Autumn 2017 in the US south west

Back again to the canyons and high desert of the US south west in October 2017! We flew from Scotland to Las Vegas and rented a car with 3 and a half weeks to get out and backpack further into some new areas.

You can see an overview in the interactive map below and read our blogs listed below too (work in progress)…

  1. Canaan Mountain and White Domes north of Hilldale
  2. Escalante loop- Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante-Brigham Tea Bench-Boulder
  3. Upper Muley Twist and the rim route
  4. East Slickhorn-San Juan-Slickhorn canyon loop
  5. Dark and Youngs Canyons
  6. Humphreys Peak, Northern Arizona
  7. Hackberry Canyon-Yellow Rock-Paria canyon



Canaan Mountain and White Domes

Tuesday 3rd October 2017 We drove east from Las Vegas stopping off overnight at Snow Canyon State Park and then onto the towns of Hildale/Colorado City on the Utah-Arizona border. Our aim was to do a two day loop hike up Water canyon onto the slickrock plateau of Canaan Mountain,camp and explore a bit before returning down Squirrel creek back to the car- map here.

We hiked up the steep trail in Water Canyon with good flowing water (as you might expect) before the trail zig-zagged upwards steeply west of the canyon floor to ‘top rock’ – a small platform overlooking the canyons. This is a superb section of hiking taking an improbable line out of the canyon and onto the rim. From there we followed slick rock drainages holding good pothole water to the summit ridge of Canaan Mountain in a beautiful area called the White Domes.

We camped near here under a full moon and the next day meandered amongst the domes enjoying the slow creep of the morning sun glancing over the slick rock. Leaving our gear at the camp, we hiked west on an old stock trail with a mix of slickrock and deep sand amidst ponderosas with views north to Zion National Park.

On return to White Domes we collected up the camping gear and followed the stock trail east through some deep sand patches. A drop down into a scooped basin on the purest of slick rock was amazing though and we crossed the head of Water canyon, over a col, then gradually on more slick rock towards Squirrel creek. This was a wonderful, traverse. At the head of Squirrel creek we crossed a heavier used trail and turned down into the canyon with its lush greenery created from a flowing spring source. A jeep trail at the bottom made for easy walking via Short creek back down to the trailhead where our vehicle was now frying in the afternoon sun!

More photos here

Squirrel and Short creek are part of an alternate of the Hayduke trail and Water canyon could be used as a further alternate to the Hayduke providing some extra stunning scenery at the cost of maybe 2-3 additional hours if you had spare energy!

You could also hike from the Water canyon trailhead north all the way over Canaan mountain to near Rockville on Highway 9 (which goes into Zion national park) as described in the guidebook ‘Favorite hikes in & around Zion National Park’.



Mallorca hike-GR221 February 2017

We hiked a short backpacking route on the Spanish island of Mallorca in February 2017. Roughly following the route GR221, we started in the north in the town of Pollenca and headed south west from there along the coastal mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana.

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Summary Overall it was a great little hike that took us 6 days, fitting well into a 1 week holiday. There was lots of variety – combining steep, high mountains, woodland, history and nice villages. We carried a tent and wild camped except for one night in the small town of Valldemossa. We hiked in late February/ March but the busiest time we think is April/May in Spring and in Autumn (September/October). It’s probably too hot in Mallorca in the summer but the climate allows for spring hiking and possibly January to early February if you can put up with short days and colder weather.

We have a photo gallery here.

Resources We used the Cicerone GR221 guidebook (2009 version, I believe a new edition is coming out in April this year), Discovery map and I also had the Cicerone Walking in Mallorca guide on my Kindle. The combination worked out well, the printed map was useful in addition to the Cicerone guide as it provided a wider picture to the sides of the trail with alternate trails and towns and roads. The Walking in Mallorca guide provided info on other trails and we followed these on a few occasions with some bad weather but also to take a higher level route than the GR221. The website by Markus was also very useful with maps and a gpx.

Day 1 Pollenca to near Lluc We took the bus from Palma to Pollenca (the buses are excellent on Mallorca) and filled our MSR stove up with unleaded at the petrol station in Pollenca before we started walking at about midday. We immediately took off on an alternate high level route over Puig Tomir to the east of the GR221 piecing together route descriptions from the Walking in Mallorca guide and the Alpenquerung website. This was an excellent choice for us in good weather with about 1000m of ascent but following trails the whole way, taking us about 7 hours. We had good views over the north of the island to Cap de Formentor. There was a short step down rock with via ferrata cables on the descent. The water source at Coll des Pedregaret was dry. However the source at Ermita was good– we camped near here.

