Driving out of Kanab, we looked in our rearview mirror and vowed to return, for there were many (red) stones left unturned. Our next and final stop in southern Utah was Cedar City, with the intent of visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument. We did some walking there, but the most desirable trails remained closed due to heavy snow during our June 10-14 visit. Total bummer! Continue reading
One reason for extending our stay in Kanab was to get a spot on a guided tour at White Pocket Recreation Area, situated in the Paria Wilderness within Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Some parts of this vast and unusually beautiful area in southern Utah are remote and isolated, and just getting to them on unmaintained backcountry roads can be as challenging as the hike!
At the top of the list of well-known natural wonders for many hikers and adventurers is the unique landscape of “The Wave” near here on the Utah/Arizona border. Because of its appeal and delicate nature, it’s protected and currently only 20 hikers per day are allowed access. Lucky for us, we won the BLM’s lottery for a coveted spot there in 2017, and here’s my post about that amazing trek. Continue reading
On our drive down from Jacob Lake to Kanab we were presented with a view of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We could actually discern the series of plateaus that descend from Bryce Canyon (the top “stair” at over 9,000′ elevation). It’s followed by the other vertical drops at the Pink Cliffs, Grey Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs and Chocolate Cliffs. And that staircase-like landscape is how the national monument got its name and this is the best spot to really see and understand why.
We had passed through Kanab in 2016, coming from Zion National Park to Lake Powell, Arizona. The richly-colored vermillion cliffs bordering Highway 89 between Kanab and Page were stunning, and we made a mental note to come back one day. Here we were three years later, finally making Kanab our home base for some red-colored fun!
Kanab is surrounded by the distinctively sculpted sandstone cliffs that define southwestern Utah. It’s on the second “step” up (the Vermillion Cliffs layer) in the five-step Grand Staircase. So here’s a warning that you’ll definitely be seeing red by the end of this post!
Steve has managed to get me hooked on the old “Gunsmoke” TV series, as he has been for years. One of the first things we did in Kanab was check out what’s left of the old movie sets from the show. Much of it was filmed in Kanab, and the remaining decrepit structures are on private land along Johnson Canyon Road. Now we both yell “Been there!” when we see one of the structures on the show’s reruns. Yes, this is what our life has come to…
We actually included a stop at the real Dodge City during our journey through Kansas. All of the original main cast members are deceased now except for “Newly O’Brien” (Buck Taylor, now over 80 years old), who was occasionally returning to Dodge City to meet fans at that time.
There were other interesting things along Johnson Canyon that we enjoyed during our drive:
Hitting the trails –
Hiking is only one of the many adventures to be experienced in Kanab, but it was our main focus. You see, trekking the red rocks of southern Utah is pretty much the pinnacle of hiking, in our humble opinion. Steve was excited to try some of them with his new Oboz boots, which he really likes. But we’ll have to come back to explore even more of this beautiful area!
If you have time for only one hike while in Kanab, the Squaw Trail might be a good choice. It was rated easy, but since we climbed 800′ in 1.5 miles with some steep areas we would rate it as moderate. Ascending up the switchbacks, we were rewarded with expansive views of Kanab and up-close encounters with the red rocks:
It turned out not to be John and Pam’s Jeep, but they’d been here a couple of weeks before and suggested we hike the Cottonwood Trail. It’s a 9-mile out and back trek that they couldn’t complete because of bad weather and high water, but we were able to complete it and can report to our hiking buddies that it was a winner!
There were many splashes of color along the way:
But it was the meadow of desert sunflowers at the end of the 4.5-mile trail that made us gasp:
The Mansard Trail was a 5-mile round trip that ended at an alcove near high cliffs:
We followed the same trail that John and Pam had earlier, here is their excellent description of the hike and I’ll just include a few of my photos:
We saw a creepy black spider and many rainbow-colored stink bugs, ewww!
Staring at the cliff and coatings that looked like dripping paint and yellow stripes made us walk right by the alcove:
We backtracked and looked up – we had finally found it!
There were writings and petroglyphs on the floor, which is uncommon. We had only seen similar ones at Hueco Tanks State Park in Texas:
It turned out our planned one week stay wasn’t long enough and we extended a couple extra days to explore the area as fully as we could. But still there are more trails to be had, another list for our future revisits.
And if you think you’ve seen “red” on this post, wait till you see what’s up next!
Next up: Rugged and remote red rocks!
