Grand Canyon – South Bass Trailhead

We left Blanding in the snow, but quickly the weather improved as we dropped in altitude and approached the Arizona border. There are a few ways home, but the most majestic is the one that runs through Monument Valley.

Once back in Arizona we climbed again through Kayenta on the Navajo Reservation. The snow there had not melted yet, but would later in the day given the blue skies above.

While Kirk and Kathy headed home, Pam and I decided to spend a night somewhere around the Grand Canyon. While we typically arrive into the park from the south entrance, we used the east entrance this time and stopped at the Desert View canyon lookout.

The most striking man-made feature at this location is the beautiful 70-foot tall rock watchtower design by Mary Colter.

This site offers a picturesque view of the canyon, but is also know for the 1956 mid-air collision of two commercial airliners passing overhead where all 128 folks died. This disaster was the catalyst for the formation of the FAA and the air-traffic rules and regulations that make air travel much safer today.

We have found back-country camping spots on the North Rim that we cherish, but not on the South Rim. Just for fun we stopped in the back-country office and asked if there were any on the South Rim. As it turns out, there are a couple of spots and we reserved one for the night – South Bass Trailhead.

The 30-mile dirt road to get there takes you out of the Park, through the national forest, across the Havasupai Indian Lands, back through the national forest and finally back into the park. The ranger said it was about a 45 minute drive. (30 miles in 45 minutes on dirt roads?) It turned out to be a 2 hour drive, where the last 10 miles you crawl over 2 foot deep ruts and weave through trees along a single track road.

However, the site was beautiful and right on the rim. William Bass carved out over 50 miles of trails through the canyon around the turn of the last century that are still used today.

The clouds started to roll in once we arrived at the campsite.

Within a couple of hours the snow front began to move westward towards us.

Our site was in light snow flurries for about an hour, but then it dissipated and the sunset was beautiful.

This was looking away from the Rim to the west. Given the rapidly changing weather we both wondered what the morning would bring.

The next morning broke with crystal blue skies and a temperature hovering just around freezing.

We decided to drive back while the ground was still frozen, through the trees…

… and the ruts.

It was open range out there. We saw a few cows and bulls, and even a couple of herds of wild horses with their new ponies in tow.

It was mostly sagebrush out there, and smelled wonderful. We got home later that afternoon and now begins the preparations for the summer trek. Finding a new spot on the South Rim was worth a few more pin-stripes on the Roamer.

Bears Ears

Kathy and Kirk got ready for their 3-day, 20+-mile back-packing trek down Kane Canyon and up Bullet Canyon in the Cedar Mesa region of Utah, which is now part of the Bears Ears National Monument. Most of the Bears Ears area was either BLM land or National Forest before becoming the newest National Monument, with an area about the same size as the state of Delaware.

We moved Kirk’s car to the Bullet trailhead so they would have a vehicle waiting when they finished their hike. The weather forecast was predicting sunny days and the plan was to meet up again at the end of the hike, so we had a couple of days to explore the area ourselves.

Natural Bridges National Monument was nearby and is now surrounded by Bears Ears, a monument within a monument. We hiked to the three natural bridges and ruins in the park. The difference between a natural bridge and an arch is that a natural bridge is created by a river eroding the rock to form a bridge, while an arch if formed by rock walls fracturing due to weather erosion. Now you know.

That afternoon we drove out to Muley Point, which is now also part of Bears Ears, to meet up with Lou and Nancy, who were enroute to their home in Colorado from the Overland Expo show in Flagstaff. Muley Point sits up on a high plateau overlooking the San Juan River gorge and Monument Valley in the distance.

We had a great night catching up while the wind howled outside across the plateau. The next day they headed for home while Pam and I watched a storm rolling north towards us.

We left Muley Point before the rains made the only exit road impassable. We drove north, in rain and sleet, past the Bullet Canyon trailhead and two back-packers who were apparently hiking the 7 miles back to Kane for their car. We picked them up and dropped them at the Ranger Station and their car.

