Bluff, Utah the second time around, Part 2

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Bluff is a great home base for several adventures in the area, all surrounded by incredible scenery.  As I mentioned in my last post, this was our second visit here and I’d published two posts of our previous explorations a couple of years ago:

Having experienced/viewed/photographed the jaw-dropping scenery here, we focused our energy this time on exploring more ancient ruins.  You see, the southwest and in particular the Four Corners region (CO, AZ, UT, NM) was the heart of the ancestral Puebloan culture.  They lived here eight centuries ago and left behind impressive and well preserved rock art and village ruins.

Also known as the Anasazi Basketmakers, the ancestral Puebloans were the first humans to establish permanent settlements in the area – building small pit houses at first, then larger, multi-roomed cliff dwellings.  Some now have well-marked trails to them, while others are not shown on maps, remaining unknown and maybe even undiscovered.  During this visit we checked out Hovenweep National Monument and the Citadel Ruins.

Hovenweep National Monument

This monument is an hour’s drive from Bluff, located in canyon and mesa country north of the San Juan River.  It spans the UT/CO border and consists of six separate village ruins.  Of the six, we visited Little Ruin Canyon, which featured a collection of structures clustered along its rim.


Hovenweep is the Ute Indian’s way of saying “deserted valley”

We followed the Rim Trail loop, where most of the dwellings stood right on the canyon rim while others sat atop irregular boulders.  The unusual architecture featured round towers and square or D-shaped structures grouped at canyon heads.  These fine ruins have withstood 7 centuries of weathering and were designated as a national monument in 1923.

Square Tower rises from the bottom of the canyon, with Hovenweep House in the background

Eroded boulder house features a double-sided wall

Twin Towers, among the most carefully constructed dwellings in the southwest, had 16 rooms


Skillfully laid thick and thin sandstone blocks built on solid rock

Hovenweep Castle is perched on the rim.  The people who lived here were farmers, not kings and queens

We pondered what life must have been like way back then, the canyon abuzz with sounds and activities.  The fact that parts of these structures remain standing is a testament to the skill used to build them.

According to the visitor center movie, this is how part of the village probably looked 700 years ago

Citadel Ruins

On another day we intended to hike the Lower Fish Creek Ruins only 18 miles from Bluff.  But after driving 4 miles on loose and sometimes deep sand, we gave up after getting stuck a couple of times (no AWD on our CRV).  With the winds here, a lot of sand can collect on the roads in a short amount of time.

Cleaning sand out of the tailpipes after sinking deep

Is he laughing at us?

Figuring out a Plan-B, we proceeded to drive an hour to Cedar Mesa to hike the Citadel Ruins, a trek John and Pam had completed a couple of days prior.  Using their post as our guide, we heeded their warnings about the rough road out there and parked the car about a mile short of the trailhead.  But just the drive to Cedar Mesa brought back fond memories:

Cedar Mesa and Bears Ears National Monument in the distance

Passing Valley of the Gods

Driving Moki Dugway again – three miles up steep and sharp curves for a fabulous view!

Raplee Anticline – aka Navajo Rug – is like abstract art painted by natural minerals in the rocks

The first part of the hike to the Citadel was fairly easy, but we eventually had to figure out how to get down to the “land bridge” leading out to the end.  We finally found a route across slick rock and scooted on our butts a couple of times to resume our route.

The only wildflower we saw – Indian Paintbrush

There were several Anasazi ruins on the many ledges along the canyon walls

Oh, maybe that isn’t the easiest way down!

Citadel Ruins

The ruins are near the top of that peninsula of rocks

It’s only when you’re at the base of the Citadel that you can see the ruins.  Hidden under a ledge, it would have been an excellent place for a defensive stronghold.  But we did wonder about the effort it must have taken to get water up here from the creek bed some 500′ below!

We puzzled over why there was no rock art here…

We were told these are the original straps that hold the window headers together – amazing!

Looking north – Steve thought this was one of the most amazing canyon hikes we’ve taken

Looking south, see the two hikers?

Looking down 500′

Looking back at the Citadel ruins, overlooking Road Canyon with a 360º view – it’s a wow!

Bluff’s Founder’s Day and Fry Bread Festival

Our stay also happened to coincide with Bluff’s 2nd Annual Founder’s Day and Frybread Festival.  The city of Bluff was founded in 1880 by the famous “Hole in the Rock” expedition of Mormon (Latter-Day Saints) pioneers, whose mission was to establish an agrarian community on the San Juan River.  We patronized the event by purchasing pizza from the lunch truck, and by clapping loudly when descendants of the pioneers walked by in the parade so they’d throw lots of candy at us!

The gang heads up to check out the food trucks – first things first!

We watched a Navajo mother and daughter demonstrate how to weave a wedding basket, explaining the design symbolism just as our guides at Monument Valley and Betatakin Ruins had:

Navajo fry bread with honey on top – incredible!

We were a bit melancholy at our goodbye happy hour, as John and Pam were heading back to Boulder City to finalize the purchase of their new home.  But at the same time we were glad that we’d be meeting up with Dave and Sue at Moab, our next stop.

The bluffs of Bluff as the background during our final happy hour with John and Pam for a while


Next up:  Moab, a city teeming with adventures

Bluff, Utah the second time around – Part 1

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Bluff, Utah is an unassuming, sparsely populated little town in the southeastern corner of Utah.  Although seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it’s surrounded by opportunities for adventure.  Along with John and Pam, and Dave and Sue, we totally agree this is a place worthy of repeat visits.  Not that we wouldn’t happily meet up with these fine folks anywhere in the U.S., or beyond!

