..........................................................Arizona Jones Outdoors: Hiking, Backpacking, Mountain Biking, and more!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Coyote Buttes, North Section

One of the most fantastic places to see sandstone formations is called Coyote Buttes. This area is located along the Arizona Utah border between Page Arizona and Kanab Utah. The first time I saw it was by accident. I was intending to backpack through a long slot canyon called Buckskin Gulch. However the weather forecast had a chance of rain (dangerous for slot canyons).

So I just started off out into the desert to camp away from the slot. What I found was a fantasy land of rock of all colors and shapes.  Latter I found out that it is a permit only and day use only area.
But what a treat I found as I walked farther and farther into a dream world of colorful swirling rocks. With patterns and shapes I could never have dreamed of.
Nothing could prepare me for what I found as I went farther and farther into this crazy fantasy land of stone.
Giant beehive or tee pee shaped buttes with stripes of all colors, Swirls and patterns and stripes in rock like I had never seen. Words can't describe this place. Hopefully the photos can show you just a hint of how amazing this is. But really they of course will fall short of showing you the context and feeling of this epic stone landscape.

Back then I didn't have digital cameras and it was so fantastic I ran out of film. But it was some of the best rolls of film I ever shot.
And I was glad that I had to change my plans due to the weather. This place is very photogenic and is a destination for photographers from around the world. And photos of this area are often found in magazines like Arizona Highways.
Anyway here is how you get there the right way. To get to the trail head you take Highway 89. The turn-off is located on the south (right side coming from Kanab) side of the road. Its between mile markers 25 and 26, at a curve in the road, at the end of a guard rail. Turn at the unmarked dirt road. This is House Rock Road. You take this dirt road south for about 8.3 miles to the Wirepass trailhead. This is also the trail head for the Wirepass entrance to Buckskin Gulch.
The trail is in a wash for the first .6 miles and then there is a marked right turn out of the wash. At the top of the first hill is the Coyote Buttes trail register, then the path follows an old sandy jeep track over a plateau and down to another dry wash. Beyond here it is less sand and more rock and the trail is harder to see. generally you head south. The route is across the wash and up the far side to the top of a small ridge, where you keep left left. Over the ridge, the land opens out to reveal a large area of sand and slickrock, with a long, large ridge to the right (the north part of Coyote Buttes), with an area of rock domes (beehives and tee pees) below. About 2 miles in front of you is the real destination at the base of a large white cliff with a vertical crack in the middle.
 Right below this crack is where the best formations are (the wave). While all the rest is beautiful and impressive the wave has unique color and the consistent texture and conformity to the layers makes it special and photogenic. 
It takes between one and two hours, and the hike is relatively easy, without much elevation change.
But the whole area is worth looking at and there are some arches and dinosaur tracks and just south of the Wave area is a place many call the Wave Two so spend the whole day exploring the area.
Here is a map of the hike that I made up to help get you there.
Permits: Entry to North or South Coyote Buttes costs $7 or $5 per person respectively, with a limit of 20 people for each region and no more than 6 in a single group. Half these are bookable up to 4 months in advance, by writing to the BLM in Kanab or applying via their website (https://www.blm.gov/az/paria/index.cfm, sometimes inaccessible), while the other half are available by applying in person to the BLM office at the Paria River (located south of Highway 89 between mile post 21 and 22, between Kanab and Page, Arizona), before 9 am on the day prior to the intended visit (the office opens at 8.30 am). At 9 am, if more than ten people are waiting, a lottery system is used to select the chosen few. All successful applicants receive a copy of the access regulations and, for North Coyote Buttes, a topographic map to help identify the route to the Wave, which is not well marked on the ground. There is high demand for the advance permits and all may be taken many months before the date of travel. A permit is also required for dogs - another $5. No overnight camping is permitted anywhere in the area.
Coyote Buttes Special Permit Offices
Arizona Strip Field Office: 345 East Riverside Drive St. George, Utah 84790 435.688.3200
Kanab Office: 318 N 100 E Kanab, Utah 84741 435.644.4600.
There is also a south section of Coyote Buttes and I will deal with that on a latter post.

