Category Archives: Utah Adventures

100 Classic Hikes Utah is available now!

 

Drumroll, please… presenting 100 Classic Hikes Utah! It’s been several years in the making, and now it’s live and in color! I’m very excited about this book. Feedback is already coming in, and it’s been great so far.

 

This book was a lot of work, great adventure, beautiful places, and the product of my literal blood, sweat, and tears. And it’s out now!

 

I hiked my heinie off for this book, agonized over the hike choices up until the very last minute, conferred with many people over favorite/best/most awesomest trails in the state, and found many new-to-me places for it. You can find the book now at all the major online retailers, and it’s making its way into bricks-and-mortar bookstores as well.

 

2016-07-23 14.26.26

On the shelves now!

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Filed under Hikes, Photos, Random Musings, Utah Adventures, Writing

Sussing Out the San Rafael Swell, Part II

 

 

Checking out the San Rafael Swell in April was a fabulous thing to do over my birthday. Spending time outside on holidays is a fine idea as far as I’m concerned. And yes, of course my birthday is a holiday. After we spent the night near Crack Canyon, we woke to a sunny day, our last one out, and more exploring to do. We’d decided to check out some well-known, easy to access petroglyphs just north of I-70.

 

As we headed back to hwy. 24, we examined the Barrier Canyon-style pictographs located right beside the Temple Mountain Road about a mile in from the Goblin Valley turnoff. The pictographs have been willfully damaged by natural-selection-candidate dumbasses over the years, but they’re still pretty cool to look at.

 

visible from the pullout just off the road

visible from the pullout just off the road

 

graffiti & bullet hole marks left by the imbecilic, the drunk, the narcissistic, in irreplaceable ancient art

graffiti & bullet hole marks left by the imbecilic, the drunk, the narcissistic, in irreplaceable ancient art

 

Then we headed north on Hwy 24 toward the famed Black Dragon Panel. It can be tricky to find the dirt road exit off I-70, but once you do it’s quite easy to get to the wash itself.

obvious signage. flagged so apparently the confused won't miss it?

obvious signage. flagged so apparently the confused won’t miss it?

 

You can drive all the way into the canyon and beyond, but a good high clearance 4wd vehicle is recommended. We had other plans for exploring, so we parked just before the canyon entrance and walked the short distance to the panel. Bright color bursts flared beneath the tan cliffs and called to us to get a better look. We had to (carefully) scramble up some loose scree to get close up shots, but of course it was worth it.

claret cup cactus in spring bloom

claret cup cactus in spring bloom

 

Once in the high-walled, fairly wide canyon, you’ll see other artwork first.

wonder what it said

wonder what the pictographs meant

 

After this, you reach the main Black Dragon panel fairly quickly. A misnomer, since the “dragon” is actually red, not to mention it looks more like some bizarre cross between a pterodactyl, hunched over kokopelli, and rising phoenix. To my imagination, at any rate.

the Black Dragon...or so I'm told

the Black Dragon…or so I’m told

 

what was going on here?

what was going on here?

 

Back at the truck, the slickrock that slopes up to create the east and north side of the canyon invited exploration. We made the ascent grateful for the clear day and stellar views.

picking our way up the slickrock slope to the right of the main canyon entrance

picking our way up the slickrock slope to the right of the main canyon entrance

 

Getting closer to the top…

one step at a time

one step at a time

 

Once you crest the highest curve of the sandstone, it flattens out. The views in every direction are impressive, from the top of Black Dragon Wash…

above Black Dragon Wash

high above Black Dragon Wash

 

…right by the edge above the wash…

we're about 30 feet from the edge of a huge dropoff. The Black Dragon Panel is just below that desert varnished wall you see coming up to the left of us

we’re about 10 feet from the edge of a huge dropoff. The Black Dragon Panel is just below that desert varnished wall you see coming up to the left of us

 

…out to the La Sals, snowcapped in the distance.

a view from a spot few ever hike up to

a fantastic view from a spot few ever hike up to

 

As usual, the Swell flips my heart and soul with its breathless wildness, its seemingly endless expanse of forbidding, inviting beauty. I could have stayed there for a week. Lucy for me, I live close enough to visit often. Desert time is coming up again soon….

 

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A Week in the Life of an Outdoor Guide

 

 

My outdoor guiding job is very cool. I get to play outside, and take people out to play with me. I even get paid for this! And tipped (usually)! Sometimes it’s hard to believe I live this cool life. Well, moments of coolness. Such as my recent week.

In a seven-day period of time, this was my schedule:

Friday: Drive clients to Cathedral Valley in the northern part of Capitol Reef National Park. Tell them I studied French for 5 years but am too scared to try to actually converse with them. Enjoy wonderful conversations with them (in English), then still smile as they depart without tipping me. Ah, the French.