John and Pam’s coach on the left, then Beluga and finally Betsy lined up at Cadillac Ranch RV Park

San Juan Hill

When we arrived in Bluff, our friends were waiting and ready to take us, the “jeepless travelers” for a ride along a narrow, sandy and rocky road to the San Juan Hills.  They had been on this trip before, but because they are such thoughtful and nice friends they offered to share this fun trek with us – or perhaps it was another not-so-subtle hint that we simply must get ourselves a Jeep?

Upon our arrival we were reminded how incredibly tough and determined the Mormon pioneers who passed through this area were.  Hole in the Rock tells the story of their crossing of the Colorado River, and this, the last obstacle as they climbed over what they called San Juan Hill.  It’s a tale of faith and tenacity, all in answer to God’s calling.

San Juan Hill

We retraced the amazing path the pioneers traveled in 1879 – with wagons full of belongings!

Lewis was our leader and very proficient at “herding humans”

When the pioneers finally reached the top, they carved their thanks to God into the rock, as pointed our by our red-shirted historian

San Juan Hill

“Here’s a wagon track,” says Dave.  “There’s one over here, too,” says John.  “Help me find a track, Lewis,” says Steve.  And Lewis asks “What are my crazy friends doing on top of this cliff?”

San Juan Hill

The wagon wheel ruts remain on the rocks almost 140 years later – incredible!

Can you spot Sue exploring near the trailhead way down there?

Lewis searches for mom as some cowboys ride through the area

From below the route taken by the pioneers’ wagons is clearly visible

Remains of the Barton Trading Post

The Rincone

The Rincon

Steve and John contemplate the remains of a waterwheel platform, circa 1880

140 year old logs

River House Ruins

Just half a mile or so further down the “road” we stopped to check out a stabilized ruin by the San Juan River, appropriately called River House Ruins.  It was occupied by Ancestral Puebloans between AD900 and the late 1200’s.

Ancient ruins under assault by modern machines

River House Ruins

These ruins are inaccessible to most people, therefore in pretty good condition

Soot marks indicate a kitchen area

River House Ruin

The River House Ruin is also known as The Snake House, due to a huge snake pictograph on the back wall

Pottery fragments were everywhere

Three men and a dog having a serious discussion

The scenery in the area

Multi-hued rocks

San Juan River

Do you see the feathered cliff dweller I spotted?

Another way of visiting the ruins – bring your own horse!

Homeward bound after yet another awesome trek

If not for our friends, we could not have enjoyed this wonderful place – thank you!


Next up:  More Bluff explorations


Catching “The Wave!” – Kanab, UT

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In late February I mentioned in a post that I had won two coveted hiking permits to hike Coyote Buttes North – aka “The Wave” – on June 4th in southern Utah.  I was giddy and jumping with joy, as these permits are not easy to get.  When Steve was diagnosed with cancer several weeks later, my hopes for making the hike dimmed as we focused on his health situation.  But he wanted us to do the hike and made it a goal by working extra hard to prepare for it after his surgery.  Our normal outdoor activity was walking the roads in the RV park, but to see if he could do a “real” hike we spent some time on the trails at nearby Sabino Canyon.

Sabino Canyon

Steve met a “twin” that day on Esperero Trail in Sabino Canyon, look how they’re dressed!

After completing 5.5 miles of moderate hiking he felt ready to tackle The Wave.  So we left Betsy behind in the scorching heat of Tucson and drove 450 miles north to our hotel room at Page, Arizona.  The trailhead to The Wave was another hour away near Kanab, Utah, so off we went at 5:00am the next morning to beat the heat.

A quick update on Steve:

He’s now into his second week of daily radiation treatments, with 5 more weeks to go. Because his Oncologist warned that food will soon taste like cardboard with loss of appetite and possibly severe pain when swallowing, he has been on a food binge of epic proportions, eating all of his favorites plus anything in the RV that doesn’t move.

He got a big boost when we stopped on our way back to Tucson for a visit with good friends Al and Ingrid of Live, Laugh, RV.  They indulged us with a wonderful pasta dish, followed with more yummy desserts than Steve had ever eaten in one day.  Not that he was complaining!  They also gave us a container full of yummy sweets to take home, and I felt obliged to help Steve finish it, just to prevent a possible sugar overload 🙂

Steve is starting to “feel the burn” of the radiation with more swallowing problems, so there are tough times ahead.  But his attitude is good and we will beat this beast.

Ingrid’s delicious cake didn’t last long.  Eat up, Steve!

BLM Permit for The Wave

Coyote Buttes PermitThe Wave is a famous geologic feature in what’s known as Coyote Buttes North, on the north edge of the Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness.  The area is along the Utah/Arizona border near the town of Kanab.  Because of its popularity, it is being protected and access is  limited  by lottery drawing selection.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows only 20 permits each day, 10 via online lottery (four months out), and 10 that are distributed to walk-ins at the GSENM Visitor Center in Kanab for the following day — also by lottery.  If you’re interested and want to find out everything you need to know about Wave permits, click the links below:

The hike

There is no obvious trail to The Wave, but the BLM office sent us a helpful photographic guide with land features and GPS coordinates to show us the way.  A couple of days before the hike a park ranger called to warn us that the forecast for June 4th was for temps in the 90’s and to bring lots of water.  We started super-early of course, as we’re not conditioned to hiking in 90º conditions with no shade.  We did overlook the one-hour time difference between Page, AZ and the trail in Kanab, UT.  So we started the hike at 7:00am Utah time instead of 6:00am Arizona time and realized we would not have wanted to start any later.  It got very hot by the time we headed back to the car.