Continuing our slow move southward, the next stop was at Vernal, Utah. Betsy had some serious mountains to traverse as we crossed the Wyoming-Utah border on the Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway. We saw several major geological formations that exposed the core of the Unita Mountains, and as we neared the summit we paused for a few minutes to take in the breathtaking views of the deep multi-colored canyons:
We’ve driven this section of the byway before, and the unique geologic features never fail to “wow” us. Several signposts can be seen along the roadside that teach motorists the geology of the area. They identify the various rock strata and types of fossils found there, and describe the geologic time period. My previous post contains more photos and information from our last trip through the area.
The city of Vernal and its surrounding area is “dinosaur country”, well known to geologists for the fossilized relics found in the ancient seas that existed here. Our 2016 trip took us to Dinosaur National Monument, where more than 1,500 dinosaur bones and fossils have been found. Click here to read more about the logjam of fossils located at the monument.
Temperatures hovered at or above 95 degrees during our one-week stay. We were initially concerned that the smoke blown here from the California fires would hamper our outdoor activities, but we forged ahead with plans to hike trails that we missed during our last stay. Unfortunately most of my photos are a bit hazy and smoky.
There are many excellent trails here on the ancient floodplain which was once home to dinosaurs. Sticking to our mantra of early starts and lots of water helped us to beat the heat and have the trails practically to ourselves 🙂
Dinosaur Trackway Trail
The reward at the end of the 1.8-mile Dinosaur Trackway Trail is not as obvious as other hikes. Based on plaques along the way, we had to search for the reward: 200-million-year-old dilophosaurus tracks preserved in the slick rock shores of Red Fleet reservoir.
While neither of us is into paleontology, seeing the tracks is still pretty amazing. The trackway is found on a slanted rock at the end of the reservoir, which is sometimes partially covered during high water periods.
The Red Fleet track site reveals several hundred footprints, and includes five distinct trackways. A trackway is a set of three or more footprints left by the same creature, and they are rare. Some were much harder to see than others, but we managed to find several:
Sound of Silence/Desert Voices Trail combination
Both of these trails reside within Dinosaur National Monument, and can be combined by a connector trail to provide a wonderful 6.3-mile loop hike. They are interpretative trails; the Sound of Silence Trail has numbered trail markers that coincide with a guidebook, while the Desert Voices Trail has plaques that include commentary about the park system and local challenges involving water and land use, and traditional ranching activities. There are also displays created by kids for kids, one of which taught us about Antlions – never heard of them!
This was a moderate hike, and happily we didn’t meet a single soul along the trail. We were awed by the monument’s geologic diversity, colors and textures. Because of the guidebook and plaques on this trail, we’re more aware of the many amazing changes that have occurred over millions of years, and the recent environmental changes surrounding us. We highly recommend this hike!
Moonshine Arch Trail
This was another winner. Hiking to an arch is always exciting, even one less spectacular than this one. Moonshine Arch is one of Vernal’s best kept secrets, and we’re very happy that our friends John and Pam had done this hike in the past and recommended it.
It took us a couple of tries to find the trailhead, and we suggest using the map provided by the State Park – and the All Trails app if you have it.
Jones Hole Trail
When our friend Hans noticed on Facebook that we were in Vernal, he immediately suggested an excellent hike – but it was 40 miles to the trailhead. Hans and Lisa know a good hike when they do one, so after a bit of groaning by Steve we were on our way. Wow, they weren’t kidding – just the drive to the trailhead at Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery was worth the trip!
The trail is in a remote and scenic part of Dinosaur National Monument that runs from Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery to the Green River. It was an easy 8-mile round trip hike, changing only about 200′ in elevation. The walls of the canyon towered almost 2,000′ overhead, giving us shade during much of our trek.
This is an awesome trail that offers so much – a scenic canyon, Fremont Indian archeological sites, a spur trail to a small waterfall, and a Bighorn Sheep sighting if you’re lucky – all while meandering along babbling Jones Creek until it joins with the Green River. We loved it!
Petroglyphs (rock art) and Pictographs suggest that Fremont Indians hunted game here some 800 to 1200 years ago:
Eagle Ridge Trail
On our final day at Steinaker State Park, we accessed the park’s Eagle Ridge Trail from the group camping area. It followed the ridge and gave us great views all around, including a glimpse of Moonshine Arch, Hogback Ridge, Betsy in the campground, and almost empty Steinaker Reservoir. It’s expected that the reservoir will be re-filled in Fall of 2019 after planned dam modifications are completed.
