Well, I had to use my favorite software this time, to find a place not visited by others in trip reports. That's right...I used Whazoogle Earth. And for a small donation you can use it too.
So I decided on the San Whazoo Swell in Utah and invited my two friends Cal aka cewillis and Seldomseensmith, a mano e mano e mano kind of trip. Seldom had to pass though, something about having to work the ski season. Personally I thought his reason was snow good. Huh? I didn't get it either.
My first order of business was to drive to Colorado and pick up my camper which was being retro-fitted with a power roof system, among other things, by Outfitter. I'm going to say it now, those boys are fantastic and I can't thank them enough. The innovations just keep coming and having a remote control power-roof lift now is like the difference between spam and prime rib. I like spam, yes I do, but love prime rib. The crank system was fine but WOW, I can now sit in my truck and raise the roof. Pun intended...as always. I had briefly mentioned some other concerns months before and all were taken care of. The camper had even been freshly washed. What a life-style these gentlemen have dished up for people like me.
To get from Longmont Colorado to the San Whazoo Swell I would have to drive I-70 through the Rockies. The last time I made the drive it was a white knuckle ride during a near white-out and wouldn't you just know, this time was no different. And within a couple of hours my fresh camper was again, black. The east bound I-70 had the Sunday afternoon crowd trying to get back to Denver. Good thing I can drive with my knees and take pictures at the same time.
My goal was to get to the Swell Sunday night to meet up with Cal at Whazgoblin Valley but leaving Longmont about 3pm didn't give me much time. After making it past the weather I was pleasantly surprised to see clear sky. So I pumped up the dilithium crystals and put her in warp speed, making it to Green River Utah by 9pm. If you were on I-70 that Sunday night and something went by in a blur, that be me, sorries. It was 6 degrees while fueling up in Green River and I took a frozen second to use the anti-freeze window washing liquid with squeegee to try and wash off the back of the camper. I at least wanted my Outfitter logo to show. You'll see it didn't work well. I pulled into the valley late, REMOTELY raised my roof, and cranked up both heaters.
Morning in Whazgoblin Valley gave my first view of Cal's camper. It looked remotely similar to another camper I've seen but I couldn't quite place it.
And then there was my beautiful steed, rode hard and put up wet, but still not wanting to head for the barn.
Even as Cal explored the Whazgoblin Vally CG I was still uncertain where I had seen that camper before.
Then it dawned on me, well it WAS early morning, his truck looked a bit like mine!
So look, I'll take a second to apologize up front here for all the camper shots. It was hard for us two frozen popsicles to be in the mood for posing very much. Something about having to set up a tripod and all is sometimes just too much work.
Having said that, here is a picture of our two trucks, mine being the dirty dude. Does it show where I tried to wash?
First order of the day is a short walk through the Whazgoblins. You might want to give the second picture a minute to load. Or not...
Gratuitous truck shot number 1.
As we leave the campground, which is nice yet empty this time of year, the scenery is really starting to show.
Cal's truck is the clean rig on this trip. I don't know for sure but I'm thinking he found a car wash in Hanksville!
My main reason for going to the Swell was to revisit some slot canyons last seen 9 years ago, when the joints and muscles could move a little more freely and Celebrex was not part of my vocabulary. The fact that there was snow would add to the beauty and difficulty of the hikes. I'll apologize again, for the repetition of the pictures but the beauty was breath taking. Or was it the cold?
This first slot is called Little Wild Whazoo, though there was not one to be seen. Just this old mild Whazoo trudging around.
Is it just me or does Cal seem to be walking through the rib cage of a whale??
There may be a face or two in this picture, and then again maybe 3.
I'm not sure, but I think Cal has finally found the way out. By the way, nice garb you have there Cal. I've asked before and will again, where did garb come from? I know garb backwards spells brag, though I was never one to brag about my garb.
The slot seems to be turning into Slimfast Pass as we walk. I tell Cal stories of other slots, where your nose is touching one wall and the back of your head another and you have to take off your coat to push through. He shudders, or was it the cold?
We finally decided to retrace our steps and leave Little Wild Whazoo Canyon and look for some place to boondock as $16 per night at the campground would soon eat up my allowance.
We camp at the trailhead to a canyon loop hike and that night Cal treats me to a fantastic HOMEMADE PIZZA! Now this is camping in my book and his pizza makes my Dinty Moore
look like, well like canned stew. I am happy to have met Cal, cheers to you too my friend...