Lake Powell, AZ

A calm sunrise over Lake Powell, AZ as we set off, the promise of a beautiful day

The hike is moderate, with a distance of 5.6 miles round trip gaining 487′ of elevation to The Wave.  Where there were footprints in the sandy areas we followed them, otherwise we treaded on slick rock and rocky terrain, constantly referring to the official map for guidance.  The fact that there’s practically no shade is a factor with temps commonly in the 90’s and higher this time of the year.

North Coyote Buttes

North Coyote Buttes

The landscape

The vast expanse along the way has incredible features, and we were in awe as we trudged on.  There is so much to look at – up, down, and all around.  It’s a kaleidoscope of formations with outcroppings of small sandstone domes and fascinating colorful swirls everywhere.

Over the first ridge, the land opens out to reveal a huge expanse of sand and slick rock, with a long, high ridge to the right.  A vast open area of sand and scattered rock domes fill the middle distance, and larger, more concentrated red rocks to the left rise up to a mesa which forms the edge of Buckskin Gulch.

North Coyote Buttes

Cross-bedded butte

One of the many amazing buttes here.  We’ve never seen such a variety of shapes in one place

North Coyote Butte

Sandstone domes along the way

North Coyote Buttes

Distant views of the “Teepees”, the general name given to these conical sandstone mounds

The wave trail

Some wildflowers were still blooming

North Coyote Buttes

Colorful, swirling strata in shades of pink, red, yellow and white along the east side of Coyote Buttes Ridge

The wave

The Wave is located just this side of that shaded vertical crevasse

The wave

Looking back at Buckskin Gulch and the sandy wash below the entrance to The Wave

In and around The Wave

At the entrance we were immediately astounded!  The waves and colors were amplified because of the sun’s reflection from the other side.  Our arrival time was perfect.

The wave entrance

We’re here, baby!

Slot at the wave

A fiery slot due to sun reflection

As you may have guessed, my camera was on overload!  So pardon me with all my wavy pictures, but take your time viewing these one-of-a-kind fascinating and exotic rock formations:

The wave

For two hours we wandered around the cliffs and gullies, then climbed up further

From a higher vantage point the area looked like a gallery of gruesomely twisted sandstone, resembling deformed pillars, cones, mushrooms, cushy pillows, dinner rolls  and other odd shapes that continued to amaze us.

The wave

Other lucky hikers have arrived

The wave

Top Arch and the fiery south ridge, can you spot Steve?

This place completely blew us away as we observed the display of textures, shapes, colors, curves, and layers all in one place!

The wave

Nature’s artwork of lichens and molds all over the rocks

The wave

The Wave

Doesn’t it look like recently-baked dinner rolls?

The wave

Looking down at the reflection-lit entrance

And peering closely, the details are exquisite as well.

Finally, the main feature, the Wave!

The Wave is actually a small ravine between eroded sandstone domes formed of amazing rocks containing thin, swirling strata.  It’s situated at the foot of the north slopes of Top Rock, formed of white Navajo sandstone.  It’s hard to imagine that billions of years ago the area was flat and covered with sand.  As usual, wind and water eroded, carved and smoothed to reveal the layers of sand remaining.  Finally, those layers were compacted and mineralized to reveal what we see.  Amazing!

the Wave

The wave

The wave

The wave

I was so happy that Steve insisted on making this trip, even though he wasn’t exactly in top hiking condition.  We both enjoyed the change of scenery, and he had promised to do something that would show how he appreciated his “lovely caregiver” during the past few weeks.  He couldn’t have picked a better way to make me happy !

The wave

Riding the wave, baby!

Words and pictures are not enough to describe what we experienced here, it’s at the top of our list of geologic finds.  We recommend that folks come here either March-May or September-October, and enter the lottery as soon as possible or take a chance as a walk-in during those times.  This place is beyond amazing!

And with this post we’ll be on temporary hiatus as Steve’s recovery continues.





Let’s take a drive! – Bluff, Utah

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Mexican Hat

While driving and hiking to/from intriguing ancient ruins, we were constantly treated to amazing scenery all around.  We are after all in southern Utah, known for its dramatic sprawl of red rocks and geological splendor.  The diversity we witnessed kept my camera busy and us fascinated.

Bluff, Utah

The scenic routes around Bluff

Let me show you the scenery, and hopefully you’ll be as taken in as we were.  I snapped most of these images from the passenger’s seat of our car, so the quality will suffer some for those shots.


Valley of the Gods

Known as the “miniature Monument Valley”, driving this 17-mile stretch off US 163 took us past many towering sandstone formations with fanciful names.  The Navajo interpret these imposing monoliths as Navajo warriors frozen in stone who can be appealed to for protection.

Valley of the Gods, Seven Sailors

The Seven Sailors oversee hubby as he cleans the windows for my picture-taking bonanza

Although smaller in size than Monument Valley, the statuesque formations here are numerous and no less magnificent.

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods in deep shadows

Of course, a formation can take on a different look, depending on your viewing angle.  For example, the formation below is named “Lady in Bathtub”, but as we continued past and gazed back, it looked more like a balanced rock.  Agree?

Moki Dugway

On one morning we drove through Moki Dugway, a 3-mile graded gravel switchback road carved into the cliff face of Cedar Mesa that winds 1,200’ from bottom to top.  The road was built in the 1950’s by Texas Zinc Minerals, as a route for ore trucks hauling uranium and vanadium from Cedar Mesa at the top of the dugway to the processing mill near Mexican Hat.

