A Cool and Windy Trip to Southeast Utah

Nicolai and I have returned from our latest adventure in the desert and we are already preparing for the next, just weeks away. We had a great time, despite winds every day, clouds, cool temperatures, and a few light rain showers now and then. Happily, we were spared from torrential downpours, and flash floods.  Overall the weather was strange for this time of year.  We expected temperatures of 90 degrees and above, especially in the canyons, but the warmest days we experienced were right around 80 degrees.


Enjoying dinner during a windstorm.

The winds were the worst part for both of us, but my resourceful and prepared four year old son made me find his ski goggles for him just before we left saying something about the wind always blowing in Moab. I grudgingly dug them out and put them in his gear box, thinking it would be another item that would be unpacked without being touched. I was wrong and he was very happy that he had them. Windstorms didn’t keep him from having fun, or eating his dinner.

We camped at a few of our favorite sites along our route, and found a few new favorites, especially in the Moab area.  One of our long-time favorite camps we call Camp 158, after the number of the BLM road leading to it. It is right on the border of Canyonlands National Park. We spent two nights there, enjoying the long views west across Canyonlands and the Abajo Mountains and south to Navajoland, the sunsets, coyotes, and the near- full moon when it managed to emerge from behind the clouds.


Nicolai at sunset at Camp 158, near Canyonlands National Park.

We had some fun hikes including one in Moab in Courthouse Wash- we did this on a hot afternoon and took advantage of the cool water running through slickrock pools. We also hiked near Canyonlands in Hatch Ranch Canyon, and on Cedar Mesa in Step Canyon. The Step Canyon hike was an overnight.  We ended up walking about 7 hours each day, a lot of walking for a four year old. But he did great and was excited throughout the entire walk. We visited many ruins and looked at even more rock art panels on our hikes and around the Moab area.  I will discuss them more in an upcoming post.


Nicolai shows off a quartzite chopper he found lying on the slickrock.

As usual Nicolai spotted lithic artifacts everywhere- cores, scrapers, choppers, and lots of flakes. On our overnight his eyes were open for potsherds. They were easy to spot in the bottom of the wash, and when their frequency increased, it told us there was a ruin close by. We studied them thoroughly- the different forms of corrugated wares, the polychromes, and the painted black on white sherds that are his favorite. He made some sketches of the linear designs to paint on his own pots at home. We have been working on learning handbuilding techniques and firing our pots in the firepit in our backyard.

Nicolai studies potsherds on the edge of a midden.

Studying potsherds on the edge of a midden.

We did lots of exploration on dirt roads.  We managed to find our way to River House ruin and the main Butler Wash petroglyph panel via Comb Wash and the Mormon Trail.It was a fun drive in the Landcruiser and felt very different from the approach we are used to- by boat floating down the San Juan River. For those interested- if you do the drive you need a four wheel drive- the rocks and sand and wash driving demand it.


Princes Plume, seen on a the rim of White Mesa.

We studied and photographed a number of plants that we plan to post on the Desert Explorer website. We have been trying to add a new plant or mammal or lizard when we have the time, with the eventual goal of covering the more common flora and fauna of the Southwest desert.  We will soon add Prince’s Plume, Golden Currant, Mountain Mahogany, and Saltbush.

After our backpack on Cedar Mesa we drove down to Mexican Hat for breakfast, as we often do.  The Olde Bridge Grille has excellent American breakfasts- eggs, potatoes, toast, pancakes, and many forms of breakfast meat.

After breakfast we headed south to Monument Valley.  We had every intention of finding some mutton stew, but were unsuccessful. Next time we’ll drive on to Kayenta to be sure we find it.  We resupplied at Gouldings Market, and sat up near the park visitor’s center watching the mesas while we ate our lunch.  We walked around the new hotel and visitor’s center there- I always find them, and the visitors we encounter, nearly as interesting as the natural features we have come to visit. Busloads of  French and Russian tourists were visiting that afternoon.


Monument Valley, The Mittens.

Finally we headed back towards Moab and on towards I-70 for the drive home over the mountains. And now we are cleaning up and repacking for the next journey.


8 Responses to A Cool and Windy Trip to Southeast Utah

  1. Robert says:

    Nicolai is really quite the archealogist and scientist. Really intersting weather all over the Southwest this season. Here in the southern great basin it’s been cooler than usual by 15-20 degrees. Nice actually.

