May and June in Southeast Utah- Nancy Patterson, Amtrak, and Grand Gulch

25 July 2016

We usually make a trip to southern Utah each year later in June, staying into July. This year we planned it so that trip was moved up to late May and into June. It made for more bearable and longer days at Nancy Patterson Village, and easier walking in the canyons later on. Of course there has been another trip since then where we enjoyed temperatures in the high 90’s and low 100’s.  We’ve had such a full summer so far there just hasn’t been time to get to a blog post until now.

Nancy Patterson Village
For the third season we spent a couple of weeks at Nancy Patterson Village doing archaeology. We finished the interior excavation of the room where we began in 2014. We have so much data at this point that it may take us into next summer just analysing and writing it all up. It was our assumption that our unit, being on the edge of the village, was late in date. We confirmed this, and we also confirmed our speculation that the room was built over an earlier midden. Our unit was in the eastern-most room of what I would call a patio group. The approximate size of the group is 13  by 13 meters. It is U-shaped, being open on the east side.

Collared lizards at Nancy Patterson Village. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Working at Nancy Patterson Village would not be complete without our daily visits from collared lizards. Here a pair watches us from our backdirt pile.

Data collected from throughout the patio group indicate the earliest occupation is centered on the western side, or bottom of the “U”. The latest occupation appears to be our unit, the end room on the northern leg of the “U”. It is likely that the end room opposite us, to the south, is coeval with ours. There are other rooms and room blocks beyond our patio group out in the periphery; isolated rooms, those laid out in a linear fashion, and possibly an L-shaped group. These rooms are all unexcavated and the dates are unknown, but we assume they are closer to the date of our unit which was likely abandoned toward the “very end”, somewhere around the early to mid-1200’s. More about Nancy Patterson will be posted as we continue analysis and writing.

The young archaeologist at work. Nancy Patterson Village, Mesa Verde corrugated sherd being removed. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The young archaeologist at work at Nancy Patterson Village with a large Mesa Verde corrugated sherd from a post-abandonment artifact concentration just removed.

 

Amtrak as Part of Our Adventures
After our time at Nancy Patterson Village we had a few relaxing days at a couple of our favorite camps before Nicolai headed home. For those unfamiliar with the area around Interstate 70 north of Moab, a rail line roughly parallels the highway from Glenwood Canyon in Colorado to just past Green River in Utah, where it turns north toward Salt Lake City. The line is used by freight trains and by Amtrak as well. Since we hadn’t been on the train in a number of years, we decided to use it to get Nicolai back to Colorado. We boarded in Green River at about 8 AM and arrived in Glenwood Springs about noon where we met the missing member of our party (mom gets to hold down the fort when we are off in the bush.) The train ride, if there are no long delays, is scenic and enjoyable. You get to see a lot of country along this four hour stretch, and it’s best seen from the observation car. Unfortunately the trip back to Green River was not as quick nor as enjoyable. Just outside Glenwood Springs the train hit a truck which delayed us for about 4 hours. Believe it or not, the driver of the truck crawled out and walked away. The conductors on the train called it miraculous, and likened the train hitting a truck to a semi truck running over an empty soda can. The lesson- be careful at all railroad crossings, especially those without arms that come down to block traffic.

Amtrak train at Green River station, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Ready to board, green River station platform.

Grand Gulch
With Nicolai safely back in Colorado I had the next week or so to myself. So it was off to Grand Gulch for some alone time. I hadn’t been in Pine Canyon in some time, so I used it as my entrance. I parked at the drill hole at the end of the road and was in the canyon in no time. It’s a fairly easy walk all around- across the mesa, the climb in, and the walk down to Grand Gulch. I found the canyon very different from the previous trip about 7 weeks before. During our April backpack the canyon bottom was filled with water; we were faced with skirting around pools and hopping across water running down Grand Gulch. This trip, water was barely visible in the bottom of Grand Gulch. There were a few green, debris covered pools here and there that were of course drinkable, but it was like night and day compared with two months before. The weather was warming at this point, and the heat and lack of water ensured that I was the only one in the canyon- I didn’t hear or see anyone on this trip.

Ruin in Pine Canyon, southern utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Round ruin in Pine Canyon with very interesting architectural change in structure- due to available materials or aesthetics? Note vertical slabs down low, with regular, coursed masonry above.