To see more information on Buckskin Gulch, The Paria River Canyon that are in this area see these posts
And this one too http://azjonesoutdoor.blogspot.com/2010/11/paria-river-canyon.html

Friday, July 16, 2010

West Fork of Oak Creek, Arizona

I live near Sedona Arizona a place that millions of people visit on vactions. They come to see the Red rock cliffs and rock formations. And some come to swim in oak creek at Slide Rock State Park. In the heat of summer there is one place that I like to go and that is called The West Fork Of Oak Creek. The west fork of Oak Creek is a side canyon to the main Oak Creek Canyon. It has a small stream that flows year round and towering cliffs that close in around you. From the carpark, a path crosses Oak Creek and follows it downstream for a short distance, passing through the site of a ruined lodge called Mayhew Lodge. Just past this the trail heads away from Oak Creek and into the side canyon of the West Fork. The first three miles the trail is easy and flat crossing the small stream several times. Then at the 3 mile mark the trail end and you just walk up the stream. From here you are just boulder hopping and just walking in the creek, and in some places wading through some shallow pools.
In many places the water is just a few inches deep spread out across flat smooth stone, creating incredible reflections of the trees and canyon walls and makes for easy going. Then the canyon narows and this creates deeper pools you must wade through to get any farther. The total length of the canyon is around 14 miles, and you can access it from the top or the bottom. The top part is much more rugged and less visited. In the top part there are pool you have to swim to go down stream because the cliffs come right out of the water on both sides. This canyon reminds me of the narrows of Zion on a smaller scale yet beautiful. Traveling the full length of the canyon in a day would be very difficult and requires a car shuttle. Most people explore from the bottom up and return the way they came in. Some people do the canyon from top to bottom with an overnight stay in the middle. If attempting this be aware: you are not supposed to camp in the lower 6 miles of the canyon (it's a wilderness study area). To do the entire canyon you should plan on 9-13 hours to hike the full length. This can only be done in summer due to cold water crossings. The bottom (and Busy) part of the canyon is easy and sutable for kids. If doing the bottom part to avoid crowds get there very early before the crowds and hike up canyon ahead of the people. To get to the lower entrance to the canyon from Phoenix, take I-17 north to Sedona (exit for 179). Turn left on 179 and follow it through the town of Oak Creek to Sedona. At the 'T' intersection turn right onto Highway 89A and follow it up Oak Creek Canyon just past mile marker 385 to the Oak Creek Trailhead which is on the left (west). Parking is currently $8 per car, be aware that a Red Rock pass is not valid towards this fee. Also note that the gate to the parking area is locked at 8pm. To get to the upper entrance to the canyon from Phoenix, take I-17 north to Flagstaff. Head west on I-40 to the first exit (Flagstaff Ranch Road, exit 192). Turn left at the bottom of the exit ramp, drive a short distance to a 'T' intersection and turn left. After a couple miles you'll come to a stop sign, turn right onto Woody Mountain Road (Forest Road #231) which becomes a well graded dirt road shortly thereafter. Drive for 18.1 miles to where the road crosses the Left Fork of Oak Creek.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fire On The Mountain

A title of Fire On The Mountain in a music blog would normally be something about a song called Fire On The Mountain by The Grateful Dead. But this is not a normal music blog. This is Mount Eldon and the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, just north of Flagstaff AZ. Well this is where some of my favorite summer time mountain bike riding is. Good bye Little Bear Trail.

The Schultz Fire started at approximately 11:09 am on Sunday, June 20th and is located west of north Highway 89, east of Flagstaff, and north of Mount Elden. The fire is currently more than 15,075 acres

The Schultz fire was caused by a campfire that was abandoned without being properly extinguished in the area of Schultz Tank, Little Elden Trail, and Forest Road 420.
If you have ever been to Flagstaff AZ. Then you know by these pictures what was lost by one careless act. Some of the most beautiful forested areas in our state. At least they saved the inner basin. And some of the Eldon trails are still intact.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Backpacking to Lake Ediza In The High Sierra