That wraps up our one-week stay at Steinaker State Park. It was hot and smoky, but we felt we had explored much more of the place where the Dinosaurs once roamed.
Note: Now that we’ve settled in for a few weeks at Fruita, Colorado to wait for the Fall colors, I’m planning to refresh our blog site with a new theme (WordPress has retired my current theme). It may take a while to get everything set up, but I’ll be re-joining the blogosphere as soon as possible. See you then!
Each time I return from my hot and humid country of the Philippines, I bring souvenirs with me, in the form of coughing, a lost voice and jet lag. Thankfully, Brigham City had just what was needed to mend my ailing body. Wildflowers, birds and a historic site thrown in the mix were just what the doctor ordered for a quick recovery!
I knew exactly what I wanted to do when we arrived here. There was a wild bird refuge nearby, and the Wellsville Mountains had trails waiting to be hiked. Golden Spike National Monument was only a few miles away, and we were hoping to check out Antelope Island. Unfortunately, we were told the mosquitoes were in full force on the island so we canceled that visit.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
At the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, I was hoping to see a few Tundra Swans, as they are known to pass through here on their journey north.
This refuge has had a disastrous past. First, it almost died due to irrigation diversion in the 1920’s, then it was hit with an avian botulism outbreak causing the death of 1-2 million birds. Finally, in 1983 it was devastated again due to the Great Salt Lake flood that inundated the wetlands with salt water and decimated the refuge structures. When the lake levels receded six years later the refuge was rebuilt and the vibrant ecosystem eventually came back to life. And as many other cities do, Brigham City claimed it to be the best birding destination anywhere.
In the morning we drove to the refuge and followed the auto tour through the 74,000 acres of pristine wetlands and marshes of the Bear River Delta. The Tundra Swans were long gone, but a few locals were hanging out enjoying their breakfast in the swamp:
Golden Spike National Monument
After gawking at the birds and breathing some fresh air we drove west to Promontory Summit, Utah. This is the site where the last spike was driven to join the transcontinental railroad that connected the western states to the rest of the nation on May 10, 1869.
We made it to Golden Spike National Monument just in time to see a re-enactment of the original ceremony, which completed the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. This historic event linked America’s first transcontinental railroad, and ultimately opened the western frontier to settlement. Steve and I had both learned about this event long ago, but it was very cool to actually be at the site where it happened.
While there, we drove the East Auto Tour route, stopping for lunch at Chinese Arch which was named to honor thousands of Chinese workers brought in to accomplish Central Pacific’s portion of the railroad. Those 10,000 Chinese workers faced tremendous obstacles as they tunneled through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Along with Irish work crews, they were famously known for accomplishing a feat that would never be duplicated, including laying ten miles of track across the Utah desert in a 12-hour period.
Back to hitting the trails!
Brigham City is near the northernmost point of the Wasatch Front, and the steep Wellsville Mountains branch off of it. The tourism office touted these mountains as the steepest range in the world. Why? What makes the Wellsville Range special is that it’s only five miles wide at the base and rises almost straight from the valley floor, which is at about 4,500′ in elevation. When we looked closely we noticed that indeed there were no foothills leading up to these mountains!
We’re not sure if it’s really the steepest range in the world, but it did offer several moderate and strenuous trails, and we followed one of each to get my legs back into hiking mode. And I was smiling ear-to-ear when we arrived at the trailhead for our first hike, which was carpeted with yellow wildflowers!
On another day we followed the Deep Canyon Trail, which eventually leads to Box Elder Summit at 9,372′. I hiked most of it, but my lingering cough caused me to stop when Steve announced he just had to reach a nearby fog-covered summit.
As Steve headed off, I got busy with my camera as colorful spring wildflowers begged for my attention. With the whole mountainside to myself accompanied by chirping birds, I was in solitary bliss.
Steve returned with a smile after about an hour and said, “I’m going to feel this tomorrow!” (and he did).
This was a perfect stop for me to mend from my long trip. What more can I ask for – an unforgettable display of wildflowers, singing birds and hiking are the stuff that gets me going!
Next up: Hello, Idaho!
Our rule is to not drive more than 200 miles in a day, and so far in our six years of travels we’ve broken it only 3 times. But that was only because we were in Alaska and had little choice while trekking across the vast Alaska Highway wilderness. So when Steve realized the drive from Moab to North Salt Lake City was well over 200 miles, we decided to take a midway break at Price, UT.
