My October 96 Canyons Trip in Utah


The following is a synopsis of a 2 week trip I made in Utah during October 1996. I decided on going to that area because I had fleetingly visited it in 1983 just driving from one National Park to another with a group of students from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Also having read the guides of Sandra Hinchman and both of Michael Kelsey I just had to see the canyons close up.

The trip turned out to be tremendous fun and I plan to be back again in the area in October 98 this time to explore Grand Gulch and the neighboring smaller canyons that are said to house wonderfully intact Anasazi Indian ruins. I took along two cameras, a small Ricoh autofocus and a 12 year old Nikon FE. The better pictures were invariably the Nikon but the Ricoh was much handier to use though after 8 years this saw its last trip. The colors in the better photographs were almost exactly as you see them, no development or film problem, just a slight emphasis on the red and yellows! In a few days I will have a Photo Gallery up with more images for each area.

PS: By the way the image above is NOT the way I dress when I hike!

Monday, 14th October:

[Me in Oak Creek       Neg.?-4/96]

I arrived earlier in Phoenix, Arizona, and drove up to Flagstaff via Sedona (which is quite a nice little town to see even though it is overcrowded with tourists during the summer months). There I hiked up Oak Creek, (left), (Hinchman: Page 185) for about 3 miles. Having left Flagstaff in the morning I spent the day leisurely driving up to Bryce Canyon via Page, AZ, and Kanab, UT, on HWY-89 and State Road 12. HWY-89 has some fantastic views over the northern part of the Grand Canyon just south of Glen Canyon Dam. These begin just 1 mile north of the fork with Alternative HWY-89 at Bitter Springs. Leaving Page about 30 miles out I stopped by the ranger station at Paria Canyon Wilderness Area just west to get some maps for a possible hike down Paria River and/or Buckskin Gulch but the weather forecast did not look very good so I decided against it and to head up to Bryce Canyon NP instead. I ended up staying in a small motel near the entrance to the park at an area called Ruby's Inn.

Tuesday, 15th October:

[Sun Rise at Bryce Canyon         Neg#20-7/96]

I went on an early morning hike to see the sunrise and hike a trail name Fairyland Trail, (left) (Kelsey Book 2: Map 3 Page 25) that takes you to areas off the beaten path of tourists. The scenery was very beautiful and I took some nice pictures some of which are to be found on these pages. Temperatures were around freezing in the morning and by the time I was below the rim the sun had risen and I was only wearing a T-shirt! I also hiked a trail called Peek-a-Boo Trail (Kelsey Book 2: Map 4 Page 29) that meanders all over the place between the spires of Bryce Canyon, Awesome! I then watched the sunset at the southernmost point of Bryce with a wonderful view of the slot canyons to which I went the next day. The night was spent in a town called Tropic just east of Bryce.

Wednesday, 16th October

[Will in Bull Valley Gorge         Neg#2A-8/96]

I again drove to Bryce to see the sunrise, it was so beautiful I had to see it again. Then I sped of back through Tropic to Bull Valley Gorge, (left), and Willis Creek. Skutumpah Road which leads to both places is quite good in a dry sate but would be impassable in a few steep areas for a 2 WD car when wet. Bull Valley Gorge was an interesting hike. Kelsey's descriptions are quite accurate however, as he points out, given the amount of rain that goes through these stream beds a boulder here today can be gone tomorrow regardless of its size. So a log jam that was in the route description (Kelsey Book 2: Map 7 on page 35) was no longer there. Instead I climbed down a tree trunk that had been placed in a side crack a bit further southwest on the northern side of the gorge. One has to be a bit careful climbing down it since the branches are pointing downwards (just like the picture further below). Continuing down the gulch I reached a spot where I had to turn back at a boulder at which I could climb done but was not sure I could return that way because of all the mud right below it. Once on the other side it would be impossible to get a grip on the walls with muddy feet, or so I thought. This was only a few hundred feet from the Bull Valley Gorge Bridge. I would not recommend anyone going down it alone since it would be quite difficult to get back up, there not being any great areas to wedge oneself in to climb back up and I have done a bit of free-climbing in Boulder! So I returned and tried to find one of the "E/E" = "Entry/Exit" points indicated on Kelsey's map. No Luck, in this particular case either the author could fly or had not tried these (as he had said for some of them).

[Me in Willis Creek         Neg#?-2/96]

I wanted to climb down this gulch, so what to do? That was when I met Roy. He is a retired engineer who had taken up photography. Together we walked along the rim of the gulch until found the spot where the blocking rock was. At that spot we threw down a log and I climbed into the gulch to the same spot and heaved it over the rock and presto, a bio-degradable ladder. Roy decided not hike in with all his camera equipment and I was not sure of the weather which was starting to cloud over. So I decided instead to head for Willis Creek about 2 miles back up the road. Willis Creek had some running water in it and was a pleasant hike. That is where I met Will and we agreed to meet again the next morning at Bull Valley Gorge since he had not been in it. I continued to hike down Willis Creek turning south into Sheep Creek. My intention was to hike to the Bull Valley Gorge confluence with Sheep Creek to see if there are any "E/E" points not requiring technical climbing equipment at the lower end. Again no luck.

