank. My #3 near miss on this leg of the trip was almost running out of gas.
  • Avoid wet weather trips if you want to go off the paved roads.
  • This area can get quite hot in the summer. It was in the low 80’s during my visit in late May.
  • One day wasn’t near enough to experience this park. I’ll give myself much more time on my return visit.



CO/UT – Hovenweep National Monument

It’s nearly impossible to visit Hovenweep National Monument without at least driving through Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. They are intertwined in a good way. I think the concept of National Park managed units within BLM managed land makes for a flexible and positive solution. The yellow represents BLM-managed land, which includes Canyons of the Ancient sites. 

According to Park literature, “Once home to over 2,500 people, Hovenweep includes six prehistoric villages built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. Hovenweep National Monument was established in 1923 by President Warren G. Harding.” Four of the units are in Colorado and two are in Utah.

Cutthroat Castle Group 

I was extremely impressed with how the masonry was shaped to fit the surface of the base rock and become nearly a single structure. 

It was cool to see some remaining pottery shards around, even if they’d been relocated to this display. 

The earliest historic record of Cutthroat Castle dates from 1929, when it was documented by archeologist Paul Martin. The site was added to Hovenweep National Monument in 1956. Unlike the other Hovenweep pueblos, the structures at Cutthroat Castle are not located immediately at the head of a canyon, but further downstream. The Cutthroat Group also appears to have a large number of kivas (Puebloan ceremonial structures) relative to other building types. Puebloan kivas are usually built into the earth, and are typically round. An exception is the kiva incorporated into Cutthroat Castle, which rests on top of a boulder.

In Puebloan religion, the kiva is a structure that connects with different worlds. The floor is related to the world below, and is usually built below ground level. The entrance to a typical kiva is through the roof, which relates to the world above. Cutthroat Castle Kiva is surrounded by another structure or room. Access into this surrounding structure appears to have been from below the boulder on which the kiva is built, through a split in the boulder.

Though it may appear isolated, the ancestral Puebloan population at Cutthroat Castle was quite large. Natural resources in the area, particularly the forest of piñon and juniper trees, provided the Puebloans with a variety of useful materials. Piñon seeds were a food source rich in calories and protein. Piñon sap or pitch was used as a waterproof sealant for baskets. Shredded juniper bark was used for clothing and sandals. Trees were burned in fires and used as building materials. In fact, by counting the tree rings present in structural timbers, archeologists can determine exactly when these sites were built.

Researchers studying prehistoric diets have found sagebrush flowers, seeds, and leaves in the Puebloans’ waste. As a minor part of their diet, sagebrush would have been a good source of iron and Vitamin C. In larger amounts, it kills intestinal parasites. Quartz pebbles from stream beds provided material for stone tools. When these rocks are broken using another rock or a piece of antler, they have edges as sharp as glass. Puebloans shaped these hard rocks into tools such as knives, scrapers, and projectile points.

The geology of the surrounding landscape produces springs and seeps. In these canyons, permeable Dakota sandstone rests on top of impermeable Burro Canyon shale. Water from rain and snow soaks through the sandstone, but is forced to flow outward when it meets the shale. When this water reaches the wall of a canyon it forms a spring. For the Puebloans, these canyons with seeps and springs were the ideal place to locate a village. Source: NPS website

Horseshoe Group 

The walking trail to Hackberry Canyon is a one-mile round-trip walk that includes the structures at both Horseshoe and Hackberry. Structures at these sites were built approximately 800 years ago by the ancestors of today’s Puebloan people. Today their descendents are among the Pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona.

Horseshoe Tower is built on a point that marks the start of the Horseshoe Site. From this tower, inhabitants could see clearly into Horseshoe Canyon. At one time, the tower was walled off from the mesa top, raising questions about the use of such structures for defense.