I could go on as always, but will save it for another post. Next up- more on our new inReach SE, rock art in a boulder field, and parallel stone alignments leading the way to Spirit Bird Cave. For more on our desert adventures, gear reviews, and our archaeological endeavors, visit the Desert Explorer website.

 


September Trip Report, Part One- Fish Creek Canyon and Grand Gulch

13 October 2012

I was lucky enough to have the last two weeks of September to myself in the Grand Gulch area of southeast Utah this year. I managed to spend about a week in Grand Gulch and on Cedar Mesa, and a few days hiking Comb Ridge. During my hikes I found countless rock art panels- a few that I revisited, but many new ones, and ruins all along the way. I also made a side trip down to Chinle, Arizona for an evening of Navajo singing and dancing sponsored by KTNN, the Navajo Nation’s radio station. The weather was perfect, not too cold, and warm during the day. There was one night and morning of sustained rain while I was down in Grand Gulch. There was enough rain to send water cascading off canyon rims and to turn the previously dry canyon bottom into a fast-moving stream.

My hikes started out with a few days in upper Fish Creek Canyon- 3 days and 2 nights to be exact. I entered from the Fish and Owl trailhead and then walked up the Main Fork and came back down the South Fork. This was a section of canyon I had wanted to visit for at least the last ten years, ever since my first trip into lower Fish and Owl Creek Canyons. The head of the canyon seems very inviting as you drive across it on Highway 95. Looking down canyon, it appears that it would be a gradual, even descent on slickrock canyon bottoms. This is not really the case, especially up high.

Entrance to Fish Creek Canyon, view north from canyon rim after walking across mesa. The walk is rough in the canyon bottom down below.

Since I was traveling alone and not carrying any technical canyoneering gear (no ropes, harness, slings) I started from below and worked my way up. It always feels safer to me to work this way- if I can climb up something I can usually climb right back down it. Coming in from above and following the canyon bottom in an unknown canyon often requires a lot of climbing out- around- back in. This adds the potential for becoming “rimrocked” while trying to find a way back in. Then there is the possibility of downclimbing and coming to impassable pouroffs requiring backtracking and climbing back out. Of course the same will then be true for traveling up canyon, but the potential for getting into trouble is minimised, in my opinion, by traveling up canyon.

Upper Fish Creek Canyon is not lower Fish Creek Canyon, not that lower Fish is that easy of a walk. The canyon started out with water everywhere, and associated brush, requiring lots of skirting of pools, and some climbs around bigger pools at pouroffs. I found pools of hundreds and even thousands of gallons of water on my hikes in Fish Creek, Grand Gulch and side canyons.  I should mention that just a couple of weeks before my arrival there was a tremendous downpour lasting some 10 hours at certain locations. This filled the canyons with water, scouring them out and depositing debris, and creating problems for navigation both in the canyons and on the mesa top. I was told by the rangers at Kane Gulch that “the narrows” of Grand Gulch had become a swimming hole at the bottom, and was jammed with debris at the top. There was a group of volunteers clearing out brush and rebuilding trails in that area while I was there.

Pothole- upper Dripping Canyon, Cedar Mesa, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Large pothole holding thousands of gallons of water, upper Dripping Canyon.

Back to Fish- canyon bottom walking was rough at times. Besides water and brush, there was plenty of climbing over, under, and around boulders higher up in the canyon. Slots were a problem higher up, requiring climbing out, skirting on a bench, and climbing back in. The vegetation changes as I gained elevation traveling up canyon occurred in conjunction with the slots- once I started seeing Ponderosa and other pines, the canyon narrowed and started to slot. I encountered more slots coming back down the South Fork than moving up the Main Fork. A rope, harness, and some slings would have made for an interesting experience in these upper sections.  I spent a few hours on benches skirting slots on  the way back down.

Slot in upper Fish Creek Canyon, South Fork. Don’t be deceived by the photo- it is about 40 feet or so down to the water. This would have been fun with rope and harness.

