We pulled over to take a few photos as we started toward Mountain Home, Idaho. Storms could still be seen in the distance, but it was mostly blue sky and sun, from then on.
CEDAR MESA ROAD TRIP 17-26TH APRIL 2011 ~ Mr. & Mrs. Oldmantravels
In all we spent ten days and nine nights on the road, camping in the back of our pickup truck two nights, sleeping in our backpacking tent in Grand Gulch, and the other six nights luxuriating in the comforts of a motel room. Gas prices ranged from a low of $3.56 a gallon to $3.89, which was the highest we paid on this trip. We saw several $4.00 a gallon signs along the way.
Our figure 8 route took us through portions of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Nevada. We drove a couple of roads we had never traveled; met some truly wonderful people; took many interesting day hikes to places we had never been, and tried out some new internal frame backpacks on a short backpacking trip into Grand Gulch.
Most of our activity, and time spent, was centered around the Cedar Mesa area of Southeastern Utah. Though the weather forecast did not look favorable for the first portion of our time in Utah, it turned out fine. It wasn’t until the return portion of our road trip, where we ran into several storms (thunder and lightening storms, a nasty hail storm, and a few snow storms thrown in).
If any of you are interested, in for whatever reason on following the travel portion of our road trip, you can connect these dots to form the figure 8 route we traveled, from start to finish: Home in Eastern Washington; Pendleton; Boise; Salt Lake City; Spanish Fork; Price; Green River; Hanksville; Natural Bridges National Monument; Blanding; [several days spent in the Cedar Mesa area]; Moab; Cisco; Mack; Rangely; Dinosaur; Vernal; Duchesne; Heber City; Salt Lake City; Wendover; Elko; Lamoille; Mountain City; Owyhee; Mountain Home; Boise; Pendleton; & home.
Here in outline form is how we spent each of our road trip days:
1. Sunday afternoon – Monday (17-18th April 2011)
These were “drive” days. We left our home in Eastern Washington the moment my wife got home from her part time job. We camped in the back of our pickup truck on the way to Southern Utah. By Monday evening we were at Natural Bridges National Monument.
We were certain the small campground at Natural Bridges would be full, which it was, but drove through it anyway. We then headed up a dirt road on the shoulder of the Abajo Mountains to camp in what they call the “overflow” camping area for Natural Bridges. We camped at the 7,000’ level among juniper trees.
We read by the light of our LED headlamps, warmly ensconced in our backpacking down sleeping bags, under the cover of our pickup truck canopy (on a nice firm mattress). It wasn’t long before the wind picked up. Then rain. Then really hard rain, with lightening flashes and thunder booms that shook the truck. It was fun. Warm and dry in our pickup truck shelter, we slept the night away.
2. Tuesday 19th April 2011
I was in for quite the surprise when I threw the canopy rear window open. Snow! Not much but our windshield was frozen solid with a coating of thick ice and snow. I had almost left our ice scraper at home, but was glad we now had it with us.
The sun was starting to come out as we drove out of our camp past a large group of young people, who had camped in floorless tents the night before. They were standing out in the sage brush bundled up in every garment they had with them. Their sleeping bags and tents were draped over the sage, while they and their gear tried to dry out with the welcome rays of morning sun.
We drove on to the Kane rangers’ station and arrived a little before 8 am. We viewed the mandatory film in order to be able to procure our backcountry permit on Thursday morning, when we planned to take a short backpacking trip down Government Trail, and then up Grand Gulch. Thursday and Friday looked the most promising for good weather.
The volunteers and staff located at Kane rangers’ station are perhaps the most knowledgeable and helpful people I have found anywhere at a rangers’ station. These folks hike the area (as one lady ranger told me “we ~ range ~ the area we are responsible for”). Super people!
We then checked into a motel in Blanding for two nights, stopping just long enough to leave everything but our day hiking gear and heading out to do some canyon and cliff dwelling hiking in the Cedar Mesa/Comb Ridge area.
We hiked to several cliff dwellings and rock art panels and covered a lot of territory. We met a couple our age from Albuquerque. I will call them L & M. They were our age and experienced hikers, who knew the Cedar Mesa area well, having come to the area year after year. When we ended up at the same “trail head” together, a long conversation ensued. My wife and I learned a lot from them, and when they invited us to join them to hike along with them, we quickly accepted.
We hiked for a ways with L & M and then took separate routes. Later, when I failed to find a site I had been looking for, they graciously guided us right to it. We had been close on our own but would not have found it on this trip, without their expert help.
We hiked with them for awhile more, then split up once again as my wife and I were headed to more sites where they had already been and they had their on field work objectives, so we thanked them and headed our own way. We hiked the rest of the day and didn’t get back to Blanding until evening. I had some nasty cactus “glochids’ lodged in my jeans cuffs, which took some expert tweezers work back at the motel, to get out.