Further along the Canyon Rim Trail is Horseshoe House, which is composed of four masonry structures that together form a horseshoe shape. From the trail it is easy to see the precisely cut stone-masonry that forms the outside wall of Horseshoe House. Each stone was shaped for a precise fit before being set into place. Clay, sand, and ash, mixed with water from seeps in the canyon below, made the mortar that still holds these walls together. One unresolved question is whether specialized masons built these structures, or if the entire community contributed to their construction. Source: NPS website

Hackberry Group 

There’s not much left in this unit; however, I met a team of preservation rangers who were working on this site.

About 500 yards east of the Horseshoe structures is the Hackberry Site. Archeologists speculate that Hackberry canyon may have had one of the largest populations of all the Hovenweep units because of the constant seepage of water in the canyon. As many as 250 to 350 people may have lived here. It is unclear if the residents were related or represented different clans and lineages.

The concentrations of structures at both Horseshoe and Hackberry demonstrate the importance of water to the people who lived here. Large multi-story pueblos and towers, located at canyon heads with seeps and springs, are the defining characteristics of the late Pueblo III time period. In this climate, precipitation comes in the form of winter snows, spring rains, and isolated summer thunderstorms. The intermittent rains of summer were crucial to the survival of crops, and Puebloans responded by constructing water-control features. In washes on the mesa tops, small stone dams were built so that sediment could accumulate and water could soak into the ground, flowing slowly into nearby garden plots.

A 23 year-long drought beginning in A.D. 1276, possibly combined with warfare, overpopulation, and limited resources, forced the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people to leave Hovenweep. By the end of the 13th century, Puebloan communities across southeast Utah and southwest Colorado migrated south, joining the pueblos of the Rio Grande River Valley in New Mexico, and the the Hopi in Arizona. Source: NPS website

Holly Group 

This was my favorite site. I found out later this tilted structure was most likely caused by floods.

Look at the construction where the bricks attach to the rock. 

The petroglyphs were extremely challenging to photograph due to distance, angle and light. But I got at least one spiral to show up. 

The Holly Group is named for Jim Holley who ranched and traded in this area during the late 1800s. Holly Site includes Holly House, Tilted Tower and Holly Tower, located at the head of Keeley Canyon. Traveling the pedestrian trail from east to west, the base of a tower structure can be seen along the canyon rim. This multi-story pueblo called Tilted Tower was built atop a large sandstone boulder that shifted sometime after the canyon was abandoned (A.D. 1300). The upper stories of the tower tumbled into the canyon while the footing remained attached.

The design and construction of Tilted Tower is similar to Holly Tower, which is the large multi-story tower located inside Keeley Canyon. Built atop a large sandstone boulder on the canyon bottom, Holly Tower is detached from the canyon rim, and like many of the towers at Hovenweep National Monument, it is located adjacent to a seep. In contemporary Puebloan culture, springs are special locations associated with stories that talk about the origins of Puebloan peoples. Holly Tower was built sometime after A.D. 1200, and it appears that the tower was constructed without outside scaffolding. Each floor was built from the inside, one floor at a time, building upward. Looking at Holly Tower, you can still see the steps or hand-holds that were pecked into the boulder below the entrance.

Archeological analysis of the Hovenweep towers suggests these structures were used for multiple activities, although some activities were probably very specialized. The presence of grinding stones such as manos and metates indicates plant materials were being ground, probably for food production. Stone tools typically used for chopping, scraping, and cutting suggest a variety of activities associated with daily life were occurring within the towers. The presence of bone awls suggests activities associated with weaving might have also occurred. In addition, archeologists suggest these towers were usually paired with kivas (Puebloan religious structures), and the towers may relate to how the kiva connects with the outside world. The deliberate location of towers and kivas at the heads of canyons goes beyond architecture, and has everything to do with the hydrology of the canyon and the way Puebloan peoples envisioned their world. Some of the towers and kivas are placed virtually on top of the springs and seeps that emerge from these canyons.  Source: NPS website

Square Tower Group

This is the most popular area of the Monument, with most visitors walking part or all of the Little Ruin Trail which passes by the various structures including Stronghold House, Eroded Boulder House, Hovenweep Castle, Square Tower, Hovenweep House, Rim Rock House and Twin Towers. I like how the Sleeping Ute keeps watch over the canyon. 

