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 > Plan B - Part I (lots o' pics!)

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seldomseensmith

Flagstaff, AZ

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Posted: 05/04/10 02:39am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Finally.... after subjecting the good people of the TC forum to my endless cabin fever by covering local hikes (sans TC) I can actually offer a legitimate trip report using my very own truck camper. Now before you get too excited, yes I went to Utah and yes I explored wild and beautiful locations, so expect lots of pictures of rocks. It's how I roll.

Most of my trips focus on hard to reach places where many folks don't or won't go, and I usually do that out of my own desire to get away from some of the pressures and high level of public contact I get from my job. Sort of a decompression period between winter and summer as it were.

This year I had originally planned to revisit the Dark Canyon area, especially the western end and see more of what looked like really interesting country, but alas my plans and those of Mother Nature could not be reconciled.

I've mentioned on numerous occasions how snowy this year was for us in the Southwest, and that extended to the southern and central part of Utah as well. There won't be any travel in the high country for at least a month, maybe more, and many roads and trails that lead to places I wanted go are still closed.

For instance, the road into Beef Basin over the flank of the Blue (Abajo) Mountains is one such snowbound route, and a couple of days before I arrived in the area the Blues got a fresh coat of white.

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Now I am not easily discouraged, and knowing full well there are MANY other places I can get to without dealing with snow, I decided early on to make this trip all about what's easily accessible to the average traveler. Now I'm not talking about "average" as in Class C or passenger car, but rather your good old fashioned relatively high clearance pickup truck with a decent sized TC - doesn't even have to be a 4x4.

As the weather was decidely unsettled for the entire 9 days I was out, I also did not want to take any chances on getting somewhere I might get stuck for a considerable period of time. Any experienced Utah backroads traveler knows the lurking danger of Mancos and Tropic shale formations, and let's not forget the dreaded gumbo of Bentonite clay - a lesson I failed to heed later on in the trip which almost got me.

But for now, let's start at the beginning. Remember, all of these places I visit require no specialized knowledge or equipment (or experience for that matter), simply a desire to get out there. Me, I just wanted to find a big flat rock and soak up some sun....

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Traveling north, I took the road from Mexican Hat towards Cedar Mesa. This is Utah 261, the one that climbs up the famous Moki Dugway. But before reaching the legendary switchbacks is another highly recommended detour, the Goosenecks of the San Juan State Park.

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I've been here numerous times, even camped here once, and it still amazes me that such a cool spot has literally no amenities. There is a brick s**thouse and that's it. The road to the dirt parking area is paved, and numerous places to camp along the rim, but nothing else - wait, there is an interpretive sign near the main overlook. I guess it helps keep the state park budget low.

So moving on up the Mesa, it's time to head for another awesome viewpoint, Muley Point Overlook. You reach this by turning south (left as you reach the top of the Mesa after the dugway) down a reasonably well maintained dirt road. As you near the actual rim, the road enters Glen Canyon NRA, where a sign tells you to stay on existing trails.

For the merely curious, the road proper ends at another dirt parking area where those less concerned with privacy could set up camp. But if you are like me, you'll pick one of the side roads that leads west and get away from the main area, where chances are you'll have lots of peace and quiet (Woop-woop, I believe Sir Whazoo calls it). I traveled about a 3/4 of a mile before settling in.

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Sure hope I remembered to set the parking brake! [emoticon]

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This day and night were one of the nicer ones on the trip - the wind (snow, rain, and more wind) rolled in later. The view out the back door:

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The dirt road seen below is another favorite of mine and leads into John's Canyon, a tributary of the San Juan. But that's another trip.

Next day I continued north over the Mesa on 261. At the other end is Utah Highway 95, which leads east to Blanding (and Moab, Arches, the east side of Canyonlands, etc.) or west to Lake Powell. For my purposes, the road ends 4 miles past the intersection at a beautiful gem of a National Monument called Natural Bridges.

Containing 3 natural (as opposed to unnatural?) stone spans over White Canyon, this great park is easily and often overlooked by visitors seeking the bigger and better known attractions. Those who do stop by generally content themselves with viewing the bridges from the 9 mile long loop road. Suits me fine since I was going in - literally.

I stayed in the campground, something I rarely do for various reasons. But it suited my purposes on this trip, so what the heck. A word of warning though - the campground is tiny, with only 13 spaces available on a first come, first served basis. The good news is just outside the Park there is dispersed (boondocking) camping on BLM land, along either Deer Flats or the Bear's Ears roads.

I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather and do a loop hike around the canyon bottom, and I chose the option of hiking from Sipapu Bridge to Kachina, then back to the truck over the Mesa trails. I could not have asked for a nicer day, and that's good because by nightfall I would be battening the hatches in gale force winds.

The hardest part of the hike is the modest climb into and out of the canyon. People in reasonable shape (round is a shape, right?) should have few problems. I also think if you have kids this would be a great way to wear them out.

The trail drops down the slickrock benches, and uses the natural terrain features as much as possible. But then you come across an odd mix of Park Service philosophy. Take this well built and sturdy staircase for example.... couldn't be easier, right?