After I finished up with Fish Creek Canyon I headed across the mesa into Grand Gulch proper. I entered via Dripping Canyon, which is passable. That is about all I will say on the subject; it is a fun one, and can be done. I spent the afternoon in Grand Gulch and headed out via Step Canyon, where I stayed the night. Along the way I passed by some of the well-know panels and ruins in the canyon bottom. If you are new to Grand Gulch, it was at one time very populated. This is evident as you walk along the canyon bottom; all you have to do is look up every now and then to see ruins and rock art.

Pueblo dwelling, Grand Gulch, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Large, well-preserved, and defensible ruin in Grand Gulch.

Part two of my September Trip Report will cover hikes in Comb Ridge, rock art along the San Juan River, and my visit to Chinle, Arizona. I will also include an update on my tracking book bibliography. Look for that in about a week. In the meantime, for more on visiting southeast Utah, see the Desert Explorer website.


Packing Up for Utah; A Tracking Surprise

11 September 2010

Once again we are loading the Land Cruiser with gear and getting ready to head over the mountains. In few days we will be happily back in the desert as we make our usual rounds- we have plans to visit some rock art panels in the San Rafael Swell, do some backpacking in Grand Gulch, and explore the lower end of John’s Canyon by bike, not to mention a day in Moab and whatever other adventure comes along.

As soon as our carburetor is delivered by UPS we will mount it up and make our final preparations. The carb was in desperate need of a rebuild after nearly 200,000 miles of never being touched. We are expecting a change in performance and gas mileage with the rebuild. These are important points to consider with a 6,000 pound vehicle run by a 6 cylinder engine that gets 14 or 15 miles to the gallon. We will post more about that after our trip.

The Johns Canyon bike proves to be an exciting one. Nicolai and I are taking along our bikes together for the first time- his is a single speed 16 inch Trek and so he is limited on how fast and far, not to mention the terrain he can ride. But he is up to 5 or 6 miles non-stop now, and I have no doubt the he can complete an easy, flat 10 mile day. I will be towing the BOB trailer behind my bike and carrying all of our gear in it. Our plan is to park down in Johns Canyon as far down the old mining road as we can get- there is a point where the road washes out at a steep corner- and ride from there. We will ride down to the confluence of Slickhorn Canyon and the San Juan River. We will camp for at least a night, maybe two if we decide to dayhike up Slickhorn.

A Tracking Surprise
I am currently reading David Scott-Donlan’s “Tactical Tracking Operations”, another book on my list of tracking “how-to” books. This book is published by Paladin Press here in Boulder, and is definitely directed towards a military and police audience. Please note- I put “how-to” in quotations as tracking is not something that can be learned from books; it is learned on the ground. But books such as this are great resources, and this one is filled with the author’s personal accounts, shedding light on what you might- and might  not expect on following a track.

Scott-Donlan points out in a number of places where he encountered the  unexpected, and I encountered this myself yesterday. Whenever I am out on a trail, or off a trail, I am looking for sign, for any tracks that might be visible, always examining them, following them, reading them. This is the way tracking is learned. Yesterday on my morning run is a case in point.

As I ran down a well-traveled trail I noticed two perfectly spaced marks in the dirt. The track was new and fresh and there was only one going out, in my direction of travel. There were no prints over the top of it at all. At first I thought it might be the end of a stick being drug along. Then I noticed that the track was far too consistent for that in its depth, width, and clarity. The track was very deep and obscured in areas of deeper dirt, very clear and less obscured in harder locations- to be expected. But on uphills it was barely visible, and disappeared completely on some uphill locations.

Upon close examination I found a thin, nearly treadless bike tire track underneath, and being crossed over, by the other two marks. My conclusion- someone was riding a bike with a thin, worn front tire and nothing but a narrow rim on the back. The person was walking the bike up hills, thus diminishing the two marks from the rear tireless rim. I hoped I might run into whatever was making this track, bike or otherwise, so my suspicions might be confirmed.

I laughed to myself thinking that I must be way off in my assumption. It just seemed too far-fetched. I ran along for another 15 minutes or so when I heard a grinding noise ahead of me, coming in my direction. As I rounded a corner and started heading down a slight hill I met the rider of the bike with one tire. He was starting up the hill where he was getting no traction from the thin metal rim in the loose dirt. Just as I saw him he jumped off his bike to push it the rest of the way up the hill, causing the two lines to be less deep on the trail.

