UT – Fishlake, Pando Forest, Spawning Salmon and Butch Cassidy (10/22)

This was my year to bounce between Colorado and Utah, thanks to several opportunities to hike with Joan. But finally I said goodbye to Colorado for the final time this year and hello to Utah.

I spent a few days backpacking Grand Gulch with Joan (blog post) before starting my long drive home. One of the places I had marked to visit was the Pando Forest at Fishlake. Little did I know along the way I’d find Butch Cassidy and a few crossings of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail marked with this pack train.

There was an obvious connection between this trail and Fishlake (aka Fish Lake), my next destination.

Although I came to see the Pando Forest and found Fishlake underwhelming, I came upon kokanee salmon spawning in Twin Creeks. That provided at least an hour or more of entertainment. I learned from a local that this creek is also spawning grounds for cutthroat trout.

Finding Pando was the reason I’d been drawn to the area. “When the Pando clone was discovered, scientists named it with a Latin word that means “I spread.” Pando is an aspen clone that originated from a single seed and spreads by sending up new shoots from the expanding root system. Pando is believed to be the largest, most dense organism ever found at nearly 13 million pounds. The clone spreads over 106 acres, consisting of over 40,000 individual trees. The exact age of the clone and its root system is difficult to calculate, but it is estimated to have started at the end of the last ice age. Some of the trees are over 130 years old. It was first recognized by researchers in the 1970s and more recently proven by geneticists. Its massive size, weight, and prehistoric age have caused worldwide fame.Source Link

Specialists are concerned with Pando however, because the clone is showing signs of decline. There are two reasons thought to be the cause of this decline. They are a lack of regeneration, along with insects and disease. Additionally, it is thought that the lack of regeneration is due to over browsing from deer and other ungulates. Insects, such as bark beetles, and disease such as root rot and cankers, are attacking the overstory trees, weakening and killing them. A lack of regeneration combined with weakening and dying trees, in time, could result in a smaller clone or complete die off. The Forest Service in cooperation with partner organizations are working together to study Pando in order to address the issues of decline. Over the years, foresters have tested different methods to stimulate the roots to encourage new sprouting. Research plots have been set up in all treated areas to track Pando’s progress. With each treatment, foresters have been able to learn from Pando and adapt.Source Link

The aspen were past peak color.

I wandered the nearby trails finding a few colorful trees.

I enjoyed collecting leaves that represented the color change progression.

The open grazing detracted from the experience. I was grateful for the fenced enclosures where gates created a safe zone for human travelers, free of cow poo and moos.

The Lakeshore Trail was overrun by the cows.

This group was being herded somewhere and held up traffic for a while.

This was a little section of the National Recreation Trail. Cows are just out of the photo to the left.

I had planned to spend a couple days in the area hiking around the lakes and through the forest in hopes of finding the mother tree, but between the cows, flies and a bee sting I was ready to move on. I’m sensitive to stings and bites often getting bacterial infections.

I carry antibiotics and preventative benadryl/pepcid combo. I was dismayed to find all were long expired but decided it best to start the regiment in hopes I could avoid an out-of-state urgent care visit. Thankfully they worked!

Continuing my travels across Utah I came across this roadside attraction. I’m always looking for good places to stretch my legs and take walks to break up my drives. Sort of funny to memorialize this criminal.

Resources:

UT – Bears Ears National Monument, Grand Gulch at Cedar Mesa (10/22)

Although the “Bears Ears” are a prominent geologic point, the designation of this area as a National Monument didn’t occur until 2016 by President Obama. In 2017, President Trump reduced the 1,351,849 acres to 201,876 acres. President Biden restored the full acreage in 2021. My first visit to this area was in 2015 (blog link).

Hiking through these canyons is outside my comfort zone. I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Joan, an experienced and skilled southwest desert explorer. With two cars, we made this a one-way trip starting at Kane Gulch Ranger Station and exiting at Bullet Canyon, both places I’d hike previously but was missing a large section in between. “Grand Gulch is a serpentine canyon entrenched into the otherwise gently sloping surface of Cedar Mesa. It is famous for its Ancestral Puebloan cliff ruins and rock art. Grand Gulch and its tributaries feature miles of winding canyons lined with cliffs that provided sheltered overhangs to people in the past. Some ruins are amazingly inaccessible, perched high on ledges and under overhangs. Other attractions include the scenery and wildlife, as well as the solitude of desert canyons.” Source: https://www.blm.gov/visit/grand-gulch

This is route hiking. The “trails” are the path of least resistance whether that be a wash, animal or human path. Conditions change regularly. We arrived shortly after monsoons had flooded much of the higher ground leaving mud, water and muck in the washes. Signage is non existent. To find drinkable water, campsites and artifacts you need to be an explorer with exceptional navigation skills. You might find the name of a site or spring on a map but without detective skills you’ll likely be frustrated.