Moki dug way

Early morning drive up Moki Dugway

The views from the road and at several pullouts were breathtaking.  This is not a drive for those who have a fear of heights.  At one pullout we looked back and down at the Valley of the Gods we had just driven through:

Valley of the Gods

La Sal Mountains covered in snow at the horizon, Comb Ridge in the middle and Valley of the Gods in the foreground

Utah highway 261

Looking down at Utah Hwy 261, our route getting here


Wavy striations form a pattern on a purple/grey hillside known as Raplee Anticline

Moki Dugway

Maybe Thelma and Louise’s car looked like this one after their famous jump?

Muley Point

Exiting Moki Dugway at the top of the mesa where the pavement ended, we followed a dirt road that went 5 miles west to Muley Point.  We took a break for lunch there and enjoyed the stunning panorama from a 1,200’ cliff.


A sweeping view of the canyons below, and Monument Valley in the distance

Monument Valley

Another view of Monument Valley

John's Canyon

John’s Canyon

Goosenecks of the San Juan River

From Muley Point we traveled back down through Moki Dugway to Hwy 261.  I had thought we’d be back in the lowlands at Goosenecks State Park, but no!  The elevation from there to the bottom of the San Juan River goosenecks was another 1,000’ drop into the eroded landscape.

Goosenecks of San Juan river

The result of over 300 million years of geologic activity

From an overlook we could see the San Juan River’s sinuous path as it cut through multiple geologic layers.  This is the longest entrenched river meander in North America, which gives the small park its name.  We’d seen photos from friends who had camped here, and we were very happy to finaly see this beauty for ourselves.

Heading down Hwy 163 on our way home, we got a closer view of Raplee Anticline, also known as Mexican Blanket:

Raplee Anticline

Mexican Hat

This strange sandstone formation was named for its “sombrero” or mexican hat appearance.  It caught our eye as we traveled along Hwy 163 toward Bluff:

Mexican Hat

Down the road a ways I caught a glimpse of what I named “Bakers Hats”:

Bakers Hat

Comb Ridge

Comb Ridge is a sandstone monocline, with a 1,000’ wall from the wash bottom to the top of the cliffs.  Tilted at an angle of almost 20º, it runs for 80 miles.  It was home to the Anasazi, or ancestral Puebloans, and its cliffs sheltered the inhabitants.  The comb’s springs and seeps provided water to them, while the back walls of its shady, hidden alcoves served as a canvas for their rock art.

Comb Ridge

Comb Ridge

Comb ridge

Highway 163 cuts through Comb Ridge

Returning from Natural Bridges National Monument, we followed Hwy 95 to cut through the Comb Ridge on the west side.  It was nearing sunset when we passed through, and the cliff had taken on a soft glow as the setting sun hit it:

Comb Ridge

Bluff Fort Historic Site

When not driving or hiking, our home base was at Cadillac Ranch RV Park (Steve’s review here), in the very small town of Bluff, Utah.  Right across the street was the Bluff Fort Historic Site, where we learned that this small town is rich in history.  It was founded by Mormon settlers, as 200 of them arrived here in April 1880 after an incredible and seemingly impossible 6-month journey.


Steve learns the amazing story of the Mormon’s travels into Utah

We were shown a video that detailed how those Mormon pioneers overcame challenges of unparalleled difficulty, as they blazed a road through some of the most broken and rugged terrain in North America.  It included a path to the Colorado River gorge via a crevice they named Hole in the Rock.  They actually blasted a small road through the crevasse, a 2,000’ descent down to the Colorado River.

Hole in the Rock Pioneers

A painting of the Hole in the Rock pioneers

All of the drives we took during our stay in Bluff elicited the same exclamation as we traveled the area – “It’s a wow here!”


Next up:  Having a blast with friends


A Glimpse of Past Inhabitants – Bluff, UT

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Wolfman Petroglyph

Excitement was in the air as we left Page, Arizona, heading toward our next destination at Bluff, Utah.  Happily, our route along Hwy 163 took us through one of our bucket list “must-see” places, Monument Valley.  It’s striking landscape is the most photographed area lying entirely within Navajo Indian Reservation territory along the Utah/Arizona border.

Monument Valley

Excitement abounds as we enter Monument Valley

The Navajo name for the area is Tse Bii’ Ndzisgaii, meaning “valley of the rocks.”  The sandstone buttes and mesas have been used as a backdrop for more than a dozen movies (including Forest Gump), and driving amongst them brought home the beauty of that backdrop for us.

Monument Valley

The small town of Bluff (population 258 as of 2015) was our base camp for exploring ancient ruins and rock art.  It’s in the center of the Four Corners region where ruins of Anasazi Bluff, Utahcommunities have been found not only in Utah but also in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.  The region is known as the Utah section of the Trail of Ancients, where Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) occupied from approximately A.D. 1 to A.D. 1300.  Some of the remarkable remaining remnants left behind have easy access, but most require a drive and a hike, while still others exist in inaccessible back country areas.

Sand Island Petroglyphs

The easiest site to find here was the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel, located within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Sand Island Recreation Area just 3 miles south of Bluff.  The petroglyph panel stretches more than a hundred yards and features hundreds of  petroglyphs of every style.