My lesson here is first that I read the track correctly. Tracking requires instinct and it also requires that you trust your judgment. Once I met the biker and looked over his track again, there was really nothing else that it could have been. I knew this from reading the track before I confirmed my assumption, but still questioned my judgment. I also realised the Scott-Donlan’s “expect the unexpected” is something that must be taken seriously. You never know what you might find out there.

For more on tracking and recommended books, visit the Desert Explorer tracking pages.


Utah- June 2010 Trip Report

5 July 2010

We are safely back from another great trip to southeast Utah. We spent two and a half weeks exploring, hiking, finding ruins and rock art, and backpacking. We fought gnats and wind, and had a few cold nights, but the weather overall was cooperative, just cool enough most nights to enjoy a  fire. Fire bans had not yet been imposed, in Utah at least. We even managed a mid-trip blog post from our hotel room in Kayenta, Arizona. You can see that blog post below.

Nightly fire in our fire pan.

We always use our fire pan to lessen the impact we make in the bush. We select campsites that have already been used, and prefer them without piles of blackened rocks filled with half-burned trash. We make it a point to leave our campsites in the same, or better condition. See the Leave No Trace website for more on minimising your impact in the wilderness.

Grand Gulch
One of the highlights of our trip was the few days we spent in Grand Gulch. It turned out to be the hottest few days of the entire trip, with temperatures right at 100 degrees, but we endured and found plenty of water to keep us hydrated. The water was on its way out though, drying up quickly. There were murky potholes at many of the cooler, tighter bends in the canyon bottom, and plenty at the mouth of Water Canyon. Keep this in mind if you are planning a trip into the lower end of Grand Gulch later in the summer.

At the junction of Grand Gulch and Water Canyon- plenty of cold, clean water still there.

We started out from Collins Canyon trailhead and made our way down to Red Man Canyon.  There are a couple of small ruins and amazing rock art in that section of Grand Gulch. As I mentioned in our mid-trip post, I have been down that stretch before, but saw many panels that I had walked right by on my previous trip. I wonder how many more times I can walk it and still see something new?

200 Hands panel- an amazing sight to see. I think there are more than 200, this being just a small section of the 30 meter long panel.

Grand Gulch pictograph

An interesting pictograph found in the main drainage of Grand Gulch.

Navajo National Monument and Betatakin Ruin
After Grand Gulch there was more exploring, including our trip south into Arizona for a few days. We visited Navajo National Monument and did the hike out to Betatakin ruin. If you ever visit that part of the Navajo Nation, be sure to allow time for a visit to the monument. Visiting Betatakin requires about 5 hours or so and must be done with a ranger at the designated times- 0815 and 1000 when we were there. If you have more time the ruins of Keet Seel require a day for the walk out and back. You can do this on your own, after an orientation, and you  can camp overnight at the ruins. The times and days for visiting the ruins changes throughout the year and based on budget, so be sure to check in ahead of time to see what your options are. See the Desert Explorer Navajo National Monument webpage for more information.

The ruins of Betatakin as seen from inside the alcove. Betatakin was occupied only for about 30 years between about 1250 and 1300 .

Newspaper Rock and Other Petroglyph Sites

We also visited Newspaper Rock along the way. The petroglyphs there cover a wide range of dates, from about 2000 years back through historic times. They are very dense, well-preserved, and easily visible on the patinated Wingate sandstone surface. The site is well protected by a fence and appropriate signage. For more on rock art and how to help protect it, visit the Rock Art pages at the Desert Explorer website.

Newspaper Rock, a petroglyph site on the eastern edge of Canyonlands.

Newspaper Rock, a petroglyph site on the eastern edge of Canyonlands.

Sign at Newspaper Rock. It is unfortunate and sad, but some people do need to be told that destroying 2000 year old rock art sites is a bad thing.

Rock art is everywhere in southeastern Utah. All you have to do is look for it, and you will find it. Much of it can be seen along once-ancient, now modern roadways. An example is seen in the image below. This panel, along with a couple of others nearby, has historic Ute elements and prehistoric elements as well. We found it right off the road outside of Bluff and spent some time photographing and sketching the deer, or perhaps elk, in the photo.

Detail of petroglyph panel near Bluff, Utah.

Detail of petroglyph panel near Bluff, Utah.