Slickrock walking is my favorite!

Bench walking is even better.

I’d forgotten about desert hiking and started without my tall leggings. Bushwhacking through the grasses and plants is part of the deal. I brushed against something and ended up with several spines that poked through my gaiters lodging in my leg. We both got cactus stuck to our shoes. There was also a spiny thing that attached to my underwear. It’s not a friendly bare legs environment unless you stay in the main wash.

Whenever we got on trails like this one, I called it a 5-minute reprieve as it rarely lasted long. Soon enough we’d be back to bushwhacking or wash walking.

Occasionally you find yourself walking up waterfall channels, especially when entering or exiting the canyon. Grippy shoes come in handy for this activity.

Those “steps” were quite challenging for me at times given my short legs.

Joan made it look easy.

The canyon is breathtaking.

You’d never guess there were ancient dwellings hidden among this wall.

But if you look closely you might find something like this.

Once you learn it’s a bit easier to spot these treasures, especially if you have great distant vision or binoculars, or in my case an excellent zoom on my camera.

Of course gaining better views often takes some effort.

Jailhouse Ruin is one of the few sites easy to see from the trail especially with three white orbs painted above the dwelling. I explored this site fully on a previous visit to Bullet Canyon (blog link).

This kiva is still available for entry and inspection. It’s a special experience and one I suspect will have more limited access in the future.

Turkey Pen was one the first sites I saw way back in 2015 (blog link). While there was a low fence around the site, we were able to view the details. Now much is only visible through binoculars.

It’s impossible to ignore the degradation of the structures and rock art. Much is due to time and elements, but human visitors tend to be greedy from careless to purposeful.

Rock art fades, veneer breaks away, graffiti and bullet holes are all too common. There are thousands of unprotected sites like these. We’ve been taught not to touch the walls in order to extend longevity of these petroglyphs and pictographs.

I particularly enjoy finding colorful pictographs knowing they used plant pigments as paint.

Look, don’t touch! I consider these museum quality art galleries.

Touching structures is to be avoided but it’s enjoyable to inspect at a safe distance.

Rock art comes in many sizes, styles and colors.

This human shape is not in the style of most others I’ve seen leaving me wonder if it’s older or younger than those.

Sometimes you find treasures in unexpected locations.

The Green Mask image is a famous one and I’m glad I got to see it.

Look around the sites for military ammunition boxes as they often contain information.

In some areas fences have been added to encourage explorers to stay out of sites. We didn’t see footprints so we were encouraged that most hikers are being respectful.

When physical fences aren’t present, we create an imaginary one to protect structures, rock art and midden piles. “A midden is an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, mollusc shells, potsherds, lithics, and other artifacts and ecofacts associated with past human occupation.” Source: Wikipedia

Notice how the structures blend in with the natural rock making them more challenging to spy with the naked eye.

The harder to locate or access, the more physically protected, lead to structures in amazing condition for being around for hundreds or thousands of years. “The earliest known documented inhabitants of the Cedar Mesa area in Southeastern Utah were the “Archaic,” a highly mobile, low-density hunting and gathering culture, which depended on wild animals and plants, probably exploiting resources through seasonal movement using open campsites and natural shelters. Recent research indicates that they were moving through the area from B.C. 6500 to B.C. 1500. Excavations at Old Man Cave on the northeast edge of Cedar Mesa substantiate these early dates (Geib and Davidson 1994:191-202). Members of this culture made stemmed projectile points for atlatl weapons and ground stone tools. More than 250 elements of abstract polychrome rock paintings found at the Green Mask site in Grand Gulch are attributed to the archaic period (Cole 1993:198-201).” Source: http://bcn.boulder.co.us/environment/cacv/cacvarch.htm

It’s a privilege to see the architectural details and to imagine the age of these branches used.

If you’re lucky you might find pottery shards or corncobs lying about on the ground.

This “museum” display is discouraged. We are taught to leave items where they were found.

After recently visiting the Long House at Mesa Verde National Park along Wetherill Road, it was cool to find his autograph here. “In the winter of 1893–1894, Wetherill organized an expedition to Grand Gulch with the financial backing of the wealthy New York brothers Benjamin and Talbot Hyde.” Source: https://gamblershouse.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/wetherills-intellectual-influence/

I wouldn’t have guessed water would be found in this niche. Joan had been through on a previous trip where she discovered pools mostly likely from an underground spring. I expect to find water near cottonwood trees but that wasn’t the case on this trip.

Many of these pools are shallow and require a scoop. Joan has found a small ziplock to work when extremely shallow or easily disturbed.