Sand Island Petroglyps

The panel is registered in the National Register of Historic Places

Sand Island Petroglyphs

This small section alone has numerous types of petroglyphs, most notably big horn sheep

Sand Island Petroglyph Panel

Amy and May certainly weren’t ancient inhabitants.  Vandals force ugly fences to be installed around these precious works

Wolfman Panel

The famous Wolfman Panel is about four miles west of Bluff along Butler Wash Road and just a mile from Utah 163.  It’s a large, crisp and artistic group of etchings on the cliffs bordering the east side of Butler Wash.  The panel has designs that include a mask, shields, human figures and the wolfman himself.  Unfortunately, some of the artwork had been damaged by one or more morons shooting the rock with guns.

Wolfman Petroglyph

Wolfman Petroglyph

This is said to be a Basketmaker II style of petroglyph

Monarch Cave Ruins

Getting to these ruins required a 7-mile drive down Butler Wash Road (a dirt road in good condition), then a 1-mile hike toward a large alcove surrounded by colorfully-streaked cliffs above a permanent pour-over pool.  The site has one main ruin, several lesser structures and many petroglyphs colored yellow, green and white, in addition to the usual red.  The main area had been closed off as it has been become unstable and dangerous.

Monarch Cave Ruins

Living up high on a cliff

Monarch Cave Ruins

Indentations on rocks caused by grinding grain, showing evidence of life

Images on the rock that are painted on the surface with natural materials are called pictographs.

Monarch Cave Ruin

Living this high up a cliff guarantees a great view and safety from enemies

Grand Gulch Ruins

Once again our favorite hiking tipster Pam came through, pointing us to one of the ruins she and John (Oh The Places They Go) hiked called Junction Ruin.  The trailhead is located west of Hwy 261 and south of Natural Bridges National Monument.  The area is called Grand Gulch Primitive Area, and it’s a sprawling canyon system is home to a rich collection of American Indian rock art.  Access requires a permit at Kane Gulch Ranger Station for day use and/or backpacking.

Kane gulch trail

Initially our goal was to visit Junction Ruin as John and Pam had (click here for the details of their hike).  It’s a large cliff dwelling built on three levels, and a fascinating complex consisting of storage units, habitation rooms, kivas and defensive structures.

Junction ruin, Cedar Mesa

Peering into a small storage room

After perusing those ruins we met a group of backpackers who urged us to continue another 0.8 miles to see Turkey Pen Ruin.  Onward we went to discover that these ruins encompassed a number of structures, along with some pictographs.  Just like Junction Ruin, a metal box at the site contained descriptions of the scene and the structures it held.

Turkey Pen Ruin

The actual Turkey Pen is a jacal structure near the west end of the habitation area, and although its purpose is unknown, it didn’t look like it was used to hold turkeys.

Turkey Pen Ruin

We didn’t intend to hike 9.2 miles, but seeing both ruins made it more rewarding despite the uphill climb on our way out.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Tucked away in White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument shows off three natural stone bridges.  The park ranger recommended we follow an 8.6-mile trail that connected all of them in a long loop hike.  This trek really showed up-close how the power of water cut two deep canyons and formed three massive sandstone bridges.

Sipapu Bridge

The world’s second highest natural bridge – Sipapu Natural Bridge

Descending into the canyon, we passed and crossed under the “Sipapu” “Kachina,” and “Owachomo” bridges.  They were named after Native Americans who once lived in the area.  Along the way we saw rock art panels and checked out Horsecollar Ruin.

Horse collar Ruin

This well-preserved ruin’s name came from the doorways of two granaries resembling horse collars


We wondered what these drawings meant

We discovered the rock art panel when eagle-eyed Steve spied it high up on a wall not easily visible from the trail.  It was near the end of our hike, which due to our extra wanderings had tallied up 11.6 miles on the GPS.  It was a long and satisfying hike!

House on Fire Ruin

Our final stop that day was the House on Fire ruin.  Consisting of about five rooms, its name comes from the patterns in the alcove’s red and white sandstone ceiling that look like flames shooting from the roof of the structures.

The best time to capture this effect is midday when the light from the opposite canyon bounces across to the ruin.  Unfortunately it was 5:30pm by the time we arrived after our all-day “Bridges” hike, so conditions for my pictures were not ideal.  This trek added another 1.5 miles to our total for the day, and we were exhausted but happy to see it while in the area.

House on Fire Ruin

Visiting ancient ruins gives us a glimpse into parts of Anasazi life, and the remnants tell tales of their daily toils.  Images and art chiseled/painted on rock walls are impossible to decipher, but they must have had special meaning to the people who created them and the descendants who followed.  Those first residents left us fascinating food for thought, and we can only imagine what their lives must have been like way back then.


Next up:  Let’s take a drive!

Banded Hills, Toadstools and Canyons – Kane County, UT

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While perusing my recent photos I realized I’d overlooked some activities we enjoyed along scenic US 89 near the Utah state line while camping in Page, AZ.  There are two accessible areas of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument between Kanab and Page.  Folks who enjoyed my Lower Antelope Canyon photos (click here to see them) might also like the ones I took in this area.

Pahreah (now called Paria) Townsite Road

Pahreah Townsite Marker

Pahreah townsite marker

We learned about this road from John and Pam, and Dave and Sue, who explored it a week ahead of us. It leads to the remains of Pahreah townsite and descends from the junction with US 89 (milepost 31) into a valley.  The road becomes steep and twisting near the end, as it crosses the undulating banded hills that cover the area.

Our Honda CRV survived the 12-mile roundtrip drive, but it was a long haul and we realized that 4-wheel drive would be required if the road were muddy.