Moab Area
We spent a couple of days in the Moab area as we usually do. We visited some rock art panels there, including the Gold Course panel. We did some swimming in the Colorado and in Mill Creek, and enjoyed Moab’s great parks and the free internet at the public library. Some good news from the area is that Matrimony Spring is flowing once again. The Times-Independent had an article that said the fate of the spring was still up in the air, then a couple of days later we found the water flowing freely. Someone had placed a piece of flashing under the spring to divert the water for filling bottles. We drank plenty of it with no ill-effects, as has been the case for may years. We have been told that it takes 90 years for the water to get from the top of the La Sals down to the Colorado. That is alot of filtering! Still, use it at your own risk. Who knows what goes on just upstream.

Matrimony spring, Moab, Utah.

Nicolai next to Matrimony Spring outside Moab.


Mid-trip Blog Post- Kayenta, Arizona

12 June 2010

This morning we are at the Wetherill Inn in Kayenta, Arizona. We’ve been out in the bush for the last 10 days and decided to do a hotel night before heading on today to Navajo National Monument. The highlight of our stay in Kayenta was our visit to the Navajo Code Talkers exhibit. It is housed at the Kayenta Burger King, and the Visitor’s center next door. We spent about two hours looking over the exhibit, reading about it, and watching part of a video on the Code Talker program. It is a little-known part of history and will tell you something about the patriotism and fortitude of the Navajo people. If you are interested in World War II history, and you will be in the area, you will not want to miss this. Here are a couple of random links to the exhibit- Roadside America link, Bridge and Tunnel club link.

The weather has been as it usually is in the  summer in the region- sun, sun, more sun, and wind. The temperatures have been hot and the wind has been a constant, ranging from a breeze to gusts strong enough to blow our gear away. The wind has been welcome though, as the gnats up in Utah have been a problem.  We have experienced a change coming down into Arizona- the wind was stronger here yesterday, blowing in a storm. While we saw but a few light cumulus clouds during our time in Utah, yesterday here in Kayenta those few light clouds turned to dark storm clouds. We had a shower in the afternoon and a full-on storm with thunder, lightning and driving rain in the middle of the night. It would have been a fun night to be in the tent!

We stayed at some of our usual camps over the last 10 days, and found a couple of new ones. We did lots of exploring and driving of dirt roads and two-tracks. We found ghost towns, old mines, a historic grave out in the desert, ruins, and lots of rock art. We visited a few rock art sites by truck along the way, and saw countless panels on our 3 days in lower Grand Gulch.

Barrier Canyon style rock art near Thompson Springs, Utah.

We did a 3 day backpack from Collins Canyon trailhead down into Grand Gulch towards the San Juan. I have done it before but, as is always the case, saw ruins and panels that I walked right by before. Visibility changes year by year, and season by season, but also by time of day and direction of travel. For example, walking down-canyon in the morning you might see a huge panel that will be invisible due to the bright sun if you were walking up-canyon in the afternoon. All the more reason to re-visit old hikes and spend more time out in your favorite places! There was water in the lower part of Grand Gulch, though not the cleanest and not as abundant as I have seen it before. The potholes and seeps are drying up and if this continues water will be scarce within the next couple of weeks.

For more information on Grand Gulch and rock are of the region, visit the Desert Explorer website. We’ll be back in Colorado late next week. Look for a more extensive trip report then.


Photos Posted, Planning, and Dirty Devil Updates

6 May 2010

We have posted a selection of photos from our recent trip to Utah. These are posted on Picasa.  We have tried Flickr and Picasa recently, and Picasa seems to be the better of the two. Most of the photos are just snapshots, but capture the feel of the desert. We usually carry only a small digital point and shoot, an older Sony Cybershot. The camera is small, fits in my pocket, and weighs little. For what it is, it takes great photos and has held up very well through river floats, sand and rain storms, countless miles in canyon bottoms, being beaten on canyon walls while climbing, and more drenchings than it should have survived. The latest version must be up to around 10 or 12 megapixels. I am sure it can be found at Amazon.com or at B and H Photo.

We are currently in the process of doing truck maintenance and planning and packing for our next trip.  We will leave the first of June for some exploration of the area north of Arches National Park- we have heard there are dinosaur bones and tracks visible in that area. From there we are planning 4 or 5 days of backpacking in Grand Gulch, then we’ll head south to Kayenta for mutton stew and Navajo National Monument to see ruins there.