Joan looked at this canyon and was confident she’d find water.

Sure enough she found pools and puddles. Success!

My hero!

This is why most of the available water in the main channels isn’t easily drinkable. While you can collect and let it sit overnight to let the mud settle, often it won’t or it’ll clog your filter. Getting near the water can be a challenge as this mud can be quite slippery or like quicksand.

Finding campsites was another challenge. I was grateful again for Joan’s experience. This oak forest was wonderful even if we did trade views for protection and soft ground.

We were searching for flattish ground above the recent flood plain, minus cactus, rocks and cryptobiotic soil. On this night I got my views! This wouldn’t be a good location during wind events but rain would drain well.

Desert etiquette is a key skill such as avoiding cryptobiotic soil, where to poo and knowing not to wash in the few precious drinking water puddles. Along this campsite trail was pristine mature cryptobiotic soil making it fun to find an appropriate place to dig a cat hole.

There was no doubt seasons were changing.

I found one mariposa lily extending the summer season.

These beauties added a nice color pop along the trail. Narrowleaf Four O’Clock (Mirabilis linearis).

The monsoon flash floods flattened everything in it’s path, but these flowers were survivors. There are flash flood warnings at the trailheads It’s best to check the forecast for rain in a 100-mile radius which might drain into this canyon causing flash flooding conditions. We were constantly looking around for an escape plan should it happen unexpectedly. I’ll never forget the time there was sudden snowmelt turning a dry wash into a mud flow river (blog link).

Although it was a holiday weekend, we didn’t see many hikers. This group was taking a day off and it was hard not to chuckle at this image of them sitting around a mud-colored pool I’m sure pretending it was a clear lake. Access is limited by the permit requirement for day hiking and overnighting in Grand Gulch. https://www.blm.gov/programs/recreation/permits-and-passes/lotteries-and-permit-systems/utah/cedarmesa

We found our own way to relax.

There is plenty of exploring to do besides finding historic sites. When Joan discovered this slot she couldn’t resist. I was happy to be the photographer.

This was another memorable J&J Adventure, one with joy and challenges but most of all a wonderful time of friendship. How long will these treasures be available for self discovery? How many will be negatively impacted by human visitors? Once again I’m grateful for the opportunity.

For us this was a 34-mile 2,600′ elevation gain/loss trip. These numbers will vary widely based on the “trails” chosen and side trips. We spent much of our time dropping into and climbing out of deep washes. It was physically demanding as evidenced by this zigzaggy profile.

Resources:

More Bears Ears Jaunts:

UT – High Uintas Wilderness, Center Park Trailhead (09/22)

After my first trip was tainted by too many miles spent hiking through burned forest, it was hard not to give this area a second chance (blog link). I had time and was near several trailheads which lead to the Highline Trail and more importantly high elevation goodness. A local recommended this option which was outside the big 2020 burn. I soon found out rocks were once again the common theme.

The path through the rocks was less rocky than much of the rest of the trail. At the top I could see my future, but first I had to loose all the elevation I’d just gained. Why oh why? I do love these stunted hardy trees.

There was plant life among all those rocks.

The rocky terrain was tedious and slow severely impacting my ability to make miles. Finding a rock-free campsite was quite a challenge. I was happy to find this spot and even happier with the unexpected nearby water.

Although it was a chilly night.

The next day I was off to explore Garfield Basin.

My goal was to swim in as many lakes as possible. There were some near the trail like this one and others requiring some navigation and off-trail skills.

Five Point Lake is a destination for many but it was deserted on this day just like every other lake I visited.

It wasn’t my kind of ambiance for camping. It didn’t rate high for swimming either.

Superior Lake was superior in every way.

Although finding camping was still not an option as the ground was quite rocky, especially given the rule of camping at least 200 feet from the trail and water.

So many choices, how will I ever swim in them all?

It was amazing to me to still see outflow creeks from lakes in September. They must be spring-fed lakes.

Hiking through the tundra was much preferable to the rocky trail, although my shoes were filled with grass seeds. Look at all those mountains!

Did I save the best for last? The clouds and wind tested my meddle.

The burgundy in these mountains was striking.

The rock colors ranged from mauve to burgundy in addition to the grays, silvers, tans and more.

The moody skies lit up the mountains providing my kind of drama.

Whether ponds, pools, lakes or creeks, there was plenty to go around.

Wandering around I found this historic structure from 1920.

The marker says “Salt House L.E. & J.L. Ollivier 1920.” Nothing turned up with a quick internet search.

This campsite didn’t quite meet the 200′ from trail guidelines but it was all I could find that was flat without rocks and offered some wind protection. And oh my the views I found! Since I only saw a handful of people during my four days and none in the Garfield Lakes basin, I didn’t this this site would impact their wilderness experience.