We continued north until we were out of the rain and back at Natural Bridges NM again. In a case of instant Karma, when I asked the ranger if they had any camping spots left, she said no, but the man behind me said he had a spot and was leaving early so we could have it – pre-paid. Gotta like it.

While it continued to rain over the Cedar Mesa area, the sky broke over Natural Bridges for a gorgeous evening. Pam and I did a walk around the campground area and found a solar cell field. Surprisingly, this small field was the world’s largest solar array when it was first installed back in the ‘80s, providing the electrical power to the park.

The next day Pam and I hiked Mule Canyon, exploring the ruins that can be found in just about every canyon in this area. The first ruins we came upon are known as “house on fire” ruins due to the rock flame coloring above the ruins.

Further down the canyon was another ruin tucked under the overhang of the sandstone wall.

The wind began to blow colder and clouds rolled in as we made our way to the Bullet Canyon trailhead. A ranger at Natural Bridge confirmed what we now knew, weather prediction in the area further than you could see was poor. I hiked down in to meet up with Kirk and Kathy on their way out. Pam decided to guard the warm Roamer.

Not far into the canyon you come to the watchtower ruins that stand as a sentinel to the canyon.

After a few miles, the canyon closes in and two awesome sandstone chutes need to be traversed to get further down the canyon. What a blast to hike down these chutes. One can easily see that with a little more water the sandstone becomes very slick, and the route becomes impassable. Even dry, it would be awkward hiking up them with a pack.

The first chute looks like a cliff until you get closer.

This is a view looking back up the chute, where the first ledge is about 3 feet tall where the water falls.

The second chute was just as interesting.

I ran into Kirk and Kathy just after the chutes and we retraced my path out of the canyon. Just prior to leaving the canyon, the light rain turned to big fluffy white snowflakes. We all jumped in the warm Roamer, had some hot home-made chicken soup and watched the outside slowly turning white at the trailhead.

Because Kirk and Kathy were tent camping, we decided to drive out of the weather again to find a more suitable campsite for them. As it turned out the weather system was larger than we thought, and the snow began coming down hard.

We ended up in a Blanding, UT parking lot for the night, the closest town in the area. The next morning it was still snowing when we woke so we all headed south towards Arizona and home.

The Burr Trail

The four of us left Calf Creek CG the next day and headed initially in opposite directions, but with the same end objective location. Kirk and Kathy wanted to hike a couple more slot canyons, Peek-a-boo and Spooky for those that know Grand Staircase hikes. Pam and I decided to take a relaxed drive on the Burr Trail to our end goal of Kane Ranger Station in the Cedar Mesa area.

The Burr Trail is a 70-mile, remote road that started as a cattle drive route between Boulder, UT and Bullfrog, UT. About two-thirds of the road is paved now, but the speed limit ranges between 20 and 35 mph.

A few miles after leaving Boulder, you drop down into beautiful Long Canyon.

We stopped several times along the drive to enjoy the sights.

At the end of Long Canyon the road opens up to a colorful valley.

The pavement ends at the boundary between Grand Staircase NM and Capital Reef National Park.

The dirt road runs through the southern section of Capital Reef NP.

One of the more interesting sections of the drive is the Burr Trail Switchbacks that takes you down one of the faces of the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile tilt of the earth’s crust similar to the Squeeze. This is the entry to the switchbacks from the top.

This is looking over the side of the road, where most of the road is still hidden in the rocks until the bottom. What a blast to drive, although the Roamer needed every inch of the switchbacks to make the turns.

As you approach Bullfrog, you can see the water of Lake Powell in the distance.

We stopped for lunch at the Bullfrog marina. Lake Powell is the result of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. The huge lake has 100s of sandstone cliff fingers that offers world class water-skiing on glass smooth water. In the distance you can see the covered marina that protects the huge house boats used on the lake.

