US South West

We have visited an area in the south west of the United States called the ‘Colorado Plateau‘ a number of times now. The plateau covers the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and southern Utah. It is characterised by high desert, deep canyons, steep rock cliffs, forests and vivid colours. For us the attraction is in the vast wild countryside that provides endless adventures for backpacking, exploring, hiking, scrambling as well as paddling and rock climbing. There are many signs of prehistoric cultures too: Ancestral Puebloan, including the ‘Anasazi,’ Sinagua, Fremont, and Cohonina. And thankfully much of the area is public lands such as National Parks, National Monuments and Wilderness Areas (although under some threat from the current Trump administration).

Listed below are our outdoor adventures- many with links to blog posts.

Autumn 2019

We visited California in Autumn 2019 and took a 10 day break to hike in southern Utah again from September 14th. We stayed in the Escalante catchment for another two excellent 4 day hikes covering some new territory for us.

Escalante – Bobsway and Stevens Arch

Escalante- The Gulch and Boulder Creek

Autumn 2018

We returned to southern Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona in October 2018 for more backpacking in this wonderful area.

Buckskin Gulch slickrock

Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks

Escalante – Bighorn Canyon, Harris Wash and the ‘Cosmic Navel’

Capital Reef NP – Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek

Zion – Canaan Mountain traverse

Escalante – Scorpion Gulch

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

Video summary of our 2018 hikes ( 9 minutes)

Autumn 2017

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.

Canaan Mountain and White Domes loop north of Hildale

Escalante – Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante-Brigham Tea Bench-Boulder

Capital Reef NP – Upper Muley Twist and the rim route

Grand Gulch area – East Slickhorn-San Juan-Slickhorn canyon loop

Dark and Youngs Canyons

Hackberry Canyon-Yellow Rock-Paria canyon

Video summary of our 2017 hikes (10 minutes)

Autumn 2016

Back to the desert and canyons of southern Utah and northern Arizona in September/ October 2016. Two years ago we hiked and kayaked our own version of the Hayduke Trail. Having enjoyed it so much we returned this year with a rental car to hike to some other canyons and interesting places. Whilst we wouldn’t get the full immersion of a multi month hike such as the Hayduke, we were aiming to target some of the most spectacular places in the region with some trips ranging from  1 to 5 days.

Paria river backpack I

Paria river backpack II

Escalante – Death Hollow, Bowington and Boulder Mail trails

Escalante – Silver Falls, Harris, Escalante, Neon and Choprock canyons I

Escalante – Silver Falls, Harris, Escalante, Neon and Choprock canyons II

Escalante – Peekaboo, Spooky and Brimstone slot canyons day trip

Canyonlands National Park- Horseshoe canyon

Canyonlands National Park- Salt Creek backpack

Escalante – Farewell- Wolverine and Little Death Hollow canyons

Video summary from our 2016 hikes (6 minutes)

Spring 2014

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The Hayduke Trail is a 800 mile hike and scramble through the canyons of the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah and northern Arizona USA. Read about our trip on this wonderful route here…Hayduke hike

2009

We had 6 months in the USA in 2009 to mainly hike the wonderful Continental Divide Trail. We also managed a few short trips to the desert south west before after the CDT though…

Grand Junction CO – Colorado National Monument

Montrose CO – Dominguez canyon

Mesa Verda National Park CO

Montrose CO – Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Montrose CO – Dolores Canyon

New Mexico – Chaco Canyon

Arizona – Monument Valley

Canyonlands NP – Needles hikes

Moab UT – Slickrock trails mountain bike

Canyonlands NP – Islands in the Sky

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Chaco Canyon

2004

Our first visit to southern Utah and it was a bit of a revelation to us contrasting with the green and wet Scottish scenery. We did a number of hikes, scrambles and rock climbs…

Grand junction CO – Colorado National Monument

Moab- Kane Valley rock climbs

Moab – Negro Bill canyon

Arches NP – Off Balance Rock rock climb

Arches NP – Owl Rock rock climb

San Rafeal Reef

Goblin SP – Wildhorse Canyon – Crack Canyon

Capital Reef NP – Fern’s Nipple

Capital Reef NP – Sulphur Creek, Cassiday Arch

Capital Reef NP -Burro canyon, Rim Overlook trail

Escalante – Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls

Escalante – Coyote Gulch and Stevens Canyon

Escalante – Spooky and Peekaboo Gulches

Grand Gulch loop hike

Canyonlands NP – South Six Shooter rock climb

Canyonlands NP -Needles

Moab – Slickrock mountain bike

Moab – Fisher Towers, Ancient Art rock climb

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Ancient Art Fisher Towers

Moab – Castleton Tower rock climb

Grand Junction – Independance Monument rock climb

Telluride – Lizard Head peak

Pecos Wilderness

On to the Southern end of the Sangre De Christo range: above Santa Fe loom the Pecos mountains. Best wildlife encounter of the trip so far. We saw herds of elk cows with calves, bighorn ewes and rams, marmots, pika, eagles and of course ravens. 35 miles and 5000 feet ascent, a high camp below a melting snow patch which provided water just under the ridge at 12500 feet. The alpine flora is about to swing into full spring mode. Simply lovely!
Found marine fossils on the ridge and met a family with pack-lamas…
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Sangre de Cristo mountains backpack

The main Rockies mountains have a LOT of snow this June so we visited another range in the south east of Colorado with a little less snow for a 4 day backpack. It turned out to be a beautiful trip in a wild area where we crossed 5 high passes up to 4000m with some snow and ferocious winds to add some excitement!