The Square Tower Group contains the largest collection of ancestral Puebloan structures at Hovenweep. The remains of nearly thirty kivas (Puebloan ceremonial structures) have been discovered on the slopes of Little Ruin Canyon, and a variety of other structures are perched on the canyon rims, balanced on boulders and tucked under ledges. It’s possible that as many as 500 people occupied the Square Tower area between A.D. 1200 and 1300.

Square Tower, for which the group is named, is a three-story tower built on a boulder at the head of Little Ruin Canyon. A nearby spring would have been an important resource for the inhabitants of Hovenweep. To increase water storage, a checkdam was built above the spring in order to slow storm runoff. The unique location and appearance of Square Tower fuels speculation that it was a ceremonial structure. Source: NPS website

Stronghold House: 

Stronghold House was named for its fortresslike appearance, though it is not clear whether its architects designed it or any other structures for defense. The builders may simply have been following an aesthetic sense or responding to the challenges of the terrain. What you see is actually the upper story of a large pueblo, which now lies in rubble, built on the slope below. People entered the house by way of hand and-toe holds chipped into the rock, or possibly by a wooden ladder. Stronghold House has two distinct sections, and the stone blocks are exceptionally well shaped. To your right is Stronghold Tower, built over a crevice in the cliff. At one time, a log bridged the crevice and supported part of the tower. The log rotted away, and most of the tower tumbled to the canyon bottom. Source: NPS literature

Twin Towers 

Together, Twin Towers had 16 rooms. Their architecture is amazing; the two buildings rise from the native bedrock, their walls almost touching. One is oval, the other horseshoe shaped. Their builders skillfully laid up thick and thin sandstone blocks. Original wooden lintels are still in place in one tower. These towers are among the most carefully constructed buildings in the entire Southwest. Note a deposit of soft gray material, which is weathered coal. You also pass the contact between the two major rock formations in this region. The upper layer is sandstone that forms cliffs and ledges and is the rock used in Hovenweep buildings. The lower layer is a shaly conglomerate, made up of pebbles and cobbles interspersed with layers of sandstone. Water cannot permeate the lower layer, but drains out as life-giving springs and seeps. Up the canyon at the confluence of the two arms of Little Ruin Canyon, you see large cottonwood trees, another sign that water is nearby. Source: NPS literature

Eroded Boulder House

Eroded Boulder House is another delightful structure visible in the canyon. It incorporates the huge rock under which it sits as part of its roof and walls. On top of the boulder are a few shaped stones where a tower once perched. Source: NPS literature

Rim Rock House 

Despite its name, Rimrock House may not have been a place where people lived, for it lacks any apparent room divisions. The structure is rectangular in shape and stands two stories high. Many small openings were placed in the walls, at unusual angles. Peepholes for seeing who might be coming for a visit? Observation ports for tracking the sun? Or maybe something as simple as ventilation? Their function
remains unknown.

In the canyon you can see the remains of Round Tower. It is almost perfectly circular and was probably two stories tall. 

Square Tower 

The two-story-tall Square Tower stands down in the canyon. Situated on a large sandstone boulder, it was built in a slight spiral shape, perhaps for added strength or for aesthetics. The single T-shaped doorway faces west. There is evidence of an earlier doorway facing the spring at the head of the canyon. A kiva was excavated beside Square Tower. Unlike many tower-kiva associations elsewhere, Square Tower and its kiva were not connected by a tunnel. Source: NPS literature

Hovenweep House 

Hovenweep House was the center of one of the largest Pueblo villages in the Square Tower group. What still stands was built on solid sandstone bedrock. The rest has crumbled to the ground, but a closer look reveals its former size and pattern. As with other buildings in this area, the masons took great pains with their stonework. Some boulders were pecked on the surface, a technique also seen at nearby Mesa Verde. Small, flat rocks were inserted as spalls, or chinks, in the mortar joints. The walls may have been completely covered with thick layers of claybased plaster. Source: NPS literature