Sierra Nevada Backpack (Shadow Lake Trail to Minaret Creek Trail)
Around the first week of September of 2007 I went to the Mammoth Lakes area of the Easter Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. We stayed for more than a week with my wife's brother Todd. During that time the "boys" Todd, Colin (Todds nephew) and I decided to go on a backpack trip into the back country. I had planned it in advance and obtained all the permits. In describing this trip for you the elevations and distances will be indicated like this (8100 – 1.3). The elevation first with distance from trail head in miles second. Latter in the trip from Cecile Lake on (the half way point) the distance will be the distance to the ending trail head as we return, or a countdown. Some of these descriptions are from Starr’s Guide to High Sierra and Hiker’s Guide to California. This trip was in the heart of the pristine back country of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and ranged from dense forest to above tree line. We passed several lakes and some waterfalls. It was up to us to decide where we would camp. It was a loop tip and we entered at one location and exited at another. Trail heads are accessed by a shuttle bus system. This trip I tailored from different longer trip descriptions to be a short and easier trip with the biggest scenic payoff possible.
We started off at Agnew Meadows, (8300 -0.0) and headed north descending into the canyon of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. We soon came to a junction with the San Joaquin River Trail at (8100 – 1.3). At this point we were in a nice dense forest.
We followed that trail heading north until we reached the junction with the Shadow Creek Trail (8100 – 2.6).
We followed this trail heading north until we reached the junction with the Shadow Creek Trail (8100 – 2.6). We then took the Shadow Creek Trail which fords the infant San Joaquin River and climbs to the immediate right of Shadow Creek Falls. This was a nice site but the trail was steep along the falls. The trail passes to the right of the falls

After passing a narrow rocky gap we reached the lower end of Shadow Lake (8750 – 3.3). This spot has beautiful views up the lake to Ritter and Banner Peaks.

The trail skirts the north shore of this lake to the upper end of Shadow Lake (8750 – 4). We continued up Shadow Creek Trail passing several meadows with fine views of the Minarets and climbed up some short switch backs until we reached Lake Ediza (9300 – 6.2). Lake Ediza is located in a spectacular location at the headwaters of Shadow Creek set in the crown of Ritter and Banner Peaks and the Minarets.
Lake Ediza is described in the Starr's Guide as one of the brightest gems in the Sierra with views of Ritter and Banner the highest peaks north of Mount Abbot and one of the most noble mountain groups in the entire Sierra range. And we couldn't believe how beautiful it was. I felt that it surpassed any descriptions.
One of the guide books said because of the great scenery a stay overnight in this lake basin would be a memorable one. So this is where we camped. We got there with time to spare. So we set up camp and then took a side trip up to the base of Banner and Ritter peaks and still had time to get back to camp before sunset.

The next morning we left Lake Ediza and travel south along the east side of Iceberg Lakes outlet stream on an un-maintained trail to Iceberg Lakes (10,100 – 7.7) a wild setting at the very foot of the Minarets. This was pretty fantastic. It's a small lake in the shadows of the surrounding mountains. We then traveled south on the east side of this lake.
Our path then traveled steeply up and gained 400 feet of elevation to meet the creek draining Cecile Lake and then a last scramble up a steep pitch to reach Cecile Lake (10,300 – 8.2). This part was across boulder fields and there really is no trail.

This last distance measurement is a guess because no guide book has the distance listed because its not really a listed trail, but I can see on the maps it is a short distance from Iceberg Lake and is probably less than I guessed. Cecile Lake is described as the highest body of water on the east slopes of the Ritter range, wedged between the dark wall of the Minarets and the black ramparts of Volcanic Ridge, this could easily be a scene from another planet. The other guide book describes this as boulder littered shores with no campsites. This area again was just rock hopping across boulder fields with no real trail.
At this point from now on we were heading back down the Minaret Creek drainage and from here on all distances will in my description be a count down to the final destination. We boulder hopped around the east shore of Cecile Lake to the southern end and climbed a low, glacially smooth hill. At this point it was tough to find the rout down. Some were too step. From here we descend a talus covered slope with lots of loose rock with a creek draining into Minaret Lake. We followed the creek down to Minaret Lake (10,000 – 7.0). This lake with the impressive spire of Clyde Minaret to the west is an excellent choice for an overnight stay. I would highly suggest this option. So you can spent some time at this fantastic lake. But we just kept going.

