Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Let it snow...in Southern Utah. Dave's Opus

The day after Christmas 2019 until after New Years 2020, a solo romp down south to Southern Utah from Boise, where my heart and sole live in outdoor perpetuity. The hiking, camping, slot canyons, Anasazi ruins, scenery and grand vistas are second to none on earth. I take this chance every so often to go without Lynn, my wife, or our two dogs so I can be selfish with my outdoor desires.  Ok I do miss them always but need alone time, that and the fact that dogs are not allowed in many places because people don't seem to be able to pick up after them in the outback. Some hikes I wanted to take were in a no-dog zone.

Wait! Before you judge me as just another old guy with bad jokes let me explain. Looking at that peak in front of me, at the time, I immediately came up with this French tit le, I mean title. If you've ever heard of the Grand Tetons of Wyoming you might not know that Grand Teton means literally in French, the Big Tit. There are three Tetons and were named by French trappers upon seeing them for the first time. So there you have it. While you were thinking that Dave was cracking another 8th grade joke now you're thinking wow, Dave not only knows French but is descended from original French trappers to Wyoming Territory. See how I worked that?

Lastly before I get going here I'll apologize for the length of this trip report. So many pictures of snow and a truck camper. You will be very old, hair falling out and need body parts replaced by the end of this trip report if you stick it out. But that's enough about me. I'll figure it as a Mission Impossible kind of thing, should you accept. Plus it will be late spring and the snow long gone for the time you've spent looking.
I was supposed to take a lot of hikes on this trip. In fact I did not expect snow at all, the storm was only supposed to drop an inch or so the day before Christmas and I did not bring my tire chains or snow shoes. Surprise. But as plans go, my favorite thing to say is that you have to be fluid, and change them up as you go. So I invented a new style of photography, I call it hoodtography. You'll see...

Driving up into the San Rafael Swell on a snowy night was exciting and I knew I'd be alone despite seeing tracks in front of me. 

The tracks didn't go far and soon I was doing a favorite thing, making first tracks. Look, excitement comes in small doses at my age and I was digging this.

I haven't been here in years but even in the dark knew exactly where I was going and where I wanted to be. It's that French trapper thing I have going on. 

The sound of snowflakes hitting the upper softwall of the camper put me to sleep. Or was it the margarita with an extra shot of Cuervo? Regardless, I woke up to a little more snow.

I shared the space with a cold lonely fire pit. I had a lot of firewood yet never had a fire. Something about the wind coming up every night and having two separate heaters in the camper kept me inside once it got dark. It was bloody cold, down to 9Âș one night without windchill factor.

A few views of Temple Mountain, a main landmark of the southern Swell.

All these trees in the southwest are junipers, no cedars exist. All names of Cedar City, Cedar Mesa, Edge of Cedars are misnomers. Junipers have similar bark to a cedar but that's about it. The names of these places do sound better as "Cedar" this or that. Can you imagine Juniper City? I shot through this juniper to take the photo. 

Driving east through the Swell I headed over to this Valley where I knew some Goblins where standing around...

Ok I was standing around as well, for scale.

This Goblin reminded me of George Washington, if you squint your eyes and look thru a coke bottle maybe.

I struggled to get a good picture of this place, you'll have to go see it yourself.

Leaving the Valley I stopped for a picture of the wildlife. These pronghorns usually run when a vehicle gets within a half mile but stayed around for me to photograph.

Years ago Lynn and I had driven a 4wheel trail that runs behind Temple Mountain and came east driving through a neat slot canyon just the right size for a vehicle. I wanted to find it again and drive it a ways heading west. It was snowing and clouds were low. Without tracks I wasn't sure where it was, I got lucky.

I knew the trail would get into rocks on the Temple Mountain side so went as far as I wanted and turned around in a wide spot, I had an evening hike I wanted to take a few miles away.

More first tracks make for a smooth ride.

Clouds had dropped and it was later than I'd wanted so the walk was a short one. I had wanted to make it through a slot canyon that eve but knew it would still be there in the morning.