NOTE: I promised a Flickr hiker, who gave me some valuable “hints” about the location of a couple of sites we hiked to, that I would not post or give information about where they are and how to find them. I made a similar commitment to L & M. I intend to honor those promises to these nice people, so other than what information I give with the photographs themselves, I will provide no other. I hope all of you understand. Thank you GK and L & M from Albuquerque.
3. Wednesday 20th April 2011
We left our Blanding motel room early and headed back to Natural Bridges National Monument for a day hike there. We had lucked out with good weather the previous day and this day was no exception. I’m so pleased when weathermen get it wrong, and the weather is BETTER than predicted.
We hiked down to Sipapu natural bridge, then took a short hike up the small box canyon behind it; then up White Canyon a half a mile or so; and then returned to Sipapu natural bridge where we hiked down the canyon to Kachina natural bridge.
The hike down the canyon from Sipapu to Kachina natural bridge was one of the prettiest, most enjoyable hikes we took on this road trip. We didn’t meet one other hiker on the entire stretch and the hike was scenic and fun. We spent quite a bit of time below Kachina natural bridge where we met another couple our age from Flagstaff. David and Sherry exchanged some road trip stories with us, before we hiked on up to the rim of the canyon to the Kachina natural bridge trail head.
At the rim it was about 2.5 miles to hike the one way road back to our pickup truck at the Sipapu natural arch trailhead. Instead we opted to take “Mesa Trail” back to our truck. It was a little shorter route, though the ups and downs and occasional “lost cairns” on the slickrock sections certainly made it more interesting than “road walking”.
It was on this trail at 6,225’ that we had yet another surprise. Six feet off the trail was a rattlesnake. Unlike most that we have encountered in our hikes in the Southwest (we lived in Arizona for three years), this one had an “attitude”. Though we never approached it, it stayed in its coiled “striking” poise even when we stood still and at a distance. It frequently buzzed the air with its 8 to 10 button rattle.
We stepped off the trail to give this rattlesnake even more berth than the six feet off trail offered it, but as we hiked on by, it was still “coiled to strike” and buzzing its tail. Must have had a bad day.
After we got to our truck we drove on around the loop and took a quick walk down to take a look at Owachoma natural bridge. We then drove back to Blanding, stopping for one short hike along the way. We finished off this fun day with a big meal (one of several) at the Homestead Steak House in Blanding. GREAT FOOD THERE!
Ed (Flickr’s “oldwrangler”) and I had “found” this eating spot on our road trip together in March of 2011. My wife and I went back again and again to enjoy some of the best food I have ever found in a small town small café. Some of our favorites we sampled were:
A French dip sandwich (made with melted Swiss cheese, green pepper and onions).
An open face roast beef sandwich. Navajo Taco (my wife’s favorite), made with Navajo fry bread. Linguini Alfredo….and so on. Try as we did, neither of us ever had room at the end of a meal to try their black berry cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream. A reason to return for sure.
Wednesday night at the motel, we packed our backpacks for the next day’s trip into Grand Gulch. I checked the latest weather forecast for the area on the motel’s free use, office computer, and then we got a good night’s sleep.
4. Thursday 21st of April 2011
This was a test run for some new lightweight internal frame backpacks, my wife and I had purchased for this trip. After 40 years of using our comfortable, easy to access, Kelty Tioga external frame backpacks, we decided that for “off trail” canyon hiking, that some new light internal frame backpacks might be better suited (and besides I had a 20% off coupon and my 2010 REI refund dividend burning a hole in my jeans pocket at the time).
So I bought an REI Flash 65 and the Flash 50 for my wife. Not only would these work better for the overhangs encountered with off trail canyon hiking, but they stored in our pickup truck almost flat, when not in use.
To get to right to the point: We both LOVED these new packs. I still think we will use our external frames on most occasions when we are hiking a well established trail and balance and narrow low profile is not a consideration. But when we want to go light and have any plans for off trail backpacking, the new internals are here to stay.
You really need four wheel drive and high clearance to get all the way down to the stock pond trailhead for the Government Trail into Grand Gulch. Our old 1994 Toyota pickup truck with high clearance, low and high range “shift on the fly” four wheel drive, and adequate skid plates underneath, was just the ticket. We ended up parking next to a ranger’s pickup truck.
The Government Trail is easy hiking. It is an old Jeep trail so we could hike side by side for the 2.5 miles or so from the stock pond to the Grand Gulch canyon rim. The next half mile is steep in places and there are a couple of overhangs if you happen to have a high backpack. We had no trouble at all getting on down to the bottom of the Grand Gulch canyon. At a leisurely pace it took us an hour from trailhead to rim and half hour from rim to canyon bottom at Grand Gulch.