I watched the nearly full moon rise.

And the mountains and sky turn pink.

My objective for the next day was Porcupine Pass (the the right of the pointed peak).

From Tungsten Pass I had views of Porcupine Pass as well as Tungsten and North Star Lakes.

As I climbed toward the pass I found more lakes with more swimming opportunities during my descent.

From a distance I didn’t think I’d be make the pass as I really dislike loose rock but I was pleased to find a nicely groomed path. I also saw my first Uinta pika!

It’s always exciting nearing the pass.

The view was indeed WOW as I looked down into the Red Castle Lake basin.

The Porcupine Mountain side looked much different.

Looking down from where I’d come. Wilson Peak is visible in the distance.

So many lakes to evaluate for swimming opportunities.

I really wanted to make my way over to that distant lake but my time and energy said no.

Looking back at Porcupine Pass made me happy for my early start.

I found another decent campsite for my last night.

I was near this lake where I could witness the first morning kiss of sun.

The majority of hikers I met this trip were elk hunters so I felt lucky to spy this female exiting a lake.

The deep blues of these lake sure make them inviting, although at this time of year some of much too shallow for a swim.

The only water fowl I saw on this trip.

Once below treeline I was back in rocky, rocky, rocky terrain. I needed to replace my shoes and slipped a few times thankfully with nothing but a major scrape.

It was hot this day and I was thankful for the many water sources where I could drench myself and my sun hoody (Ridge Merino).

There’s no doubt fall has arrived with all the dry grasses.

Looking back from where I’d been as I climbed this rock pile.

Before returning to the small burned area.

I enjoyed the few remaining blooms on my descent.

I considered camping near this pond but decided I’d prefer to push on to the trailhead.

This was a 40-mile, 4,000′ elevation gain/loss out-and-back trek.

There isn’t a consistent wilderness guideline about distance but this is the first wilderness mentioning space between occupied campsites. This is awesome because some people have no concept of privacy.

I found several items left which didn’t belong including this balloon.

This abandoned horse pack was more than I could carry so I took photos and GPS coordinates and reported to USFS.

It’s definitely time to replace some gear.

Great message as I continue to work on being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

This comment cracked me up and made me thing they should try the Rock Creek Trailhead which was by far worse. Both were bad in the rocky trail department but this trail was far superior in the conditions, views and lakes department.

I was somehow still smiling at the end.

Ugh so glad I set these traps but I hate that mice make their way into my car. This was #2 for this year, not too bad, and way better than eating my car’s electrical system.

Resources:

UT – High Uintas Wilderness, Rock Creek Trailhead (09/22)

It was time for another J&J adventure but it was Labor Day weekend. We both had the Uintas on our list and it was about an equal distance drive for us so with quick research we found a less popular trailhead.

In our haste we neglected to use our Gaia fire overlay. Thankfully Joan thought to call the ranger station as well as stop by where she learned that our intended trail was burned in 2020 and part of our route included trail which hadn’t been cleared of down trees. We quickly revised our plans from a loop to an out-and-back option.

The red splotches represent the fire boundaries whereas the red line was our route.

The trail initially parallels the shore of Upper Stillwater Reservoir.

We were quickly reminded what burn means, as in missing signs at trail junctions.

Burned bridges with exposed nails making us glad we were current with out tetanus vaccine.

The flowers cheered us onward and brightened the black hillsides.

Fireweed was doing its job as a fire follower.

We could see features normally hidden by the trees.

Without shade, we were thrilled to find plentiful water where we implement cooling strategies.

Given that we were fording streams in September, we could only imagine the depth in early summer.

We met the one and only remaining trail crew who was able to confirm which trails were clear of down trees. The Squaw Basin trail was still officially closed, although the ones we were using were also on the closure order posted at the trailhead. Due to insufficient staffing, postings aren’t being updated and closures aren’t posted at junctions such as this.

This trail was filled with rocks of every size and type. It was slow tedious work. Try as we might, we couldn’t make it out of the burn zone for our first night. Joan put her umbrella to good use in the beating sun.

We were on a bit of a bluff with four waterfalls below us. It was a treat to remove all the ash from our bodies before bed. This was a filthy hike!

It was nearly impossible to abide by these rules in this burn area. This is the first time I’ve seen mention of not camping within 200′ of another campsite. This is a new favorite rule especially after hearing about a friend who had a stranger set up a tent within a few feet of hers when there was plenty of room elsewhere.

We were thrilled to have a couple of living trees nearby and hopeful the winds would stay calm and the standing trees would stay standing.

Early the next morning we reached found above treeline goodness.