Temple of the Sun, Cathedral Valley

Saturday: Meet friends to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls, between Escalante and Boulder, Utah. Have a blast! Oh, and enjoy the best fish tacos I’ve yet had anywhere in southern Utah. (Circle D Eatery in Escalante, I’m looking at you! Yum. If you go there, tell Patrick I said hi.)

Small Leaf Globemallow on the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail

Sunday: Hike Sheets Gulch and take a gander at the Strike Valley Overlook, both in Capitol Reef National Park, with a good photographer friend. Find overhangs, ruins, and neat slot canyon scrambles.

downclimbing in Sheets Gulch

(photo by Jennifer Howe)

Utah Daisies in Sheets Gulch

Monday: Hike the 9-mile loop of Upper Muley Twist in Capitol Reef National Park. In a word: stunning. Discover one member of the party is quite fearful of snakes when we come across a big bullsnake desperately trying to slither away from us.

Bullsnake in Upper Muley Twist Canyon

She is also afraid of furry little mammals with tails that run up the walls when we are in a little slot canyon section–I realize this when she lets loose a shriek and whirls back into me, clutching my arm and attempting to exit the area with utmost speed. Lean into the 50-mph winds that assault us up on the rim as we stagger sideways, blown by the capricious elements, while taking the endlessly gorgeous views of the Strike Valley, the Henry Mountains, and everything north, south, and east as far as the eye can see.

Strike Valley Overlook

Enjoy dinner with the clients at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder after one of the loveliest hiking days in memory. Sigh when they also don’t tip. Choose instead to remember the bulk of the awesomely fun day.

Saddle Arch in Upper Muley Twist Canyon

Tuesday: Cathedral Valley again, as seen with serious amateur photographers. Loved them! Total sweethearts from the Midwest who were utterly adoring of the Western landscapes. Learned some more photography tips & tricks from them throughout the day.

Glass Mountain in Cathedral Valley

Wednesday: Cathedral Valley, this time incorporating some hiking as well. Learn more flowers, hike to overlooks I’ve never been to before, and thoroughly enjoy the company of the funny Texan guests. Hiking during this trip is an unusual treat for me, and I love it. Also get to test out some Merrell Barefoot running shoes I just received…gear review coming soon to the lovely National Parks Traveler website.

Central Prickly Pear in full bloom, Cathedral Valley

Thursday: Drive the Reds Canyon loop in the San Rafael Swell. See wild horses who’ve freely roamed the area since the mid-1800s and earlier. Observe both photographer clients and self swoon with the utter coolness of this visual feral treat.

Wild Horses in the San Rafael Swell

Be entertained by a winsome lizard during lunch. Gaze at old uranium mine remains and wonder how the miners could stand being deep within the earth while surrounded by such natural beauty.

Sunflowers in Reds Canyon near Muddy Creek

Look at rock art panels. Drive I-70 back to highway 72 over Thousand  Lake Mountain in the early evening light. Beyond gorgeous. Enjoy dinner at Cafe Diablo with the clients, who are the same wonderful people from Tuesday.

Friday: Relax….

Not every week is like this. Sometimes they’re even busier, sometimes they’re super quiet. And I didn’t get to go horseback riding, which is my favorite thing to do. But all in all, it was pretty sweet. The commute…the view from my office…the enthusiastic clients…the lifetime of dividends in the form of experiences, memories, and photos.

Excuse me now. Time to get back outside.

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Heating Up in Mystic Hot Springs

Believe it or not, there’s an oovy-groovy, hippie-crunchy-granola, totally unimproved hot springs in the heart of conservative Utah. And it’s only an hour and a half from my house. Yeah!

Mystic Hot Springs has been around plenty longer than humans, I would guess. It’s certain the Indian tribes in the area (Paiute, Ute, other visitors) soaked here. Although they didn’t do it in the bathtubs and pool that exist today. Early white settlers discovered the hot springs and used them too, eventually incorporating live music, dancing, and general merry-making. Well, I should hope.

Today, Mystic still features live music. I’ve been to one concert here, many years ago. It was a heck of a lot of fun, though I haven’t been back for another one. I just don’t think about going to see music. My preference is to soak, soak, soak.

Five bathtubs, a shallow pool, and a deeper pool corral the blissfully hot water. Temps range from 98-110 degrees. The two tubs at the far southern end are the hottest. We could only stay in them for a few minutes!

But ahhh, did it feel great afterward. Like many hot springs, the minerals that are in the water have some sort of healing powers. I just felt light, rejuvenated, healthy, peaceful, and overall good after soaking for about 45 minutes total.

As with most funky places, Mystic is really laid-back and not at all modern. The focus is on the hot springs, not on brand-new facilities. It’s probably not the place for some people. I like its charm and its ’70s-era qualities. There’s even a stuffed monkey hanging out from the tree in front, greeting people in slightly bedraggled fashion.

