Yup, you guessed it. I'm back in GSENM again, covering more territory for the curious and those awaiting their turn to visit. You can't really blame me - it's an easy three hour drive from where I live, and I LIKE the area. This time out I decided to run Cottonwood Canyon, Skutumpah, and Hell's Backbone roads. As there are lots of pics I'll break it up into 3 reports.
As usual I stopped in to visit the folks at the Big Water BLM office to check on road conditions, something I strongly encourage all travelers to GSENM to do, especially in the summer. As it was heavy rain over the Fourth of July had rendered most of the Monument roads impassable, and no one had reported in as to whether conditions had improved. As it had dried out and warmed up in the 2 days since I figured I'd give it a try - the worst that could happen would be I'd get turned around by a washout or muddy clay, and I was prepared to live with that.
Cottonwood Canyon is a north/south 47 mile long dirt road that connects Highway 89 to Highway 12. For the first few miles it parallels the Paria river and then follows the Cockscombs along a major fault line that provides a relatively easy passage through jumbled and broken terrain.
Like Smoky Mountain Road farther east, Cottonwood Canyon road begins in the 600 foot thick sediments of an ancient ocean, where silt and clay lie waiting for water to create the perfect trap for the unwary.
The soil here is very high in minerals toxic to most plants, and the landscape is barren and sterile except for the hardiest of plants.
As recently as 2 years ago the road was usually passable (weather permitting) to carefully driven passenger cars, but a long running feud between Kane County and the Federal government over who controls road access in GSENM resulted in the county suspending all maintenance work on Monument roads. As a consequence conditions have deteriorated to the point where only high clearance vehicles will be able to make the trip, and it's likely to get worse. Of the three roads I traveled on this outing Cottonwood Canyon was in the worst shape, and future flash flooding will only increase the damage.
Today the Paria River is a trickle through a wide and sandy bottom - evidence of how much water sometimes flows through the channel.
The Cockscomb is visible as tilted slabs of sedimentary rock that emerge like giant serrations along the fault.
As I've pointed out in previous posts about southern Utah, summertime is hot - but hey, it's a dry heat. I think it was in the mid - to upper 90's during the day. This Fremont Cottonwood provided a nice shady lunch spot. Just a side note - cottonwoods are water loving trees, and they cannot survive without a continuous source of water. Stranded travelers in the desert should know that wherever these trees grow, water must be near even if it is not apparent at the surface.
The road is not technical, and as I mentioned it used to be negotiable for darned near everyone - but it does have few fun steeps!
Here we've left the river behind and are now in what I like to think of as "Candyland". The alternating stripes of red and white remind me of peppermint sticks.
Aside from Grosvenor Arch this is the most photographed section - it's not quite mile long but it has the coolest formations and colors.
The road eventually climbs out the canyon into Butler Valley, and Powell Point can be seen looming in the distance. With the increase in elevation the vegetation now consists of pinon and juniper trees scattered about in a predominantly sagebrush setting - a very typical southern Utah environment.
A trip down Cottonwood Canyon road would be wasted without a visit to Grosvenor Arch. This very cool and beautiful double arch is easily reached by a 1 mile detour off the main road.
Another beautiful formation in close proximity to the arch.
The road continues north through open country where the occasional mesa breaks the skyline in stark relief.
This pastoral valley comes into view as the road makes its final descent towards Cannonville.
This section illustrates a common occurrence in the upper stretch of the road - washouts that nearly cut the road in two. There are many drainages and washes that traverse the road bed, and constant vigilance is required to see them BEFORE you break an axle at high speed (of course the fastest I ever got going was a mind bending 25 mph)
The road becomes paved at the turnoff to Kodachrome Basin State Park, and the rest is simply continue to enjoy the scenery. Here the road comes into Cannonville on the north end below Powell Point. Highway 12 is just up ahead, and there's more to come!
speaking of Kodachrome, did you hear it's no longer made? The last box was given to a National Geographic photographer.
I did indeed - while real film photography has become a passion for a few devoted practitioners, I won't miss it. All I can think of was how much money I spent on film developing, and how few of those pictures were ever worth a thing.... Digital cameras rule!
If you keep posting up these type of trip reports, I'm not responsible for my actions of selling my house, kids, wife, horses, cats, then quit work so I can find the time to make it out west and enjoy some of these roads.
Wonderful as usual.
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