US SOUTH WEST 2018

We visited southern Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona in October 2018 for more backpacking in this wonderful area. See each of our hikes linked below

(WORK IN PROGRESS)

Buckskin Gulch slickrock

Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks

Bighorn Canyon, Harris Wash and the ‘Cosmic Navel’

Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek

Canaan Mountain traverse

Scorpion Gulch

Grand Canyon North Rim Loop (Indian Hollow-Colorado River-Kanab-Jumpup Canyons)

See our photo gallery here…

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Bryce Canyon and Zion Parks

This post covers covers two day trips to famous National Parks in southern Utah; Bryce Canyon and Zion.

In Bryce we simply followed a few of the popular trails on a great crisp clear day with big rolling clouds.

In Zion we were looking for something to do on our last day of the holiday that avoiding the crowds. We succeeded as we didn’t see anyone else all day! Also we had a splendid day of slickrock, bushwacking, scrambling and a trail to the Deer Trap Mountain with great views down to Zion Valley.

See our photos from both trips here

 

Canaan Mountain traverse

Monday 8th October 2018 We sat out a day of rain in the town of Panguitch (rhymes with sandwich! and is an Indian word meaning ‘Big Fish’) with it’s cool brick built Mormon centre. The weather looked better further south around Zion National Park the next day so we headed down there intending to do a long version of the classic hike on Angels Landing. However there were massive crowds in the park- queues of cars, no parking available and then queues for the shuttle bus to take people to trailheads. We got ourselves out of there quickly as this was not our idea of fun! Finding a café, we pulled our maps out and came up with another 2 day hike outside the park to an area we had briefly visited last year – Canaan Wilderness. I turned out to be an excellent choice!

Parking near the hamlet of Rockville just south of the Virgin river, our aim was to walk south for 2 days over Canaan mountain and end up at the towns of Hilldale/Colorado City. This is a long way by road from our start point so the downside of the cunning plan was the need for a long hitch hike on two roads back round the mountain range to the car. Anyway, that was for later and we set off on a dirt road then a good trail through cactus, pinyon and juniper uphill to an area called Eagle Crags. There were clear, red rock views over the tree canopy north to Zion Valley and the steep enclosing mountains.

After Eagle Crags a fainter trail continued south marked by cairns but was slow going in and out of numerous gullies. The trail soon headed steeply up through a band of cliffs to pop out on a broad ridge. The markers disappeared here and we headed cross country south with a little scrambling down into and across a sage brush valley and then up slickrock on the other side before entering the ‘Sawmill Spring’ drainage with its beautiful slickrock dotted with ponderosa pines. Time was getting on and we were able to find a good campsite on the flat rocky slabs perched above the wash. With some large potholes full with water below us and grand views it was another great camping spot.

Tuesday 9th October 2018 After a frosty, still night we headed up ‘Sawmill Spring’ drainage again to scrabble up through thicker brush at the top past Sawmill Spring itself. We missed the spring but soon found a track heading along the slabby watershed. We were in Canaan Mountain Wilderness and vehicles are banned here, so it was disappointing to see fresh ATV tracks. Nevertheless it was grand country and a point of interest was an old desiccated wooden ‘Windlass’ used to winch logs down the 1000 foot sheer rock face to the plains of the Arizona Strip below. Peering out south here we could see the land rise to the North Rim of Grand Canyon many miles to the south.

The trail continued on a mix of sand and slickrock until we arrived at the ‘White Domes’- we had camped here last year but it was no hardship to visit this stunning series of rocky domes again, this time with the strong midday sun and deep blue sky adding to the scene.

We crossed more stunning slickrock before descending down into green, lush Squirrel Canyon and its running water. Last year at around the same time, the foliage was bright and autumnal but strangely this year everything was still green. Squirrel exits into the lower valley at Short Creek and we continued downstream next to the running water. All too soon we were on tarmac heading south for the town of Hilldale on the Arizona Border.

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We had an amzing set of three hitch hikes in very quick succession (thanks everyone!) back to Rockville and learnt a fair bit about the history and changes in the Mormon township of Hilldale/Colorado City! We had time to visit the cemetary and Ghost town of Grafton – with some fame in that the bicycle scene in Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid was shot here.

Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek

 

Friday 5th October 2018 With a wet forecast for the next few days we again set off on a shortish trip carrying food for 3-4 days. Starting at noon at the Lower Muley Twist trailhead in the southern section of Capital Reef National Park, the weather was surprisingly bright with big puffy clouds. We had been here before in 2014 on our longer Hayduke hike and this time intended to repeat a hike of Lower Muley Twist canyon but then head off to explore different areas and to do a loop back to the car.

Muley Twist was superb last time and didn’t let us down this second time. Its mostly a wide twisting canyon for 12 miles or so with easy walking down the dry wash.  The huge Navajo sandstone sidewalls with black water streaks are stunning but it’s the massive alcoves that are the standout. These must be some of the biggest caves or alcoves eroded out by the canyon wash we have ever seen. They are quite hard to capture on camera but it’s cool just to stand underneath looking up at the roofs.

Saw quite a few bats today in the daylight which was unusual too. The final alcove down canyon is known as Cowboy Alcove and contains some cool graffiti and artefacts from the early 1900’s. Muley Twist is normally dry but there were a few pools of water in the sandstone potholes from recent rain- the wet weather has had some benefits!

We explored a side canyon for a while heading west at the bottom. Jamal Green has used this one as a means of accessing the high plateau across to Silver Falls and Choprock Canyons. We took a look for about half and hour and enjoyed the wild, rough, bouldery scenery but chose to head back down Muley Twist and find a campsite near the certain water source at ‘Muley Tanks’ where we had camped in 2014.

We exited out of Muley Twist with a narrow final eastward slant into the wide Halls Creek. Camp was found just as it got dark at a serene stretch of slickrock leading to a side canyon to the west. On the way we came across an old midden of flint rock lying under a small cave. Excellent end to the day!

Saturday 6th October 2018 Dark skies as we awoke and had breakfast looking out across our side canyon and the main Halls Creek. We left the backpacks and headed into our side canyon by wading through a short pool section then into the scenic narrow canyon which ended all too soon. Picking up the backpacks we made our way to the big pools of water at Muley Tanks then headed up the slickrock slabs behind to a place called ‘Hamburger Rocks’. A cool series of red boulders sitting on top of smooth slabs. Easy slabs took us back into the dry wash of Halls Creek again and its wide open views.

Halls Creek Overlook Trail was taken east out of the main creek and it climbed quickly amidst varied colourful rock and boulders. Great views back to the rippled folding rock layers. Rain crept in from the south and we were soon getting wet hiking north now on vehicle tracks. With a long wet dirt road hike ahead of us, we caved in when a SUV passed by and we hitched a lift (thank you!) for about 5 miles to another hiking trailhead called ‘The Post’.

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The Post trail heads west back over the folded rocks and into Muley Twist canyon again. This is another superb little trail although views were a bit limited with mist and rain rolling in. This trail could be used as an alternate to the Hayduke missing out the Burr Trail dirt road zig zags and the top 2 hours of Muley Twist. Maybe 50/50 as to which option would be better.

The rain worsened to a torrential downpour and we sped back up Muley Twist with sheets of water pouring down the canyon walls. It was a bit of a relief to reach the car and get out over the dirt road with rain banging off the windscreen. That said though this was another varied and scenic short trip!

 

 

 

 

Bighorn Canyon, Harris Wash and the ‘Cosmic Navel’

A splendid short scrambling backpack past some amazing sights in the Escalante catchment.

Wednesday 3rd October 2018 With wet weather over the last few days and more forecast, we decided to cut down our ambitious plans for a week long hike in the Escalante catchment and instead go for a 2 or 3 day loop down into the Upper Harris Wash area of Escalante.

We parked on the Sheffield Road a few miles off Highway 12 east of Escalante with an eery mist hanging over the canyons. The sun soon broke through though and we started off down into the slickrock of Bighorn Canyon. This is a tremendously colourful place with generally easy hiking broken up by some interesting scrambling down slots and bypasses round the trickier drops. We left the backpacks at the junction with the west fork of Bighorn and explored it’s narrow slot for a while past some surreal swirling rock layers.