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But what's this immediately after? This couple struggled a bit about going down forward or backward, eventually settling on forward. But why not another staircase, or for that matter why even have a staircase in the first place if you're gonna make people climb ladders? [emoticon]

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This sign also had me laughing.... in a place where a miss-step on the trail could very well result in injury or death, they waste resources warning about an "unfenced viewpoint"?!

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Soon the trail reaches the bottom, and lo! and behold, Sipapu Bridge looms overhead.

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Now class, who remembers the difference between a natural bridge and an arch? Water, you say? Very good. The bridge is formed when running water eats away at the base of an exposed sandstone fin, formed as part of a gooseneck in the streambed. The water gradually wears out the foundation on both sides, creating these graceful spans. Here is the aforementioned creek.

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The cottonwood trees and willows were nearly fully leafed out, creating a verdant spring paradise.

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The walking in the canyon bottom was easy enough, although there were many stream crossings where my rock hopping ability was tested - I did get my feet wet once or twice. One stretch required navigating a dense stand of willow.

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I saw no one in the canyon until I approached the Kachina bridge a couple of miles upstream. Just me and a glorious spring day in a beautiful place - does life get much better?

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I wish I had paid more attention in geology class, but I did not and in my later life I see things that raise questions. Here is a pretty straightforward example of fossilized ripples from a shallow, muddy sea.

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And here is is the contemporary version - now I ain't no rocket scientist (or geologist for that matter) but even I can see the correlation.

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The three bridges here represent the life stages of this natural feature. Owachomo is the oldest and most fragile, having weathered through to the point of delicacy. Sipapu is the mature form, and Kachina is in it's infancy, with what you could call "baby fat" still clinging to it's shape. As I came around a bend in the canyon I immediately thought it was another canyon wall, and did not notice the aperture until I was right on it.

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There is nothing light, airy or delicate about Kachina Bridge - it is hefty, chunky, palpable... no offense to Mother Nature. There's just more of it to love, right?

From here the trail continues either up canyon another 3 miles to Owachomo or up and out. Doing the whole loop consists of 8.5 miles, but as the hike upstream lacks a stream and substantial shade from green vegetation, I elected to hike back over the Mesa 1.8 miles and drive over to the last bridge.

The hike out is no worse than the hike in, and again the thoughtful Park Service people have provided some assistance to get you up.

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Hiking over the Mesa is pretty straightforward, except I have to stop and take the picture of every flower I see - the least I can do to show my appreciation for the effort.

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Owachomo is the last bridge encountered on the one way loop drive, and for those less inclined to hike down for views from underneath it is the easiest to reach - a short trail descends a mere 200 feet to the canyon floor.

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As mentioned earlier, this bridge is the oldest, and constant weathering continues eroding the span. Though substantial from a mass standpoint, it is obvious that time is taking a toll on the sandstone, and I could see where possibly even in my lifetime the bridge may collapse - or not.

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There was no running water under Owachomo, not that it mattered from an erosion point of view. This section of canyon seemed older and less vibrant than the areas I visited earlier, and maybe the lack of a cool stream with shady cottonwoods contributed to the feeling. Whatever the reason I'm glad I hiked the portion that I did as it really gave my spirits a much needed boost from the long, cold winter.

Hey, there's always more. Next week: Wind, snow and cold chase me around central Utah, but am I quick enough to escape the cold clutches of old man winter?

Happy Trails!


The Road Goes Ever On



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joerg68

St. Ingbert, Germany

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Posted: 05/04/10 02:52am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great Pictures - Thank You!

Nothing like that to be seen around here. But at least we have the Alps ;-)

Thanks,
Joerg


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Scottiemom

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Posted: 05/04/10 03:37am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Gorgeous pictures, good commentary. Makes me want to go.

Dale


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rbrinn

Chantilly, virginia

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Posted: 05/04/10 04:35am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Beautiful pictures!! You ought to submit the one of your camper and the view out your back door to Truck Camper Magazine for their annual calendar!

silversand

Montreal

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Posted: 05/04/10 04:36am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Seldom:

Stunning photo essay of yet another seldom-seen region of the Southwest!

If you subtract the truck camper cohort who would never attempt to find these remote camps, and the cohort that sleep-walks, your mesa-top overnights, I think, are safe from overcrowding [emoticon]

Well done, and many thanks for the enormous time that must have gone into production!

Sand & Dunes


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6.7Cummins

Vancouver wa.

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Posted: 05/04/10 05:00am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Very nice report! I will be returning to the Moab area soon, Also to include canyonlands, bryce,zion, and everything inbetween. Im going to add in your trip also.


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fla-gypsy

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Posted: 05/04/10 05:35am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Excellent work on the presentation


This member is not responsible for opinions that are inaccurate due to faulty information provided by the original poster. Use them at your own discretion.

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swebber

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Posted: 05/04/10 05:47am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Beautiful pictures of a beautiful yet rugged land. Thank you so much for sharing.


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4*phun*2

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Posted: 05/04/10 06:01am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thank-you. So much better than a geography class.


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kohldad

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Posted: 05/04/10 06:28am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Set the parking brake, heck, I want a few BIG rocks behind the wheels too!

Thanks for the great tease with the start of your Nature Mystery Novel. Now we have to wait and see if it's the geology, snow, or mud that does the worse of the nasty deed.


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