Goal #1 was Dead Horse Pass. Why? Because we really wanted to see what was on the other side.

The trail started out reasonably. We were now on the Uintas Highline Trail, although possibly the most popular trail in this wilderness it’s still nothing like the PCT freeway. The only 3 hikers we saw during our four days were on the Highline.

Little did I know Joan was scheming a way to cross-country our descent.

The higher we climbed the worst the trail conditions. It was that slippery loose soil and rocks much easier to ascend than descend.

Type 2 fun – sketchy sketchy, not for those with height exposure issues.

The views at the top were everything we’d hoped to find including Dead Horse Lake.

The Uintas Highline Trail continues down the other side of the pass and alongside the lake. We saw one tiny yellow tent.

The Highline Trail then continues through the valley and up to Red Knob Pass (the obvious feature). The dead trees are from beetles not burn. As an aside, the Highline Trail is not noted on any signs as it’s really a route following several existing trails and in fact the one below is the West Fork Blacks Fork Trail. On my National Geographic map, the Highline is labeled as the 025 trail but it’s not to be found on any signage we saw.

We couldn’t resist exploring the ridge at the pass, while Joan was mapping out of descent.

The textures and colors of the rocks were interesting and had us wondering about the geologic history of these mountains. We need to add that layer to our Gaia maps.

We loved our time at Dead Horse Pass but after a long break it was time to head down and find our next destination.

Joan says lets go down this. Come on Jan it’ll be fun. I say Type 2 fun! But okay I’ll test it and see if it’s better or worse than the trail.

The rocks held firm and we found a safe path down. It indeed turned out to be FUN of the FUN kind, and way more safe than the slippery trail.

Looking back to where we’d come down from the pass.

Once we made it to this bench, we were super excited to go find a swimming lake.

Success! What a wonderful treat at over 11,000′ and all ours.

We wandered a bit more of the Highline Trail finding more bodies of water, and yes more burn.

And ultimately our turnaround spot where we could consider another swim.

When we weren’t swimming we might have been foraging for the few remaining berries.

We were glad to find a place to camp free of rocks, with some live green trees and a nearby lake where we could enjoy sunset.

Joan noticed these orchids near the shoreline and though they were Lady Tresses. Another friend agreed with the name.

The grasses were blooming and happy to share their seeds.

The next day we headed back down the burned trail and noticed more fall colors. Our lowest overnight temperature was 38F.

This butterfly was taking a rest break on this rock.

We found a little stream near out last campsite where there was tons of plant and aquatic life.

This was another nice campsite where we could pretend like the burned forest didn’t exist.

I had a view of this creek from my tent. Notice the yellow leaves in the distance.

A few aspen where beginning the change. A goal for this fall is to wander through colorful aspen forests.

I was super happy to find sections of trails that were made of slab rocks or kind duff dirt, but instead it’s 70-80% rocks, much of it like walking up a creek bed. It was challenging for me to exert constant control while being careful.

As if the ground rocks weren’t enough . . .

From Upper Stillwater Reservoir, we could look back to where we’d been.

This was a 37-mile, 3,600′ elevation gain/loss out-and-back hike.

Every adventure with Joan is time spent well. We walked away with even more appreciation of healthy forests, left with lots of unanswered questions, and made more memories to keep us sane until our next reunion. We saw a total of 6 people over our 4-day holiday weekend, and enjoyed our introduction to the High Uintas.

Resources:

UT – La Sal Mountains, Tuk and South Mountains J&J Style (06/22)

Sometimes a little detour is needed, even if it means paying budget-breaking gas prices. So after spending a few weeks in Colorado, it was time to return west.

I had a nice view of the La Sal range on my way to Moab. I first explored the northern end in 2017 with Joan hiking Manns and Pilot Peak (blog link) followed by Haystack Peak (blog link).

Well look who I found? That’s right it’s another J&J adventure with my friend Joan. On our first day, we hiked from the La Sal Pass Trailhead to the snow line at 12,000 feet on Mount Tukuhnikivatz, aka Tuk.

As we hiked up Tuk, we had views of South Mountain, which we planned to circumnavigate the following day.

When we reached about 11,000 feet, we found our first Sky Pilot blooms.

The maintained trail may end at 1.5 miles but after that there was ridge walking, possibly my favorite type of hiking. However, first, we had more trail to cover after this false summit.

This is what I call a WOW per mile hike. Look at those views!

We could see down into Castle Valley.

We were thrilled to celebrate at 12,000 feet, although Joan has successfully bagged that peak when there’s a bit less snow.

It almost seemed like we should be singing Sound of Music.

This view from Medicine Lake shows the ridge and snow line on Tuk where we’d just hiked.