Morning is looking good as the high clouds add to natures ostentatious display and my NDD is starting to ebb. NDD? Oh that's just my Nature Deficiency Disorder, something most of us have to some degree. Mine is extreme.
Cal and I are going up Ding Canyon all the way through the San Whazoo Reef, hitting an old jeep road on the other side, south to the top of Dang Canyon and back to the trucks. I hope the old body can still do it.
I think it was here as Cal climbed this rock that I asked if his wife had ever done anything like this. Cal's response was that he had never done anything like this, I shudder. Or was it the cold.
Here is where we start down Dang Canyon. I always liked those names, Ding and Dang darn it.
At some point we come upon an anomaly, a small dead branch holding up a huge boulder for us to pass under. How does it do that?
By now I'm feeling good as Cal has turned out to be an excellent climber, shown here as he makes a 10 foot dry fall look easy. Are those your shoulder blades I hear crunching there Cal?
Moving down canyon we come to a fairly large pour off and find a rock climber sitting there. He had tossed his pack down the fall and then decided he couldn't make the climb. Serious mistake but fortunately Cal and I showed how to stem and Boy Scout the straight drop down. Some of these guys get too used to their ropes I think. It was funny to know his name was Cal also. I called them the Calboys. Again coming to a drop-off into a small but knee deep pool of frigid water it seemed I would have to throw the 2 Cals in to use as stepping stones. Not! It was here I gave Cal his nick name...Spider Man!
Exiting the canyons it was early afternoon and time to look for more boondocking as there were other canyons we hoped to see. At this point I am no longer worried about Cal's abilities as he has shown himself to be a natural climber. You sure you haven't done this before Cal?
The snow has started to melt on the hills and we think the storm will miss us. Little did we know...
Cal has headed out to the highway to search for a cell signal to let his wife know that he and Whazoo are still alive and Swell. In the meantime I am heading on up Temple Mountain Road to scout out a secret area to camp. As I take a side road I was more than a little surprised to see a pictograph. Those Anasazi had campers too!
Driving on up the road to find the "secret spot" the road is a layer of snow over ice and it's very slow going so as not to slide. I hate slippage. Reaching the "spot" I'm ecstatic with the view and just know this will be the best night of the trip.
And if my geospatialneural positioning is correct, I call it dead reckoning, those are the Henry Mountains. If you look up goespatialneural positioning in Whazoopedia it will say "Ask Whazoo". Also, where does "dead reckoning " come from. Personally I don't reckon the dead reckon you reckon?
Temple Mountain is beautiful yet subdued under an umbrella of clouds.
More gratuitous truck shots to follow...
Ah yes, there's that wonderful wash job.
I'm thinking it's too cold for a fire tonight, but the thought warms me up as I look at the cold fire pit.
The truck is in this picture but blends in, the way I like it.
Standing on top of the hill I get a call from Cal on the 2 way radio. A message that he has become stuck due to...slippage. So down that road I drove.
Well stuck he was and with night coming on there wasn't much we could do other than a few tries with the tow strap. Unfortunately he was very stuck and I could not pull him out.
So I went on back up the hill to spend the night while Cal wanted to stay with his camper. I understood as I would have felt the same, so that night I had Dinty Moore.
Due to my mountain man persona I wake up at 1am to the sound of snow being driven into the side of the camper. Ok, would you believe nature called? A quick porch light showed sideways snow that had covered all tracks and dirt. Wish I had taken a picture but the race to break camp and pick up Cal was on. 1:30am I pulled up to Cal's camper and loaded him up. Down we went to the Whazgoblin Valley Ranger Station for a few hours sleep before looking for a tow. Luckily the night before I had used OnStar to call my wife in Phoenix. She used the internet and called around to find a 4-wheel drive tow truck, there was only one in a hundred mile radius. And he could be there around 11am, good news. In the meantime the fog had taken over as the snow stopped falling, the storm had not missed us after all.
Back to Temple Mountain Road to wait for the tow truck...and take pictures.
The fog eventually began to lift and added to the scenery.
Driving back up the road behind the tow truck I get a new view of Temple Mountain, and it is divine.
Here are a couple of pictures I took and will use with Cal's permission. Like I said, slippage had occurred.
It took awhile to get Cal's camper to part ways with the rock wall but the tow truck driver was experienced and a small amount of damaged was the result. Compared to what we expected it was a pleasant surprise.
So while Cal showed his extreme pleasure to the tow truck driver by way of Visa or Mastercard I drove off by myself to explore, promising Cal to show up at the campground for diner. I mean Cal has offered steak marinated in special sauce for tonight! Dinty Moore, you're outta here.
