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


  • 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.



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


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




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


  • 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.



UT – San Rafael Swell, Little Grand Canyon aka The Wedge

After spending a couple days in Nine Mile Canyon (link), I was anxious for some good hiking or preferably some good backpacking. I stopped at the USFS office in Price to see if they had any ideas. The ranger sadly told me the nearby forest is inaccessible for at least another 3-4 weeks. He referred me to the BLM office. The ranger happily told me about Little Grand Canyon in the San Rafael Swell. From my previous visits (link), I knew I loved the geology of the swell but had never visited the northern end.

If only this was the scene I’d observe over the next few days. Instead I was jarred by the fact that this is an ATV playground and it was Saturday. My initial memory is dust, dust, dust, traffic and people. Definitely not my idea of fun. Why oh why did I listen to the BLM rangers? I clearly told them I liked more isolated places and was looking for hiking.

I decided to visit the Buckhorn Wash Rock Art site first. The BLM ranger said this panel was far superior to what I’d seen in Nine Mile Canyon. I was skeptical.

This is a restored site as it had been severely vandalized over the years with paint, chalk, carvings and bullet holes.

Here are some before and after photos.

The detail of the art is exquisite, much finer detail than I’ve seen elsewhere so for that reason and for the fact they were able to resurrect this panel, I’ll say it exceeded expectations. 

The panel is primarily known for it’s pictographs (painted), but there were also a few petroglyphs (carved, pecked or chiseled).

I especially liked this one that seems to represent trees and plants.

I also liked this one that shows friends or family holding hands, so much nicer than the hunting scenes.

Although I’d originally planned to continue to the Swinging Bridge over San Rafael River, the amount of dust and traffic had me thinking otherwise.

Will I be impressed?

I spent the afternoon walking along the rim enjoying many views. It was indeed impressive and just as challenging to photograph as the Grand Canyon.

As I walked along the rim, I watched for possible places to gain access. I saw this group just bail off the edge. They had no experience and were kicking rocks into each other. Was this an accident in the making? I don’t know, I kept walking.

The rim was delightful to walk; it would be easy to walk or bike for miles and miles. Camping is problematic. A sign is posted that no camping is allowed past this point but it was clear many areas had been used previously as there was road access. In this photo you might be able to see a van and at the very point a tent.

I wanted to break the rules too, but just couldn’t bring myself to taking the risk of being fined. Oh why can’t I be a rebel?

Instead I found a legal campsite about a mile away that seemed to be safe in stormy and wet conditions.

While walking along the rim, I found a safe escape hatch into the canyon. So early the next morning I was off to explore.

As I made progress into the canyon, the view back up to the rim and especially the corner with the tent camper looked so very different. I was thrilled to be IN the canyon.

I found a lot of cool geology including this rock that appears to be a mud fossil???

I can’t remember what these are nodes are called.

While I was unsuccessful in finding a route down to the river, as I wandered about I came upon this survey marker.

Trash is a serious problem. You can tell trash is regularly tossed over the rim. I found a lot of broken glass bottles. I picked up a few water bottles and other trash. While I was hiking in the canyon a group of young men were tossing rocks over the edge. They need to go to Junior Ranger class and learn why that behavior is NOT okay.

While I was in the canyon, I found a place where I could see campers. Later I hiked more of the rim and found many floating the river. It looks like a fun journey!

Always happy to find flowers on my adventures.

The tiniest cactus I’ve ever seen blooming.

The Claret Cups were just starting to bloom.

Sadly my camera is on the fritz. The lens got stuck in this out position but after a bit of work I was able to get it to recede but it’s glitchy and there seems to be a spot on my lens now. I have it insured but I’m going to try to limp it along through the last few weeks of this trip. I apologize in advance for photos with the spot which I can’t edit out while traveling.

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 4-5, 2019


  • Would I recommend for hikers? NO! But for cyclists there is a great around the canyon option I’d consider.
  • The “rules” have been bent significantly and don’t seem to be enforced. There were at least 50 campers in a small area near the primary overlook. I noticed a crew blocking access areas with huge boulders and logs. It seems to be the only area to ensure compliance.
  • For lesser known rock art and ancient sites, please turn off or remove geo-tags from your photos.




