We were up and out by mid-morning and on our way to Cedar Mesa. We’ve come through here many times before but other than visits to Natural Bridges, have never lingered. We’ll spend a few days looking around, doing some hiking and getting the lay of the land. To get there, we drove up Moki Dugway. It is renowned for being steep, winding, narrow and unpaved. We first drove this road about 1982 in our Chevy van converted for camping. Mary was quite alarmed about doing it – for her it was a white-knuckle ride. This day it was a cinch. We drove separately just because some of the turns are quite tight and narrow. Not a problem unless another large rig is coming down the other way.
Once on top, we made our way the 20 miles to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to get a clearer idea of what we wanted to check out and where we could camp. The two volunteers on duty (from the bay area) were busy, but one eventually got to us. We got the scoop on a few areas we were interested in, but the guy could only suggest one dispersed camping spot for us to fit the rig easily. He called it the gravel pit. It was literally on the corner of the intersection of 261 and 95. We went to check it out, but only reluctantly pulled in and set up. The traffic wasn’t so bad, but every car that passed hit the nearby cow catcher with authority. We grumbled awhile, but decide to stay for the night.It was only early afternoon, so we headed out to South Mule Canyon, just 8 miles from us. There is a nice hike in the canyon with a number of ruins along the way. We only wanted to do a portion of the hike because of the planned 10 mile hike tomorrow. One of the big attractions on the hike is House on Fire. It is actually a quite small ruin, very close to the trail. It boasts a simply amazing sandstone overhang with varying shades of yellows and oranges. In the afternoon, light bounces off the light rock the ruin is built on and reflects up to this amazing roof. Depending on how late you are there, the roof can range from bright yellow to deep red.We actually missed it initially. Walked right past. It was a bit obscured, but you really have to pay attention to clues on the ground as well, like paths that veer off towards a wall, or cairns in unusual places. We ended up walking around 3 miles. Not too bad, but it was quite warm. While photographing there, we met Randy and Crystal. Randy was really excited about being there and his friend Crystal shared her very-wide-angle lens with Mary so she could get a super wide angle view. They also told us about a dispersed camping area they saw on the way out of Natural Bridges. They said we would fit fine in several of the spaces. So we decided to check it out after the hike.Just 2.5 miles from where we thought we would have to spend the night, we found a great spot. There are dirt roads going off everywhere around here – many with good camping sites, but we tend not to spend much time looking for them because we often don’t spend more than a few days in any one place. This one was close to the main road, near most of what we wanted to do, very quiet and nestled into a juniper forest. Perfect for a few days.
Grand/Kane Gulch Hike
April 29We were on the trail by 9 AM. A good thing because where we wanted to go was 5 miles and 600’ lower than where we started. The trail leaves from the ranger station and almost immediately starts dropping down. It is a very gradual drop over about 4 miles into Kane Gulch. Most of it anyway. There are several steep and rocky areas and a few spots where a scramble is in order, but nothing really difficult. There is plenty of shade in the morning hours, but later much less is available as the sun reaches into the canyon. It will be much hotter on the way out and virtually all up hill.Because of the downpour Cedar Mesa had two days ago, there was quite a lot of water around. It served to freshen up everything around us. The hike down was really nice. Between really interesting rock formations and water and trees it was one delight after another. Once on the bottom, we quickly found the first ruin. There were pictographs of hand prints, hunting excursions and more. The ruin itself was not real impressive, but they are alway fun to explore. It was another 1/2 mile to the next ruin and more beyond that, but we agreed this would be our limit. We hiked what we thought must be a 1/2 mile but hadn’t come across the next site yet. Mary was getting a bit fatigued and that’s never good when we weren’t even half-way yet. She decide to hang back in a shady spot, and I went on to the ruin, called, “Turkey Pen”. It was only about 200 yards from where I left Mary, and well worth the little extra hike. There were several ruins here built into another sandstone alcove. The remains of the structures were in about the best condition I have ever seen. I could see the wood branches covered in plaster used on the walls. A few pottery shards and corn cobs were laying around also. I saw other ruins high up on the wall above this one and another that still had the bound logs used to support the bottom of the structure. Of course more pictographs and petroglyphs were here as well. I liked the Fat Boys painting best. Then it was time to head back. I met up again with Mary just as she was leaving to start back herself. By now it was much warmer, but we were favored with a nice breeze, and intermittent clouds would cool us down along the way. There was even enough shade by now as the late afternoon sun began casting shadows the other way for us. It was a slog, but not an unpleasant one, and it served to prove we could still do 10 miles without any major pains. Back in camp, we celebrated with a Lemoncello aperitif, then later, spaghetti and vino. Feeling no pain. We really thought this hike would be a 4 mile trudge across the mesa top before dropping into the canyon, but were surprised and grateful as to how nice the descent and walk through the canyon was. One of my new favorite hikes.
April 30Today was recovery day. We both felt pretty good but definitely could feel the fatigue in our bodies. No sore muscles, just kind of worn out. Our only plan today was to hang. Later in the afternoon we set out to tour Natural Bridges National Monument. We’ve done most of the hikes into the canyon here, and it was hot, so we just stopped at a few of the overlooks and made a few cursory images – “We were theres” if you will.
On the way back to camp, I scouted an area I wanted to photograph in the morning. Just off and below the road, there is a deep red bench of sandstone with large yellow sandstone boulders strewn all around. It makes for some nice contrasts in the foreground with the mesa top and warm light of morning. I could see the big hill behind me would be a problem because the whole area where I stood would be the last place within view to get direct sunlight tomorrow morning when I wanted to make my shots.As it turned out, I was exactly right about how long the shadows would last. I was there again just after dawn and was pretty sure there was just too much contrast. I photographed anyway, just making sure I took a lot of different exposures so if I really liked something, I still had a good chance of getting the right exposure with plenty of wiggle room. I didn’t have high hopes, but I think a few came out nicely. It was also nice being out around sunrise just to experience the quiet beauty of the place. They are all about the same composition, but I like to live with a few different versions before I decide which, if any, I really like. We are going to stop in Blanding for a day or so to catch up on some internet stuff and while we’re at it, look at some other ruins nearby.
Butler Wash Ruins
May 2We pulled into Blanding, UT yesterday afternoon to take care of some internet business. Surprisingly, Blanding boasts a Verizon 4G tower and very strong Blue Mountain RV Park WiFi. There was also some sort of State of Utah free public WiFi that we some how didn’t trust. So with chores done, we set out to Butler Wash to check out the ruins there.We could choose from two hikes. One was up the wash itself, the other was a .5 mile hike to an overlook. On a hot mid-afternoon day like today, we were really not up to a hike in a wash. We opted for the walk to the overlook. Even later in the afternoon probably would have been a better idea. There were occasional clouds coming overhead and that help keep us cool, but full sun reflecting off white sandstone made the hike a trudge.But along the way we found nice blooming cactus and an assortment of wildflowers. We soon came to the overlook and I was glad we didn’t do the wash hike to the ruins. They are set into a high overhang above another overhang. Pretty spectacular, but impossible to get close to. I could see what looked like large paintings, or maybe plaster on one wall with lots of pictographs elsewhere. I would have loved to get closer. We watched for a while as the clouds constantly changed how the scene looked. Eventually we made our way back over the whitecap sandstone trail and were pretty much finished for the day. We were still pretty lethargic from our earlier long hike and the heat today, so took it easy the rest of the day.