Sunrise light and Squaw Peak in the Kofa Mountains.
In the remote Sonoran desert of southwest Arizona rises a rugged volcanic mountain range called the Kofa Mountains. In March we spent four days camping and backpacking in these awesome desert mountains. Continue reading >>
While the vast majority of visitors to southern Nevada only see the bright lights of Las Vegas, there is actually an abundance of wonderful wild desert lands surrounding the city which will please any nature lover. In mid-March we escaped the cold winter and spent a week camping around in the much warmer weather of southern Nevada, enjoying locations including Valley of Fire State Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Muddy Mountains Wilderness, and Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area. Continue reading >>
In early November a friend and I backpacked about 30 miles through Salt Creek and the Peakaboo Trail in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah. This canyon is renowned for its numerous Ancient Puebloan ruins and pictographs; in fact I’ve never seen so many ruins outside of the Cedar Mesa area!
At the end of May we spent three days hiking through the upper portion of Grand Gulch, in Cedar Mesa, Utah. This was the third time I’ve backpacked in Grand Gulch, but the first since the area was designated as part of Bears Ears National Monument by President Obama in 2016. Nothing has changed as far as I can tell – just the same amazing canyon scenery and fascinating archeological history to be found around nearly every bend. See more pictures from the canyon below!
The San Rafael Reef is the jagged uplifted eastern edge of the greater San Rafael Swell, a giant dome-shaped anticline rising to the west of the Green River in central Utah. People who have driven Interstate 70 west of Green River will likely remember the incredible highway route that cuts right through the vertical red walls of the San Rafael Reef. Though most travelers blow through the Reef at 70 MPH, in mid-April we spent a week hiking in, on, and around the San Rafael Reef to the north and south of the highway. This often ofterlooked region boasts amazing geologic wonders and a seemingly endless array of canyon and slickrock adventures and solitude.
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.