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All too soon we arrived at the junction with the larger more open canyon of Upper Harris Wash. The temperature was still cool and this was an enjoyable hike with wide views out to the canyon walls and puffy clouds studding the deep blue sky.

We stopped beside a shady wall for a late lunch before continuing down the dry streambed seeing some people heading for Zebra and Tunnel Canyons. Soon after that Harris narrowed and a trickling stream appeared running down a mellow green avenue of cottonwoods. We noticed lots of woodpeckers along with coyote and turkey footprints in the muddy wash.

Just as the canyon widened a little we scrambled up onto the southern slickrock slopes and set up camp on flat rock overlooking the canyon in a lovely spot. We have been prefering camping on rock out here in Utah where possible as we make very little impact compared with camping on soil or sand. Our freestanding tent and inflatable sleeping mats make it easy too and it opens up the option of more interesting and often viewful sites.

Thursday 4th October 2018 Massive pyrotechnics last night as thunderstorms gradually came closer accompanied by torrential rain. So glad we pitched the tent above the canyon floor!

In the morning Harris Wash had flooded from a trickle of clear water to a muddy torrent about 15 meters wide. Crossing the river now looked impossible but at least the rain had stopped and the sun was out again.

[Click here or the image below for a short video clip]

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After a pleasant breakfast in the sun we scrambled out of the canyon to the south and followed slabs pitted with fresh pools of water to then descend back to Harris at the 2WD trailhead. The river is wider here and levels appeared to have dropped allowing us to wade across to the north side fairly easily. Cattle trails gave quick progress along beside the line of cottonwoods but the cows have grazed heavily and the vegetation looked pretty damaged.

Soon enough past Red Breaks canyon we picked up a jeep track heading northwards under a lovely clear sky and cumulus clouds. Our target was a geological oddity and wonderful sight given various names such as the Cosmic Navel or Volcano.

A cold southerly wind at our backs assisted us up to the volcano sitting near the top of a slickrock hill. Wow! -a huge hole in the rock filled with red sand and a rock island sitting inside. Its not really a volcano but is believed to be an old river meander or abandoned meandor (rincon) raised up through time to the top of the hill.

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After exploring around the volcano we headed north over a beautiful undulating sea of slickrock before reluctantly descending to Big Spencer Flats and picking up a dirt road. This was a long walk back to the car but the clear air and panoramic views made up for it to round off a superb hike!

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Buckskin Gulch and slickrock

Saturday 29th September 2018 We drove our rental car today from Las Vegas eastward towards Utah and the colorado plateau. Made it to the town of Kanab – familiar to us from previous visits as well as being famous for its movie history – and then onwards to the dirt road over to Buckskin Gulch Trailhead for about 16:30pm.

Our intention as our warm up for this holiday was to hike down Buckskin to the Paria river and then do a cross country loop back north and west to the car via Long Canyon over 2-3 days. Buckskin is one of the best and most famous canyon hikes around being about 14 miles of pure beautiful narrow canyon before reaching the equally lovely but wider Paria canyon. We didn’t have a permit for camping in the canyons so that limited our overnight options somewhat to either camping short before the Buckskin narrows to a slot canyon or camping half way along Buckskin on the canyon rim scrambling up at a place called Middle Trail.  Time was against us for the latter so we set off for a relaxed evening hike down the initial part of Buckskin Gulch.

The evening light made for a mellow hike to help stave off our jetlag – down the sandy wash of Buckskin Gulch surrounded by swirling sandstone slopes. We left the canyon floor about 18:00 and climbed up to the east over some slickrock to find a great pitch for the tent. There was just enough time to explore the rocky slopes further above the tent before the sun set and it was dark quickly by about 19:30.

Fantastic pillow rock shapes in the sandstone as the sun set……

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Sunday 30th September 2018 We had a broken first night’s sleep still suffering from some jetlag. But it was a beautiful night with a bright moon lightening up the tent in the night and a stunning silence over the canyon. This was only broken by what I thought was a harley davidson buzzing by my head….it turned out to be a manic moth!