Thursday, 17th October

[Log I threw into Bull Valley Gorge        Neg#?-2/96]

So the next day, Thursday, Will and I climbed down Bull Valley Gorge getting extremely muddy feet but it was a lot of fun. Make sure you have shoes along that you do not mind ruining! Will decided to climb out of the gulch about a mile after the gorge bridge and I went on trying to find the connection point with Sheep Creek. I must have missed it having passed a dry steam bed that just looked too small but must have been it. That is what you get by not having any accurate topo-maps. After hiking for about 3.5 miles I turned around and climbed out the same spot as Will. I still had a long dirt road ride back to Page where Will and I decided to meet up for dinner at Wahweap Marina on Lake Powell. The road connecting Cannonville with HWY-89 called Cottonwood Wash Road is a short cut that was not recommended to me by the rangers at the Glen Canyon dam. No idea why since the road was quite well maintained and the scenery was beautiful. It seems that the rangers just do not want anyone to get stuck in the back country. However if you have ever driven on soft sand you have a feel of what is passable and what is not.

[Round Valley Draw        Neg#?-2/96]

Along the way I stopped at Round Valley Draw, (left) (Kelsey Book 2: Map 16 on page 81) which is just off Cottonwood Wash Road to the south along Rush Bed Road. When coming south from Cannonville the Rush Bed Road sign is rather small and can be missed. This canyon was quite interesting since it was necessary to climb over and under boulders a lot. I climbed out about 1.5 miles into the canyon and walked back along the ledge to the north. Be careful there are many steep spots!

Friday, 18th October

[Antelope Canyon        Neg#13-8/96]

Will and I decided to walk through Butterfly Canyon (Kelsey Book 1: Map 71 on page 173) which was just north east of Page. Using his 4WD car to get close to the canyon it took us a while to find a reasonable entrance. But once in it was basically an easy walk until the stream had begun to cut steeply into the rock to a point where a sheer drop of around 20 feet blocked our further progress since neither one of us wanted the chimney down. We returned to climb into Antelope Canyon (Kelsey Book 1: Map 70 on page 171) . Up to two years ago it could be accessed freely despite being on private property. Now the Indian family owning the land is charging $5.00 day fee as well as $7.50 canyon entry fee. That may seem steep but it definitely was worth it since many of the drop-offs inside the canyon would have been very difficult or impassable for a single person without ladders that they had installed. This canyon is the typically meandering deep stream-bed that one usually sees in photographs. As Kelsey says this is "... probably the most photogenic, photographed and famous slot canyon around". The myriad combinations of colors and rock formations were fascinating and would even lend themselves to be termed 'erotic'. It's definitely a spot to which I will return with the Nikon and a tripod next time. At this point Will and I split up and I headed off to Capitol Reef via. The night I spent in Mexican Hat. The town is named after a flat circular rock that is precariously perched atop a small natural pillar just south.

Saturday, 19th October

[The Goosenecks seen from Muley Pt.        Neg#23-7/96]

I left early morning and headed towards Valley of the Gods. State road 316 and 261 connected at a small graded road that climbed up a sheer 1000 ft cliff which at first sight looked impossible until one was on the road itself realizing that it had actually been carved out of the side of the cliff. Once on top I headed to Muley Point to the west. This had been recommend to me by a guest at the motel in Mexican Hat. The views from Muley Point were spectacular and best of all there are wonderful campsites almost at the edge of the cliffs. I definitely plan to camp there to see the sunrise over the mountains to the east. It's a foregone conclusion that it will be a memorable experience. Continuing to follow State Road 95 driving through Natural Bridges National Monument stopping there for a few short walks. Then onwards to Hanksville for the night when it started to snow lightly.

Sunday, 20th October

[Goblin Valley SP        Neg1-5/96]

Will was adamant that I must see Goblin Valley State Park and also hiking down one or two of the gulches in the area. The park is just amazing full of bizarre and fantastic rock shapes left by erosion, called Hoodoos, Bryce Canyon is also knows for these. Walking between these strange and wonderful rock formations I felt like a small insect walking between large chocolate drops while in some areas it felt like a movie set out of Conan the Barbarian (The Gates of Doom).

[Cathedral Park        Neg#12-5/96]

Capitol Reef National Park was another recommendation of Will and it was an excellent one. I took a 4WD road on the eastern part of the park. One thing I must point out; do not rely on the "Official" map of 'Southeastern Utah' which sells for US$ 2.00 and is published by the Utah Travel Council. It was impossible to find some of the smaller connecting roads and I found out from some locals that several of the smaller towns are not in the right locations so these maps cannot be used as guides. Rely instead on actual signs near the road some of which are almost too small to see even going at 40 mph while others are so old that the writing is almost illegible. Else ask someone in Caineville on State Road 24, which is what I did.