South Mountain Circumnavigation

Joan assumed correctly we might find some snow; counterclockwise would give us an out and back option. The loop route includes OHV roads combined with hiking trails.

At 10,000 feet, the aspen weren’t leafed out yet but we had early morning views of South Mountain.

And views down into the valleys.

When we reached this avalanche chute, we thought it might be turn around time.

It was icy, but with rock ledges, Joan led the way with the bum scoot method.

Thankfully the second chute had soft snow and I easily made flat kick steps.

We found an aspen corridor with arborglyphs, some dating back to 1924 often done by Basque sheepherders. The cursive writing is my favorite.

We found GREEN!

And then we found a LOT of snow! It was so much fun trying to avoid postholing.

We took a break at this awesome viewpoint where we could admire Mount Tukuhnikivatz to the left and Mount Peale to the right.

It was a perfect place to relax and celebrate our snow travel victories.

Double Tuk

On our last day, we couldn’t resist the pull to test ourselves on Tuk one more time, at least to the end of the maintained trail, as marked by this cairn.

We reminisced about our walk around South Mountain.

Said hello to our Sky Pilot friends.

It was another most excellent J&J adventure.

We found an amazing display of iris on our way down the mountain.

And then it was time to head east once again saying goodbye to Joan for now.

There’s something about that first kiss.

Resources:

UT – Wasatch Plateau, Huntington Canyon (05/22)

Famous for the Huntington Mammoth and popular with locals, this canyon was recommended by staff at the Manti-La Sal USFS office in Price. It’s NOT an area that pops up on “where to hike” apps, and wouldn’t make my WOW per mile list, but no regrets! I was glad to have a new area to explore that challenged my fitness, provided high altitude training and was just the right temperature. Every hike doesn’t need to be #epic to be worthwhile.

I launched from the town of Huntington and began the drive up Highway 31 which is known as the energy highway due to coal mining. It’s early season with roads and trails just beginning to open. I’m guessing it would be much too busy for my liking during the summer. Much of the forest was burned in 2012 and then flooded during monsoon season. Seeing the damage, recovery and intervention a decade later is a reminder of the slow process.

Tie Fork Canyon

This is one of the first trailheads off the main road. While you can drive the first 1.7 miles it’s not suitable for all vehicles. I wanted to hike so I walked the road. At the Y junction, I first went left on Wild Cattle Hollow Trail but was soon turned around by down trees. Gentry Hollow Trail is to the right. The trail was in good condition and I made it almost to Jack’s Hole junction. I was feeling the altitude and found myself huffing and puffing plenty.

Nuck Woodward Road

I met a couple of rangers upon arrival at the Stuart Guard Station. They informed me they just opened the gate to the trailhead. The “trail” starts as the road, which will be open later in the season. The 2012 burn and subsequent flooding is evident in this canyon. I decided to stick with the road this day as most likely the trails needed spring maintenance. I hiked to the Sawmill Canyon junction. I saw a bald eagle and hawk but wasn’t able to photograph either.

An example of one of the hiking trails. I could see blowdown as well as a creek crossing. Easy to choose roads walking when trail conditions are in the Type 2 category.

This is the first trail junction. I considered trying this trail but with the wildfire warning sign I suspected a lot of deadfall.

Love bear scratch trees!

I saw a fair amount of bones and skeletons. Obviously this was fairly fresh kill. The most interesting and scariest was seeing a cougar cache of an elk near the trailhead. I notified a ranger since the cache was still being actively eaten. You can smell it, the flies were happy, and about half was buried.

I camped at the trailhead and woke to snow on my face, as it blew in through my cracked windows.

It was time for a town day!

Left Fork of Huntington Creek, a National Recreation Trail

I was pleasantly surprised to find single track trail limited to hiker and equestrian traffic. It was a nice change from the previous hikes given it’s proximity to a creek. As expected there were some challenges with down trees, washed out trail, overgrowth and a tread with some slippery mud and snow sections. I hiked about 5 miles to the Scad Valley Trail junction. It would be a great backpack trail if it was in better condition.

Horsetail Fern

This was an interesting sulfur-smelling, cold-water creek.

Electric Lake, Cleveland and Huntington Reservoirs

As I traveled north I found half frozen lakes and lots of snow. It was going to be a while before those trails opened so I enjoyed exploring the lakes.

Yogi was awake!

This was the trail I planned to hike.

Nope, won’t be driving or hiking that road for a few weeks.

I found a small patch of glacier lilies while wandering around.

Huntington Mammoth

The deeper snow to the right is where the mammoth was found.

