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!
Last night we did a quick backpack hike from Big Cottonwood Canyon to Lake Blanche and Sundial Peak, in the Twin Peaks Wilderness of the Wasatch Range in Utah. Though the wind was relentless during our stay, we had fun exploring this lovely basin and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset and moonrise above the lake.
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.
After tromping around in the snow smothered aspens near the top of Guardsman Pass yesterday, we drove down below the snow line towards Midway and found a fantastic trail to hike through vast groves of colorful aspens and brilliant neon red oaks. Pure eye candy!
The beauty of autumn (especially amongst aspens) is sometimes so overwhelming that it fills me with an intangible sense of longing — a desire to grasp the beauty, to hold and own the moment forever. But these moments and feelings slip by like sand through your fingers, and there’s nothing to do but let the beauty stream by and be grateful for the experience, however brief it may be.
Our big summer road trip is almost over and soon I will start posting many new photos and trip reports from our adventures up north! In the meantime, here are some photos from yesterday up near Guardsman Pass at the head of the Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Range of Utah. With a fresh snowfall smothering the golden aspens, along with a mystical foggy atmosphere, the photography conditions were just about as dreamy as can be!
In mid-June during the first week of our road trip we took a zigzagging route through the Great Basin of western Utah and Nevada. The Great Basin gets its name from the fact that no rivers flow out of the region; there are few rivers or streams, and any flowing water collects in broad lakebeds or salt flats where it eventually evaporates. Encompassing most of the state of Nevada and the western portion of Utah, the Great Basin is characterized by a seemingly endless series of rugged north/south ranges with broad, empty desert valleys in between. Our first stop was the remote House Range near the western border of Utah, where Notch Peak soars dramatically over the desert with a sheer 3,000 foot vertical north face.
We had hoped to hike a ridge route up to the top of Notch Peak, but a forecast of high winds and thunderstorms quashed that plan, so we moved on to nearby Great Basin National Park just over the border in Nevada. Here the same relentless high winds also convinced us to abandon our plans to hike up Wheeler Peak, opting to not spend a day getting blasted by chilly gusts on the high ridgeline. But we did enjoy a tour through the famous Lehman Cave, a beautiful cave system under the base of the mountain.
Next we drove north to the Ruby Mountains, the most “alpine” of Nevada’s numerous mountain ranges. We drove up Lamoille Canyon on the west side of the range, and were immediately awed by the super rugged peaks soaring precipitously above the valley on all sides. What awesome mountains!
We’d been hoping to do a backpacking trip in the high Ruby peaks but were also expecting that there would probably be too much snow still. Indeed, the high peaks still had a substantial snowpack and the high lakes still frozen, so we camped a few nights in Lamoille Canyon and did smaller day hikes instead. We will have to return another year for some backpacking in this incredible mountain range!
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.
More photos below! Continue reading “Cedar Mesa Antiquity”