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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cottonwood Wash Narrows, Grand Staircase Escalante-National Monument, Utah

Grand Staircase Escalante-National Monument is a huge (1.9 million acres) and vast undeveloped and wild area in southern Utah and it has very few roads.  In the western part of the national monument is a dirt road that runs north to south called Cottonwood Wash Road. It is a rugged dirt road that is impassable in wet conditions and it sees light traffic. This road runs along the "Cockscomb" also known as the East Kaibab Monocline. This is a fold in the rock layers tilting them up at 45 degree angles in spots and forming a long ridge of strange rock formations due to the differential erosion of these layers of rock. 
Along Cottonwood Wash Road is a short but sweet canyon hike that passes through the narrows of Cottonwood Wash.  It is a very strange narrow canyon where a wash cuts into and through a large Navajo Sandstone ridge instead of just running along it and it comes out on the same side it entered. 
   This canyon part of the hike is really only about a mile and a half, but it is an interesting mile and a half.  There is a bridge on Cottonwood Wash Road at the starting point of the north end of the hike.  From there you scramble down into the drainage west of the road and head downstream.  Almost immediately you enter in between some large rocks and are in a narrow canyon between two large cliffs.  Right at this point you will see a canyon coming in from your right or north called Butler Valley Draw. 
You can go up Bultler Valley Draw and there are about 200 yards of narrow canyon to see, and then return back down the way you came back into Cottonwood Wash.  From there head south and you will be walking along a wash bottom between some large cliffs for about a mile and a half as it winds it's was in a generally southward direction.  Early on the canyon will get pretty narrow and tight with tall cliff closing in on both sides.  The last time I was there there was an old log jambed in between the two cliffs at one spot. 
For me this is the most interesting part of the hike due to the cliff walls and rocks that are polished and smoothed from years of flash floods being forced through this small narrow slot.
The narrows will open up a little way farther downstream and you will be walking on a sandy wash bottom between two very large cliffs that I estimate could be 200 feet high or more in places.  Along this section there are a few interesting short side canyons with towering cliffs that dead end into the bottom of what appear to be dry waterfalls.  Note the backpack I left on the ground to give some perspective as to the size of the cliffs.
At one point you will hit a place where a landslide has blocked the wash but it is easy to scramble over.  There are some places where the canyon opens up and the walls are not as dramatic but even that stretch has som beauty because you can then see the unusual rock formations on the top of the Navajo Sandstone cliffs that have been sculptured over time.

 After about only a mile and a half the canyon will take an abrupt left turn and emerge out from the narrows into a wide valley.  The road will be right there and you just hike north about a mile along the road to get to your car.  The walk along the road is scenic as well with some interesting geology to see.  The whole hike can take less than 2 hours and some people do it in less.  Overall it is pretty short and mostly easy and could be a good hike for a family with kids.  And it is well worth the effort considering the beauty and the interesting geology. 
To get there you take Cottonwood Wash Road about 25.5 miles north from Highway 89 or if coming down from the north it is about 12 miles south on Cottonwood Wash Road past Kodacrome Basin.  Elevation is at 5600 feet.  Note that Cottonwood Wash Road is impassable in wet weather, so get a good weather report so you don't get your car stuck in the mud in this remote area.  Carry plenty of water and food in your car. 

Here is a link to another adventure that can be found along Cottonwood Wash Road.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Palatki and Honanki Ruins, near Sedona Arizona