From Minaret Lake the trail skirts the north shore of this lake and soon drops through sparce forest along meadow lined Minaret creek. 1.5 miles below the lake we reached a northbound trail junction that leads to and abandoned mine. The trail from here follows an abandoned access road for the mine and soon passes a series of cascades along Minaret Creek. This is a pretty cool spot but my camera batteries died so I have no photo
After this we reached a trail junction with the John Muir Trail just north of Johnston Meadow and Johnston Lake (8150 – 3). We bore right at that junction and soon crossed over to Minaret Creek’s south bank and soon came to another trail junction of the westbound trail to Beck and Holcomb lakes where we stayed left. Within another mile we reached another trail junction where we took the middle fork. After another .25 miles at another junction we bore left and came to a foot bridge that crosses the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River (7500 – 1). Once we crossed the bridge we reached a southbound trail that leads to Devils Post Pile. We instead turn left and head north to the Devils Post Pile Camp Ground (7600 – 0.0) and our final destination where we could catch a shuttle back. But instead my wife and child met us here and we played along the river and had a picnic.
The total distance of this tip was only around 16 miles. The forest service people said it should be no problem to do the link between Lake Ediza to Minaret Lake even though it was on un-maintained trail. And they were right. There was just some minor route finding and scrambling but it is above tree line with no real way to get lost. It is described in the Hiker’s Guide to California as part of a 23 mile loop. With the high altitude at night it can get very cold. In fact I have encountered snow in the Sierras at the end of August before. This longer trip in The Hiker's Guide sounds good to me (it’s over 100 here in AZ as I write this).
The photos I have seen of Minaret Lake on the Web site for Devils Post Pile National Monument are beautiful. But it even better in person. Other photos I have seen of Banner and Ritter Peaks and the Minarets are impressive. But photos can't give you the scale. I believe this was one of the most impressive scenic trips I have or will ever take. Even though it was a short trip it was a great one.
To get a reservation for the permit for this trip you tell the Forest Service you are going to start from Agnew Meadows (Shadow Creek Trail) and come back Minaret Trail to Devils Post Pile. You can do two to three days. But it's short enough if your time is limited to do just a one night stay.
We were able to pick up our permit at the Mammoth Lakes ranger station one to two days before our trip, because we made reservations well in advance. We were required to have bear canisters for our food. We rented these. They are hard plastic canisters that are bear resistant. We did not see ant bears, but did see deer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mountain Bike Adventures in Utah, Little Creek Mesa