In years past, we would rent a house boat and ski boat with friends and find our own sandstone finger channel to camp and ski the week away. While most folks from Arizona use the Wahweap marina outside Page, AZ to get onto Lake Powell, Utah folks use Bullfrog, where the two are separated by 50 miles of lake.

It was Mother’s Day when we were at the marina and our waitress gave Pam a Mother’s Day present of coffee pods since we were running low and the local stores did not carry them. And yes, the Roamer does have a Keurig coffee maker. There is a difference between being in the back-country and roughing it – lol.

A ferry can take you across to the other side at Bullfrog, but we drove around instead because it was a wash on time between the two routes to get where we were going. Our route took us through the beautiful Glen Canyon National Rec Area before we arrived at Cedar Mesa.

The two flat-top mountains that bookend the road to our next campsite are the Bears Ears Mountains, both over 8,000 feet. This is the area that is the newest National Monument and currently under review.

We dispersed camped about a mile north of the Kane Ranger station on a flat rock outcropping. Kirk and Kathy met up with us there at sunset.

The next day we would split for a couple days while they back-packed Kane and Bullet Canyons.

Kodachrome / Grand Staircase

From our base at Calf Creek CG we took off west for the north entrance to Cottonwood Canyon Road. Our attempt to travel this road earlier in the trip from the south entrance was halted due to rain, but the weather passed and the road had time to dry.

Our first stop along the road was Kodachrome Basin State Park, which definitely earns its name.

We hiked Angel’s Palace trail to get a view of the incredible rock formations in the basin.

The trail traversed a rock plateau for a grander view of the area.

There were a lot of rock peninsulas that offered great photo opportunities, and possible injury – lol.

The rock colors, representing different formations over millions of years of vastly different eco-systems was both humbling and beautiful. Kathy is a geologist, so the hikes were filled with information on the rocks.

Although most of the time she was just as interested in the amazing flowers in bloom all around us.

And while the basin was unique, the beauty of the area extended for many miles.

We drove out to chimney rock and then hiked to Shakespeare Arch, a small but colorful arch that Pam and I had never been to before.

We left Kodachrome and headed south into Grand Staircase along Cottonwood Canyon. We stopped for lunch at Grosvenor Arch.

This was a much larger arch, or arches as the picture shows, and impressive.

We then headed further south to my favorite spot along Cottonwood Canyon, the Squeeze. The area is named this because of the many colorful rock layers tilted near vertically along a fault to produce an incredible area.

We hiked the Cottonwood Narrows, a slot canyon that runs parallel to the Squeeze.

On the way back to the car we came across a 3-foot bull snake making its way across the road. I think he wanted to stop and get some sun on the road, but we hurried him on his way across so that he was not flattened by oncoming tourists.

This is a very unique area.

On the way back to Calf Creek CG we stopped at a campground in Escalante where you can rent vintage Airstream campers to stay in, if you don’t have a camper yourself, and watch the nightly “drive-in” movie from a vintage car. “City Slickers” was playing the night we stopped, but you had to be staying there to watch the movie. It’s definitely on the list for a future trip.

Before getting back to camp we stopped at the Escalante River crossing and hiked up to petroglyphs on the rock walls above the river. Someone had taken power tools and attempted to cut out the 1000 year old petroglyphs along the wall. This is one of the best reasons why these type of places need protection under a national park or monument. It’s very sad to think someone thought this would be acceptable.

The day was a taste of life on the road with a big class A motor home and a car in tow, or even a fifth-wheel after you park and detach your truck. There are definite advantages to having a smaller vehicle to drive around and especially park at various places nearby, while your campsite remains in-place. Not sure we’re ready to give up the Roamer yet because of its advantages in the back-country.