Pahrea Townsite

These colored canyons were the backdrop for several movies and TV shows

Banded Hills

The original Pahreah townsite is located just across the river, but none of the structures remain.  The settlement was established in 1869 and subsequently abandoned 40 years later due to frequent river flooding.  The river flows along a wide valley and is often dry during the summer, and covered in places by an extensive plain of white salt crystals.  The crystals result when the floodwaters recede and then evaporate.

San Juan River


There also used to be a movie set here, located at the bottom of a multi-colored sandstone canyon. Western movies and TV shows were filmed between 1963-1991, but floods and vandalism took their toll and the set was abandoned.

Pahreah Movie Set

The scenery is left untouched since the Pahreah movie set disappeared

Paria Canyon

Here’s what slow erosion looks like


The area is surrounded by amazingly colorful rocks.  The cliffs at either side are equally layered and multi-colored, with alternating red, white, purple and grayish-blue strata.  A Petrified Forest Member of the Chinle Formation, this fascinating place reminded me of the Painted Desert National Park in Arizona.


Paria Rim Rocks – Toadstool Trail

2016-03-26-UT-1470020.jpgAlso along US 89 and within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was the Toadstool Trail.  We followed the short .8 mile trail that led into an area of unusual rock formations known as toadstools, hoodoos, goblins or mushrooms.

Toadstool Trail

White Cliffs over the Carmel Formation


Don’t they look like goblins?

The many balanced boulders are created by blocks of hard sandstone perched atop narrow columns of softer rock that has eroded around and under them, resulting in a “toadstool” look:

There were some unusual rounded mounds of rock as well:

I don’t know about you, but we think these are some pretty cool formations and agree with our friends that they are definitely worth a visit.

Wiregrass Canyon Trail

Our reliable hiking tipster, Pam, suggested we would enjoy the 6-mile Wiregrass Canyon Trail, which is located 12 miles north of Page off US 89.  So on our last day in town we tackled the trail that took us into Wiregrass Canyon, a steep-sided wash that leads down to Lake Powell (although we didn’t go that far).  We did some scrambling up and down pour off’s and hiked through the wash between multi-colored sandstone.

Wire grass Canyon

The trail leads down into the canyon

Wire grass canyon trail

Natural Bridge

Taking a break at a natural bridge


This might be the second bridge (or arch) Pam was looking for?


Studying the green-colored layer


There are some very unique formations here

We saw several colorful patches like this along the trail

We saw several colorful patches like this along the trail

Mini Hoodoos

Mini-hoodoos standing at attention

This was a great hike, with fascinating exposed geologic formations.  We find that canyon hikes always display different geology, colors and formations that make each one unique and interesting, and we never get tired of them.  Especially in Utah!

Let me leave you with a few more scenic vistas, colored mountains and formations we saw along scenic US 89 between Kanab and Page:

Carmel Formation

Tropic Shale Formation

Tropic shale formation

Lone Rock

Lone Rock at Lake Powell


Giant hoodoos along US 89


The Navajo Generating Station south of  Manson Mesa can be seen from many miles away

This area between southwest Utah and northern Arizona is incredibly geologically diverse. There’s so much to explore here that we’re hoping to make it back next year.

After each day of running around between Arizona and Utah, we settled into our spacious site next to a campfire:


Y’all come back now, ya hear?


Next up:   A Glimpse of Past Inhabitants


Final hikes beyond Zion National Park

Comments 11 Standard
Northgate peaks trail

By the second week of our stay we avoided going into Zion National Park, for the spring break crowd with its associated traffic was getting tiresome.  We found some trails outside the park and just a few miles from our site at Zion River Resort in Virgin.  They didn’t have the spectacular scenery that we’d gotten used to, but they held plenty of beauty.

Confluence Trail

Confluence Park is a 344-acre natural park that is uniquely located within the city boundaries of both Hurricane and LaVerkin, Utah.  It’s tucked down in the bottom of a rocky gorge where Ash Creek and La Verkin Creek meet the Virgin River.  Several trails criss-cross the park and we leisurely followed some of them.  It was an easy walk and we enjoyed it for the natural beauty and almost total quiet, except for a few chirping birds.

Virgin River

To my right is the Virgin River and on my left is La Verkin Creek

Cactus Cliff

Cacti growing out of a basalt cliff


Basaltic Flows

Getting up close to the basaltic flows

Confluence Park

Historic barn in the park

Not typically seen on our hikes, a rope swing hung from a tree next to the river.  I had to give it a try, but decided not to actually let go and plunge into the cold water.

Virgin River

An old lady on a swing – take 1, take 2, take 3.  OK, that’s enough – let’s move on!

La Verkin Overlook Trail

Just  three miles west of our campground on Hwy 9 near the town of La Verkin, we discovered a 1.5-mile gravel-and-dirt road that lead to La Verkin Overlook.  The first time we drove here was to check out the 360-degree view of the richly colored valley and mountains ranging from Zion to the Pine Valley Mountains.  We noticed a trailhead right off the parking lot and vowed to come back to check it out, time permitting.

La Verkin, Utah

From the overlook we saw colored mountains to the east on a partly sunny/cloudy day

Well, we did make it back and guessed the La Verkin Trail was probably a good workout hike for the locals, rather than a challenging destination hike.  No matter, we were going to give it a shot!

The trail was all downhill at the beginning and ran parallel to stunning cliffs with steep drop-offs to the left and gentle sloping hills to a neighborhood in the distance to the right. Although it was rather cold that morning, I enjoyed this hike because of the many wildflowers in bloom.