Last summer I went up to Utah to get in on some of their great mountain bike trails. The first place I went was Little Creek Mesa. It is right near the more famous Gooseberry Mesa. I had been to Gooseberry Mesa on a few occasions but had never been to Little Creek Mesa. So before I left I did some research and found maps and trail descriptions. The hardest part was off the highway finding the right road because there are several ones that could be it. I found it in the middle of the night or at least I thought I had and set up camp. When I woke up I was right at the trail head. Here is a picture of me at the trail head if it helps to see what it looks like. This place has some fantastic trails. It consists of one large loop that is best taken clockwise from the trail head. This loop is single track through pinon and juniper forest with large sections of bare and flat slick rock. The trails are marked with rock piles or carins. Some people say that it is hard to follow but I had no problems. Maybe cause I was riding slow, I don't know. But I have read some reports of people getting lost out here. So if you are not good at route finding make sure you have a GPS or a guide from a local bike shop. The trail is constructed using these bare slickrock sections and some single track to take you out to the edge of the mesa. You travel along the edge of the mesa for quite a while with fantastic views of the Virgin River Valley. Taking the trail from the parking area you turn left at the first trail junction or intersection to do the main loop. This will take you out to the mesa edge west of the trail head. It is around 4.2 miles out to the edge of the mesa. Then the trail takes you north along the mesa edge for quite a while, where as I said are some great views. The trail eventually turns in away from the edge of the mesa and heads east about 6 miles from the trailhead. After about about 2 miles after leaving the mesa edge you come to an intersection. I went right and this takes you on what is called the "magic carpet ride" back to the parking area. This loop is around 10.5 miles. The next day I went right at the first intersection after leaving the parking area and did a second loop but this time counter clockwise. Again I ended up at the same intersection that is east of the rim edge this time turning left and home again along the magic carpet ride. The trails here are less technical than Gooseberry Mesa and that's good for an old guy like me not to mention my old classic Ibis bike. I don't have some big freeride or downhill rig. Don't get me wrong, because I wouldn't trade my classic Ibis for anything.
Not in this picture that you can see "The Point" of Gooseberry Mesa in the background. Little Creek Mesa has some fantastic large flat areas of rock to ride on that were lots of fun. So there is lot of of room to just improvise. I felt the views were just as good Gooseberry and it seems to have more trees than Gooseberry Mesa. And there was no one there because it is more unknown. I had a great time riding all the loops for two days and stayed overnight. I set up my camp on a big flat area of rock. Great star viewing! When I used up all those trails I drove 45 minutes over to Goosberry Mesa and rode that too. So both spots are pretty close together. What a fantastic trip. I'm looking forward to doing it again.
Finding the trail head can be difficult. The hardest part was finding the right road off the main highway. Taking UT 59 East from Hurricane the turn off is 13.5 miles from the UT 59 and UT 9 intersection. Look for Little Creek Mesa Road. It is about 2 miles past the Apple Valley Gas Station (texaco). Turn right if coming from Hurricane. The road turns left in 0.25 miles from the highway. Turn right at the 3-way junction about 1.1 mile from the highway and stay right at the Y-junction 1.9 miles from the highway. Heading north then west, bear left at a Y-junction 2.9 miles from highway. Left fork at 3.5 miles from highway. Continue straight across cattleguard 5.3 miles from highway. Turn right at a four way junction 6.3 miles from the highway (you should see a coral on the left. Turn left at a T-junction about 7 miles from the highway you will pass a cattle guard 7.8 miles from the highway continue driving straight at about 8.5 miles from the highway The road will get very rough and you will find a large patch slickrock at the left of the road park here. The trailhead is just west of the slickrock on the other side of the road.
Little Creek mesa is at around 5600 feet in elevation and can be hot in the summer and it can snow in the winter so spring and fall are probably the best time to visit.
Here is my post for Gooseberry Mesa that is just north of here and well worth a visit as well
Other sites that were helpful to me for this adventure are. . .

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Trip To Rainbow Bridge

My Wife and I took a trip to Rainbow Bridge out at Lake Powell. Its a two hour boat ride one way. Its a fantastic lake with great scenery. I heard that the total length of this lakes shore line is equal to the California, Oregon and Washington shore lines combined. It's a darn big lake! with lots of little fingers and narow canyons going out in every direction. So their are many hiking oportunities. It can get pretty hot in the summer so bring lots of water. In Late July and August there are often thunder storms in the afternoon that can kick up waves. We found that in the good weather months a reservation for the trip should be made well in advance. The Trip starts and ends at the Wahweep Marina. For reservations contact Lake Powell Resorts And Marinas. http://www.lakepowell.com/tours.aspx 888-896-3829. Another time I went we rented a ski boat and water skied and camped out over nignt out on the shore of the lake.

West Clear Creek

I just took a three day two night trip into Clear Creek Wilderness in Arizona, with my friend Cliff. It is one of my favorite spots. Its a deep remote canyon with a nice stream. And very few people willing to do the hard work it takes to get to the best parts.

The going is difficult because there is no trail. In places you must swim to go up the canyon because there are cliffs coming right out of the water. That is what makes it so special and what eliminates the crowds.
I have been in the canyon many times but it never gets old. My favorite spot to camp is at a water fall. Its about a 20 foot fall with a nice pool at the bottom. I feel its the best swimming hole in Arizona. We entered from a trail head found off forest service road 214. This trail is trail # 17 and it drops down into the canyon descending over 1700 ft. in only around two steep and rocky miles. You could take trail # 17 up from Bull Pen Ranch and avoid the steep rocky stuff but that's 5 to 6 miles. As you get near the bottom there is a trail leading east that is easy to miss. This takes you upstream to the narrow part of the canyon. Getting wet is mandatory for getting to the falls because one place the swim is a good 30 yards. And there are several other shorter swims. So you have to pack your stuff in "dry bags" and find a way to float your pack as you swim. Because of the narrow parts of the canyon this should be avoided in the monsoon season due to flash flood danger. Up to the left on this site where it says pages you will find a link to a map.