UT – Nine Mile Canyon, Geocaching for Petroglyphs and Pictographs

After my time in Colorado National Monument (link) and McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area (link), I found myself just a few hours away from must-see destination Nine Mile Canyon.

Why it’s called Nine Mile when it’s really nearly 50 miles, I don’t know. I couldn’t find any reference as to the history except in one brochure that indicates an expedition cartographer used a nine-mile transect for mapping the canyon.

I used the Climb Utah Guide (link) to find the rock art and other sites of interest. Some of the references are dated and I’ll provide updates in my tips section. This might be a better option from Castle Country (link); however, it includes far fewer sites. There are several other resources online worthy of a look if you have time to plan and prepare prior to your trip. First tip: don’t bother entering the GPS waypoints in your device as they are inaccurate. The road has mileage markers. Those were the most helpful as well as obvious paved and unpaved pullovers, signs about pedestrians, and occasionally a sign such as this.

It’s 26.6 miles from Wellington to the first panel. By the way, what’s the difference between petroglyphs and pictographs? Petroglyphs are carved or pecked into an exposed rock surface, while pictographs are painted onto those surfaces. 99% of my findings in this canyon were petroglyphs.

Here are a couple of the pictographs I found.

Access to the rock art is varied. Some is at ground or eye level like this one, most can be seen from the road with binoculars or high powered zoom lens; however, climbing up to the sites is the only way to see the full panel and get the detail frequently.

Way too inaccessible for me.

This is what you might find when the helpful hints lead you astray. I wandered a canyon finding this amazing horse only to figure out the major attraction was a bit further up the road. I’d call this a lucky accident and a reminder there are many more panels if you’re willing to hike and wander beyond the beaten path.

Besides rock art, there is history such as the buildings left behind in the ghost town of Harper.

And the signatures of those whom traveled through the canyons. It seems the pull to leave your mark is hard to resist especially on sandstone.

The hike up to Fremont Village shows a little remodeling going on.

The real reward is climbing higher and getting a view down into the valley and at the buildings across the way in the tiny crack. You know I wanted to climb up there . . . but alas access is limited by private property. Speaking of which, the road along the pasture once was called Lower Nine Mile Canyon. It’s now called Frank’s Canyon. There’s a sign indicating private property and road blockage due to changing river channel. My reference page included directions going out 4.7 miles.

The benefit of doing some research is finding treasures like those shown above.

There are several areas referenced for viewing ancient sites but the remains of this tower were the only one I could find with my naked eye as I didn’t have binoculars (and don’t have great distant vision).

If your goal is to make it to the Great Hunt Panel, I suggest you budget your time. There are so many places to stop enroute it’s easy to get distracted and feel rushed by the time you realize you need to make it to mile 45.9 to see the most famous panel. Tip: if you’re using a GPS app, such as Gaia, I recommend marking spots you see along the way to explore further on your way back or on a future trip. Lighting makes such a difference in what you’re able to find, and traveling the opposite direction may add more to your list.

Nine Mile Canyon is known as the world’s longest art gallery. I took hundreds of photos but I’ll share just a few of my favorites.

You can’t take for granted that these images will always be here forever due to nature’s erosion, human vandalism, and pollutant damage. There is evidence the increased traffic on the dusty roads is already eroding the images. Furthermore much of this area is not protected and therefore has become private property, limiting access.

It’s really challenging to enjoy this canyon in one day. I took two and know I could easily spend a week. I’ll be back! Don’t short change yourself by only giving yourself a few hours.