We hiked up Grand Gulch and took several “side hikes”, the most fun being to the “Big Man” pictograph panel. The stars of the panel are actually a Big Man (with modest male features) and a Big Woman. So why they don’t call it the Big COUPLE panel, I don’t know. Left over and hard to extinguish male chauvinism I guess.
We met a lot of nice people on this road trip and at the bottom of Grand Gulch we met a fit couple with two energetic young girls, camped near the mouth of Polly Canyon. The wife was preparing camp meals (toasted fajitas), that to us, seemed gourmet and outstanding camp cuisine. The next day the man would turn up as our hero of the road trip as the “Good Samaritan”.
Though the weather was good (nice temperatures and no rain), wind gusts hit pretty hard throughout the afternoon and into the evening. We were lucky that the “nice family” told us about an out of the wind camping location under a big bent cottonwood tree. The camping site was perfect for us.
We slept with the rain fly off of our REI Quarter Dome T-3 tent that night and enjoyed watching the big dipper, shooting stars, and a bright moon through the mesh canopy of the tent that night. We really slept well.
5. Friday 22nd of April 2011
We ate breakfast and watched the morning sun illuminate the sandstone canyon walls around us. The wind was gone and it was a perfect day. We took our time hiking down Grand Gulch and then back up to the rim of the canyon. Here we found a lady lying down under a juniper tree and her husband with a large backpack sitting on the slick rock. During our discussion we were told that she had badly sprained her ankle down in Grand Gulch (her husband didn’t tell us how long ago), but they had obviously made it to the rim together, leaving only the easy 2.5 mile “Jeep” road section to hike to the trailhead.
I asked the husband if they had a vehicle at the trailhead or had they had to park up the road above the four wheel drive section. He said they were at the trailhead. He showed no signs of needing our help so we continued on hiking toward our truck. Along the way we passed three backpackers, heading down government trail, and then along came the “Good Samaritan”, without any pack at all hiking down towards us. To be honest I didn’t recognize him as the father of the two little girls and husband of the good camp cook (the family who had told us about the good camp site). My wife, who is much more observant and attentive than me in social situations, picked right up on it.
Turns out that the lady hiker had hurt her ankle a couple of days ago and the Good Samaritan had decided to help them out a bit. He had hiked to the rim, took their vehicle keys, and carried her backpack all the way to the trailhead. There he had loaded her pack into their vehicle and was returning to them when we ran into him. How many people like that do you find these days?
It seemed obvious to me, that a four wheel drive vehicle could easily make the drive from stock pond to canyon rim, so when my wife and I drove out, we stopped at the Kane Ranger’s station to report the details of the woman hiker’s ankle situation. The lady ranger volunteer (well tanned from all the hiking she and her husband had been doing on their “off duty” hours), took notes and left me with the impression, that quality help would soon be available to the injured lady backpacker.
We then drove back to the same Blanding motel room we had stayed in Tuesday and Wednesday night and had reserved for Friday night. We took long hot showers, organized our gear, then headed across the street to the Homestead Steak House, where we toasted each other and gave thanks to our good fortune and all the fun we had had, over yet another “home cooked” meal of gigantic proportions. A wonderful close to pleasant little backpacking trip together.
6. Saturday 23rd of April 2011
The weather started to turn, so after checking the forecast at several places we decided that our best route back towards home would be to head for Dinosaur National Monument…just in case the weather improved and a first time trip out the Harper’s Corner Road to the Ruple Trail and the overlook trail at the end of Harper’s Corner – might be a possibility.
We drove to Moab and enjoyed a Mango yogurt smoothie and meal at Denny’s, then drove up the cloud filled canyon of the Colorado River in the direction of Grand Junction, Colorado. We were surprised to see the old 1909 Historic “Dewey Bridge” across the Colorado, without any decking at all, just hanging suspenders. We had often stopped at this old bridge so had no idea it would be without decking. I still haven’t researched the internet to find out the story but I’m hoping it is nothing more than a major restoration project.
We turned north onto highway 139 one of those back highways neither of us had driven before. It turned out to be a gem. In 1993 on a major road trip in our Isuzu Trooper, we had attempted to drive this highway north to south, but it was barricaded closed up by Rangely, leaving us no choice but another route into Western Colorado.
The crossing of the switchback section of highway is impressive, but what was really an unexpected treat were all the rock art panels and the deep history of the Valley Pintado (painted valley). There was so much to see and do along the northern stretch of highway 139 that by the time we reached Dinosaur (near the turn into the Harper’s Corner Road), there was little time left to spend there. Also, the weather was still unsettled and we were alternately getting hit with high winds and rain.
At a rest stop near Vernal a young family in a big four door pickup truck had broken down with a leaking transmission (likely the result of some recent “off roading”). There was nothing we could do to help them (they had already arranged for some mechanical help), but when we offered all the little kids the left over Gatorade, cashews, Pringles potato chips, chocolates, and other backpacking food we had left over, their Dad and Mom readily agreed. The kids took all the backpacking food and drinks and organized an impromptu “picnic” on the lawn of the rest stop. With all their little kids happy and occupied, the parents returned to the task of getting their truck fixed.