We also had good views down into an impressive section of the gorge that’s been cut by the Virgin River as it flows relentlessly through the towns below:

La Verkin Overlook Trail

The trail follows the ridgeline and then slowly descends to the southwest

Virgin River

Looking down at the gorge cut by the Virgin River

According to Wikipedia, theories about the origin of La Verkin’s name suggest it may be a corruption of the Spanish term la virgen, after the nearby Virgin River, or possibly an error in translation of the term “beaver skin.”

La Verkin, Utah

To the west, the town of La Verkin with the red foothills of Kayenta in the distance

We stopped at the foot of the bridge and could go no further, as the trail ended at a power plant that was gated and fenced.

Hurricane-La Verkin Bridge

The Hurricane-La Verkin Bridge spans the Virgin River midway between the cities of Hurricane and LaVerkin

On our way back, these vibrant yellow, orange and red wildflowers caught my eye:


This was a fairly short but moderate hike, and we found it to be a good diversion from the big-time hiking we had done during the past week.

We were faced with colored and layered mountains as we headed back out the dirt road toward Hwy 9.

La Verkin overlook

Northgate Peaks Trail

One day we drove the Kolob Terrace Road to pick up the Northgate Peaks Trail.  This trek weaved through tall Ponderosa Pine groves throughout its length.  The 4-mile round trip trail ended on a craggy knob of volcanic rock, with views of slickrock, sandstone towers, and a big cloudy sky overhead.  A brisk wind prevailed on the day we tackled it.

The morning greeters kept an eye on us as we passed:

Northgate Peak Trail

Instead of sandstone canyons, it was Ponderosa Pines that dwarfed us on this jaunt

Along the way we encountered an area that had some weird sand trails.  Steve thought they may have been created by moles, but they look different.  Anybody know?

Northgate Peak trail

Do you know what these are?

North Guardian Angel

Great West Canyon at the end of Northgate Peaks Trail

Northgate peaks trail

North Guardian Angel

North Guardian Angel

With the storm clouds threatening above, we hustled back to the car.  The unique scenery with Stellar Jays, Northern Flickers and Mountain Bluebirds made this an enjoyable hike, and it turned out to really be for the birds 🙂

Northgate Peak Trail

Eagle Crags Trail

Driving back and forth to Zion NP numerous times, we couldn’t help but noticed a jagged rock formation near Hwy 9 at Rockville.  We learned it was called Eagle Crags, a sandstone formation that topped out at 6,350′ and included a hiking trail that lead to its base and then up into the rocky spires.

Eagles Crags

Unmistakeable formation seen as we drove Hwy 9

Keeping “crowd control” in mind, we bundled up and headed out early one morning.  A sandy and rocky road just south of Rockville challenged our poor CRV to the max as we drove up through some private roads to the trailhead on BLM land.

We began following the trail, which gradually climbed across a juniper-covered ridge and toward the craggy towers rising to the south:

Eagle Crags Trail

The path to the base was sandy through a  a labyrinth of desert vegetation.

Eagle Crag Formation

The outcrops of sandstone known as Eagle Crags appeared to grow in elevation as we got closer

As usual, I couldn’t help myself and stopped every time I saw colors along the trail.  No matter how large or small, it was springtime after all and the wildflowers were showing off their colors:

We hiked just beyond the base of the mountain to where much more strenuous rock climbing would have been required to continue.  We had no intention of trying for the top of these jagged rocks, and were happy to just get close to them and stop for a nice view as we enjoyed lunch.

South Creek Reservoir and the mouth of Parunuweap Canyon

South Creek Reservoir and the mouth of Parunuweap Canyon

Zion National Park

The towering massive spires and towers of Zion National Park in the distance

Eagle Crags Trail

Goodbye Zion, till we meet again!

That wraps up our 2-week hiking bonanza in and around awe-inspiring Zion National Park.  It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind place with countless hiking opportunities.  We love this place and will definitely come back!


Next up:  Exploring by land and water – Page, AZ


Hello, Utah!

Comments 15 Standard
Zion National Park

Utah Welcome SignWith the first day of Spring right around the corner, we sprinted out of Nevada and into Utah – our 46th state!  This is one state that Steve and I are really looking forward to spend a lot of time in.  It’s so full of amazing places, and we hope the three months we’ve allocated is enough.  As usual, we’ve planned our stops to best take advantage of the weather at various elevations, thanks in part to the advice of our RV friends who have done it before (especially Pam, who sent us a detailed email last year – thanks, Pam!).  So now we’re ready to get our “life elevated”, as the state’s slogan suggests.

From that welcome sign it’s not hard to imagine that huge slabs of granite and Navajo Sandstone dominate many parts of this state.  That means many of my future posts will be laden with – you guessed it – amazing rock formations rising from the earth. Zion National Park

We think Utah has successfully advertised their five spectacular national parks (Zion, Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef), and we intend to visit them all while we’re here.  Our first stop was two weeks at Zion National Park.

Located in southwestern Utah, Zion N.P. encompasses some of the most scenic canyons and souring cliffs anywhere.  It’s characterized by high plates, a maze of narrow deep sandstone canyons and striking rock towers and mesas.  Just that description of it inspired us to take plenty of time investigating it.  Doing so during Spring Break presented some challenges that couldn’t be avoided, but we did our best to mitigate the time spent with the masses.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park viewed from the southeast

Our lofty goal was to tackle all of the listed hiking trails within Zion Canyon, and to see several other area sights.  From early March through October, access to all trailheads in the canyon is via a well-run free shuttle system that follows the six-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.  It makes eight stops along the way into and out of the canyon.