  2. Mike says:

    Wow, we must have just missed you. We hiked Step and Pine Canyons on June 15. Camped at the end of the road on the slickrock. We couldn’t believe the weather as well. Crazy…long underwear and shirts at night. The fire actually warmed us:) It was like June was the new April in terms of weather. My friend and I explored Shieks, Slickhorn (all forks), Government Trail, and Mule Canyons, upper Arch, and here and there…Did not see a single person out there. Did a nice canyoneering adventure in Fry Canyon. The canyon ends with some nice ruins as well…

    Glad to hear all went well on your trip. It looks like it is going to warm up soon though:) Timing is everything!!!

    Take care,

    • desertexplorer says:

      Hi Mike,
      Sounds like we did just miss each other. I saw your email upon returning and was planning reply to it. I am glad that you figured it all out there at Step Canyon. I was off a bit in my estimation that 2 wheel drive could make it in there. That last little bit of the “road”, the exposed slickrock just before you reach Step Point, was a little rough. Sounds like you hit some of the fun canyons- especially Shieks, and I like the various Slickhorn canyons myself. You went down Government Trail- did you hike in Polly’s much, scout around Polly’s Island at all? I like the upper part of Polly’s. No ruins there that I remember, but an interesting canyon. Did you use a guide for Fry, or were you guys set up for canyoneering? Or is it even that technical? I haven’t been that far up. Its on the list though. Next, in a couple of weeks, is a solo ride of the Kokopelli for me.
      Thanks for visiting the site, and your comments are always appreciated.

  3. Mike says:

    Greetings…Did not hike much around Pollys. I heard there was some nice ruins around Pollys but couldn’t find them. I hiked down canyon to the first set of ruins in grand gulch. Nice set…Some different architecture, etc. I then hiked up to the Big Man Panel. Very nice! Hiked out of Polly’s Canyon. Nice ruins and a kiva. Mentioned the places in the Kelsey book if you have it. Fry canyon is a blast. 4 hours or so round trip. Need a 60 meter rope but there was a good one there already. Left in place…There were nice some ruins accessed from the top as you come ouf the slot too. I can give you some more beta if needed. Have fun out there…Mike

  4. Deb says:

    I’m wondering if you can hike into Grand Gulch by hiking in through Polly’s Canyon instead of going in on the Government Trail? Is it doable without ropes? Do you know anything about exiting via Deer Canyon, either the middle or south fork going all the way to the head of either of those canyons?


    • desertexplorer says:

      Hi Deb,
      You can definitely get into Grand Gulch from Polly’s. And it is a very interesting hike up higher. No ropes are needed. Just stay to the right on Road 230- head towards Hardscrabble and park right after you cross over the small drainage that is the north fork of Polly’s. You will likely see where others have parked there. It’s a fun hike down that way. As for Deer Canyon, I entered via the south fork, and had to climb up and around the pouroffs where the south and middle forks meet, and climb in there (climb in from the north) to get down into Grand Gulch. I hiked a loop through the south and middle fork, with climbs around a couple of pouroffs another time. I went into the north fork of Deer from below, but only went up about a kilometer to a pouroff that I have noted as “passable” on my map. So, you could easily go in Polly’s from the north fork, hike down to Deer, and out the middle or south fork of Deer and back over the mesatop along the road to your vehicle at Hardscrabble. It would be a great way to see a bunch of canyon with a minimal walk back across the mesa. Be sure to take a walk around the back of Polly’s Island. It may be a bit brushy around the back, but there is stuff to see. Also look up high from the south on the Island- a few ruins up there that I haven’t climbed up to- it was a bit exposed as I stood below looking up. Hope this helps you. Let us know how your trip goes!

  5. Deb says:

    Thanks. This is really helpful. We are planning to go over Thanksgiving, weather permitting. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  6. Deb says:

    Weather permited, although chilly at night (teens). We went in the “south” arm of Polly’s. There’s a good ruin just below the rim. We ended up coming out Deer slightly differently from where Kelsy suggests about a mile or so up South fork (between “middle” and “south” forks). We came out a steep bowl about 100 yards into Sound fork from the confluence of North and South. It was about half slickrock, so would not be good if wet. From our camp right at the confluence back to car at Government trailhead was just under 2 hours. Much of the mesa top hiking is on slickrock.

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