Day 1: Driving to Blanding, Utah
•I spent the day on the road. I stopped and shot lots of fun stuff, but I didn’t do any hiking, since my plan was to drive straight through to Blanding, Utah, which took about 15 hours.
Day 2: Blanding to the San Rafael Swell
•Monday morning I left Blanding before sunrise and headed west on the beautiful state highway 95, which cuts through Cedar Mesa, the Robbers Roost, the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, and the San Rafael Desert, all wonderful places. I stopped first at White Canyon, a deep gorge parallel to UT95, which is a notable canyoneering canyon. I am not a canyoneer, but I wanted to know what my uutah.com friends were talking about, so I decided to hike down a piece of it and see. The canyon is deep and wild, curving and meandering. It’s about 600 feet deep, but I only descended about half of that, since I was alone and was not prepared to negotiate any of the serious obstacles that a seasoned canyoneer might.
•I made some passable images, then hiked out and hit the road. My next stop was the San Rafael Swell, a desolate and wild area in central Utah that appeals to those like me who crave solitude and adventure. I hiked my two original target trails, Ding Canyon and Dang Canyon. They can be done as a loop, but I found obstacles that I was not comfortable attacking while hiking alone, so I only went some of the way up both canyons. Dang also included wet crossings, and I don’t care for the water. Still, the areas I saw were spectacular.
•By late afternoon I was looking for a sunset opportunity, so I made my way over to the nearby Goblin Valley State Park. I hiked a couple of their short trails to kill time, and was in the main valley for the last light.
Day 3: San Rafael Swell and Canyonlands
•Up before the sun, I drove from Green River, Utah, to the San Rafael Swell, making some nice sunrise images on the way
•My first trail was Wild Horse Canyon, an expansive, beautiful and lonely canyon cutting through the eastern edge of the Swell in a formation called the San Rafael Reef. The trail follows the Wild Horse Creek bed until it opens at the bottom of the reef. It features two sets of fairly picturesque narrows, and if one is inclined to do a little off-trail navigation across open slickrock, a large natural arch called “Wild Horse Window.” Marklar count: 0.
•After my hike at Wild Horse, I was starting to get frustrated by the lack of suitable trail markers or road signs. The area was originally developed by uranium mining, and is now administered by the Bureau of Land Management. In the back of my mind, I kept hearing the call: Canyonlands. This national park might be my favorite place on earth, and by afternoon, I was there. A friendly park ranger suggested the Lathrop trail, which leads through an open pasture to the the rim of the Island in the Sky district, then descends to the Colorado River. I only had a couple of hours of daylight, so I hiked as far as the rim, then returned, for a total of about five miles.
Day 4: Island in the Sky
•It was a big day on the trails in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonland
•In the morning, Neck Spring Trail, a 5.8-mile loop with a lot of variety: woodlands, open slickrock, two active springs, and a steep climb. Marklar count: 0.
Prior to the hike, two guys from New Mexico took my picture, and told me that the best way to do White Sands (New Mexico) is on a summer night with a full moon and a watermelon. It sounded pretty cool.
•At midday, a friendly ranger named Kass gave a nice 15-minute program about the origins of Canyonlands. While we were waiting for Kass before the program, a nice Australian woman named Jo mistook me for the ranger, undoubtedly due to my rugged attire. I was very flattered. She and her friendly husband Graham, from Melbourne, came to the states, bought an RV, and are spending 18 months touring the country. I told them that they are living a fantasy that Abby and I dream of often. As the afternoon wore on, I made my way down the Grand View Overlook trail, which heads west across a mesa, leading to an overlook of the White Rim and, if you look hard enough in the distance, the Maze District. I dream of one day buying or renting a Jeep and visiting the Maze, which is regarded as among the most remote areas in the lower 48.
•I watched the sun go down at Grand View Point, which is always a spiritual experience for me. I sat in silence for 45 minutes or more and took in the quiet and the grandeur.
•As I was leaving the park, the thought crossed my mind that I might catch some last light on Mesa Arch, so when I got to the trailhead, I bounded out and practically ran the quarter-mile trail.
I got there in time for a couple of really nice images with gold light hitting the features in the background, and mellow blueish-purple light on the arch itself. Those who photograph this signature piece of the Island know that it is mostly photographed in the morning, so it was nice to get some unusual light on it.
•After that I was driving near the Neck when the sky absolutely caught fire with sunset light, and I stopped and shot it. It was an excellent way to end the day.
Day 5: Moab Rim, then Driving East via Canyon de Chelly
•I woke up in Moab wondering what to hike. I felt certain that if I just drove around for a bit, I’d find something, and before long I proved myself right. I ran into a friendly couple who were hiking up the Moab Rim Jeep Road, and they highly recommended it. It starts at the Kane Creek road behind the cliffs you see when you come into Moab from the south, ascending 1000 feet in 1.1 miles to a nice overlook of the whole Spanish Valley, including the City of Moab. This Jeep road continues on for some miles into the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Study Area.
•On my way back down, I ran into a nice girl hiking with her three friendly dogs. I also encountered two Jeeps and a pickup making their way up the road, which the sign at the trail head cautioned was a “4+”, meaning most difficult. By the time I got to the Jeepers, they were attempting to ascend one of the difficult obstacles, and not soon after that one of them gave up and parked his vehicle.
•By mid-morning I was on the road again, and I stopped and shot several really nice desert and badlands scene
•By the middle of the afternoon I was at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, where I drove to the Antelope House Overlook, which I had never seen despite visiting the canyon many times, including on our honeymoon. I met three nice ladies from Virginia, who asked me to take their picture and then took mine. I gave them a richardbarron.net web site card, and one of them told me, “You live in the crossword puzzle clue city!” (Ada)
As are all our trips to the desert, this Utah adventure was wonderful. Here are a couple of points…
•The hiking was excellent. November is a superb month for trips like this, since it is cool, usually clear with good sunsets, and the “Marklars” (tourists) are at home instead of cluttering the trails.
•As much as I admire the San Rafael Swell, I am increasingly frustrated by the lack of signage, the indefinite and often misleading network of trails, and the rough, unmarked roads.
•I missed my wife. I take a couple of trips alone each year because Abby isn’t up for the kinds of demanding wilderness hiking that I love. I think about Abby with every step on every trail, though. I want to introduce her to Canyonlands soon.
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