About twelve miles west of Sedona (as the crow flies) there are two Sinagua cliff dwellings or ruins called Palatki and Honanki. The Sinagua, are thought by the archaeologists who study this stuff to be ancestors of the Hopi, and lived at these sites from about AD 1100 to 1300. These sites not only have some impressive ruins to view but also have many examples of Native American rock art.
Palatki is the site closer to Sedona and it has a short 1/4 mile trail from the parking lot to the ruins. The ruins are up against the base of a large red rock cliff in a curved alcove with and overhang that gives the structures some natural protection from weather. At Palatki there are two main sections of the ruins, leading to speculation by the "smart guys" of there being two clans that lived side by side here.
 But who really knows, and I would guess that no one ever will. The largest of the two main structures here is two stories tall with some rock art farther up on the cliff wall indicating it may have even been three stories at one time. But there are some other small partial structures as well, in between the two main areas.
There is also another short path that leads to some impressive rock art that is well worth seeing while you are there that has this round shield or circle design and many other animal type images.
After seeing this site you will want to see Honanki that is a bit farther west. Honanki was apparently the larger of the two dwellings when it was inhabited. Again it is situated along the base of a large red rock cliff.  At a place called Loy Butte, right next to Loy Canyon. 
Loy Butte and Loy Canyon is named after the Loy family that homesteaded the area back in the old days.  I have met a man named Robert Loy who was born up in Oak creek Canyon more than 80 years ago.  He told me his father was offered land in Sedona at a nickle and acre and did not buy it because he did not think it was good to graze cattle on.  Little did he know how the prices would be today, and so it goes.
 Anyway Honanki ruins is really one main alcove of structures with several more structures scattered along the bottom of a large cliff. 
Along with that there is some very impressive rock art all around the surrounding area.  One thing of note, is that in summer I have seen rattlesnakes in this area, more than once and heard of others seeing them too, so watch your step!
     When you go to Honanki ruins it is just past a parking area for the Loy Canyon Trail.  If you have time Loy Canyon is a beautiful and remote area with fantastic red rock scenery, and also has several undeveloped ruins and sites.
  Some of my favorites that I have found are hidden in this canyon, and I will let them stay that way. 
You will have to find them the same way I did through exploration.  But I highly recommend you hike up this beautiful canyon.  The trail is long and takes you all the way up the rim to the pine forest above, but I tend to just stay down in the canyon myself. 
Currently managed by the U.S. Forest Service under the Red Rock Pass Program and there is a fee to park, in other words you must purchase a Red Rock Pass.  I believe you can buy them at the parking areas.  Remember these sites are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. These laws prohibit digging, removing artifacts, damage and defacement of archaeological resources on public lands, and provide felony and/or misdemeanor prosecution with imprisonment up to ten years and fines up to $100,000.

Access:   From Sedona: You take Hwy. 89A south from West Sedona and continue past the last traffic light for five miles. Just past mile marker 365, turn right onto Forest Road 525. Go north for 5 miles and when F.R. 525 bears left, continue straight ahead onto Forest Road 795 for two miles. This road will lead directly into the Palatki parking lot.

An alternative way to access Palatki it to take Dry Creek Rd. out west from Sedona. There are signs at every intersection that will direct you towards Palatki. At the end of Dry Creek Rd, turn left onto Boynton Pass Road (FR 152C). At the next stop sign, turn left again. In a couple of miles, the pavement will end and you should continue on the rough gravel road for three miles until you reach another T intersection where you should turn right. It is 2 miles to Palatki from this intersection. These roads are generally passable to passenger cars when dry, but it is not regularly maintained by the County and has some rough and rocky stretches.

From Cottonwood: Take 89A north from Cottonwood. About 1/2 mile north of mile marker 364, turn left onto a dirt road (Forest Road 525 to Forest Road 795; passable for passenger cars when dry), and drive 7 miles to Palatki Heritage Site and the parking lot.  To get to Honanki you just continue on FR 525 past the FR 795 turn off another 4.5 miles.  This is all dirt roads and can be rough in some seasons.  But it is some very beautiful country to drive through!

For more information http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/red_rock/palatki-ruins.shtml

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mountain Bike Gooseberry Mesa, Utah

One of the great mountain bike destinations of sourthern Utah is a place called Gooseberry Mesa. Gooseberry mesa ia a table top mesa located southwest of Zion National Park. It has a well defined trail system that was invented by and for mountain bikers. Gooseberry mesa has a mix of slickrock and single track trails in a pinion and juniper forest enviroment.
The mesa has large patches of exposed sandstone, that is white, gray, and some pink in color. Some areas are large flat and smooth and some are more divided lumps that you have to go over and around to navigate the trail. The trails are pretty easy to stay on for the most part because someone has painted dots on the stone to keep you on the right path.  One notable area is called "Gods Skateboard Park" where there is some large sections of flact rock and plenty of areas to freelance off the marked trails.
Here is a little video of my brother in law, my nephew, and myself to give you an idea of what it looks like.
Some of the trail has some technical sections. But in most cases I found it to be very rideable, but if you have problems just walk the tuff parts. The trail takes you out to the south edge of the mesa where you can see across a valley over to Little Creek Mesa another great mountain bike desination, that I covered already in this blog http://arizjones.blogspot.com/2010/07/mountain-bike-adventures-in-utah.html
Once you get to the rim the trail heads west along the rim and leads you out to a narrow exposed place called "The Point". At The Point you will have unblocked view in all directions.
Here is a picture of me riding along the rim near The Point. It's a long way down from here to be sure.
If you head back down the dirt road you can catch a trail thet then takes you northeast along the northwest rim of the mesa. This section has some great views as well.
This section might be my favorite due to the great views.  It is just one amazing spot after another, over looking the Virgin River Valley, with the massive cliffs of the Zion region in the background. 
Honestly photos just can't capture the way thsi looks because it is just so big and vast of a panorama. 
As you can see in some places you are just right on the edge of this huge cliff that drops of what seems like thousands of feet.  And the scenery is enough to distract you so be careful. 
Here is a trail map that can be handy. I have always gone out on the South Rim Trail and then come back on the North Rim Trail (used to be called "That Dam Trail") and then go out on what used to be called Steves Rim Job. Since I have often camped I would also ride around on the Slick Rock 101 and the Bowls and Ledges and then link that with the Hidden trail for a second ride.
From Springdale - drive 4 miles west on UT-9 to the east end of Rockville turning left on Bridge Road. This can be easy to pass so keep your eyes open. Go 1.6 miles, crossing over the Virgin River, the turning left at a T-intersection onto the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Backway. Follow maintained dirt road 4.9 miles turning right on Gooseberry Mesa Road. Sections of this road can be very very rough. After 3.6 miles, turn left onto an unsigned double track and go 1 mile to the trailhead at a cattle gate.