Saw bear tracks, bald eagles, herds of elk with their young, marmots, plenty of beaver signs (see pic of gnawed aspen) and no people once away from the trailhead.

Northern New Mexico photos

Following on from the previous update here are a random set of photos of Northern New Mexico……

Approaching the Chama River and Ghost Ranch in pink rock sedimentary mesa with sagebrush below.

A close up of what we think is the delightfully termed skunk cabbage. Anyway they are nice plants and grow in wet meadows so are a good water indicator for us!

Martina camped in a stand of aspen at 9,500 feet in the morning sun.

We are in rolling hill country here in northern New Mexico at about 10,300ft and beginning to see more snow.

We meet up again with Ted and Richard after we all took different routes through the forest. An opportunity to dry everything out again before the rains start in the afternoon. Our walking is typically on old disused jeep roads as seen here.

Colorado border at last- now to camp before the thunderstorms hail on us again!

Good Bye New Mexico, Hello Colorado !

Ghost Ranch and its beautiful sandstone cliffs was our last look at the desert. Since then, we have been in cool green aspen, pine and spruce forest and rolling alpine meadows. Depending on altitude, spring is only just beginning to think about springing ! Some meadows are already busy with blue iris, yellow lilies, purple lupins, red columbines and indigo delphiniums – as well as the less exotic (to the European eye) dandelion. A few hundred feet higher, the snow has only just gone and the flowers are not out yet. The omnipresent lizards have been replaced by stripy chipmunks. Still lots of humming birds around though and lots of ravens (caw caw!)

It has been easy walking (with tricky navigations since there are many old and new trails up here). We are told that the weather we are having is unusal for this time of year: it has been thundering (sometimes for hours) and raining out of static clouds (no winds!) every day for a couple of weeks now. Above 10 000 feet (3300 m), the nights have been very cold indeed with lots of condensation and frost on the tent (inner!).

Two days ago in the afternoon, we crossed the state border into Colorado (with fellow hikers Ted and Richard, who joined up with us again in Ghost Rhanch). We made a celebratory fire at our campsite that night and Ted burnt his last New Mexico maps. We’ve come 650 miles (1080 km) since the border!

Chama, where we are now, is in New Mexico again – we had to hitch-hike from a pass on the road in Colorado back into New Mexico! Chama’s main attraction is a narrow gauge steam train and we are in a charming 1930’s hotel next to the “station” and can hear the train hooting! Lots of knick-knack shops, nice cafees and very friendly people!

The next section is appartently quite snowy. A few other hikers have already opted to walk on the road to the next resupply town rather than flogg trough the snows. Mary-Joy, our supporting trail-witch in Montrose,CO (I’m sure she’d rather be called that, than being called a “trail-angel”) has sent us ice axes and bigger boots as well as some extra clothes. So we are now in a position to go and have a look at how much snow there is. It’s only 65 miles to the next resupply town – there will be hot springs there! Great incentive to plod on!

Brian is away to try and find somewhere in Chama where he can download photos from the last section.

M

Photos from our New Mexico CDT hike are here

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Four sets of hiking shoes (and sandals) head north!

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Above Ghost Ranch

 

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Trying to get a GPS signal!

At Ghost Ranch New Mexico

A shortish 55 mile section from Cuba to Ghost Ranch New Mexico www.ghostranch.org

We had an extreme change from semi-desert in Cuba to a 3000ft climb into fir and spruce green mountains of the San Pedro Mountains. Our tent had its first coating of frost and ice camped up there at 10,300ft on a lovely meadow next to running water. Our next night was also next to a river in the Ojitos canyon before we followed the Chama river to Ghost Ranch.

The scenery here is dominated by pink, red and yellow sedimentary cliffs and its pretty cool. The artist Georgia O’Keeffe painted here for 50 years. No photos as the computer won’t let me download but next stop for us is the Colorado border, 84 miles away at Cumbres Pass. We then aim to hitch (or get the scenic train line) back to Chama NM to resuply with winter gear (boots and ice axes) ready for the snowy and high San Juan mountains of Colorado.

Hope the Scottish readers are enjoying the hot spring weather !

