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Open Roads Forum  >  Truck Campers

 > Exploring the Henry Mountains - Part II

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seldomseensmith

Flagstaff, AZ

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Posted: 08/25/11 09:16pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

This journey had me venturing into the isolated and infrequently visited Henry Mountains in southeastern Utah, a place I had never fully explored. You can read the initial installment here:

Exploring the Henry Mountains - Part I

On the first day I had traveled up and over the mountains on Bull Creek Pass Trail, a dirt road in moderately good shape with a few steep, rocky passages. I made camp on the west flank of the mountain late in the afternoon, and spent the remainder of the daylight hours examining the surroundings. One feature I saw has me puzzled - the slope has a "burned" appearance from the ridge down into the scree. Any ideas?

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One of my goals in visiting the range was a hike up the summit of Mt. Ellen, the tallest of the peaks at 11,506 feet above sea level. The trail is a relatively easy 4 mile round-trip, beginning at Bull Creek Pass. My biggest concern was the weather - this time of year features frequent afternoon thunderstorms, and above tree line is the last place you want to be if lightning is a possibility.

With that in mind, I got an early start the next morning, but not before taking a quick picture of the western horizon as the sun began to banish the shadows from the land. This view looks out to the southwest, over Tarantula Mesa and the Circle Cliffs.

[image]

I arrived at the pass and encountered the first human being I had seen so far - a fellow who had driven up to look for where the deer might be hanging out. Archery (bow hunting) season was opening on Friday (this was Wednesday) and he wanted to scout out the prospects. I told him I had yet to see any wildlife, although a healthy chorus of coyote howling had awakened me several times during the night. He shrugged and said he'd find 'em alright - and later that day I could told him just where to look, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The trail is obvious from the pass. I put on my day pack and started up.

[image]

The Henry Mountains are granitic in nature, more specifically porphyritic diorite. I have no clue what that really means, but I thought it would be cool to use those words in a sentence. I had always thought granite was granite, but after reading the book I recommend in the first part of this TR, I have learned the error of my ways.

What it really boils down to is that the trail bed is very rocky, with some sections composed entirely of ankle-eating rocks. For some folks it wouldn't matter, but I cannot wear high top boots, instead opting for light trail hikers. This forced me to watch my step very carefully as opposed to my typical "head down take-no-prisoners" determined approach.

[image]

It's good thing too, or otherwise I would have missed some lovely flowers. Bryan, you'll have to help me out on these.

[image]

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Little grows here on this sub-alpine slope. The hardiest plant seems to a species of wax-leaf currant. Most of the ground cover is short grasses and forbs, plants that can stand heavy snow loads and constant wind.

There are no switchbacks - just a steady uphill grade on a side hill.

[image]

The trail gains the ridge that connects several false summits. From here the path appears to vanish, although the way forward is obvious.

[image]

Now I said obvious, not necessarily easy. What I failed to see on the way up is that the trail actually continues to skirt just below the ridge, but even so it still has to negotiate the massive rockpile. I elect the straightforward approach - up and over!

[image]

For the most part the rocks are actually pretty stable, having settled into interlocking patterns over millenia. There were a few that tested my balance, and the rock had a curious "ringing" quality to it as the stones shifted against one another.

Some wishful thinking soul must have decided that the first summit HAD to be the top, because he/she began to build what eventually became a VERY large rock cairn. I mean, what else are you going to do with all those rocks?

[image]

I know better - I spot the true summit farther along the ridge.

[image]

Down below I see a web of game trails criss-crossing the slope. Apparently they're no better at finding the real trail than I am.

[image]

After the first "summit", there really is no trail, just a scramble over more ankle-eating rocks. Then, I spy a much humbler cairn marking the final destination - at least in this direction.

[image]

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Feeling as exalted as a climber scaling Mt. Everest, I approach the terminus of the trail. I have conquered Mt. Ellen! (O.K., that was overly dramatic - it wasn't that hard, even with the ankle-eating rocks).

You've got mail - The summit register. I don't know who is responsible for maintaining these things, but not one of the pens in the canister was in working order. Thankfully I brought my own, but you can be sure I'll be writing a letter to my congressperson to complain about the sorry state of affairs.

[image]

What now? Oh right, the view. On top of the highest point in southern Utah (yes, I know the La Sals are higher, but they're farther north) affords me the best vantage point for a sweeping panorama of the most intricately carved and geologically interesting landscape on Earth.

Some enterprising individual decided to make good use of the abundant stone and created a rock throne for the reigning monarch to survey the kingdom. Right now that's me.

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Because it was still early morning, the sun angle and a blanket of haze prevented me from taking any decent pictures of the eastern horizon. You'll have to trust me - the country over on that side is every bit as impressive as what is seen here. Basically million dollar (a billion adjusted for inflation) views all around.

Yep. Just me and the raptors up here. Very cool.

[image]

No sign of any thunderstorms.... yet. This allows me to spend a good deal of time in peaceful contemplation of the wonders of nature. At times like this I am reminded of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"All that I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all that I have not seen". Indeed.

So eventually the time comes to leave, as my apple and fruit and nut bar will not allow for an extended period of survival. Down I go, daring ankle eating rocks to do their worst. Of course it is on the way back I discover the "designated path".

[image]

[image]

This high up and this late in the season means few wildflowers, but what there is is certainly beautiful enough. I'll take what I can get - sigh..... summer's almost over. [emoticon]

[image]

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I make it back to the truck and head back to my chosen bivouac. Lunch, a nap, and then staking out the edge of the bench for some sunset pictures. I love it when a plan comes together.

Although no storms formed over the Henrys, there was development over Boulder Mountain to the west. Any photographer knows a few clouds are good for sunset compositions, so I give thanks for the rain that falls somewhere else.

I settle in waiting for the light to fade. The bench I'm on has few trees, but plenty of sagebrush. I've chosen to sit behind one of the larger specimens, hoping to use it to screen out some of the direct light.

[image]

Just south of me a cloud is shedding its water, with lacy golden veils bathing the scene in reflected light.

[image]

I am enjoying the last rays of the sun when I hear a sudden commotion behind me. I look up as a small group of Mule deer run right by me, obviously spooked by something. They don't see me in the shadow of the shrub, which becomes even more obvious when one of the deer runs right at me, changing course at the last possible minute. Had I been quick enough, I could have grabbed it easily.

Of course I'm just as startled by their appearance. I barely had the presence of mind to pick up the camera and get this shot of the drive-by deer.

[image]

I guess I could tell the would-be hunter where some deer are now.

The clouds migrate eastward with the outflow from the thunderstorm across the way. A few drops of water refracted in the light gives me the gift of a lovely rainbow over the mountain.

[image]

There's also a roseate glow over Mt. Ellen. The hits just keep comin'.

[image]

Last but never least is the actual sunset.

[image]

The disappearance of the fiery hot ball that illuminates our little blue rock signals the end of another glorious day. Once again I head for the warmth and security of my TC. Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home - especially when that home is high on a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

[image]

I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I've realized there's still too much material for a tidy finish in two acts. So, sorry to say there will be a Part III.

Exploring the Henry Mountains - Part III

Happy Trails!

* This post was edited 09/02/11 10:21am by seldomseensmith *


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Matho

New Mexico Texas

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Posted: 08/25/11 09:24pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

That Rocks!

Nice report.


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whazoo

Idahome

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Posted: 08/25/11 09:25pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

The top of the Henries, who's a thunk it. Well, obviously you did. Totally fantastic, and I didn't break a sweat on the climb. Thanks a bunch Seldom, what a great post.

TexasShadow

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Posted: 08/25/11 09:54pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

great pix, thanks very much for sharing your experience with us.


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bka0721

Republic of Colorado

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Posted: 08/25/11 10:47pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

As you might expect, I love the pictures of the flowers, but the scenery is just amazing and well captured by your lens. Thank you for taking the time to allow me to accompany you, if only as an observer.

As for the "burned portion," it does not have the characteristic of a burn pattern, but a larger portion of duplication of the adjacent scars. My suggestion what it might be would be moisture from the final melting of a large snow cornice that remained for a longer time and left subsoil moisture in the area. Essentially it, and nearby areas, look like avalanche paths. Just a guess here, just like in Part I your tracks on some of the roads pictured looked like fresh tracks since the last rain episode.

I appreciate your sharing and truly believe your posting would have no impact on the surrounding area to an influx of people, any more than the Uranium opportunists of 50 to 60 years ago were.

bryan

Camper_Jeff_&_Kelli

Seattle

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Posted: 08/25/11 10:52pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

That was really nice. I feel the silence through you pictures. Nice job on the pictures and the report.
J&K


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DonCurley

La Sal, Utah

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Posted: 08/25/11 11:27pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

More really great pics and the narrative to go along with it Eric.

Did you by any chance see what my wife & I called the "industrial crickets" of Mount Ellen? On the lower sections on the way to the summits, we encountered quite a few of them. They were jet black and extremely large and we have never seen the same type anywhere else. We also took a longer route from the Dandelion/Lonesome Beaver area and hiked up a couple of steep drainages and slopes by route finding until we intercepted the ridge trail you show in your photos. That made for a very long day and we finished our hike in the dark with flashlights (and then got hit and drenched with a tremendous thunder storm ... luckily we were down off the mountain by then).

And although the La Sals are a bit northeast, they are more east than north of the Henry's. Mount Peale in the La Sal's is the highest peak in southern Utah at 12,721 feet (and there are 12 peaks above 12,000 feet in elevation in the La Sals). The summit of our more humble South Mountain where we live is at 11,817 feet.

Looking forward to your last installment.


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Deetour

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Posted: 08/25/11 11:29pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Loved it! Thanks very much.
Looking forward to part 3.

mrquacker

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Posted: 08/25/11 11:31pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Nice report on your walk. Beautiful pictures.





spacedoutbob

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Posted: 08/26/11 12:58am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Part 2 was also incredible! Thanks again! Now I can't wait for Part 3.

Bob in Oakland, Calif.


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