And since it’s unimproved, getting around the actual springs/pools/tubs can be slightly hazardous if the ground’s wet. You have to go uphill from the main building to get to the springs, and they have sort-of steps alongside a simple dirt path. I’ve totally skidded on this before, so watch where the heck you’re stepping.

Where: Monroe, Utah. Middle of nowhere. Southeast of I-70. Well east of I-15.

Directions: If you’re coming from Richfield, head south on Hwy. 118. After about 5 or so minutes, keep an eye out for a little sign on your right saying that Monroe is a left-hand turn that goes south, still on Hwy. 118. Drive through little Monroe and look for the really inconspicuous signage on your left, up high, that says Mystic Hot Springs. Turn left (east) and you’ll drive right into it. Do not be afraid when you drive off pavement and onto a dirt road that is bouncy, rutted, and likely muddy (at least, this time of year it is). You’re there!

Cost: $10/person/day (there are other fees for camping, etc.)

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top 5 reasons to visit Cedar Mesa, Utah

Sometimes I do lag in posting, don’t I? Hard being a freelance writer yet also a lover of the wilderness who adventures a lot! (Ok, ok–I’m also a bit of a procrastinator. Just a bit!)

I recently traveled to Mancos, CO, to visit a friend. Great trip…especially the drive over Cedar Mesa. Now, this is an area I have driven through many, many times when I lived in Durango yet felt compelled to often return to Torrey (gee, I wonder why, lol). I’ve done a minimal amount of hiking and camping in the area–but let me tell you, there’s an abundance of hiking to be done there! Cedar Mesa is the sort of huge secret that many locals or canyoneering or ancestral Puebloean aficionados know about, yet it’s still basically hidden from the general public eye.

Good thing, that. Plus, if you visit this area or plan to do any stomping around, you’d better be self-sufficient. Not a forgiving area in which to get lost or stranded without possessing some basic survival skills. (That’s another post coming soon…all abut the bowdrill and more.)

Ok, caveat emptor, here’s why you should put Cedar Mesa on your list of places to visit:

1) Unspoiled.
Really. It’s way off the beaten path, there are no national parks within its sprawl of canyons and buttes, and its biggest attractions (mountain biking, canyoneering, hiking) haven’t yet drawn the crowds that swarm places like Moab. Phew!

2) Huge.
Cedar Mesa encompasses over 400 square miles of pure wilderness playground. Check out Natural Bridges National Monument, the awe-inspiring ancient native american remains (such as Turkey Pen Ruin and Perfect Kiva in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area), and stop in at Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding to see some of the “spoils” taken from ruins over the last century. Oh, and swing into the Butler Wash Ruins overlook and check out the Moki stairs. Really nuts! (Yes, Virginia, there were ancient people who pecked that staircase out of sheer rock and then used it. They were either ancient versions of Spiderman or just really, really trusting of their toeholds.)

3) Grand Gulch Primitive Area.
Note the word “primitive.” They’re right on the money about that, so realize that if you get your little hiking butt into trouble out there, you’d best be able to get it out again–on your own. Grand Gulch is utterly sublime in its beauty, incredible ruins, and eerie link to the past. Back in the day (say, 1200 years ago), supposedly, more people inhabited this area than live in all the Four Corners today. Crazy, no? (I remember hearing this somewhere but can’t find documentation for it just now…will keep looking though.) Please remember that the Archeological Resources Protection Act says it’s a felony to disturb or take artifacts. Want more proof of how serious they are? Hark back to the Blanding raids earlier this year. They mean it.

4) White Canyon, home of the Black Hole.
Spooky! The Black Hole is a classic canyoneering experience in the most serious sense. You actually need a drysuit to do it, as water temps can be so cold even on a 100+ degree day in July that you can get hypothermic. You’d also best be experienced or with someone very experienced and safety-conscious. And White Canyon itself is such a fascinating, lovely fissure in the earth. It demands exploration even if it didn’t contain the presence of cool slot canyons.

5) Dark Canyon Wilderness.
Ok, technically it’s a bit north of Cedar Mesa. But it is an amazing hidden gem, and should be explored by every serious off-the-beaten-path adventurer heading to southern Utah. There are some stunning hikes, hidden ruins, and vistas that are unbelievably beautiful–and best of all, no one else is there! And it has 45,000 acres! Let me say it again: Hidden. Treasure. Go check it out…but mum’s the word.

Best reasons of all:

See below. Happy trails…. And do tell me your own reasons why visiting Cedar Mesa is such an awesome idea.


Cheese Box Butte.


Gorgeous canyon that parallels Hwy 95 much of the way.