[Temple of the Sun        Neg#11-5/96]

So taking the 4WD road with my 2WD Mazda and ignoring the sign "Impassable when wet" now remember that this is for 4WD cars!, I forged ahead given it had been rather dry the last days. I intended to make a loop and return via the Fremont River Crossing further west. Not even 1 mile off the road the landscape started to change dramatically if only on a smaller scale but after about 20 miles crossing several smaller stream beds that on first sight looked impassable with my car, I arrived at a landscape that was absolutely awe-inspiring and mystical. The rock formation right and left do full justice to the name Cathedral Valley. From a distance it looked like I was driving into a lush valley which turned out to be mineral deposits of greenish hues. The scene was something straight out of a fantasy novel with Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien coming to mind, or even an area of the planet Vulcan in Star Trek or a scene out of a Conan the Barbarian movie. Wonderful!! This is definitely a place that is on my top priority list of future camp sites. (A 'primitive' campground exists at the northern end of the loop called Cathedral Campground.) Best of all, No Tourists!, I only saw one person returning from a day trip, he also had 2WD car and said that the Fremeont River Crossing was too deep so he was returning by the same way. So if you plan to do the loop in a 2WD car start or at least check at the western end from State Road 24 to make sure you can cross the river.

It was getting late and I continued up the graded (last time a decade ago??) road wanting to go over the pass before sunset. So putting the gear into the 1 position I drove out of the valley up into an area called Fishlake National Forest. Again the 'Official' Map was useless. Only one road out of maybe six was ever shown and then not marked with numbers as they actually were. So just by luck and some guess work I found the right path going up to about 10,000 ft where several areas of the road were already covered with snow. There were quite a few deer around which surprised me since hunting season had begun. Then I noticed that the area I had driven through was off limits to hunters, smart deer! I spent the night in Torrey at the Aquarius Inn. A very nice Inn but old furnishings.

Monday, 21st October

[Cliff near the entrance to Crack Canyon        Neg#20-5/96]

Drove from Torrey via State Road 24 northeastwards to Interstate 70 then south on Highway 191 to Moab about 32 miles north of the road that takes you into the Needles District of Canyonlands NP. Stopped at Goblins Valley again to hike down two canyons, Crack Canyon and Chute Canyon (Kelsey Book 1: Map 13 on page 45). Both are relatively short and easy with minor obstacles though I found the scenery quite attractive. Driving up Temple Mnt. Road I saw quite a few camping mobiles, seemingly a popular area.

Tuesday, 22nd October

[Pinnacles at Canyon Lands         Neg#1-3/96]

Canyonlands NP definitely lives up to its reputation. I had reserved a camping place in advance at Chesler Park in the Needles District since that is a popular area and camping spots are limited, cost US$ 10. The rather short hike began at Soda spring along Elephant Hill and ended after about 4.5 miles in Chesler Park near the center pinnacles where I set up camp. Chesler Park is a U-shaped area surrounded by multicolored pinnacles. Especially at sunset one could really appreciate the rock formations since the U opened up to the West. There is a wonderful circular hike around Chesler Park which takes one through a small maze of cracks in rocks on the park's southern side called the Joint Trail. Water was scarce since it had not rained in a long time and the pot holes on the rock had dried out, the ranger asking that any remaining water not be used for drinking water since they were used by the local wildlife. But the relatively low temperatures of a little below freezing at night to about 15C at day time allowed for low water consumption and I managed with about 1.5 liters a day that I had packed in, though I had a purifier just in case. During summer times the recommended amount is about 4 liters a day and I know that I drink it.

Wednesday, 23rd October

[Druid Arch        Neg#21-3/96]

Canyonlands: A morning hike to Druid Arch was first on the agenda, then the Chesler Park Loop Trail. The rest of the day was spent exploring small side canyons which are so numerous that much more time could be spent in them than just a few days. Walking around one sees something termed Cryptobiotic Crust a picture of which is in my photogallery, quite interesting stuff. Late afternoon reading a book "In trouble Again" by Redmond O'Hanlon, a really hilarious modern day British adventure traveler! Also continued browsing Canyonlands Country by Don Baars.

Thursday, 24th October

[Sunset at Chesler Park        Neg#17-3/96]

I headed out from Canyonlands and drove back to Flagstaff.

Friday, 25th October: Back to LA.

General Information:

Weather: Luck was on my side during which in a 2 week period it rained lightly only once. That is not the normal condition which calls for much lower temperatures and more rain or snow. Rain would definitely have been the end of any trips into slot-canyons and would have been extremely dangerous!  See Warning!!

Motels: In general I was aghast at the prices being charged for a simple motel room with prices ranging from $35 all the way to $80! Seems like many are really trying to cash in on the tourists going through the area because one exception to this trend was in where I stayed at the Aquarius Inn. This is run by a couple (not present) who have a consuming love affair with airplanes and the whole motel and the attached restaurant/bar is filled with various paraphernalia collected by them over the years. It's quite a cozy place and the room charge was only $28 !!

Food: If you plan to go to the Needles District of Canyonlands NP make sure that you take along food and water from Moab or Monticello along Highway 191 to the east. That is because the only place to buy anything at the park is the Needles Outpost and they charge an arm and a leg!

Maps used:

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