0226 SUN IMG_1838 pano on alt above pollensa pk tomir

Day 2 Lluc to Cuber We descended to Lluc monastery and hung about here for a while as the cloud was down, with drizzle and the winds looked strong higher up. Eventually we took a lower level route round the peak of Massanella to the south- again piecing together routes in the Walking in Mallorca guide. This turned out to be fun as it included the extraordinary Canaleta de Massanella- a mountain canal built in the 1740’s to take water down to the towns on the eastern plains. The hiking along the canal was narrow and exposed in places with the sound of gurgling water under our feet.

We crossed back onto the GR221 near the Col des Colums (plenty of water in a river on the south side of the col) and then descended down beside the concrete viaduct (more water) to Cuber reservoir to camp.

0227 MON IMG_1871 canal west of lluc

Day 3 Cuber to south of Deia Today was a bit longer but superb and with lots of variety. An easy walk led to the Col de L’Ofre then we descended down the cobbled steep gorge of Barranc de Biniaraix to the town of Biniaraix. Water was available down the gorge in a few spots. Then we hiked through attractive town streets to Soller (the biggest town on route including an excellent small gear shop) and onto Port de Soller. Onto Deia on lower level trails past olive orchards and oak woods. The ‘Finca’ of Can Prohom provided a great excuse to stop for drinks and cake!

We took water in Deia before hiking steeply up south out of town. The trail is not marked here but heads from the main road up a minor zig-zagging road just prior to the Hotel Es Moli. We found a campsite on a terrace just before dark next to an old shepherd’s hut and water tank- maybe 45 minutes above Deia.

0228 TUE IMG_1898 l ofre

0228 TUE IMG_1907 barranc de biniaraix

Day 4 Deia to Valldemossa A short hike today up to about 920m then on the ‘Archduke’s trail’ – a cobbled wide path right along a ridge with a vertical drop off to the west and views down to the coast- superb! From there we dropped steeply through oak forest on a good trail into Valldemossa. There was a water trough on the lower slopes.

0301 WED IMG_1949 archduke trail

Day 5 Valldemossa to south of Estellencs Today was a long one but over less steep terrain. We stayed high on jeep tracks avoiding the town of Balyalbufar on a newly signposted trail. There is a good water source in town in Estellencs as the road crosses the river. Heading south from the town the trail mostly stays on the coast side of the main road through forest and we found a campsite on terraces beneath the jeep track trail after about an hour.

Day 6 Estellencs to Peguera This was our final day on an alternate described in the Cicerone guidebook but now the signposted Gr221 trail on the ground (well at least to the town of Es Capdella). Hiking on below the road was easy on jeep tracks before the trail zig zags back up to the road and back north along it for a few hundred meters. There is a water tank at the trailhead on the south side of the road. The signposted trail then climbs a jeep track steeply up the hill to the new refuge ( Sa Coma d’en Vidal) under construction. It looks like it will be ready soon….

We were hit by high winds and cloud here as we climbed further on a jeep track to a high point and nicer trail down into the Galatzo valley. Just above where the trail flattens out onto jeep track again there was a good water tank with a pipe flow into the tank.

Easy hiking on jeep trails then tarmac all the way into Es Capdella town with a store. We followed the Cicerone guide description from here past S’Estrat but it looks like there is a new trail that runs beside the road all the way to Peguera.

0303 FRI IMG_1993 galatzo0303 FRI IMG_2007 peguera


Wolverine and Little Death Hollow canyons

Monday 17th October 2016 With only three days left before we were due to fly out of Las Vegas back to Scotland and quite a lot of driving to do to get to Vegas, we deliberated on how to best use our remaining time. Eventually we opted for a two-day backpack in the Escalante area again – this time down Wolverine Canyon to Horse Canyon then back out via Little Death Hollow canyon – famed for it’s long narrow slot section.

Our approach to this loop was from the small town of Boulder and a drive along the tarmac Burr Trail road before turning off down the Wolverine dirt road. This was fine for a while but after a few miles it dropped into a dry sandy river wash and we were afraid of scraping the undercarriage of our nice shiny rental car. So we chose to abandon the car and start walking a bit earlier than intended!

This stop gave us 5 miles of hiking down a dirt track before reaching the canyons but the open pinyon juniper scenery was pleasant and we enjoyed the walk. Leaving the dirt track, we headed cross-country into Wolverine Canyon on gravelly, colourful Chinle rock layers and hit upon a fantastic area of petrified logs. Some of the biggest trees were about 20 meters long and one meter in diameter. The detail of bark and growth rings were amazing. Seemingly, these were conifers buried by volcanic ash and sediment around 250 million years ago and silica from the ash penetrated inside or ‘petrified’ the wood.