Hovenweep Castle 

Hovenweep Castle consists of two D-shaped towers perched on the rim of Little Ruin Canyon. The stone
walls, two and three courses thick, show detailed masonry techniques. Growth rings on a wooden
beam in one tower indicate that the log was cut in 1277 CE (Common Era), one of the latest dates on any structure in the San Juan region. A residence was associated with the “castle,” but the people who lived here were farmers, not kings and queens. Source: NPS literature

 Cajon Group 

The Cajon Group (pronounced ca-hone) consists of a small village constructed in the same configuration as Hackberry, Horseshoe and Holly. The surviving structures are situated at the head of a small canyon, and evidence indicates that 80 to 100 people may have lived here. Under a ledge in the canyon below are several small structures that may have been built to protect and store water from the spring. 

On the western slope of the canyon stand the remains of a remarkable circular tower that conforms perfectly to the shape of three large, irregular boulders. This round structure on a completely uneven surface demonstrates the skill and determination of the ancestral Puebloans that lived at Hovenweep. Source: NPS website

The earliest people we have evidence of using the area were here during the Archaic period (5500 to approximately 500 BC). At that time, people used the area on an intermittent basis as they hunted and gathered food. The structures you see today were built during the Pueblo III period (1100 to 1300 AD). Tree-ring dating of a beam in one of the rooms indicated the tree was cut in 1168 AD, presumably very close to the time that the room was built. Source: NPS literature


I was very curious about the icon that was used on all the signage at Hovenweep. After much research it seems to represent macaws and the t-shaped doorways used on many structures in the southwest. Why the macaw? They were trade items from Mexico with feathers, remains and petroglyphs indicating they were representative of the period.

Important Reminders

Respect the message. 

Adventure Dates:

  • April 3-5, 2018


  • I was able to drive the roads with my Honda CRV 4×4 equipped with Mud and Snow tires. The roads are dirt with lumpy bumpy flowing rock which you must traverse.



UT – Henry Mountains . . . making dreams come true

There are three mountain ranges in Southern Utah. They are all incredibly dominant landmarks as they stand tall in contrast to the desert floor. I’d visited the Abajo and LaSal mountains, but hadn’t made it to the Henry’s yet. While adventuring in Capitol Reef National Park, once again the Henry Mountains were front and center, almost saying, please come visit me. Each time we saw them, we’d exclaimed “Oh Henry!” 

One night we even found a place to disperse camp near Capitol Reef where Joan could sleep with Henry. According to the NPS, “The Henry Mountains soar about 7,000 feet over the surrounding terrain (along Capitol Reef’s Waterfold Pocket) to a height of 11,522 feet. The Henrys formed when magma intruded overlying sedimentary rocks, pushed them upwards, then cooled into granitic rock. Subsequent erosion stripped off the softer sediments and revealed the peaks’ hard, granitic core.”Temptation to see if a visit was possible became a no brainer as we passed through Hanksville. We stopped at the ranger station and the ranger said, you should be able to access at least the flanks. For us, that would be good enough. My car found the roads suitable, so up, up we went until we found a dispersed campsite with views of some of Henry’s higher peaks as well as down into Canyonlands and across to the LaSals and Abajos. We were greeted with the full moon rising. Could we ask for more? Joan has dreamed of this moment for a very long time. I was thrilled to make this dream come true.

Did I mention we were also gifted a magical sunset? 

According to NPS Capitol Reef literature, “The Henry Mountains were the last mountain range in the contiguous United States to be officially recorded and named. Explorer John Wesley Powell first documented them in 1869. There were eventually named in honor of physicist Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Today, the Henrys continue to be remote islands of rugged, forested roads that are the only way to access them. These isolated peaks are also home to one of only four remaining free-roaming, genetically-purebred herds of American bison.” 

After driving to a spot where my car said enough, we began road walking. It was a beautiful day with amazing views of Mt Ellen to the right. We thought, maybe just maybe we’ll climb upon her flanks. 

Well, we didn’t quite make Mt Ellen, instead finding the peak to the left more to our liking. How happy was Joan?

There might have been a bit of postholing. Did we care? Heck no!