Mill Canyon Trail

I wanted to assume since the trail began with a newish bridge it might be in good shape and was worth a try. This turned out to be my most challenging hike with 2000′ elevation gain in 2.25 miles ending at 10,000′. There were a few down trees and snow blocking the trail toward the top but the elevation gain and altitude tested my fitness. This canyon has lots of aspen trees which will provide nice shade when they leaf out. I saw my one and only hiker of this trip on this trail.

And then the trail was blocked by snow, with deep postholing. Time to turn back or go for Plan B.

I found a way to the ridge where four elk greeted me.

I had a view down into the lakes basin where I’d explored the previous day. This trail provides an optional way to Candland Peak.

The ridge to the right was my Plan B when the trail was blocked by snow on the left.

Spring Beauties (?)

Tips:

  • Ask at the Price USFS office for the hiking trail map and list aka Popular Non-Motorized Trails in Huntington Canyon.
  • The town park at Huntington has clean restrooms, public WiFi, a water spigot and power outlets. Everything a traveler could ask for. The market met most of my other needs.
  • There are plenty of camping options in the canyon from paid to dispersed, some reserved and some first come. I didn’t see any garage bins nor water spigots.

Resources:

UT – The Great Salt Lake (05/22)

As I continued my eastward travels, I said goodbye to Nevada and hello to Utah. I’d deliberately chosen a more northward crossing as I’d not been through this part of Utah and had never visited THE Great Salt Lake. Traveling through miles of alkaline soil was not the most attractive but interesting none the less. The reward was this view of THE Great Salt Lake!

As per my style, I looked for access areas more remote than the popular options. I found Stansbury Island. The drive was interesting as the road was bordered by what appeared to be holding ponds and magnesium and brine shrimp plants. This is an interesting article (http://tooeleonline.com/captain-stansbury-visitors-overlook/).

I hiked the interpretative trail where I learned more about the lake and the expedition.

I found a few blooms along the trail.

Claret Cup
Wallflower
Larkspur
Evening Primrose

This is part of the shoreline of what was Bonneville Lake and is now I presume overflow for the Great Salt Lake.

I should have taken a photo when I first arrived but I got distracted visiting and then walking the interpretative trail. By the time I got to the shoreline the wind had grown strong and the water turned brown. Initially the foam was white but soon it turned chocolate milk brown.

Although I’d hoped to camp nearby so I could witness sunset and sunrise on the lake, Mother Nature had other plans. The gusty winds made the area very unpleasant. There was also an incoming storms predicted to drop snow nearby so I selected my campsite carefully and found myself on the Pony Express Route. This seemed perfect after spending the previous night on the Wagon Trail.

As forecast I awoke to fresh snow coverings on the mountains 360-degrees around my campsite. It was a good day to wait out the storm, do a little research and figure out where I’d be going next.

Resources:

UT – Snow Canyon State Park and Gunlock Reservoir Waterfalls

Weather or weather! May was a fickle month for travel. I was feeling a bit caged when confronted with a huge wet chilly system swirling around the western states.

It appeared I had no where left to run. I’d fled the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (link) at the beginning of the storm. My timing was ideal as they had snow for the next few days. With friends in Kanab, I enjoyed a couple days respite.

My friend Nancy (WhyNot?!) had also been traveling and playing dodgeball with the storms. We’d been trying to connect for a few weeks and both decided to confront Mother Nature and meet for a jaunt in Snow Canyon State Park. I first visited the park in spring of 2018 and was happy to return as I’d been WOW’d by the colorful geology (link). Since I’d been previously and wrote a detailed blog post, I didn’t take a ton of photos this trip.

I couldn’t resist capturing blooms still dripping from the recent rains.

Desert Four-O’Clock

This puddle was full of large green guppies, most likely bullfrogs.

This was a new flower for me. We later found out it’s Palmer’s Penstemon. They grow to six feet tall so are quite noticeable against the landscape.

I’d visited this amphitheater on my previous visit when water was nonexistent. It’s rare to enjoy such pleasant temperatures at this park in May.

Although I’d also visited Gunlock Reservoir State Park previously, I hadn’t noticed the waterfalls. Most likely they weren’t flowing. From what I’ve read it’s a fairly rare event. Thanks to social media, I had added them to my list of places to see if I was in the right place at the right time.

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 20-21, 2019

Tips:

  • If you want to see the waterfalls, check the Gunlock Reservoir State Park website. As I said it’s a fairly rare event which requires sufficient snow and rain to fill the reservoir to overflowing. If you want photos, minus people, arrive early. We had the place to ourselves for about 30 minutes. By the time we left there were at least 10 cars in the parking area.