It was dark and snowing again by the time I got back to the truck. I wasn't worried about losing my way, I'm part French trapper you know. Ok and my tracks were still there.

Ah but morning was beautiful and a totally different day.

As I started hiking it felt like this canyon was going to be a wash. Double entendre did you catch it? At least there wasn't a babbling creek in the wash, that would have been onomatopoeia which is Greek while entendre is French. Say whaaat?

Hiking up to a slot canyon in snow was jaw-dropping to see.

The snow reminded me of a thick sugar coating and I suddenly craved a vanilla bundt cake. Low calorie of course.

A hard wind had come up. Funneled by the slot canyon it was quite chilly and blew snow into my  freezing face.

I had already stemmed over a few sections of thin ice and water but this section wasn't doable. Sheltered from frigid temps by the canyon walls, that ice wasn't frozen hard enough to walk on and the water was about a foot deep. Note to French trapper, bring waders next time.

Out of the slot, my recent tracks were already disappearing, covered by blowing snow.

I walked by these alien creatures buried in the snow. They all had their periscope appendages up watching me.

As I hiked in the snow I noticed my feet were toasty warm even without snowshoes. I had my gators on which helped tremendously but then I remembered I was wearing my new "smart wool" socks. It said 'Smart Wool" right on them. I'd been wearing them without thinking about it. The next day I put on clean socks that didn't say smart wool and my feet got cold, making me wonder when they started school for sheep and what exactly made them "smart?" My cold socks must have been the sheep that skipped school, "dumb wool" and I figured those sheep while not in school were out fleecing somebody. Ok we're walking we're walking...

Driving out was fun, the snow drifts making for my morning excitement. Now fun spelled backwards is nuf, and an old guy can never have nuf fun.

Sometimes you get bored, and do silly things. Guess I'm bored all the time.

Back to a main road I turned back into the Swell and drove the few miles to where I had spent my first night for a better view without low clouds. My previous tire tracks were already blown out by that really cold wind. Windchill is a real buzzkill in my book.

Snow drifts packed my rims making it look like I was running Baby Moons on my rig.

Out on Utah State 95 I could not believe all the white stuff left by what was supposed to be a small storm.

These sights are right off the highway. I saw only one car between Hanksville and Hite at the uppermost end of Lake Powell. Being able to see for miles I simply pulled over to take these next few.

I turned off on a side road to try to get to a favorite spot. I took this picture at a place we first camped as a Family maybe 20 years ago in a motor home towing a jeep. The fire pit is cold and lonely looking, waiting for spring campers.

I had about fifteen miles to go with multiple turnoffs that all looked the same in snow. My French trapper was confused.

After almost getting stuck twice in deep snow on the side of two different hills I turned around, not getting to see the place I wanted. I have many photos of the spot from previous trips but none with snow.

Back on the highway I stopped for another picture of my favorite bridge over the Colorado River right where it used to join Lake Powell...

which is no longer there. The boat ramp barely visible across the way has not seen water in years and the sign for Hite Marina no longer says Marina. You can still stop and fill up your fuel tank at the unoccupied gas/diesel pump there. The Colorado is running just below the cliffs, the lake is no longer visible from where I stood, sadly.

With evening coming on I drove to another favorite place for views and to spend a night.

Another gorgeous morning, how do I get so lucky?

Without my wife along I typically don't cook, I'm in a hurry to get going. This kind of scenery makes a guy want to linger and have a good breakfast. Bacon and eggs sure taste better than fresh trapped beaver, but how would I know?

One more shot before hitting the road, I couldn't get enough and tried to fill my eyes with the views, or at least my camera's memory card.

We're driving we're driving, onto another grand locale. That's French for location. I shot the Cheesebox as I drove by.

I also grabbed a picture of the Bears Ears with a dusting of le snow. French for...ok I'll stop now.

I had wanted to check out an area for a future trip and drove over to it. A place called the Nokai Dome and a possible camp spot on cliffs overlooking the San Juan River. On the way over the Clay Hills I stopped for a picture of Mormon road building that you can see in many places in Utah. This stretch took eight days to build by hand, it says so on a plaque across the road. Can I say these were very handy people? Isn't that where the term "handy" comes from oui, by hand?