Following ATV tracks seems to always mean steep, much steeper than it looks. Did Jan care? Nope, not on this day. She was pretty dang happy with the views. 

Why yes, that’s the peak we bagged! Over 11,000 feet. At the end of March. Crazy amazing!

Road walking can be fantastic! We even met a couple hiking the Hayduke Trail (route).

Did I say happy? Nah . . . look at those sad faces.

This photo is a good perspective of this section of the range. 

Our campsite with an amazing view of the moon setting between Mt Ellen on the right and the unnamed peak we’d bagged the previous day on the left.

The next day we walked a different road and found a few more peaks to summit. 

This particular peak was spectacular because we could see down into Capitol Reef at the Waterfold Pocket and beyond, where we’d spent the previous week hiking and exploring. 

Would we be successful in bagging our last peak of the day? We best take a break and fuel up first.

I think she might have started celebrating a little too soon. 

Finding this shelter at the summit was a surprise. 

Seeing my car upon returning from a jaunt is such a relief. Thanks for waiting for me CR-V! 

We might have found my future home. 

What happens when you make a dream come true? I’d call this pure bliss. 

Adventure Dates:

  • March 30 – April 1, 2018



UT – Capitol Reef National Park, Gypsum in Cathedral Valley

Joan was interested in seeing the gypsum that came from Gypsum Sinkhole. She has a special interest after working in Mammoth Caves in Kentucky and visiting White Sands National Park, both places where gypsum can be found. I was clueless about gypsum but game for adventure. 

So off we went, down the long bumpy road to Cathedral Valley. According to the NPS website, ” Cathedral Valley presents another chapter in the story of Capitol Reef’s geology. The geologic layers and eroded features here are different than those seen in other sections of the Waterpocket Fold. The Bentonite Hills among the Hartnet Road and the Painted Desert on the Cathedral (also known as the Cainville Wash) Road appear as softly-contoured, banded hills in varying hues of brown, red, purple, gray, and green. The hills are composed of the Brushy Basin shale member of the Morrison Formation. This layer was formed during Jurassic times when mud, silt, fine sand, and volcanic ash were deposited in swamps and lakes.” 

“Upper and Lower Cathedral Valley offer exquisite views of sculptured monoliths with intriguing names such as the Walls of Jericho and the Temples of the Sun, Moon, and Stars. The monoliths are composed of the earthy, buff-pink Entrada Sandstone. Deposited 160 million years ago in the Jurassic period, this fine- grained sandstone formed by the deposition of sand and silt in tidal flats. It crumbles easily to a fine sand which is rapidly removed by water; therefore, talus (debris) slopes do not form and Entrada cliffs tend to rise sheer from their base. Above the Entrada, the grayish-green sandstone and siltstone of the Curtis Sandstone forms a hard cap rock on some of the monoliths and higher cliffs and buttes, protecting them from erosion. Above the Curtis is the thinly-bedded, reddish-brown siltstone of the Summerville Formation.”  Source: NPS website

Glass Mountain, the small mound on the right has the largest exposed concentration of gypsum. According to NPS website, “Glass Mountain is a large, exposed mound of selenite crystals. Selenite is a variety of gypsum (CaSO4•2H2O) in the form of glassy crystals. Gypsum is a common mineral found in the sedimentary rocks of this area. The crystals of glass mountain are somewhat unusual in size and in the massiveness of the deposit. Glass Mountain formed as a result of groundwater flowing through the Entrada Sandstone. This water carried dissolved gypsum, which started to crystallize, forming what has been called a ‘gypsum plug.’  This plug is now being exposed as the soft Entrada Sandstone erodes away.”  According to Wikipedia, “Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate, with the chemical formula CaSO. 4· 2H2O. It is widely mined and is used as a fertilizer, and as the main constituent in many forms of plaster, blackboard chalk and wallboard.” 

At first glass it looks like a pile of trash. According to NPS, “the visible part of Glass Mountain could merely be the ‘tip of the iceberg,’ with much more selenite still hidden underground.”

Joan was thrilled as she’d never seen gypsum in this form. 