Ancient potsherds. (No, I’m not the one who “arranged” them thusly. You should never do this, as it causes the artifacts to lose their provenance. But does make for a nice pic.)

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hiking in my southern utah stomping grounds

I realized I don’t much talk about specific hikes around here.

Recently, I mentioned Spooky and Peek-a-Boo slot canyons, and those are super cool hikes not to be missed. (As long as you are neither claustrophobic nor well-nourished, as noted.)

Last year, I posted pics and raves about how gorgeous Lost Lake, up on the Boulder, is. (This post also somehow morphs into Hillary Clinton, the Milky Way, and lightning. Don’t ask. You’ll have to read it, heh.) Then there’s the anti-ATV (well, anti-piss-poor users of ATVs) rant that happened because of another horseback ride up to Lost Lake.

Hmm, then there was the one about seeing bighorn sheep along Pleasant Creek Canyon in the Park. No pics, as I’d forgotten my camera that day…but I often see sheep in that canyon. And it is sooo gorgeous there.

Ooh, Natural Bridges National Monument, just down the road from Torrey out in Cedar Mesa. Total wow out there.

There are so, so many hikes I can mention. I’ll have to start doing that, and posting pics along with them, of course.

I just wrote a “travel tip” for a nicely-organized travel site called Travel Dudes. My tip was, oddly enough (lol) about Best Hikes in Southern Utah’s National Parks. All of the parks down here are, pure & simple, AMAZING. And each is so in its own way. Am I partial to Capitol Reef because that’s where I live? Of course. But each park has its own breath-taking delights. Visit ’em all. (Check out this really crisp photo of Bryce Canyon. If you’re a camera fiend, that park will keep you occupied for days. For all hours of all the days you spend there, in fact.)

And here are some blog posts on NileGuide I wrote about road tripping and gettin’ your beer on in Zion. (Too bad I can’t write a similar one about Torrey, ha. Not quite as many drinking establishment choices here, I’m afraid!)

What else. Well, there are my most favorite hikes around Torrey…but I’ll have to think about exposing those, so to speak. Not like this is a rabid tourist mecca yet, but it’s always been my goal to not encourage the over-visitation of wild places that often means eventual, rather traumatic change. We’ll stick with just mentioning Lost Lake for now, hmm? :)

More pics for your viewing pleasure. Then it’s off to dreamland for this adventurer…

Blind Lake in the fall, up on the Boulder


Zion…aahhh.

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Filed under Hikes, Random Musings, Utah Adventures

Peek-A-Boo & Spooky

No, it’s neither a child’s game nor time for Halloween. Rather, it’s two great little slot canyons, the classic beginner ones that everyone who wants to hike a slot canyon should do. I first hiked them about six years ago, and yesterday had the privilege of taking a friend who had never in her life been in a slot canyon! Lookie here for some of what we experienced:

Yes, ooh & aah. That one is inside Peek-A-Boo.

Let me note that these slot canyons, plus another one called Brimstone, are located near Escalante, Utah, 28 miles down the v-e-r-y- j-a-r-r-i-n-g Hole-in-the-Rock Road (seriously, the washboards were terrible). It’s recommended you have 4WD and definitely high-clearance. Since there was a recent New York Times article about Escalante (which features a great pic of Peek-A-Boo), the crowds had stampeded to the area. We saw probably no less than 60 freakin’ people on our hike, and it made our experience in Spooky less than desirable, as we had to squeeze back into the rocks to let herds of Boy Scouts pass, and felt rushed when we heard people coming up right behind us in the there-is-no-physical-way-possible-that-you-can-pass-anther-human-being slot.

But I digress. Just look at these pics, and marvel more:

This was our Chaco-clad feet covered in the STINKY muck leftover from recent storms that we had to climb through in order to get up into Peek-A-Boo!


This is other people descending what we climbed UP into when first getting into Peek-A-Boo. Are you now properly impressed with our prowess? Let me tell you, it took forever to get in, because our feet kept slipping on the wet mud. Note: don’t try this going up (when wet) unless you’re really sure of yourself or use ropes. It could be really dangerous. You didn’t hear me tell you to do it!


This is looking down into Peek-A-Boo. I climbed up on top and snapped this to demonstrate how deep in the womb of mama Earth we were.


Spooky. Yes, this is what you have to go through. You truly cannot be wider than about a foot in some areas. People who are, ah, well-nourished, should not attempt this slot canyon. Nor if you have claustrophobia, nor if you are athletically challenged–you often have to climb up, down, over, or all three, the rocks that get caught in a slot, which are called chockstones.


Me sneakin’ through Spooky. See? Narrow! And so, so fun.

Southern Utah. Land of the natural cathedrals, sublime beauty, amazing forces of nature demonstrated right before our eyes. Oh, how I love it….

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Filed under Hikes, Utah Adventures