Long views were good as I drove, getting a shot of the southern side of the Henry's.

The half-track I always wanted, she just needs a set of tracks and off we go.

 I eventually made it to the Dome, where the road had a decent hill to climb. Normally it would have been a low range affair without problems but this day the snow on the rocks stopped me from trying. Typically with a rear locking diff and some slippage you go sideways on a hill, not today. My hoodtography barely captures the steepness.

After another long drive back to the highway I drove on down to Halls Crossing on Lake Powell and paid $4.18 for diesel, typical for a marina there. Not to mention the entry fee to get into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Then backtracked to another road to fulfill my desire to see the San Juan River. Smooth flowing water in front of me, if you were rafting the San Juan out of Mexican Hat you'd really want to put in here. If you missed it there's a waterfall just downstream that would have you wanting your astronaut diapers as you launched into space.

Evening shadows were coming on and I was digging it. Lynn said it looked nice and dry there but oh no, the thin snow that had been there had melted in direct sun and the road had that thin skin of mud. Not terrible mud but enough to make me use the wipers to keep the windshield clean. The temps were never up to freezing the whole time I was there but even so the sun will do it's job in small degrees. Double entendre there, again. I just love the English language.

Boy I was sure driving more than hiking. The snow made most of the hikes I had planned unrealistic so I was in it for the scenery. The next day though I had a nice long hike planned so I drove over and camped close to the trailhead. In a good snow winter or wet spring I like to camp on rocks for obvious reasons, mud.

That night I had Lynn's homemade cheesecake for desert, or was it dinner? In any event I've learned the hard way to use tape on the whipped cream lid. One time in the past with a can of whipped cream in the fridge and out 4wheeling, you know where this is going right? The can bounced around, lid popped off and the can wedged itself with the release nipple in the "spray the crap out of the inside of the fridge" position. Not only did I not have any whipped cream for dessert but for years that fridge smelled like rotten cream no matter how I cleaned it. Especially in a Phoenix summer. I eventually had to take it out and clean the cabinet the fridge was mounted in. Take note 4wheeling whipped creaming friends, tape that lid!

And play "find the cheesecake"

In the morning I stood at the canyon rim and wondered if I could do it, 10ish miles. I have a knee to be replaced in the next couple of months and it buckles on occasion. I was alone but at least had my PLB with, Personal Locator Beacon. That and an overwhelming desire to be walking instead of driving.

The trail was covered in snow most of the time which showed some very strange rabbit tracks. What kind of rabbit you might ask? I'd say it was a happy rabbit. If you believe that, I have a new motor home to sell you later in the trip report.

Not far down the trail I walked into an old cowboy camp, minus the cowboys but rife with artifacts.

Duracell or Eveready?

Regardless, no wonder the flashlight wasn't working.

Trails down into these canyons are typically nature-made, but used by man and animal.

Tumble weeds/ Russian Thistle, and Tamarisk/salt cedar are threatening and will someday take over most of these canyons and stop the occasional water from flowing.

The first set of pictographs I found in this canyon. I'm guess the Creature With Two Heads was at the movies. The sandstone layers of some will peel away in the future, taking these ancient works of art with them.

On occasion you'll find a petroglyph with painted sections making it a petropictograph. Or would it be a pictopetroglyph? Regardless and in case you're not sure, petroglyphs are pecked into the sandstone with a tool or another rock while pictographs are painted with pigments from minerals or plants.

For scale

Geez this TR (trip report) is long. Do we need an intermission? Ok I'll be right back...

There, I hope you enjoyed the music. The sound of a very small waterfall in the distance, oui oui.

Ok, looking around at the dirt I found a 900 or so year old piece of corn that was part of the Anasazi diet. And if say back in 1972 when I was 18 years old, if you'd told me that at 65 years old I'd be taking pictures of 900 year old corn laying in dirt I might have thought you crazy. But here I am, taking that picture. Pretty corny right?

