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”→
Last week we repeated a backpacking trip down into the Grand Canyon which we had done several years ago — a “lollipop” loop from the north rim down to Thunder River and Tapeats Creek, along the Colorado River, and up Deer Creek. When we hiked this route the first time back in November 2012, we did it in three days and it felt much too rushed and strenuous. But it was so impressive that we’ve been excited to return — this time with five days to relax and soak in the scenery.
With no new snow in the mountains we headed out for a quick trip to Canyonlands earlier this week to enjoy the freakishly spring-like February weather. We spent a few days camping up on the Island in the Sky and doing hikes around there.
The shot above is a stitched long-exposure panorama of False Kiva, illuminated by a single headlamp placed in the kiva. This kiva is of unknown origin; it’s not clear whether it’s an authentic native site or of later construction.
The last stop on our two-week road trip through southern Utah was the famous Bryce Canyon National Park, which Claudia just had to see since we were so close already in Escalante. The shot above was taken right before we randomly ran into my photographer friend Rich Voninski. Nice to see you, Rich!
Despite the threatening storm clouds, we day-hiked the Peekaboo and Queens Garden loop trails and were fortunate to not get rained on! The dark clouds actually provided a wonderful atmosphere against the bright orange hoodoos all along the trail.
After hiking the fantastic trails in Bryce, we needed to escape the crowds there since we were more adjusted to solitude after two weeks of camping on our own in the wilds. So we headed over to nearby Red Canyon and found a nice secluded camp spot for the evening. A quick scramble above our camp provided a broad vista from which to enjoy a windy sunset.
That night it poured rain for the first time on our trip, and with the continuing stormy weather in the morning we decided it was time to end our desert journeys and head home to the mountains.
The morning after returning from our previous Escalante backpack, we embarked on another even more adventurous trek – this time into the slickrock country just east of the town of Escalante. For years I’ve driven the spectacular stretch of highway between Boulder and Escalante and always wondered what it was like up amongst all that slickrock. During this trek we would find out! Continue reading “Death Hollow Loop”→
The Escalante region is one of my favorite areas in the southern Utah desert. Though perhaps less impressive at first glance than other Utah destinations, a little bit of hiking reveals countless deep canyons and slots. The variety of canyon country around Escalante is staggering.
I wanted to show Claudia a few of the classic canyons off the Hole in the Rock Road, so we backpacked down in there for two nights, establishing a base camp from which we could explore several narrow canyons on day hikes.
One day we visited one of the more popular canyons around here, Neon Canyon, but unfortunately while we were there it was mobbed by a large group of backpackers which diminished the mystical experience of the place a bit. I wasn’t able to produce any better photos than from my previous visits to Neon, so I haven’t posted any here. I think it’s a sign I’m getting older when I start to have more and more stories about how things “used to be”! For example during my first visit here back in the 90’s before Escalante became a national monument, my friends and I were the only people around for many miles and it felt like a true desert wilderness. We even camped right underneath the Golden Cathedral, something that would probably be considered quite disrespectful today. Maybe it was then too…
Despite my griping, there are still many empty canyons to explore and plenty of solitude to be found out there!