As I drive I am feeling reflective. There are always lessons to be learned in the outback, and that slippage is a factor in life. Right now many of us are slipping, and praying for that tow. As I am next to Temple Mountain, I'm in a good spot to pray.
Here are more pictures of the area on the south side of Temple Mountain.
Home, be it ever so rubble, I mean humble.
Do you like what I've done with the place? I've added a very large sky light.
Later in the day the snow is already leaving Temple Mountain, giving much needed nourishment to the plants and animals of the area.
The truck is over there somewhere, blending in.
Returning to the truck I see Mr. Snowzooman is visiting, and has gotten into my donuts...
which he finished with a smile. ( really? a donut eating snowman?)
Well I can't seem to stop taking pictures of snow. I think it reminds me of sugar, which I love.
This picture especially reminded me of a sugar coated bear claw, so I had a donut.
Heading back to meet Cal I drive through an area of unbroken sugar.
As I drive I pinch myself, very lightly, to be here at such a time. THIS is what I bought my camper for. And at this point feel very comfortable 4-wheeling in it. No, it's not the serious wheeling I have plans for, but feel comfortable in a variety of conditions now. And you know that mud, like snow only takes a small amount to take you to the ditch.
I don't know here, I was thinking Yacky Doodle in the middle and Lucy from Peanuts on the right. Just can't quite figure the character on the left though. I'll use my shout out here for some help please.
Back for some quick shots of Whazgoblin Valley, I spy with my little eye another face.
Many Whazgoblins seem to be milling about. It must be break time.
Not wanting to miss that steak dinner I head over to meet up with Cal. And just as promised it was more than delicious, washed down with fine red wine. Feeling a bit stewed as I have now officially been ruined for Dinty Moore, I plan to take cooking classes at some point. I never knew you could eat so well camping. And to think I feel good about myself when I make the supreme effort to make spaghetti. Home Ec here I come.
Morning has us wanting to head back towards home camping along the way but the news of weather is not good, with a very large storm dropping by sometime that day. I decide to head into the storm and try camping at 2 other secret spots on the way home. Cal figures to drive around the storm by going back up to I-70 and over to I-15 and down as he works back over to Tucson.
I am heading for a favorite area for views but there is 4 wheeling involved and I'm not sure exactly what to do yet. So I drive on and take more pictures. These are the Henry Mountains from the east side.
During the drive I stop to talk with a friend.
The conversation seems a bit one-sided and he leaves when I invite him over for a barbecue. I do believe he MOOned me as he left.
Heading up the dirt road to that secret spot I discover that because of rising temperatures, the snow had turned the dirt to...mud. There would be at least 10 miles of it one way so I decide then and there to turn around, not wanting to possibly have to walk out and find my own tow truck. Thank God for rocks to turn around on.
Back on pavement I'm still hoping to camp somewhere, and continue the drive towards Lake Powell and the bridge over the Whazarado River.
The upper end of Lake Powell at Hite was in better shape for ice skating than water skiing
and I was not in the mood for either, so I took a picture.
Driving east on Hwy 95 takes me past Jacobs Chair. He was not there, vacationing in the Bahamas I heard.
Looking back along White Canyon, unseen just at the moment, the views are great as I have them all to my self.
In fact I've not seen a single auto since leaving Hanksville and looking ahead there seems to be a Great White Nothing looming to swallow the countryside. I find it exciting and it makes me shiver. Or was it the cold?
After driving for what seemed forever in the twilight zone I see through the white haze a row of blinking lights. A phalanx of 3 snowplows are coming towards me clearing the whole highway in one swoop. I'm a bit disappointed since being the one and only set of tracks was like a badge I wore proudly. In fact as I drive I'm able to stop and take pictures indiscriminately with no one to notice but wind and snow.
I tried to drive down the road to Cedar Mesa, Muley Point and the Moki Dugway but the road had not been plowed and the snow was too deep. It seems I am being funneled on home by this storm as my favorite places are inaccessible.
The cut at Comb Ridge looms out of ground like the jaws of a giant underground creature trying to cut the highway in half, but not before I take a picture and drive on by. You don't see it? Try squinting. Still no? Well, you had to be there.
Just around Butler Wash I see a couple out horsing around in the snow. As I drive by they yelled hay to me.
Turning right on Hwy 191 at Blanding I am heading for Monument Valley and hoping for at least a campground. But the Great White Nothing had swallowed Monument Valley and the Indian Reservation except for a few sights I had to stop for...and salute.