Miles into the canyon I finally found what I was looking for, an Anasazi dwelling.

From below I could see the blackened remains of their fires on the sandstone ceiling.

There was a ledge running along the level of the ruins that I though might give me entry. It wasn't much of a climb but I don't stretch well any more and the footholds were a stretch. Plus I don't roll when I fall but more of a splat, so I did think twice before I made that stretch to get up.

Yeah, no. The ledge was strategically blocked 900 years ago to stop intruders like me. Not to mention no room for my body to crawl along, if I could crawl. I could see the main doorway and access to the ruins and so I knew that they had used a ladder.

Even though it was only about 10 feet, going down is so much worse than up, not having eyes in the bottom of the feet and a knee that does not bend.

You have to hand it to them, these folks were also very handy with their art, oui?

It was about 2pm and with 5 miles back to the truck it was time for me to truck. Days are short in the canyons especially in the shortest of days time of year. Huh?

The rock formation in front of me was part of a rincon, or abandoned meander of the river that flows/flowed in this canyon. The water eventually took another shorter route and cut off the rincon.
I like that word, rincon, it's so very western. I had hiked around it looking for dwellings or artwork.

This is a screen shot of a rincon at Lake Powell for clarification, made by the Colorado River before being damed, in case you wanted to know. The water used to flow around it in the shape of a donut.

Hiking out was hurried, like this TR should have been, but there was still time for a few photos oh yeah.

The swimming hole was unheated. Bummer, I needed a bath.

A section of trail presented itself, I took it. It looked like a camel was watching me from the cliff top.

Weeping rocks always amaze me.

Desert varnish on the sandstone walls lit up in the afternoon sun. I was in canyon heaven.

A strange thing to see, a tree growing under a rock. Easy to figure, there was a small seep of water there. A bird had eaten a pinyon pine seed and passed it while taking a drink at the small water hole. Voila, a tree with limited life span. That's my take anyway, YMMV.

Yahoo, out of the canyon with nary a mishap. Thank you God! It was a fabulous day well spent.

I drove back over to where I'd spent the night before under great evening skies that added color to an already colorful area.

Christmas on a cracker I'm getting tired here, and you? Ok well I'm about 3/4 done, bear with me. At least I'm watching Ancients Aliens on my iPad as I write.

 I left that part of the desert and drove east across the mesa to Blanding Utah to fuel up at $3.03 a gallon for diesel. It was hard to understand how a little place like that could sell diesel that cheap while I was paying around $3.50 in Boise, Idaho. I also filled up with propane since I had been running two heaters every night. Having run out once before in winter I didn't want to repeat running the generator so I could use the hair dryer to heat the inside of my sleeping bag.

Once again I was following tracks from other vehicles heading to a favorite spot north of the highway towards Arch Canyon, and I was dismayed. Even though knowing most of these tracks were probably ranchers and cowboys out checking on their cows.

The road disappears in the rocks, and with snow there was no way to know where to drive. Lucky for me I recently found out I am descended from crafty French trappers and instinct took over. All other vehicle tracks had turned around and I was threading the needle between rocks over unbroken snow, there is no road to this place. It was so darn cool and after a mile or more of guessing which way to go I arrived at what I've named Java Point from other outings. Clear skies were also a blessing that day

There are other dwellings under the far cliffs. I'll be back someday soon to climb them.

Driving out I could follow my own tracks and not have to guess like I did on the way in.

This had not been a planned stop, I was just wanting to see the view again. I still had another long hike I wanted to take but the knee was giving me grief. I drove to the general location to camp anyway, fighting the tumbleweeds to get there. If I could go back in time I would stop the invasion of tumbleweeds and tamarisk also known as salt cedar, both incredibly invasive and worthless in this landscape.

On the downhill stretch of this TR, are we glad?