Continuing down Wolverine was easy following a dry sandy wash with red Wingate sandstone cliffs towering above. The canyon gradually narrowed and meandered with a number of massive alcoves and cool scooped holes in the walls.


The wind was gusting and kicking up sand as we exited Wolverine and hit Horse Canyon. Rather disappointingly there were 4WD vehicle tracks in the wide wash which spoiled our wilderness feeling a little. Hiking down canyon we were pleased to see some water surfacing in the bed and pretty soon there was enough of a trickle for us to stop and load up with water for the night and all of the next day.

We passed the vehicles that had made the tracks, parked at a point where the canyon narrowed and it was trail only from there on. It appeared as if this was a trail maintenance crew with horses. After about 10 minutes more we came to the junction with Little Death Hollow Canyon and hiked up, on the look out for a campsite. Martina found a great spot on a raised slab about 3 meters above the dry canyon floor. With a full moon it was a brilliant last wild camp of the holiday for us…


Tuesday 18th October 2016 A grand moonlit, quiet night with the moon doing a traverse along the length of the canyon, so we saw it all night. Today we were to ascend Little Death Hollow Canyon which has a long, narrow slot section which we were looking forward to.

We started up a slot with deep muddy pools and slippy, slabby walls. This got us both wet and dirty. We began to think that recent flash floods meant that we were going to find more mud and water on the way ahead. For two hours the canyon stayed tight and narrow and….muddy. On a few occasions we had to crawl under boulders jammed in the canyon walls and unfortunately that meant getting stuck into some slime and dirt. It was all  fun despite both of us picking up some scrapes and bruises and the eventual opening  of the canyon came too soon!


The remaining hike was more mellow as a trail began to form in the now wide canyon floor. But it was still scenic and we stopped at a petroglyph panel on a large boulder before arriving at the canyon trailhead on a dirt road.

All that remained now was about 3 hours of hiking north on the dirt road back to our car. Another excellent backpack which could probably be done in a long day (especially with a high clearance vehicle) but the overnight camp was definitely worthwhile for us.

More photos here….

Canyonlands National Park- Salt Creek backpack

Wednesday 12th October 2016 Salt Creek  canyon lies in the south east of Canyonlands National Park and is unusual in that it holds a good flow of water in this dry part of southern Utah. Anasazi and Fremont Indians lived and farmed in this canyon centuries ago and have left behind well preserved rock art and dwellings making for a fascinating mix of canyon scenery and culture.

We had heard of Salt Creek previously as it is part of an excellent alternative route to the Hayduke Trail. When we passed by in 2014 however, we chose another variation on the north side of the Colorado river which fitted in better with our kayak journey down the Colorado.

This was now our chance to visit Salt Creek, and without the need to hike longer daily mileages that were required for the Hayduke, we would be able to spend time exploring the cliff dwellings and pictographs!

We popped into the National Park office at Needles District Visitor Center to pick up our permits (camping numbers are restricted here) and our mandatory bear canisters.  Black bears roam 1013-img_1517-salt-creek-croparound the higher ground in this area and drop into the canyons in autumn in search of food in the form of cactus fruit.

The canisters felt heavy and were awkward initially to fit into a backpack but, if they keep the bears out of our food and most importantly, protect the bears from getting accustomed to human food, then we were happy to take them!

First we had a 20 mile drive south down a bumpy dirt track to our trailhead at Cathedral Butte amidst open pinyon juniper on a high plateau at 2,400 meters. At 5pm we set off on foot down a good trail into the canyon amidst the colourful striped red and white Cedar Mesa sandstone rock layers.

Looking down from the plateau into the expansive sage meadows of ‘Big Pocket’ (center right) and Salt Creek canyon to it’s left……



We picked up water on the way at a lovely water slide slab just before our pre-allocated campsite (SC1)……


Thursday 13th October 2016 An excellent moonlit night with our first howling coyotes of the holiday – superb! It was cold overnight but the sun eventually hit the tent and warmed us up pretty quickly…


We hiked back to some meadows and explored  ‘Kirk’s Cabin’ nearby, a cool wooden structure dating from around 1890….


Next we hiked north up the canyon on pretty good trails – first hitting a granary structure with about 4 buildings at the foot of a cliff. Onto the ‘Big Ruin’ from there which was maybe 15 minutes west of the trail and a long line of granaries 20 meters up from the ground on a horizontal cliff ledge. Pottery shards and corn could be seen at the foot of the east facing cliffs and we were happy to explore around here for a while in the now hot sun.


We hiked on, mostly through huge sagebrush and rabbit brush but occasionally with thick willow and tamarisk thickets. One of the most interesting sights of the day was ‘squash granary’ where some granaries sat under a huge overhang. Squash plants were growing there, presumably having lasted 700 years since the area was originally farmed- nice! Like almost all of these Anasazi locations it was a beautiful spot too.