It was challenging to photograph, but we did our best. 

As we reversed direction on our exit, the sun was in the perfect position to showcase the glassy glitter on many other brown mounds. 

This is one of those places where we can say, “we came, we saw, we went,” and we don’t ever need to come back.

Adventure Dates:

  • March 30, 2018


  • Collecting any park resource, including gypsum is prohibited. 



UT – Capitol Reef National Park, Chimney Rock and Spring Canyon

As I indicated in a previous post, Joan and I decided to immerse ourselves in Capitol Reef National Park. We’d spent four days backpacking through Upper Muley Twist Canyon and Lower Muley Twist Canyon, then spent a day in Capitol Gorge exploring the Golden Throne, Petroglyphs, Narrows, Pioneer Register and Tanks. Next on the agenda was another backpack trip, this time through Upper Spring Canyon starting from Chimney Rock. According to the WOW guidebook, “if you must choose only one hike in Capitol Reef National Park, make it Spring Canyon or Navajo Knobs.” Since I previously hiked the Navajo Knobs trail, Spring Canyon it was!

Whenever there is a viewpoint, that’s where you’ll find Jan. Thanks Joan for capturing some action photos of me. 

This canyon feels very different than Muley Twist. The walls are grandiose. According to NPS, “Spring Canyon is deep and narrow with towering Wingate cliffs and Navajo domes.”

This is the junction for Lower and Upper Spring Canyon. Most choose lower so of course we choose upper. 

The big surprise of our trip. SNOW!!! 

We found a really sweet campsite, protected from the wind.

A really cool home for a spring. There was a fair amount of water in Spring Canyon, named for the multiple springs. However, most was not the best caliber and we were grateful that we’d carried sufficient.

Joan collected some water just in case, but upon closer inspection there were tiny worms swimming around, probably something we didn’t want to ingest. 

Adventure Dates:

  • March 29-30, 2018


  • According to NPS, “The route not an official, maintained trail. It is marked with rock cairns and signs, but carrying a topo map is recommended. Route conditions, including obstacles in canyons, change frequently due to weather, flash floods, rockfall, and other hazards. Route finding, navigation, and map-reading skills are critical. Do not rely solely on unofficial route markers such as rock cairns which are not maintained by NPS. It is extremely hot in summer and water sources are unreliable.”
  • Free backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips and can be obtained at the Visitor Center.
  • Obtain a copy of the trail handout at the Visitor Center. It has tips about the POI’s as well as trail beta.
  • Be aware of biological soil crust. 



UT – Capitol Reef National Park, Capitol Gorge and the Golden Throne

After four days of hiking Upper Muley Twist Canyon and Lower Muley Twist Canyon, Joan and I decided to play tourist for the day.

According to the NPS website, “Petroglyph panels throughout the park depict ancient art and stories of these people who lived in the area from approximately 300-1300 common era (CE).” 

According to the NPS website, “Elijah Cutler Behunin led a group of pioneers to clear a wagon trail through Capitol Gorge which allowed settlers, church officials, miners, outlaws, and others to pass more easily through the Waterpocket Fold.” 

Unexpected Surprises 

Great Deterrent

Adventure Dates:

  • March 28, 2018



UT – Capitol Reef NP, Lower Muley Twist Canyon

I mentioned in my last post that Joan and I decided to immerse ourselves in Capitol Reef National Park. To us, on this day, that meant since we hiked the Upper Muley Twist Canyon Loop, we would also need to hike the Lower Muley Twist Canyon Loop. According to the NPS, “the highlight of the hike is a deep, narrow, twisting canyon with large alcoves.” 

The trailhead begins at “The Post.” Per the NPS website, “Dispersed/at-large camping with vehicles is prohibited within the park, including at or near trailheads. Dispersed/at-large camping is allowed on federal lands (USFS, BLM) adjacent to the park.”