We settled into a motel room in Vernal, Utah. Our plan was to get up early the next day and if the weather looked half way good, to retrace our drive to Dinosaur and head up the Harper’s Corner road. We have visited the dinosaur dig of the monument several times and hiked near Split Mountain, so we agreed we would forgo that portion of Dinosaur National Monument, irrespective of the Easter Sunday morning weather.
7. Easter Sunday 24th of April 2011
Bah humbug. Raining hard and storms brewing everywhere around Vernal on Sunday morning. We decided to take a “rain check” (literally) for Harper’s Corner Road in Dinosaur National Monument. We pointed the old pickup truck west and headed for Elko Nevada.
We took Utah highway 40 from Vernal through Duchesne toward Salt Lake City (where we picked up Interstate 80 to Elko). The weather improved and soon there were bright blue patches of sky and sunshine. I enjoyed an encounter with a mink while stopping to do some landscape photography along the Strawberry River, which wound through meadows still buried under a couple of feet of snow.
Back into heavy rain storms off and on as we headed west past the Bonneville Salt Flats [If you haven’t seen the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian”, (Anthony Hopkins) you need to do so, especially my Flickr friend “Chuck” (kayker52)].
Then between Wells and Elko, Nevada we hit the toughest weather of the entire trip with snow and hail blasting at us with high winds. At one point we were looking for an overpass to hide under, but there were none in sight. A similar storm (but with larger hailstones) dented my friend John’s Subaru Outback on a road trip together north of Boise, Idaho (Banks, Idaho) back in 2006.
Finally we made our way to Elko, a planned stop on this road trip. I figured by this time that I owed my wife of 40 years “big time”. She had hiked up slickrock, through prickly pear cactus, and even hefted a backpack down and up Grand Gulch with me. Seemed only fair that we do something that was closer to the top of HER list. That something is penny slot machines. So at Elko, we got a nice room for two nights at the Red Lion, which had a casino with lots of penny slot machines – – much to the delight of my wife.
I stayed in our room and read, looked at maps, and watched a little TV, while my wife invested her penny collection at the casino, down the hall. We were both happy with the deal. As I note, any type of gambling is of no interest to me. The results are too predictable and I just don’t enjoy “spending” my pennies that way (I do waste quite a bit of money however on used books and redundant hiking gear.HA).
8. Monday 25th of April 2011
Stormy weather but we didn’t care. We wanted to visit Lamoille Canyon out south of Elko, which is at the northern end of the Ruby Mountain Wilderness. My wife and I have plans in late summer to camp in the canyon and day hike this lovely wilderness and/or take a short backpacking trip together there.
We thought it would be fun to scout as far up Lamoille Canyon as we could make it this early in the season, just to get a feel for the lay of the land. We didn’t get far. Avalanche danger and snow and rocks on the road, but what we did see we liked…a lot. So plans remain to revisit this are in late summer.
Back in Elko, my wife headed back to her “penny slots investment seminar” at the Red Lion casino, while I gathered all of my loose change and visited the local used bookstore in Elko (named imaginatively: “The Bookstore”). I scored heavily, and left the little book store with an arm load of used book “treasures”.
The rest of the day in Elko was spent, shopping, eating pizza, relaxing and resting. It was just the right thing at the right time on this road trip. By Monday night at bed time we had all of our gear organized for the next morning, when we would start our drive back home.
9. Tuesday 26th of April 2011
Feeling rested, fit, and ready to go, we started driving for home. We headed north planning to travel through Mountain City, Nevada; Owyhee; and then Mountain Home, Idaho. This was a road I had only traveled once before from north to south. It was evident the moment we left Elko, that we were going to have some rough driving conditions. Storms could be seen everywhere and most vehicles coming our way were piled with fresh snow. Snow plows soon appeared coming the other way as well.
We traveled the snowy sections slowly and in four wheel drive (for safety not necessity). Before long we broke through the last of the intermittent snow storms and were staring across a beautiful landscape rolling out to Mountain Home, Idaho. A few hot military jets screamed by overhead from time to time (Mountain Home AFB).
By early evening we rolled into our driveway. We gave each other a high five (we are old timers) and began unloading our gear…glad to be home…glad to have had so darned much fun together. A road trip to remember. Mr. and Mrs. Oldmantravels.
Tagged: , Nevada highway 225 , Idaho highway 51 , Open range cattle drive , high desert spring storms , road trip , back road travel western U.S. , Owhyee, Nevada , Mountain City Nevada , Bruneau Idaho , Riddle Idaho , Wild Horse Crossing camp