Further on we stopped at ‘All American Man’, a red white and blue coloured pictograph in another amazing location in a cave about 10 meters above the valley floor. This iconic site was better in real life than the pictures we had seen beforehand given its situation. The artwork looked a bit weird though – is it really 700 years old?

Looking out from inside the ‘All American Man’ cave. ‘AAM’ itself on the right!


Onwards we passed an empty tent at campsite SC3 – our first sign of others down in Salt Creek Canyon. More great iconic rock art with the ‘4 faces’ and some weird figures that appear to be smiling – or maybe not?

1013-img_1570-salt-creek-four-faces We hit some really thick bush and managed to lose the trail bushwhacking down near the riverbed. With some steep scrabbling up steep mud cliffs pulling up on bushes,we picked up a trail again. Lots of coyote and bear scat on the trail as well as some tracks as we eventually arrived at our campsite (SC4) above a tight river meander with steep coloured walls on either side. What a great relaxed day, mixing hiking and exploring ruins!1013-img_1588-salt-creek-cs4

Friday 14th October 2016 Coyotes heard again through the night under a bright moon. Today we simply turned around and headed back up the canyon, which was not going to be a hardship given how wonderful it all was yesterday!

We found a cliff dwelling site just to the south of our campsite around the first river meander which we nicknamed ‘cave ruins’. Here there were stone buildings spread along a ledge system nestled under huge overhangs in another superb position. One pictograph had a line of people holding hands in a stylistic way. Our main find was a granary sheltered in a cave with a glorious outlook and beautifully reflected red colours.


You could see finger prints in the mud/clay used as mortar in the stone……


After spending a while exploring around the ledges we moved on southward up Salt Creek – this time managing to stick to the trail!  The temperatures today were pleasantly cool with a high cloud to block the sun. We came across a bear skull along the way…..


Making it back to the trailhead by about 4.30pm we decided to spend the night camped near to the car with the tent perched on the cliff edge looking down into the canyons below.

With some energy to spare, we spent the evening hiking out about 2 miles to Cathedral Point for even better views across the crazy canyons and coloured slabs in this area. There are lots of potential hiking trips to be done here with Lavender and Horse Canyons and the mesa’s between looking particularly good.

Back at the car we had a lovely camp meal of Mexican rice, beans, salsa, tortilla and topped off with some Uinta Heiferweizen beer!

Saturday 15th October 2016 After driving back to the Needles visitor centre we went out on a day hike to the north end of Salt Creek on the ‘Peekaboo trail’.  It would have been nice to have thru hiked the length of Salt Creek but it would have involved some difficult logistics getting from one end back to our car so hence our separate hikes from either end of the canyon.

Peekaboo is a tremendous trail with much of the hiking on ‘slick rock’ slabs and panoramic views out to the rest of Canyonlands. There are some easy scrambling sections including a couple of ladders to cross short steep sections. We made it out to Salt Creek to visit another interesting pictograph panel of two ‘turtle shaped’ figures. We returned the same way but all in all it was a fantastic day out!


More photos here….

Canyonlands National Park- Horseshoe canyon

Tuesday 11th October 2016 We drove north from Escalante area over Boulder Mountain and out into the beautiful wild badlands past Hanksville on Highway 12 and 24 before heading off down the Hans Flat dirt road for something like 30 miles to the Horseshoe canyon trailhead. The drive was enjoyable with vast open vistas across the high desert plateau and a big bruised cloudy sky.

We had read that Horseshoe canyon has some of the best pictograph rock art in the desert south west so were keen to see it in real life. The trailhead that we used sat on the west side of the deep canyon and we descended easily on a well worn old mining trail to the canyon floor. It looked like a hot sort of place but we were lucky with cool weather under a threatening cloudy sky.


Walking along the easy dry canyon floor, we saw four different pictograph panels, with best at the end, the iconic ‘Great Gallery’. The art includes many figures around 7 feet tall in what is known as the ‘Barrier style’ – named after this canyon which used to be known as Barrier. You can read more from the national park webpages here.

With little known about the people that drew the figures, or even when they were drawn, we were left to imagine what the artworks were meant to depict. But they were definitely impressive to see!  Brian below one of the smaller panels for scale…


Close up…….


There were some cool huge alcoves along the canyon….


The Great Gallery….


There were a few drawings of what looked like domestic dogs with the figures…we particularly liked this one….


Probably the most famous figure is this one often referred to as the ‘Holy Ghost’……


Some beautiful autumnal cottonwood trees on the way out…..


And even the toilet block at the trailhead had it’s own ‘rock art’….!