And buy some decoder rings...
Stopping in Kayenta Arizona for fuel I am on the Navajo Reservation. The poor dogs hang around the store looking for handouts in terrible weather. This is where we picked up our beloved dog Bear 9 years ago when he was a sick, unhealthy 6 month old puppy. We feel for these animals as most are friendly and humble, like the people themselves, and don't have the resources to live in luxury of any kind. In fact as I drive, I see some Native Americans still trying to hitch a ride towards town. I also saw a family trying to dig out their car, buried up to the doors in snow as they tried to get to their house.
Finally making it to Flagstaff the weather has gotten worse.
I see the digital sign announcing that I-17 to Phoenix is shut down and immediately call information for my friend Seldomseensmith's number as he is a loco, I mean local. The operator could not find a number for Seldomseensmith and thought I was a little nuts to ask. I was thinking to take him to dinner before getting a motel. Wait, that doesn't sound right. What I was trying to say was...I would be getting a motel because I couldn't get home, and thought dinner with a friend would be a good thing. You folks are a tough crowd tonight, now let me finish.
While looking for a motel room I could see some truckers getting on the freeway. Knowing they have radios I figured they knew something I didn't, and so I did a u-turn and jumped on behind them. It was the twilight zone all over as we were alone in a small bunch going down the freeway. Listening to NAU Radio, Northern Arizona University's station, the freeway was opened and closed again right away, letting only a handful of drivers on. About this time my daughter called worried about me and to inform me that a tornado watch had been issued for the area. What the heck?! Let me tell you the drive from Flagstaff to Phoenix was the worst driving I've ever done and exactly like driving in a hurricane. Or the washer with a full load. Wipers could not clear the windshield and hands could barely keep me on the road. Other drivers were scarce and only a blur through the solid sheet of water on the windshield.
Pulling in to my own driveway after a 14 hour drive through more weather than I'd ever seen in one day was more of a relief than words can describe. And as my wonderful wife gave me a hug I trembled from stress...or was it the cold?
Thanks for reading,
Post Script: While Cal and I only covered a small pinch of the Swell, it was enough to feel as if I spent a week there one day. As I said, the scenery was surreal and the company most fantastic. I was very happy with Cal to not only take on canyoneering but to do it under winter conditions. This gentleman had no idea what he was getting in to yet did not complain and passed all tests with flying colors. I can now add another to Whazoo's Periodic Table of Friendly Elements. Thanks Cal, it was a Swell trip.
Whazoo, I had a nightmare awhile about you posting a bad trip report on here. I woke up in a cold sweat, ran to the laptop to see if it could possibly be true. Well thankfully it was only a dream. Thanks for posting another one. Gary
Looking at Whazoogle Earth, I swear that I saw my reflection
I haven't read the whole Report yet; I'm treating it like a mini novel/travel narrative. I want to draw it out over a few days (like, a week) to get me/us over the -42F temperatures (with wind-chill) that have landed on us recently
Beautiful trip Dave,
You are so spoiled.
I enjoyed spending a good amount of time admiring your pictures.
Glad Cal was ok but sorry about the camper in the ditch.
Hope your camper upgrades are all you hoped for.
Take care, Jeff
Hey there Gary,
Thanks for your great reply, I have the same dream every time I post...only trouble is, my dreams comes true! Hope things are well in Ohio!
There you are Camper Jeff,
How are you doing up there in the Great Northwest these days? Depending on whether my wife is in school again or not, we're still hoping to come back to your area this summer and have a pow wow. And yes, you are sooo right, I am spoiled! Take care Jeff.
Aw, I would surely not draw it out, that sounds too much like torture to me. -42??? That also sounds like torture. Hope you and Silverdunes make it through warmly. I was thinking of you and your picture when I clicked that passing shot in Flagstaff of the frozen trees, though they weren't quite as frozen as yours. Cheers to you!
I'm glad to see you here and hoping you and your family are well. Best wishes to you and yours!!
Hi Ya Brad,
Thanks for your reply and cool it was, though not on the level others have had to endure this year in other parts of the country. At least ours is here today and gone tomorrow. By the way, I like your signature picture. Very cool.
I always hope the pictures are better than the story, though I'm still trying to figure out all those buttons on the camera. The story is always a little dicey from where I sit, but it's all in fun. Thanks for your reply and I hope you have a great day.
Thanks for sharing those incredible photos and a trip through that beautiful land in the winter. Sure looked different in June when we passed through. The colors in the rocks are amazing. You are a travel writer in real life right?