I drove up the highway through Bluff, Utah, Blanding, Monticello and Moab. Blanding is still in the throes of ages old sameness that I enjoy, not growing explosively is a good thing. Bluff and Moab are a different story though and the growing number of gaudy outposts and motels are disappointing. I drove through as fast a possible, I had another area to see where I've not spent much time. Yes there are a lot of areas left for me to check out. It will be a sad day when I feel I've seen it all.

I wanted to hike to and photograph the Bowknot Bend of the Green River from the east side. I had picked out a road from maps that I thought would get me there. Clouds and snow came and went all day and the next day as well.

Getting to the road that would take me to the River level I stopped, mud. And you thought it was the gate. Driving the White Rim Trail one January and doing the stretch hundreds of feet over the Green River while driving in deep mud scared me so bad I won't attempt another cliff hugging road unless it's totally dry. Having only inches between cliff walls on one side and a long fall on the other side while wheels slip and slide isn't good for a person's heart. Yet this road looks inviting and I'll be back next fall to take it.

I could see it at the canyon bottom and hear it saying to me, "Come on down."

Stymied again, another change of plans and another trail to take picked from my topo of the area. I'll see that Green River yet, and enjoy the fantastic scenery as I go.

The road to Heaven

Finally, as far as one can drive before falling into the Green, it is just over the cliffs behind me.

This will be home for the night, my last on this trip.

My solo trips have a spiritual side to them as well. I always feel a renewal of mind, soul and body after some time alone outdoors, trying to figure out how everything fits together so perfectly. I was having thoughts like that the next morning, New Years Day, when God winked at me. The clouds had completely covered the sky while I was sitting on a cold rock having coffee with thoughts of how to leave the world a better place. The clouds came up such a small bit to let God wink at me and let me know things will work out despite my worrying. It's personal yes, but still I wish I'd done a better job of capturing the moment to share.

The wink was over in a few minutes and I was left with a devil of a chill sitting on that cold rock with a now cold cup of coffee. I took my warm thoughts and feelings and packed up to leave.

I took a nice walk first to see a section of bend in the river, even though the Bowknot Bend was to the south of me. This bend will do for now.

This trip has been just like the rock don't you think, well balanced yet teetering on the brink?

The thin layers of sandstone are accentuated by the light dusting of snow. I'm forever amazed to think these rocks were once at the bottom of an ancient ocean.

Standing on these cliffs looking down I could hear the sound of ice chunks hitting each other and rubbing along the icy banks, floating slowly on the current. With no breeze for the moment the sound carried quite well.

I walked back to the truck wishing I had ice skates for all the potholes that were frozen totally solid. I won't mention that I can't skate on ice, though I've skated through life with the help of Family, Friends and God. FF&G, there it is.

I was wrong earlier about saying the truck was as close to the River as possible, I found this spot a bit closer. I figured the truck and camper deserved to see it after all the driving done in 8 days.

Driving by this rock I suddenly craved a nice big donut with icing, I don't know why.

He was browsing at first, raising his head when I whistled loudly so I could take this picture. It's a French trapper thing. I learned that trick when hunting jack rabbits as a kid, something I no longer do but fully understand the passion of hunting. A Jack at full run will sometimes stop in it's tracks when it hears a loud whistle. I'm glad I no longer shoot them with anything but a camera.

Dubinky Well. Put on your magnifying glasses to see a cottontail huddled between the wood shack and metal tank bottom left. You can just see it's ears sticking up.

I'm never happy to see pavement at the end of a trip. Yet I am glad to see it after doing this TR, long as it's been. A left turn and on my way back to Meridian, Idaho.

P.S. Yes, after all the pictures and wordy text I still have more to say, it's the French roast coffee. I drove just over 1,800 miles in the 8 days I was gone. About 400 miles or more of snowy roads that in summer are well graded and 4wheel isn't needed. I apologize for the novel size trip report, TR. The trip itself was epic due to the snow. I can only hope you enjoyed the hoodtography.

Oh yeah, about that brand new motor home I'd like to sell you...it comes with a view.

Have a Happy New Years to my great Friends and I'll finally bid you adieu. Yes, that's French, you heard it from an old French trapper...wearing a cowboy hat.