While making the RV park reservation, we asked what there was to do in the area. The owner advised there were 10 museums nearby, along with six other activities in the vicinity – including several hiking trails. We went ahead and booked 2 nights so we’d have a full day to check things out.
We opted to defer the museums for a return visit, and instead chose to enjoy one of the outdoor activities – driving through Nine Mile Canyon – which I recalled reading about in Jodee Gravel’s post.
I initially thought we’d be driving along and looking at a 9-mile long panel of rock art, when in fact it’s just part of a 70-mile backcountry byway. There are several theories of how Nine Mile Canyon got its name. An old one in 1869 says that John Wesley Powell’s cartographer (map maker) used a nine-mile transect system for mapping out the area. A more modern version refers to the 9th Cavalry, which built the road for better access to Fort Duchesne for the moving of troops and supplies. Either way, the Nine Mile Canyon name has stuck to this day.
History says that in a span of 8,000 years or so there was a succession of people and cultures that lived and traveled through Nine Mile Canyon. They consisted of the Native Americans, the 9th Cavalry who built the road, freighters that hauled goods to Price from Uinta Basin, and settlers. Each left traces that included rock art, historic inscriptions, old homesteads and abandoned mines.
This post is about the petroglyphs (images carved/inscribed on a rock surface) and pictographs (symbols or art painted on rock surfaces) left behind along the canyon walls. Neither historians nor archaeologists have been able understand or interpret the messages they may impart. But for sure the abundance of this well-preserved legacy on stone is unique and irreplaceable.
There were no signs in the canyon directing us to the sites, but with the help of this guide or this one we enjoyed trying to find them on our own. Armed with a mile-by-mile guide, we searched along the 50-mile stretch of rock art. Truthfully, the mile marker guide and map were less than in-synch, and we did a bit of head-scratching and back-tracking for a while – all part of the fun!
Cruising through the canyon, we drove slowly and looked carefully at all rocks with black patina on them. There were so many petroglyphs!
There were some more recent traces of people who also left their mark:
Some petroglyphs were distinct and others quite faint:
The highlight of all rock art here is the famous “Hunt Panel”, which is located near the end of the canyon at mile 45.9. This one can’t be missed, for it has a parking area with a kiosk. This is one of the finest petroglyph panels we’ve seen, and it appeared in National Geographic magazine as the best example of Fremont rock art known.
We had the canyon to ourselves, except for the wildlife monitoring us. There were three other canyon spurs that beg for exploration; Lower Nine Mile Canyon, Dry Canyon and Gate Canyon. But we’d had enough for one day, an interesting and relaxing drive with so much to see and think about!
Next up: Our final Utah stop – Brigham City
I am so much enjoying flipping through my Moab pictures as I write this post, reliving recent wonderful times with friends. While there, we were grateful to be offered a ride into the backcountry where high clearance vehicles were required. Our friends Dave and Sue kindly drove us into some spectacular scenery in their Jeep (named Rocky) that they had enjoyed previously. Onion Creek Road, located off of highway 128, was our destination. The road winds through a narrow valley, crossing Onion Creek approximately 30 times (according to the official score tabulated by Sue and myself).
The contrast of colors and textures in the diverse formations was amazing. And if you’re into geology, this link gives more detail about these fabulous formations.
After several hours of gawking at the jaw-dropping scenery, we topped off our day with some wine tasting at Castle Valley Winery.
Doc Harry and Chris, whom we met during our Viking River Cruise last October, arrived in Moab a few days later. This time we played host and took them on a scenic drive that did not require a high clearance vehicle. Forty-four mile long highway 128 is also known as the “River Road”, for it runs along the Colorado River with 2,000-foot red rock cliffs rising on both sides. We had driven it several times before, and taking Harry and Chris was a great excuse to revisit this gorgeous scenery that we never tire of. The river corridor offers a spectacular view of world-class climbing destination Fisher Towers, and Professor Valley where several movies have been filmed.
On days when everyone was doing their own things, Steve and I did one last hike on the Portal Overlook Trail. The day was overcast and windy, but we still enjoyed the sweeping views of Moab Valley, the south portal of the Colorado River, a glimpse of Arches National Park and the distant La Sal Mountains. This trail mirrors the Stairmaster Trail on the eastern side of the river, but is more exposed, with sheer drops up to several hundred feet. Another gem of a hike in this area!
With our friends also camped at Portal RV Resort, we enjoyed several happy hours and scrumptious dinners:
And with that, we bid goodbye to Moab as we move on to new explorations and adventures!
Next up: Nine Mile Canyon