We hiked further down Buckskin Gulch in the morning and it soon closed in on us with lovely scooped red walls. Muddy marks about 3 meters high were signs of the last flood sweeping through here. The gully bed was surprisingly muddy too and we soon hit the first of many unavoidable dark pools. The confluence of canyons at Wire Pass gave us a bright sunny interlude before continuing down. But we were forced to wade muddy pool after pool with slippy silty slopes unseen under the water. We had visited this part of the canyon in 2014 and had a simple hike in dry conditions able to enjoy the fantastic scenery of the steep walled narrow canyon. This time was different with constant wading and mud…..so we turned around after about an hour and headed back to the open area where we had camped.

To save the day we chose to climb up the slickrock slopes to the east to the plateau above Buckskin Gulch and then head north through pinyon juniper forest to scramble back into Buckskin down some gullies. It was a fantastic little trip….

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Hackberry Canyon-Yellow Rock-Paria River

Sunday 22nd October 2017 Arizona Humphreys Peak

We drove down to the Flagstaff area in northern Arizona and climbed the Arizona’s highest point,  Humphreys Peak (12,633ft or 3,851m) using the standard route up from the Arizona Snow Bowl ski area. It was cool to be in forest with pondarosa pine, douglas fir, then aspen up to limber pine and bristlecone pine on the highest ridges.  Above we had views around northern Arizona and to the pitted landscape of volcanic cones. Being the highest peak, there were a fair number of hikers around with an excellent trail to follow. I guess though, the peak didn’t have particularly dramatic views compared with what we have in our own sunny Scotland so we decided one day was enough for us and we would spend the last few days before we flew out back in the canyon country of southern Utah.

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On Humphreys

Tuesday 24th October 2017 Hackberry Canyon

The aim for our last couple of days in Utah was to visit the Hackberry Canyon, Paria River confluence and find somewhere nice to camp overnight. From Page Arizona we drove over the Colorado River, past Big Water then left the tarmac to head north up Cottonwood dirt road for about 12 miles to near the foot of Hackberry Canyon. The light was sharp and clear and the cottonwoods looked particularly golden and autumnal.

With Michael Kelsey’s guidebook in hand we hiked east uphill to the top of Cockscomb ridge on steep dirt road then cross country to the top of the ridge itself. The panorama was cool with great views over rippling sandstone layers and slickrock to Yellow Rock, Castle Rock and Powell Point way in the distance to the north. We then hiked north up Hackberry Canyon which we rather rushed through previously on our 2014 Hayduke hike. The twisting canyon was beautiful and a healthy stream rushed over the sand and between the curving red walls. As the canyon opened out further upstream continued up through cottonwoods to rustic Watson Cabin in a technicolour scene of gold, reds, greens under a deep blue sky.

Back at the car, we packed the camping gear and headed uphill again this time to the west to the top of the amazingly colourful slabs of ‘Yellow Rock’. We found a superb camp near to the summit on slickrock and pitched the tent just before the sun set.

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From the Cockscomb south down Cottonwood Creek
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Lower Hackberry
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Watson Cabin, Hackberry
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Camp, Yellow Rock

Wednesday 25th October 2017 Yellow Rock, Paria River

We awake early in the morning to see the sun rise and it quickly warms to tent up for breakfast. Stroll over Yellow Rock down to the natural feature ‘the red cairn’ where the rock patterns are particularly vibrant. The peak to the south provided some slabby scrambling – this whole area is cool! We then followed a faint trail west then south back down into the ‘box’ canyon of the Paria River past some lovely cactus rock gardens amidst pinyon juniper forest – very mellow!

Once down in the Paria we hike up to the old movie set (last movie filmed here was ‘The Outlaw Josie Wales’) nearby situated under some particularly colourful Chinle rock formations. The heat began to build in the afternoon and we were happy to splash back down the Paria through the box and up Cottonwood Wash back to the car to complete a great little mini trip!