Bonneville Salt Flats

Kerry and I drove to western Utah and into Nevada on Saturday. We drove and walked around on the Bonneville Salt Flats, famous for being the location of several land speed records. North of there, I hiked up Rishel Peak. This involved driving down a pretty bad dirt road (for 2-wheel drive) until we were reasonably close, then just forging my way up with no trail. A little farther west we found two caves (Jukebox Cave and Danger Cave) which were mostly off limits to the public. Danger cave had some informational signs explaining that archaeologists have found 13,000 year old artifacts, which is pretty incredible.


Red Pine Lake

On Sunday we took a Utah Outdoors group on a 7.1 mile round-trip hike to Red Pine Lake in Little Cottonwood Canyon. A storm passed through on Saturday, dropping a fresh layer of snow on the mountains. The snow slowed us down a bit, but it wasn’t very deep and we had plenty of traction without snowshoes or micro-spikes. Highlights included typical Wasatch scenic views and breathable air.

Black Mountain – City Creek Canyon Loop

An 8-mile hike up Black Mountain got upgraded to a 14-mile loop on the fly. After enduring two hours of serious wind gusts to summit the peak, we decided to descend on the other side via Smugglers Gap trail. That took us down to City Creek Canyon, beyond where the pavement ends. We took that six miles down past the gate and crossed back over on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (through flurries of sideways snow) to the Terrace Hills trail-head that we started at. And despite the warning signs, we never got to see a cougar.

Canyons for Thanksgiving

Our tradition of passing up the turkey dinner in favor of spending Thanksgiving playing in the woods and sleeping in the dirt continued this year. We road-tripped across southern Utah, spending as much time as possible winding through incredible slot canyons and hiking across sandy desert landscapes.
Some of the canyons were technical, requiring a rope, harness, and enough knowledge and skills to not get stuck. Others were non-technical, requiring nothing more than a good pair of boots.
Here’s a run down of the spots we covered.

Arches National Park – U-Turn and Tierdrop Canyons
These are pretty straight forward beginner technical canyons that take you into some quiet parts of the park.

Lost and Found
This one is on the far north end of Arches and is a bit of a drive from Moab. Unfortunately we missed a turn and weren’t willing to attempt the slabby rock climb alternate route to reach the technical part of the canyon. By the time we figured out our mistake, the sun was pretty low (lack of daylight was a common challenge throughout the trip).

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument – Hole in the Rock Road
Dry Fork Trailhead
From this one trailhead you can access a whole bunch of cool non-technical slot canyons. Dry Fork is an easy and flat walk-through. Peek-a-boo involves more climbing and interesting bridge formations with a little squeezing. Spooky is even tighter and has more climbing. From there, it’s a bit of a trek to Brimstone Canyon. It’s only 2.5 miles, but its a slog through mostly soft sand. The canyon is pretty fun and it’s said that you have to be a shape-changer to navigate through it. We made it pretty far but eventually my butt was just way too big to fit.

Egypt Road to Neon Canyon and the Golden Cathedral
It’s is a full day hike from the Egypt campground to the Golden Cathedral and back. It involves 5 – 7 crossings of the Escalante River (very cold and knee to thigh deep) unless you want to do some off-trail scrambling to avoid this. We met a random rocket scientist on the trail and tagged along with him for the whole day.

Zion National Park
Hidden Canyon
There’s a technical option to rapel into this one, but we didn’t have the proper permits so we just hiked in from below a ways.

Telephone Canyon
This one is a steep uphill hike past Angel’s Landing a ways to a series of about 13 rapels, one right after another until you reach the bottom. This is another full day trip and should not be attempted without some experience.

Birch Hollow and upper Orderville Canyon
You must leave the National Park to get to the trailhead for this one (we had some slight navigation problems but eventually found it). It’s 6 – 8 rapels and a bit of walking between them. This one does not require permits as long as you exit through upper Orderville. Another option is to go down Orderville into the park which does require permits and a car shuttle.

The eight days passed incredibly fast. There is no limit to the amount of wild playgrounds to explore in Utah. Unfortunately a number of politicians are working to take the protections away from these public lands. How that will affect recreation opportunities has yet to be seen. If you care about access to public lands, please vote in every election at every level (if available, have your ballets mailed to you and it’s really easy) and get these people out of office.

Making trails in the La Sals

Since I spend every single weekend (and most other days) camping, backpacking, climbing, biking, and generally frolicking about in the woods, I try to seek out opportunities to contribute back to the greater good of the outdoor recreation world. I recently joined SUWA (Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance), an organization that advocates for public land in Utah, and found out they do frequent volunteer trips. One of them was in the La Sal Mountains, and area I’ve been wanting to explore. So I signed us up for some trail rerouting work.

We camped with a large group at Medecine Lake and spent Saturday and Sunday carving out a mountain bike trail off of La Sal Pass Road under the guidance of the Forest Service.

Saturday evening a monsoon came through and we all huddled under a tarp and ate tacos. Later in the night the storm passed, the clouds cleared up, and an amazing meteor shower ensued. We were surprised at how humid it was in the mountains, especially compared to the dryness of the surrounding desert. We woke up both nights with dew on everything.

Volunteer labor is fairly important for this kind of thing. In two relatively short days of work, our group of over 20 people accomplished a lot. Swinging pulaskis and hoes is tiring work and it would take the payed staff many back-breaking hours to do the same thing. Before leaving, Kerry made sure she was the first person ever to run our newly created trail.