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 1-2, 2019


  • Keep your eye out for these signs. They’ll help you locate some of the POI’s.
  • Postpone your trip if there has been recent hard rains. There are lots of these dips and they go through the washes.
  • You might also want to postpone if there have been recent snows. I hadn’t noticed I’d be going over a pass between Wellington and Nine Mile Ranch.
    • I was camped nearby and watched the snow (blue) on the radar as a few big thunderstorms passed through.
  • The road between Wellington and the Great Hunt Panel is a paved Back Country Byway.
  • Lower Nine Mile Canyon Road no longer exists.
  • My resource had me driving Dry Canyon for about 2 miles. I walked down it a bit and it looks to be more of a hiking or ATV trail now. I didn’t walk far enough to see if you’d have to cross the creek which was running quite high during my visit.
  • Enjoy but don’t destroy.
  • There are a lot of distractions while driving this road. Not only are cows wandering about, but I found tons of deer, and of course cars and people, plus watching the rocks for petroglyphs. It would have been helpful having a co-pilot and navigator on this trip.
  • When I saw the Nine Mile Canyon sign, I got confused and initially headed toward Myton. Stay on Cottonwood if the Great Hunt Panel is your destination!
  • Showers are available at Miller’s Travel Center in Wellington.
  • The library in Price has lightning fast internet.
  • Dispersed camping within Nine Mile Canyon is limited as much of the area is privatized, and other public lands are closed to camping.
  • To learn more, stop in at the Utah State University Eastern Prehistoric Museum in Price (link).





UT – Sego Canyon Rock Art and Ghost Town

Upon leaving the Moab area, I was undecided on direction of travel. Should I go east toward Grand Junction or west toward Green River? It was late in the day and I noticed dispersed camping options on BLM land in Sego Canyon. I’d picked up a brochure at some point and knew the area had some rock art. Sounded like a good place to delay my decision for the night.

BLM has provided a parking area with a restroom and walking trails for exploring the rock art.

The interpretive signage could use updating. They have been the subject of weather and vandalism.

According to BLM, Sego Canyon contains three culturally distinct styles of rock art: Fremont, Ute and Barrier-style.

With the ease of access, there has been a fair amount of vandalism, including bullet holes and graffiti.

This panel begs the question when are signatures considered historic versus graffiti? 50 years and older seems to be the magic answer.

Cool to think of the those who spent time in these canyons.

This panel shows the variety of style.

I spent a few hours driving the road through the canyon looking for mining relics and evidence of the coal mining town of Sego. The company store was built to last. According to Wikipedia, “Sego was inhabited about 1910–1955.”

Rock lasts; wood not so much. Interesting to see how quickly structures can fail when abandoned to weather. In less than 50-100 years . . . hard to imagine after looking at the ancient puebloan structures still standing thousands of years later.

I like how you can see the roof line on this house.

Sometimes you have to leave behind your car and refrigerator.

I found this marker at one of the sites.

Some structures are easier to spot along the road, others take a bit of exploration by foot. Wander the side trails/roads, some might only lead to campsites but mostly they’ll lead to history.

I’m guessing this was an old shaft.

There is also a cemetery welcoming a wander. It was interesting to see graves that were from the mining days, but others from more recent times.

Many of the grave markers had offerings like coins or trinkets. This decorated tree was nearby.

A fair amount of infrastructure was built for transporting coal once upon a time. I saw many cement bridge abutments, now missing the bridge. There were also a few wood structures remaining.

My turnaround spot.

Is any trip complete without finding blooms?

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 22-23, 2019


  • Stop in the town center of Thompson Springs for a look at the map.
  • There are good dispersed camping options on Sego Canyon Road after the cemetery.



UT – Cedar Mesa, Lower/Middle Grand Gulch

“Cedar Mesa is a network of canyons that are home to numerous prehistoric ruins and rock art panels. Excellent exploration opportunities exist for those seeking beautiful scenery and fascinating cultural remnants. Ancestral Puebloans inhabited the canyons and mesa tops between 700 and 2500 years ago. Many of their dwellings, farming areas, and rock art sites remain in excellent condition. Stone and bone tools, pottery pieces, and other artifacts give us hints of the lifestyle of these people.” Source: BLM Trip Planner

This was another J&J adventure, my 5th year sharing a spring trip with Joan aka Hemlock. We spent five days roaming the canyons of Grand Gulch first going south and then east, starting and ending at the Collins Spring Trailhead. I hiked a portion of this section in the fall of 2017 with Nancy aka WhyNot?! (link). Since I don’t have a great memory, it was almost like a new trail. The first point of interest was the Cowboy Camp, now that I remembered.