Resources:

Links:

UT – Capitol Reef National Park, Cassidy Arch

I’d been running from thunderstorms and precipitation for about a week, and had been lucky enough to stay in front of them. It looked like my luck was about to run out but Capitol Reef was in my direction of travel and had paved roads, key in the southwest during rainy weather.  There are several ways to reach Cassidy Arch. I started with the Cohab Canyon Trail on this day.

I figured I’d hike as far as I could and turnaround if weather determined it was time before I reached Cassidy Arch.

It was a gorgeous day as I climbed and looked down at the lush Fruita valley.

I transitioned to the Frying Pan Trail.

I saw some firecracker penstemon along the way.

And some mariposa lilies. 

I can’t remember what these black rocks are called, but I believe they are from a volcanic event.

With intermittent showers, I considered turning around several times. I was nervous about wet slickrock and slippery mud. But then the sun would come out and I’d find the motivation to continue my forward progress.

Cassidy Arch! I was so glad the weather granted me this view.

The dark skies helped that Navajo white pop.

Walking slickrock sidewalks is one of my favorite types of terrain.

Wildlife is sure to be happy with full pot holes from the recent rains.

Picture perfect!

Does the world feel a bit tilted? That’s the monocline geologic formation.

Will I be rewarded with pie at the Gifford House? Tip: if you really want a treat, purchase and leave in your car prior to the start of your hike. Often the bakery sells out early.

I can’t visit Capitol Reef without stopping by and saying hello to another favorite geologic feature, the monocline Waterpocket Fold. This section is nicknamed the Navajo Knobs.

Sunrise paints them red. (Note: the spot is sand on my camera lens)

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 9, 2019

Tips:

  • There is dispersed camping along Notom Road off Highway 24
  • Showers and laundry are available at the Chuck Wagon General Store in Torrey

Resources:

Links:

 

UT – San Rafael Swell, Rock Art at Black Dragon, Rochester and Temple

This trip through Utah seems to be focused on pictographs and petroglyphs aka rock art. The Rochester site was on the highly recommended list and conveniently located just off Highway 10 near Emery.

The trail is well signed and I’d guess receives fairly high use although I only saw one group on the day I visited.

The rainbow makes this panel very identifiable.

There are so many characters and stories in the panel. I stared at it for a long time enjoying the many details.

Another example showing how this history will not be around forever.

I drove Interstate 70 East seeking out two places I’d marked for further exploration. The first was The Head of Sinbad Pictograph area. Looking at my map I could see there wasn’t an exit and a note 4WD underpass. I figured I could hike the mile or two requiring 4WD. Well I drove the connecting roads and the nearer I got, the more concerned I got about road conditions and possible rain. So after driving about 5 miles I chickened out and turned around. Well, sometimes that’s part of the adventure. The next POI on my list was Black Dragon Pictograph. It too had one of the dreaded 4WD underpasses and a long access road. I drove through my favorite cut of the San Rafael Swell stopping at the overlook while pondering my situation.

I reversed direction as I thought I saw a BLM sign and access from I-70. Sadly I passed it without an opportunity to pull over and found myself at the viewpoint where I was reminded I was supposed to be chasing wildflowers.

It was a 15-mile detour to flip at Exit 160 so I could drive west only to flip again at Exit 149. Not especially convenient.

Hard to complain those when you get to bust through the swell and stop to enjoy views and blooms.

Early the next morning I decided to give it one more go. SUCCESS! I found the secret entrance and gate.

The geology was so yummy.

The “swell” or anticline runs for 75 miles and has a width of 30 miles.

I was feeling pretty satisfied to have found two out of three POI’s.

The location of petroglyphs always surprises me.

The style of this panel is different than anything I’ve previously seen.

The pictographs were outlined in white. I can’t help but wonder if that was added later.

This one made me think it was a fake.

After spending some time gawking at the rock art, I began my hike. According to the WOW guide, I was to ascend the slickrock ramp shown as purple on the right side of the photo.

Walking these sidewalks makes me giggle with delight.

There was only one scramble section; definitely not my favorite activity.

As I ascended, I was rewarded with views like this.

These ramps kept me going and going and going. It was only the developing black clouds that motivated me to turn around.

As I turned the corner there was more awesome slickrock . . . but alas I had to call it.

With recent rains water was begin saved nicely for the wildlife and plants.

There were even a few blooming beauties to soften the expanse of rock.

I was thrilled to be off the slickrock before the rains came to make it slicker than slick, and out of the sandy wash.

I made it back to the viewpoint and took a few photos before the rain began in earnest.

I finished my tour of the San Rafael Swell by visiting Temple Mountain.

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 6-7, 2019

Tips:

  • There were a couple of nice campsites available a the Rochester Panel Trailhead.
  • There are quite a few dispersed camping options near Temple Mountain and on the road to Black Dragon.

Resources:

Links: