Yellow Rocks

Thursday, March 16We had an uneventful drive from Valley of Fire to Kanab, in Utah. Since we were going to be so close, we decided to attempt to gain access to a restricted hiking area known as, “The Wave”. It is a particularly amazing undulating sandstone formation that has exploded in popularity over the years. When I’d first seen images of the place 35 years ago in a photo magazine, the photographer refused to reveal the location. But word eventually got out and now everyone around the world want to go there. I guess, me too. Of course we didn’t score permits. We missed the first mornings drawing because while we changed our clocks for daylight savings time in Arizona, we didn’t allow for mountain time in Utah where the drawing occurred. We were one hour late. There were about 120 people hoping to score the 10 permits issued that day. Our plan anyway, in case of not being chosen, was to hike the Yellow Rocks trail off Cottonwood Rd. in the Vermillion Cliffs. This hike is outlined in an outdoor photographers guide we use, and describes white sandstone formations infused with veins of yellow and red. The elevation gain is over 1000’ and includes one of the steepest inclines I’ve ever attempted. We were soon out driving the 45 mile on Highway 89 to Cottonwood Road. Cottonwood is a dirt track suitable for most passenger cars, but having a little bit of high clearance would be a good idea because of some deeper ruts you might bottom out on. Otherwise the road is great and moves through some wide open areas with large hills and mesas all around. Unfortunately, major power lines also run along the cliffs, ruining an otherwise unobstructed view of the valley’s and into the canyons. We found the trailhead 14 miles in, at the junction of Cottonwood Road and Brigham Plains Road. Across the road were two cairns I thought might be the start. It was, more or less, but the path seemed more like a cow trail than people. Nonetheless, we followed it along. At one point I had to bushwhack just a little to get through some tamarisk. I knew we had to cross Cottonwood Wash so I found a likely spot and just made my own path to the wash.There was just a couple of inches of water in the wide wash so it was no problem getting across. The guide book said to point southwest and hike to a notch in the Cockscomb we were to hike along. The trail led up this canyon a short while the abruptly took a right. The trail climbed up the canyon wall at easily a 45 degree angle. It was very loose, rocky soil and quite often the trail was just straight up the incline. Sometimes we got a bit of relief when the trail switched back. The canyon all around was pretty impressive, but I spent most of my time concentrating on how to get up this seep, narrow path. Mary was game and did really well with just a little prodding from me. After 500 ft of this, we reached a saddle and took and extended break. The view of the Cockscomb was good here, but the light was still harsh. Still early afternoon, but by the time we get to the rocks, it should be better.The hiking was much easier from here but still rose another 200 ft. Soon we reached another viewpoint where the Yellow Rocks came into view for the first time. I thought we could walk around to the right in a wide arch along a ridge to get to the rocks, but after running into a couple of long drop offs, I changed course and walked down into the canyon, then back up along the base of Yellow Rocks. From here it is another 300 ft to the top of the formation.There is another route that runs along the left end of the rocks that would have been a better choice. If you can pick-up the cairn trail, it will lead you on an easier path to the rocks. But my detour did lead to some nice veins of yellow in the rock. We started up together, but soon separated and climbed to different areas. It is a steep but easy climb up the sandstone layers. Boots grab well on this stuff – as long as it is dry. Very slippery otherwise. Lots of huffing and puffing at this altitude. I wanted to get to the top, of course, while Mary moved around some of the lower levels. The top was quite windy and the view 360˚, but it wasn’t so good that I wanted to stay, as the wind was whipping along pretty well. I met up with Mary again around 20 minutes later and we began making our way carefully down the sandstone benches. The light was softening by now and the rich yellows were really beginning to stand out. Across the canyon, we could se other massive areas of solid yellow on the facing hillside and mountain of sandstone. We were careful to pick-out some landmarks from the last viewpoint so we knew where to point ourselves for the return trip down the mountainside. Retracing our steps brought us back to the Cockscomb viewpoint where the light was much nicer now. The colors were really standing out and the air seemed clearer than earlier. All that was left was the 45˚ descent. I thought it would be treacherous – especially for Mary – but fully using our trekking poles for support made a huge difference. Not a single butt slide was necessary. It was difficult, but doable. We were very tired with sore feet by the time we got back to the car. Still had the 60 mile drive back to Kanab, but it was worth it.

Friday, March 17thThis morning we showed up on time for The Wave lottery at the BLM office in Kanab. After 3 draws, it was all over. A group of 3, a group of 4 and another group of 4 that had to boot one person to stay under the 10 permit limit. 150 people trying today.We’ve been going up and down Main Street in Kanab (89) and kept seeing a police car at the edge of town parked by the side of the road. It was always there and I always slowed down even though I was under speed already. This morning I looked a little closer and what a surprise. The cop was the torso of a mannequin! They had a little fun with it. A Hitler mustache was drawn on it’s lip. At the BLM office, one ranger said the car used to have a bumper that read, “I Love Plastic Doughnuts”. Small town.I tried once more for a permit Saturday morning. I thought it would be even more crowded, but strangely, only 99 people showed up. Same result for us, except they took 3 sets of 2 people and 1 set of 3 people. the next draw was for 2 people, but because BLM doesn’t like one person hiking there alone, they allowed the 11th permit.On to Page and photographing Lower Antelope Canyon again.

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