To avoid the masses, our strategy included crawling out of bed at 5:30am (Steve’s already awake by then) so we could catch the first shuttle at the visitor center at 7:00am.  That meant there was just enough sunlight to begin our hikes once we were dropped off, and we were able to enjoy the sunrise on several mornings.  Perfect!

Observation Point Trail

Steve takes photos of Angels Landing at dawn

Hiking – Day 1

On our first hiking day, we jumped off at stop #7 (Weeping Rock), where the trailheads for Observation Point and the Weeping Rock Trail, plus the spur to Hidden Canyon, were located.  We were the only ones to get off the shuttle at that stop, and we started the 4-mile ascent to the top of Observation Point all by ourselves.

Observation Point

The rising sun shines on our destination

Observation Point Trail

This was one of the two most strenuous classic hikes in the park, as it began gaining elevation right at the trailhead and rose a total of 2,150′.  We followed the path as it zigzagged its way up the steep reddish Navajo sandstone mountainside.  The mostly paved path was steep enough to encourage us to take several water and photography breaks.



We crossed a semi-dry stream bed and passed into Echo Canyon, a beautiful hanging chasm with a deep gorge where water gnawed relentlessly into sandstone pockets.  The sculptured walls closed in to a narrow shaded area, and towering above was the flat face of Cable Mountain – lit up from the sun’s reflection.  Awesome!

Echo canyon

Crossing into Echo Canyon

Cable Mountain

Looking up a sheer wall that is Cable Mountain


It’s was about 40′ down to the stream that ran through this beautiful chasm

Slot Canyon

Looking down through the water-eroded rocks

The path next opened into an open vista, and a display of stone sculptures and slick rocks dotted with pink manzanita blooms greeted us.  There were also many red Indian Paintbrush flowers blazing away.


Crimson Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

Manzanita blooms

Manzanita blooms

Purple Penstemon

We huffed and we puffed (but we didn’t blow anything down), as we continued along another series of exposed switchbacks at Mount Baldy.  Below, the Virgin River with shuttle buses running alongside looked pretty distant from here, but we still had a long way to go.

Virgin River

The trail leveled off at the top of the mesa, and as we skirted the rim we could see our destination.

Observation Point hike

We had to walk along here to get to our destination

Observation Point Trail

We traversed a flat and sometimes muddy trail through piñon-juniper forest on the final mile

We made it!  The image below shows Zion Canyon with the Virgin River snaking through.

Observation Point, Zion National Park

Alone at the top with big smiles after over two hours of tough climbing to 6,508′

From the high perch we enjoyed our reward – breathtaking views of Zion Canyon and the cuts along White Cliffs that created the arduous switchbacks we followed.

White Cliffs

Can you spot the hikers ?

Observation Point Trail

The trail in the middle is the one we followed, while the zigzag to the right went to Hidden Canyon

The faraway tip of Angels Landing was 600′ lower in elevation, and we had no idea (yet) what those folks had gone through to get to their destination.

Angels Landing

Hikers at the tip of Angels Landing

Observation Point

Sculpted mountains to the west

On the way back down we met a large procession of folks heading up, and since we were the first ones descending from the peak we were asked questions about the view from the top.

Observation Point Trail, Zion NP

The rocks were ablaze as we descended


Echo Canyon

Looking back at where we were a couple of hours ago, we saw a crowd building at the summit.  It was so nice to have the place to ourselves while we were there!

Observation Point

Hidden Canyon Trail

Next we took the spur trail to Hidden Canyon, since it was right off the trail we were already descending.  After a series of steep switchbacks followed by a series of chain-assisted walks along a narrow ledge, we headed into the canyon.

Hidden Canyon trail

That zipper trail took us into Hidden Canyon

Hidden Canyon

Moss-covered canyon walls lead to another chain-assisted trail on the way to Hidden Canyon

Hidden Canyon

Yeah, the chain is strongly recommended here.  One mis-step and you’re a goner…

Hidden Canyon trail

We ended up stopping after entering the mouth of the canyon.  There was a huge rock obstacle that required more scrambling and longer legs than I was capable of handling.  We came up short of seeing the free standing arch in this canyon, but it was still a challenging trek.

On the way back down we caught a glimpse of our next destination – an enormous alcove where water seeps (and apparently weeps) – Weeping Rock.

Weeping Rock

Weeping Rock alcove from a distance


Standing under the beautiful alcove with cool water sprinkling on us from above was a welcome relief after many hours of hiking.


We noticed only moss and algae growing, but we learned that during the summer months blooming foliage can be seen precariously hanging out of the moist rock.


By now we were pretty much exhausted and shuttle stop #7 was getting crowded, so we decided to head toward home.  At the visitor center we followed one more short trail, the Archaeology Trail.  We had inadvertently walked part of it in the morning as we searched for the shuttle depot in the dark.

Archeology Trail

This is where we were this morning as we wandered around in the dark!

We followed the trail until we reached a promontory that gave us another perspective of Zion Canyon and the surrounding mountains.  It was satisfying to review all the ground we had covered during the past past hours.

Zion National Park

The arrow points to Observation Point, where we were early that morning

What a great day it was!  We had hiked all of the trails originating at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop, well over 10 miles of strenuous trails that culminated with unforgettable scenery.  To reward ourselves, we stopped at the Zion Canyon Brew Pub just outside the park gate to enjoy what turned out to be an excellent glass of stout, according to Steve.  We somehow ended up stopping there several more times after other long hikes in the park, but that’s another post…


Next up:  Feeling crazy?  Let’s try Angels Landing!