Carrying our packs, we were a bit nervous about this warning on the NPS website. “The Post cutoff trail heads west from the parking area and climbs steeply up the Waterpocket Fold, providing panoramic vistas. Sections of the trail traverse steep slickrock with loose footing and severe exposure in several places. Use caution, especially on a particularly-exposed 100-foot (30 m) section, and especially if wet or icy conditions exist.” Oh well, I said to Joan we could always turn back. 

At one point Joan was ready to turn back. She wasn’t feeling great and exposure is not her strength. We stopped and she said we probably aren’t even 1/3 of the way. Since I was tracking our route, I looked at the map and found we were nearly done. She was in shock and might have done a little dance when we could mark that section complete.  Telling of the conditions might be the fact that we didn’t take any photos of the challenging traverse. 

She quickly refound her happy spot when she found early blooms to be photographed. 

Since this is more of a route than a trail, we were happy to find the junction. 

Per the NPS website, “large alcoves highlight this portion of the canyon. Here the Kayenta formation has been undercut, forming high overhangs. The canyon continues south for over 8 miles.” This was one of the highlights of this trip. The trail goes behind the big field of debris and through the alcove. 

A lot of time is spent walking the wash. 

The Cottonwood trees were just beginning to leaf out. 

One alcove has been used by travelers for many decades. This is known as “Cowboy Camp.” Current philosophy is anything older than 50 years is history vs graffiti. 

This was the oldest date I found. I believe I read this was a stopping point for the Mormon pioneers. 

This was some of the WOW geology we found. 

After finding our campsite, we had time to explore. Ah the freedom of going without a pack! 

We might have even found a few moments to relish the last of the sun which disappears early when you’re deep in a canyon.

In fact we walked up and down the canyon finding sun, enjoying it, then retreating for a bit more time with our friend. 

We roamed the slickrock and came upon this pool. 

I considered jumping, NOT! 

Home for the night . . . where I learned the lesson about wind and sand. Use the rain fly Jan!

And then that orange orb said goodbye for good. 

Per the NPS website, “Near the end of Lower Muley Twist is a high alcove, after which the canyon turns toward the east and becomes very narrow with high walls. At this point the high cliffs of Big Thomson Mesa are visible ahead.” 

The sun arrives late in the canyon just like it goes to bed early. 

After exiting the canyon, we took the detour to Hamburger Rocks before continuing our loop up Grand Gulch, an old road the Mormon pioneers finally discovered as a much improved option to the Muley Twist Canyon. 

Joan might have been a little excited for a hamburger. 

Soon enough it was time for the hamburger challenge. 

Where there are hamburgers, there must also be rootbeer floats. Joan is eagerly awaiting completion and reward. 

We can attest that the detour was well worth our time. According to NPS, “these are small, dark-red hoodoos within the Navajo sandstone.”

Next detour was Muley Tanks. Since Joan and I have hiked a fair amount in the desert we didn’t know what to expect. Would it be a metal tank where we’d need to climb a ladder like we did on the Arizona Trail? Or would it be a mud pond like we found on the Continental Divide Trail? Would it be a cattle trough?

Yes, we might have said WOW! 

After Muley Tanks, we had pretty high expectations of Cottonwood Tank. 

I think Joan has just about perfected this relaxation thing. 

I love finding survey markers. 

It was end of another fab adventure and time to sign in on the trail register. We survived and lived to tell about it! 

The reward, car camping and a hot dinner. 

Joan camped in a dry wash protected from the wind while I slept in my car. 

But first we watched sunset and the full moon rise from the comfort of my car. 

Adventure Dates:

  • March 26-27, 2018


  • According to NPS, “The route not an official, maintained trail. It is marked with rock cairns and signs, but carrying a topo map is recommended. Route conditions, including obstacles in canyons, change frequently due to weather, flash floods, rockfall, and other hazards. Route finding, navigation, and map-reading skills are critical. Do not rely solely on unofficial route markers such as rock cairns which are not maintained by NPS. It is extremely hot in summer and water sources are unreliable.”
  • Free backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips and can be obtained at the Visitor Center.
  • Obtain a copy of the trail handout at the Visitor Center. It has tips about the POI’s as well as trail beta.
  • Be aware of biological soil crust.