Calf Creek, UT

We took to the road once again for a short trip to southern Utah and back. This trek had two goals: first, to provide logistic support for some friends who were going to backpack some canyons in Utah, and second, a final shakedown of the rig prior to our fourth summer adventure trek. Kirk and Kathy wanted to hike Buckskin Canyon near the Wave, and then Kane and Bullet Canyons in the Cedar Mesa area, now also the Bears Ears National Monument area. Weather is always hit and miss this time of year and you don’t want rain or the flash flooding that comes with it for either of these hikes. Therefore, Pam and I agreed to provide support for their hikes, mostly moving cars from entry to exit points and hot showers in the Roamer after the hikes. Our truck, with now nearly 70,000 miles on it, had its yearly service and a new set of tires – oh yeah!

After we left Phoenix and climbed up onto the Rim, it began to rain. We had a few hot days just before this so the cold rain created a cool fog along the road through the forest.

We drove Lake Mary Road to Flagstaff because it’s a much prettier drive that the Interstate. We passed by Mormon Lake and it had more water than I have ever seen. It was a good thing Overland Expo West moved its site this year from Mormon Lake or it would have been like a few years ago when everything was under water and mud. It was great fun to drive in, but folks camped in a few inches of water were not pleased. Pam looked for the 4-foot Common Crane that was blown off course from Russia and was spotted around Mormon Lake. We saw plenty of Egrets, but no Crane.

We met up with Kirk and Kathy and dispersed camped near Walnut Canyon National Monument, a small NM just outside of Flagstaff that most folks never see on their way to the Grand Canyon. It rained all evening and was suppose to snow, but the morning broke with crisp, clear blue skies and a nice view of the San Francisco peaks.

We did a short hike in Walnut Canyon in the morning since Kirk had never seen it before. There were many ruins along the canyon walls of the folks that lived here 1000 years ago. As it would turn out, this trip would be mostly about exploring canyon ruins.

Given the rain that had fallen and the additional rain forecast for the intended hike in Buckskin Canyon, we changed our plans and did not drive the dirt and clay Rockhouse Road to Buckskin Canyon, but headed to Page, AZ instead. We stopped at Horseshoe Bend, where the Colorado River does nearly a 360 turn just below Glen Canyon Dam near Page before flowing down into the Grand Canyon.

The original plan was to head to Calf Creek CG just outside Boulder, UT after the Buckskin hike. The intent was to drive up Cottonwood Canyon Road, through the heart of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, but that road too is impassable when it rains due to the clay. Therefore, we drove an arc around Grand Staircase to the west, which got us out of the rain and we camped at Ponderosa Grove CG just outside Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. The campground was a nice, inexpensive Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground, which is typical of BLM campgrounds.

The next morning we went to the Coral Pink Dunes and they are something to see.

The route around Grand Staircase takes you near Zion NP and Bryce Canyon NP, and you start to understand that southern Utah is a geological wonderland. The road between Escalante, UT and Boulder, UT runs through some pretty impressively, rugged country.

Calf Creek CG is tucked down into one of the rock canyons along this route. From the campsite you are always looking up to the beautiful walls that surround you.

We hiked along Calf Creek, up the canyon, where everything was green and in bloom from the winter and spring rains.

There were petroglyphs along the hike. Notice the three figures just above the crack along the base of the wall. The Freemont Indians made these about 1000 years ago.

The hike ends at the 140-foot tall fall. The water was snow-melt and very cold.

The road between Escalante and Boulder, through the rocks, was a relatively recent achievement. In the 1930s, the CCC constructed the first road between these two towns through the mountains and forest north of the current highway. The route had one interesting point where two deep canyons met to form a peak of a thin row of rock. The bridge built over this narrow rock section was aptly named.

Pam and I camped up along this road last year, but the view from the bridge never gets old. A single camera shot just can’t do it justice.

As the sun set over the campground, the clouds turned pink in the fading light.

We have two cars for this trip so it opens up a new way of camping for us. We’ll keep the Roamer at Calf Creek and use the other vehicle to do explorations around the area. Stay tuned….