Over the holidays my wife Claudia and I drove down to New Mexico for some desert time and to escape winter for a while. We spent a few days in Santa Fe, camped in the White Sand dunes, hiked in the Organ Mountains, explored the City of Rocks, and I even got to ride the famous ditches of Albuquerque!
On Tuesday I spent a pleasant evening along the North Rim of the Black Canyon. It’s hard for me to believe, but it’s been nine years since I’ve been to the North Rim! Last time I was there, in October 2007, I backpacked down S.O.B. Draw and camped on a broad sandy beach along the river right below the Painted Wall, just past where you can see the river in the photo above. I had quite a scare in the middle of the night when a falling rock crashed down on the beach right next to me!
The first sound of rockfall woke me up instantly and in the darkness I immediately knew it was happening somewhere above me. To make matters worse I was camping in a bivy sack and I thrashed around frantically trying to get out of it so I could run closer to some bigger boulders that might help shelter me. Meanwhile I was still hearing the rock crashing closer and closer down towards me, so I gave up trying to shed the bivy bag and just potato-sack hopped towards the boulders. The rock impacted the beach with a dull but loud thud. I spent the rest of the night huddled against the biggest boulder around, too afraid to venture out in the open of the beach again! In the morning I found the rock where it impacted the sand about ten feet from where I’d been sleeping.
On this last trip I was actually planning to spend one night down there again, but as I studied the campsites from the rim and considered how they are positioned right in the gunbarrel of 2,000 feet sheer vertical cliffs, I thought, no, I’ve learned that lesson before!
Earlier this month to wrap up our Utah road trip we spent several days camping up on Cedar Mesa and hiking into various canyons to look for Ancestral Puebloan ruins. I would guess that most or all of these ruins have been discovered (and pillaged) by now, but it is still great fun to hike through these canyons and try to spot them yourself.
The Cedar Mesa Plateau has one of the highest concentration of Ancestral Puebloan ruins in the Four Corners, with sites scattered up and down every canyon. The Ancestral Puebloans (also sometimes referred to by the outdated term “Anasazi”) lived in the Four Corners region roughly one thousand years ago, though evidence of their predecessors dates all the way back to 6500 B.C. By about 1300 A.D. the region was abandoned.
Most of these ruin sites are located under natural alcoves on high ledges, oftentimes with difficult access points that provided defensive protection. The Ancestral Puebloans farmed corn on the canyon floors or up on the rims, and even today you can still find little dried corn cobs in many of the ruins. Most of the pottery has been stolen by pothunters by now, but you can still find small potsherds and sharp rock blades around some of the more remote ruins.
If you look at my recent photo of Goosenecks State Park, you can see that there’s absolutely no way to hike down to the San Juan River in that area — continuous cliff bands block any possible route down. However, back in the 1890s a precipitous trail was constructed nearby by Henry Honaker as a supply route for gold prospectors. Honaker’s unbelievable trail zig zags down a puzzle-like route from the rim to the river, oftentimes descending sheer cliffs via large ramps built from meticulously stacked rocks.
After all these years of exploring the deserts and canyons of Utah, I never bothered to go to Natural Bridges National Monument. It’s pretty much out of the way from anywhere and after all, it’s just another couple arches, right? Well, on our recent road trip after backpacking in nearby Dark Canyon, Natural Bridges was finally on our way, so I figured we might as well stop and check it out.
And we were blown away. First off, the natural bridges — particularly Sipapu — are absolutely mind-boggling. These aren’t some dainty little arches; these are ginormous masses of earth soaring through the sky over the canyon. And what a canyon too! Even if the bridges weren’t there, White Canyon would still be an awesome place for a hike. And if that’s not enough, there’s an abundance of Ancestral Puebloan ruins throughout the canyon — including some of the most fascinating sites I’ve yet seen.
The thing about Natural Bridges Monument, though, is that there’s not a whole lot to see from the road. A roadside tourist might not see what’s so great about this place. You’ve got to at least hike down to Sipapu to see the glory. On our first day there we hiked the entire “three bridge” loop hike starting and ending at the Sipapu trailhead. We enjoyed the canyon so much we decided to spend a second day there hiking up-canyon to see more of it!
Horse collar ruins are located between Sipapu and Kachina bridges, up on a hard-to-get-to ledge as usual. It’s so fascinating to image people living here almost a thousand years ago, and the fact that these ruins have been sitting here for that long gives them an aura of sacredness.
At the end of October after our time around the Green River and Capitol Reef, we headed down past the north end of Lake Powell and over to Dark Canyon, where we spent two nights backpacking and hiking up and down the canyon. It’s been over 16 years since I’ve visited this canyon and it’s as spectacular as I remember, kind of like a mini Grand Canyon. Here’s a few of my favorite photos from the trip.
In late October we hit the road for two weeks of camping and hiking in the deserts of southern Utah. Our first destination was the remote and relatively seldom-visited region along the Green River between the towns of Green River and Hanksville.
After our Grand Canyon trek, we had plans to backpack through the famous Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon, but for the second year in a row we decided to cancel those plans due to a less-than-promising weather forecast. The world’s longest slot canyon is probably not the best place to be with any chance of rain! So instead we spent a few days car camping and hiking in The Cockscomb area between the towns of Kanab and Page and Cannonville. This is an area I’ve never visited before and it was quite an interesting place! More photos below. Continue reading “Cavorting in the Cockscomb”→