City of Rocks Idaho

A three and a half hour drive northwest of Salt Lake City gets you to City of Rocks in southern Idaho. It’s a pretty unusual landscape formed by volcanic rocks and erosion. It isn’t particularly mountainous, but has quite a bit of opportunities for rock climbing.

We climbed a 4-pitch route called Jackson’s Thumb. We camped at the Bread Loaves area and climbed other routes that were a mere hundred feet from our tent.

Camping in the preserve was hard to find and we got lucky, but there is BLM land just outside the borders that offers free for all dispersed ground to pitch tents. Cows are everywhere and they will likely wake you up early morning loud mooing and lick your car.

There’s a lot to see and climb at City of Rocks. Unfortunately we got rained on the second day and weren’t able to accomplish as much as we wanted.

To Zinke, from a rock-licker

Dear Ryan Zinke,
I hope you had a great 4th of July.

I spent mine at Bear Ears National Monument. That’s the one that President Obama designated in December, has since been under continuous attack by Republicans, and which you recently recommended be reduced in size (you already know this, I’m just bringing other readers up to speed).

My wife and I hiked over fifty miles, mostly through canyons with rugged terrain and minimal developed infrastructure. We explored Fish and Owl Canyon, Grand Gulch, and the Natural Bridges Loop. The temperatures got close to 100 degrees and the sun was baking us.

This is a pretty typical weekend for us.

What wasn’t typical were the spectacular sites we found in Bear Ears. We saw numerous ancient Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and petroglyphs thought to be more than 900 years old. The region is packed with them and they are truly incredible things to unexpectedly come across while in the wilderness. We treated them with due respect, admired them and left them as we found them.

Incidentally, the Antiquities Act (the law Obama invoked when designating Bear Ears N.M.) was created by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 primarily for the protection of at-risk archaeological sites in the southwest. It was a visionary idea and I can’t imagine a more appropriate use of the law.

I’ve actually kept a tally of the total amount of acreage and nautical square miles designated as National Monuments by every American president since Roosevelt.

The take home message: Obama has the greatest area protected, followed by G.W. Bush, followed by Carter, followed by Clinton. Kudos to them. Only three presidents failed to ever use it – Nixon, Reagan, and G.H.W. Bush. It would be wonderful if I didn’t have to add a negative axis to my graph in the coming years (hint hint).

I live near one of the most unique landscapes on Earth. The geology of southern Utah is mind-blowing and the ecological diversity is incredible.

This letter wasn’t written in hopes that you’ll have a change of heart from your original recommendation to reduce the Monument. I’ve already tried that along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans through the Department of the Interior public comment forum. I’m sure that you’ll ignore all of us and do what you want to do.

Actually I’m not sure what it is your administration and the state of Utah wants with this land. They’ve only spoken of vague economic limitations that the designation will impose, but haven’t brought up anything specific. Is it just to keep your options open in case something valuable is discovered underground? Is it to formally undo every last one of Obama’s achievements to satisfy your voters?

In any case, designated or not, if the area currently called Bear Ears National Monument winds up in private hands, if it gets developed for drilling, mining, or any other extractive purposes, or if your decision somehow wrecks any part of this land, I’m going to be noticeably unhappy.

We are recent transplants to Utah, primarily drawn here for its access to public land. I spend the majority of my free time on public lands – this is obvious if you peruse the rest of this website. And I’m not alone.

This message is important not only for you, but also the politicians of Utah. These include but are not limited to Governor Gary Herbert, Senator Orrin Hatch, Congressman Rob Bishop, and State Rep Mike Noel, who in a recent statement referred to environmentalists as tree-huggers and rock-lickers (I’m sure he meant that in an endearing way).

Salt Lake City is slowly filling up with ski bums and dirt bag climbers. Our votes are adding up and our influence is growing. Last month a grass roots campaign managed to raise enough money to allow Park City to purchase the 1,300 acre Bonanza Flat and prevent it from being bought by developers with plans for a resort. A few months before that, the Outdoor Retailer convention decided to leave Utah because of the state government’s position on Bear Ears, a huge economic loss for Salt Lake City. And I think you’ll see how large this movement has become later this month at the “This Land is Our Land” march for public lands (I encourage all politicians to attend this event).

Utah has become the battleground for public lands. You can join us and do some great things for the state. Or you can oppose us, in which case you’ll be hearing back from me soon.

A proud rock-licker

Fish and Owl Canyon
Total mileage: 20
From Kane Gulch Ranger Station, go south. Turn left onto Fish and Owl Rd to the trailhead. Follow signs to Owl Canyon, descend into the canyon and turn left at Fish Canyon. Take Fish Canyon back up, ascend from the canyon and hike across the mesa back to the parking lot.

Grand Gulch/Todie Canyon
Total mileage: 16
From the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, cross the road and follow trail into the canyon. Turn left at Todie Canyon and follow this to a dirt road. The dirt road takes you back out to 261. Turn left to return to the ranger station.

Natural Bridges Loop
Total mileage: 10
From the Natural Bridges National Monument Visitor Center, drive to the Bridge View Drive loop. Park at any of the three bridge trail parking lots. Follow the well marked loop and enjoy views of Sipapu, Owachomo, and Kachina Bridges. This is technically Natural Bridges National Monument and while entirely surrounded by Bear Ears, is not considered part of Bear Ears.