Brian Saturday 30th May

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Hiking out of Cuba NM

big panorama san pedro meadow
San Pedro’s, high parklands

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Cold frosty camp in the San Pedro’s

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Ghost Ranch NM

From Cuba NM……

We are now in Cuba New Mexico after 515 miles of walking from the Mexican border. We had a 500 mile sing song to a certain Proclaimer’s song whilst walking along a cliff top mesa yesterday. This last 100 miles has had some of the most varied terrain and weather of our trip so far. From wild wet wind and cloud over the Mt Taylor mountains to dry arroyo and mesa country later on. We have enjoyed the scenery particularly of the desert mesas with lots of cactus bloom, twisted juniper trees, slick rock sandstone and endless vistas. We saw a group of 3 jeeps pass us in the last 6 days, the rest of the time we were on our own. We have been accompanied by the yelping of coyotes each night and morning but have not managed to capture them on camera yet. The lizards and skulls have been more photogenic so far and we hope the photos below give a flavour

brian 27-05-09 Cuba NM (no relation to Fidal Castro’s Cuba !)……

From Grants New Mexico

415 miles Grants New Mexico.
Quick update from the Grants library. They have blocked the USB ports so I’m afraid no photos- boooh.
I (Brian) broke the camera a couple of days ago by falling on it in Sand Canyon. The shots are ok but the camera is knackered. Funny enough it survived an immersion in the Gila River a week previously . It wouldn’t work after a fall in the river but after a day strapped to the top of my rucksack it spluttered into action. The super-hot , dry weather has its uses! I have bitten the bullet and bought a replacement in WalMart, Grants.

Yesterday we crossed Route 66 which I liked- yes we got our kicks on Route 66!

We have been walking through a recent (1000 yo) lava zone called El Malpais. A nice varied stretch for us. Previous to that we walked through Pie Town- well, we walked 26 miles in a day into Pie Town driven on by the target of eating as much pie as possible. Unfortunately we made it there at 16:30, dry, dusty and hungry, only to see the ‘closed ‘ sign on the cafe – the PIE-O-NEER. We sat there on the wooden porch, heads in hands, wondering what to do next when Stan from the cafe opened the door, took pity on us, and let us in. Hoooorrraaah. We both had double pie and ice cream washed down with diet coke and coffee.

Today it rained in Grants. Thats a seriously significant event for them here and we are glad to see it. We might just see some more water out there on the hills. It looks like we might get more rain too.

We have about 230 miles more in New Mexico, in about 18 miles we will reach Mt Taylor at 11, 300ft our highest point yet.

Brian

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Pie Town NM

Just a quick note on Pie Town: it is really called that! There are about 10 houses in Pie Town and 2 Pie Shops and a post office (where we sent ourselves resupply food for the next 90 mile stretch). Some bloke moved out there in the 1930’s and started selling pie to passing tourists. He changed the name of the town to Pie Town (with resistance from the post office who considered it a silly and undignified name) and it became a famous place to stop and eat pie.

The current owners of the Pie-O-Neer have revived this fame and their pie is incredible – never seen a crust as fluffy as that! They have been subject of articles in many foody magazines and even been covered in a TV documentary on a US TV channel dedicated to food. There is another restaurant in town that also does breakfast and burgers as well as pies: the “Daily Pie”! We ate at both.

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In Pie Town a lovely woman called Nita has made her old house available to hikers (she and her family moved to another house in town) including shower, washing machine, kitchen and a lovely porch to sit on in the evening. We stayed there with Ted and Richard and also met Jim and his dog Slick who are long-time Divide travellers (on horseback though) and are currently looking after the place (Jim fixed the bathroom door while we were there).

Brian managed to stash some water a day up the trail with the help of Gordon and his van (Gordon was there to support another set of thru-hikers). We left Pie Town quite late (15:20), aiming to get to a ranch which has a tap in the garden for hikers to get water – 16 miles down the trail. Richard came with us and Ted decided to stay another day in Pie Town.

We hiked hard on dirt road and made it to the ranch just as the light began to seriously fade! Ranchers have guns. They have big yard dogs. They might not expect a bunch of dirty tramps (that’s us) walking up their drive in the dark … we were a bit nervous as we approached the big steel shed at the Thomas Mountain Ranch.

But as we timidly “hallo-ed”, a small door in the shed opened and a friendly man in his 70’s asked us in, overtaken by his even friendlier wife who immediately ordered us to put down our things, make ourselves at home, we would be sleeping in the shed tonight. The shed contained a whole household (kitchen, living room, dining room, big TV and huge fireplace with a roaring fire in it). Did we want some bread and butter pudding? John and Ainsi Thomas made us completely at home and were splendid company over dinner. The previous day had been their 58th wedding anniversary!

Suddenly there was a knock and a voice outside the door. Ted had changed his mind as he saw the three of us hike up the road and had come after us. So that night we slept in the shed and in the morning we got real coffee.

The kindness and hospitality of people here is quite incredible!
M