This trip made me feel like I was in a living art gallery.

Besides wildflowers, rock art is one of my favorites. When I posted about my last trip, I was reeling from a comment left on facebook inferring that the sharing of these panels was disrespectful. I’ve since spoken with rangers who have stated otherwise. Most of the sites have been looted and it’s important that what remains be preserved, thus they recommend removing geo tags and withholding exact location. Part of the thrill of walking these canyons is self-discovery. I’ll admit my vision is not nearly as good as Joan’s and I would have missed a lot without her eyes. Furthermore, while these sites have been removed from current digital and printed maps, research may offer additional details. The theme of this trip was hands, birds and anthropomorphic characters, as well as red, white and blue.

There were also architectural sites to be discovered.

Shaw’s Arch was chunky compared to those in Arches National Park.

Viewing pottery sherds, corn cobs and other historic items in their natural environment is a real treat. Something like 90% of these sites were pilfered long ago. I’m glad the Edge of Cedars Museum now houses many items of historic significance.

We saw a ton of buds and a few blooms, a sure sign spring is on it’s way.

Another theme of this trip was mud. It was to be my first experience walking on spongy sand turned quicksand where I sunk to my knees and felt the death grip trying to steal my shoes.

This is The Narrows at 4pm on April 19th.

About 8pm we witnessed a spring flood, said to be fairly rare, when we discussed our experience later with the rangers at Kane Gulch Ranger Station. We heard what sounded like leaves rustling from wind only to discover what had been mostly a dry canyon now flowing rapidly, carrying with it plentiful debris swept from the banks as the water surged. The next morning we hiked back to The Narrows to see the difference. The Ranger we spoke to said it was caused by the 200% snow received in places like the Abojos, combined with 80-degree temps of past few days, late snow fall, cooler temperatures earlier in the month resulting in south facing slopes holding snow longer than usual (such as Bears Ears).

It was a cloudy day and we were a little nervous about rising waters since we didn’t know what had caused the surge. I checked weather on my InReach. It indicated we might get a few sprinkles. Thankfully we met a couple who were out for a day hike and had stopped at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station and were assured while there might be slight rises in the afternoon, there wasn’t any significant rain in the forecast.

Just like in the mountains, as the temperature warmed during the day, the water rose. We were on an out and back hike so we saw this waterfall in the morning and again later in the afternoon when indeed it was rushing and gushing a bit stronger.

We kept our feet fairly dry as we crossed the gulch a zillion times during our first three days but by the fourth day our luck ran out and we gave in to having wet feet.

Sometimes you just gotta embrace the muck . . . and pretend like you’re sitting next to the Chocolate Milkshake River.

Collecting water wasn’t a problem for our first few days when water was plentiful in puddles and pot holes.

Once the water started flowing, finding clear water became a challenge. One solution is to gather the muddy water through something like a buff, bandana or shirt and then let it settle for about 12 hours before pouring off the top 50%.

We stopped at the Edge of Cedars Museum in Blanding. Well worth the $5 to see the fantastic displays of pottery, fabrics, tools, etc., as well as absorb more information provided through interpretative displays.

And then it was time to close the chapter on another memorable spring trip with Joan. Where shall I go next? When will I once again reunite with Joan? Only time will tell!

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 17-21, 2019


  • Good navigation skills are recommended for this route. You may find some helpful and others not so helpful cairns, as well as both human and animal trails. Lots of options. Using a hiking tracker like Gaia can be beneficial.
  • Available water can be slightly alkaline. I recommend bringing a flavor additive. Using a prefilter is helpful to strain floaters and swimmers.
  • Respect ancestral sites and rock art by following LNT guidelines, as well as turning off geotags on your photos and not mentioning the site name nor location when sharing on social media.
  • Be wary of the biological soil by camping in established sites, walking on rocks in washes or on established trails.
  • The Kane Gulch Ranger Station includes some excellent interpretive and educational displays.
  • I recommend a stop at the Edge of Cedars State Park and Museum to learn more about the area and history.