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 > And So It Continues - Elk Ridge and the Blues

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seldomseensmith

Flagstaff, AZ

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Posted: 09/25/09 11:48am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Elk Ridge and the Blues - sounds like a great name for a band.... In my post at the beginning of this trip, I mentioned there are places I've wanted to visit for years, areas which to date have remained a mystery. I finally decided that the time had come to put visual images to the contour lines on the map, and this leg of the journey does just that.

Located just north of Cedar Mesa is an area known as Dark Canyon. This region has intrigued me for quite some time, and while I could imagine the likely topography from trips around the perimeter of the area, I had no idea there was such an amazing diversity.

Here I find a soaring plateau that Dark Canyon and it's many tributary gorges spring from, formed at the knees of the Abajo (or as the locals call them Blue) Mountains.

Heavily forested canyons cut deep into the high bench, with steep walls that plunge 1400 feet to the bottom. Formations of white and pink sandstone emerge from the lush green canopy, all the more striking for the contrast between light rock and somber trees. On the north end broad basins studded with white and orange striped sandstone invite further exploration all the way into Canyonlands National Park.

Beginning after my departure from the edge of John's Canyon, I turn north once again on Utah 261 over Cedar Mesa. A very prominent landmark in the region is shown below - the Bear's Ears. The highway makes a beeline for these readily identifiable buttes, and soon enough I'll be close enough to reach out and touch them.

[image]

Highway 261 ends at Utah 95, and I turn west here towards Lake Powell. Within a few miles the turnoff to Natural Bridges National Monument appears heading north. Leaving the highway on this spur road I soon turn once again, this time leaving the pavement for good. I've reached southern end of Elk Ridge Road, one of the main arteries of the region as it climbs up and traverses the plateau ahead.

[image]

[image]

The area is part of the Manti-LaSal National Forest, and the road is reasonably well maintained, with the obligatory washboards. As the elevation increases, the vegetation changes from primarily juniper and sagebrush to a pinon pine and scrub oak forest.

[image]

[image]

Once you reach the mean elevation of the plateau, ponderosa pine, aspen, oak, and other Transition zone trees begin to dominate. During my visit, it was spike bull elk season - I saw a few hunters and zero elk (how do they know?), but plenty of other wildlife. These deer and gobblers were just a few of the animals kind enough to let me take their picture.

[image]

[image]

Suddenly through the trees to the east a break occurs, and I get my first look at one of many gorges sliced into the edge of the plateau - Arch Canyon.

[image]

Incidentally, there is an interesting Federal Court case ongoing right now regarding access to Arch Canyon. San Juan County has sued the National Forest for closing the canyon road to vehicles, using the RS2477 statute to claim historical ownership of the road. This case echoes several others in the Mountain West, and the subsequent court ruling could have long standing impacts to how roads are managed, maintained, and controlled on public land.

The forest alternates between stands of white barked aspen and pine. Here a grove of aspen lines the road in a green tunnel.

[image]

Before long, canyons and vistas begin popping up everywhere.

[image]

[image]

[image]

[image]

Not entirely sure of my destination I drive around the forest, taking in the sights and getting my bearings. There is a maze of roads leading to various fingers and points of the plateau, and eventually I wind up on Gooseberry Road, which leads east across the southern flanks of Blue Mountain. Fall is just getting started here, and the maples and oaks on the lower slopes are brilliantly red and orange - a rare sight for western eyes.

[image]

I find a likely spot for the night, and plan to spend the evening poring over the maps for tomorrow's adventure.

[image]

[image]

Before the last light of day fades from the sky, there's one more scenic wonder to take in - the sunset.

[image]

[image]

Tomorrow I'll get out for more exploration - There's lots more to see and do in Dark Canyon Primitive Area.

Happy Trails!


The Road Goes Ever On



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brirene

midwest

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Posted: 09/25/09 12:10pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great report! Wonderful pictures, and well written. I'm looking forward to more...Thanks for posting!


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Nemo667

Louisiana

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Posted: 09/25/09 01:23pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

...awesome sunset.


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weymard

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Posted: 09/25/09 02:02pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

great pictures ! thanks .


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routeforty

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Posted: 09/25/09 02:45pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

WOW!!


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mwallace61

Alabama

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Posted: 09/25/09 04:00pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing this...


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LabMan1945

North Central Maine - God's Country

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Posted: 09/25/09 04:33pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Seldom,
Is that a mass under the right eye on the one deer in the picture?
How do you get such nice sunset photos? I have tried all sorts of ways and have yet to come up with more than an occasional good one.
Thanks for sharing your trips. Perhaps in another couple years I will return to the SW and follow some of your trails.


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silversand

Montreal

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Posted: 09/25/09 05:00pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Readers:

The Dark Canyon region is the area of the US that most intrigues us more than any other location from Alaska to Mexico. Utah.com describes it as follows, "The Dark Canyon Primitive Area/Wilderness Area on BLM land, between the Abajo Mountains and the Colorado River, leads experienced hikers into the least explored narrow canyons of Utah." Others call it the least explored region of the Continental United States.

And believe me, it is extremely remote and rugged territory! I really envy Seldom Seen on this sector of his expedition!

Here is a map (the USGS quadrangle) of the sector encompassing route 95 to the takeoff road to Natural Bridges, with the red dashed line showing what I believe to be Seldom's early departure route into Dark Canyon:

[image]

Notice how unbelievably rugged just the take-off roads are!

Cheers,
Silver-


Silver
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seldomseensmith

Flagstaff, AZ

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Posted: 09/25/09 05:20pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

LabMan1945 wrote:

Seldom,
Is that a mass under the right eye on the one deer in the picture?
How do you get such nice sunset photos? I have tried all sorts of ways and have yet to come up with more than an occasional good one.
Thanks for sharing your trips. Perhaps in another couple years I will return to the SW and follow some of your trails.

I think there is a small tumor there - the shot was taken quickly before the deer "stotted" away, but my original size pic shows you're probably right.

Sunset photos for me are a matter of persistence, patience, and luck. I can't tell you how many chilly evenings I've sat outside waiting for what looks like will be a spectacular sunset only to get a dud. If things start to look like you hope they will, photos taken at regular intervals over the entire course of the sunset often yield one or two good shots. It is also my opinion that clouds are a necessity - clear skies yield so-so images under the best of conditions, so I won't waste my time.

silversand wrote:

The Dark Canyon region is the area of the US that most intrigues us more than any other location from Alaska to Mexico. Utah.com describes it as follows, "The Dark Canyon Primitive Area/Wilderness Area on BLM land, between the Abajo Mountains and the Colorado River, leads experienced hikers into the least explored narrow canyons of Utah." Others call it the least explored region of the Continental United States.

And believe me, it is extremely remote and rugged territory! I really envy Seldom Seen on this sector of his expedition!

Silver, before this trip I was merely intrigued by Dark Canyon and the surrounding region - now I am commmitted to going back the first chance I get to do more exploring - but don't spill the beans.... I'll reveal much more in the next installment [emoticon]

Matho

New Mexico Texas

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Posted: 09/25/09 10:23pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I just got back, and now looking here time to go again.

Great shots of the area.


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