For those floating the Dirty Devil, many people have been posting on our original Dirty Devil trip report blog post.  There is information there from recent floats for those planning on floating soon. Every time I get a comment I start thinking about floating it again. You may see a planning post for it here soon, with some luck. The river is flowing at about 30 CFS this morning for those interested.

For more on visiting southeast Utah, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Backpacking in the Escalante and a Grand Gulch Dayhike

26 August 2008

A Few Days in the Escalante

Robert and I spent five days in the Escalante from 17 through 21 August, 2008. Four days were on the trail, the fifth day was at the trailhead camp that turned out to be much nicer than we expected. Our hike took us from the Horse Canyon trailhead down Horse Canyon to the Escalante River. I hiked up the river one day to The Gulch and took a look at The Gulch, about two kilometers up, and a few of its short side canyons before returning the same way. The Gulch was quite choked up, even with the recent rainstorm, and there were no tracks from other hikers visible at all. Our way out was up Horse Canyon to Little Death Hollow for a muddy walk through the slot.

An old cowboy line shack in Horse Canyon, once a train caboose.

Recent rains in the area had washed out roads throughout southeast Utah, including in the Escalante. Luck was with us though, and we were among the first to drive on recently graded roads. We had no trouble at all navigating the roads to the Horse Canyon trailhead. On the way out I drove the Wolverine Loop road back out to the Burr Trail and down the switchbacks to the east. I drove all the way to Bullfrog for (expensive) gas on the backroads. A ranger in the town of Escalante advised Robert that it wasn’t the right time of the year to go down these canyons, that they might be impassable, or choked with underbrush. He even said that the Horse Canyon trailhead afforded no good camping. Our experience was nearly the opposite.

Four days was more than enough for this hike, three would have been adequate. We chose to spend two nights at our camp right on the Escalante River. The river had calmed down by then and the water was running clean. There was no settling of the river water necessary, we just filled our bottles and Dromedary bags and used the Miox to purify the water. We took advantage of the cool water for swimming many times during our two days there.

The narrows of Little Death Hollow.

The hike up the river to The Gulch was interesting. Half of the walk was in the river, the other half following cow trails through shortcuts in the brush as the river meandered beside me.

The walk in the river wasn’t bad, kept me cool and it made me wonder about doing the entire river that way- starting out at the highway bridge north of the town of Escalante and walking down to Coyote Gulch, about 75 miles away.

It would be an interesting way to see the river. If you do any navigating of the river on foot, be sure to bring a solid pair of shoes or boots for wading.

Little death Hollow is a great slot canyon with kilometers of narrows to enjoy. Because of the recent rains it got quite muddy at times. At one point we even climbed out to skirt what appeared to be as much as 100 meters or more of water and choke stones on the canyon bottom. We were prepared for backpacking, not canyoneering, and this seemed to be the safest and most comfortable way around. I will surely return to this canyon for more exploration at another time.

Upper Grand Gulch

After leaving the Escalante I managed to spend one day hiking on Cedar Mesa in the upper end of Grand Gulch. It was a hike I had been meaning to do for years, and with it I have hiked all but about 3 kilometers of Grand Gulch. I parked right at the intersection of Highways 95 and 261 and walked right into the drainage. It took me about 3 1/2 hours to reach the junction with Kane Gulch, about 10 kilometers down canyon. I took a quick look at Junction Ruin, and returned the same way, although I veered west about 4 kilometers from my starting point where a drainage comes in from the west.

Ruin in upper Grand Gulch.

The hike was easy, except for two pouroffs about one kilometer up from the junction with Kane Gulch. One of them required a jump down, and a climb back up. The other I just skirted by climbing through a boulder field. There are at least a few ruins in this part of the canyon that are well worth seeing. The one pictured above, along with another about 500 meters away from it, were built with bright red sand from the wash in Grand Gulch immediately adjacent.  The red sand mortar had stained the stones and both ruins stood out among the deep green of the Pinyon, Junipers, Cottonwoods, desert Aspens, and Mormon tea.  They were easily visible from the canyon bottom below.

For more info on both of these hikes, and others in both areas, visit the Desert Explorer website.