From St. George, drive north about 7 miles on I-15 then go east on UT-9 to Hurricane, UT. In Hurricane, turn right on UT-59 heading west for 14.4 miles. Look for Smithsonian Butte Scenic Backway signs, you'll make a left onto a maintained dirt road. This is an unmarked road located between mile markers 8 and 9. Head north 2.9 miles then left at the fence signed Gooseberry Mesa Road. Drive 3.6 miles on dirt road taking a left onto an unsigned double track and go 1 mile to the trailhead at a cattle gate.

Here is a link to my Little Creek Mesa page.  It is just across the valley south of Gooseberry Mesa. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mountain Biking, Red Canyon, Utah

One of my favorite mountain biking destinations that I have been to is Red Canyon, in southern Utah. This place has great scenery and nice trails. The scenery is a lot like Bryce Canyon but they let you ride a mountain bike through it.

Here is a little video of my brother in law, nephew, and me at some places along the Thunder Mountain trail.

It has around 34 miles of single track and there are some jeep trail opportunities near by that are not in the park. There is also a paved bike trail along the highway that makes for safe transit to trail heads.

The trails are very well maintained and go through a wonderland of red rock formations. The Thunder Mountain trail alone is worth the trip.

One of the best things about Red Canyon is the campgrounds with hot showers. It is pretty sweet to be able to ride right out of camp to fantastic trails and then end back at you camp and get a nice shower. This is a must do if you love mountain biking and are in southern Utah in the summer.

Here are the trails.
Losee Canyon Trail: This 2.9 mile moderate trail begins at the bottom of Losee Canyon off Castro Canyon Road. This trail heads east and connects with the middle section of the Cassidy trail.
Cassidy Trail: This 8.9 mile strenuous trail is named for the infamous Butch Cassidy, who used sections of the trail. This is an out and back. so if you go out and back it's almost 18 miles.
Thunder Mountain Trail: This is a 7.8 mile moderate to strenuous trail. The red rocks on the lower section of the trail are outstanding. This can be a strenuous out and back totaling 15.5 miles. Or you can do a loop by riding up the highway to the top of the mountain and then down Thunder Mountain Trail. This loop is around 15 to 16 miles but is much easier. And I think you gain at least 1000 ft elevation if not more. The decent on Thunder Mountain is real "Big" fun!
Casto Canyon Trail: This 5.5 mile trail offers spectacular scenery. And runs east from Castro Canyon Road and links up with the upper northern end of Cassidy trail
You could also do some epic loops by linking Cassidy and Castro Canyon or Losee Canyon.
There are also ATV trails off Tom Best Road and some others.

The elevations in this area are between 7000 and 8500. So this is a summer destination
Red Canyon Camping
The Red Canyon Campground is shaded by ponderosa pines, junipers and Douglas firs. The 35 site campground usually closes the first day of October and opens again May first. The charge for camping is $11 per day. There are tables, grills, group sites, flush toilets, showers and a few RV pull throughs.
Directions to Red CanyonFrom Salt Lake City travel south on Interstate 15 past Beaver to UT 20. Exit on UT 20. Turn south on UT 89 and travel past Panguitch. Follow UT 89 to UT 12. Travel along UT 12 to Red Canyon.
From Las Vegas: Travel Interstate 15 past St. George to Exit 16. Drive through Hurricane, Utah. Follow Hwy 9 through Hurricane and to the only stop light in LaVerkin. Turn right at the stop light. Continue on Hwy 9 to the south entrance of Zion Park. Drive through Zion to the junction of UT 9 and UT 89 at Mt. Carmel Jct. Turn north on UT 89, then exit on UT 12. Follow UT 12 to Red Canyon.
Red canyon is just a bit west of Bryce Canyon on UT 12.
Here is a link to a trail map Of Red Canyon