a conversation with the earth guidebooks + guided hiking

Posts categorized “Hiking/Trekking Utah”.

Canyons, Arches, and Slickrock

 

When hikers think of Utah canyon country, they think of canyons, arches, and slickrock. All these features are common on the Colorado Plateau, which spreads outward from “the four corners”—where the Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico borders intersect. Many hikers, however, are unaware just how prolific these classic “canyon country” features are.

The Colorado Plateau is a vast plate fractured into thousands of canyons. Countless small to medium sized canyons are remote, rarely seen, and remain unnamed. Others are widely known and frequently visited. And, of course, there’s the mother of them all: The Grand Canyon.

Likewise, there are thousands of natural arches on the Colorado Plateau. Many are famous, like those enshrined in Arches National Park. But there are countless others throughout the plateau. Small to medium in size, many are remote, rarely seen, and remain unnamed.

Slickrock, too, is prevalent in great swaths throughout the Colorado Plateau. In ancient times—perhaps 180 million years ago—today’s slickrock domes, reefs, and buttes were sand dunes. Covered and uncovered numerous times, the sand was gradually compressed into stone. Slickrock = sandstone.

Hiking beneath the sheer, desert-varnished walls of a deep canyon is exciting. Coming upon a natural arch soaring above the skyline is a joy. But hiking across a vast expanse of slickrock is a rush.

When hiking slickrock, you’re free. You’re not confined to following a trail. You can follow your bliss. The rock itself is sculpted by the master known as “Erosion” into an infinite variety of sensuous, multi-colored shapes, so it’s always visually engaging, and sometimes astoundingly beautiful. Many associate the phrase “red-rock country” with southern Utah, but the slickrock color-palette extends far beyond red. Rust, mauve, orange, yellow, vanilla, pink, buff, brown, chocolate, coral, mustard, golden, watermelon… You’ll see all these and more.  Contrary to its name, slickrock is not slippery. It has a gritty surface that affords excellent traction even when wet. On slickrock, hikers suddenly have the gecko-like power to safely walk up and down very steep inclines. It’s a gravity-defying thrill. And slickrock, because it’s rock, is largely free of vegetation. So slickrock hiking is usually scenic and often allows 360° views.

Utah Slickrock Guides are based in the village of Boulder, Utah, on the north edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Boulder is “slickrock central.” To put it simply: Boulder, Utah is to slickrock hiking what Moab, Utah is to slickrock mountain-biking. Because that fact is little known, solitude is still readily available when hiking near Boulder. Moab mountain biking, however, is so famous that solitude tends to be hard to find.

If you want to experience slickrock hiking at its wild, lonely, spectacular best, get in touch with Utah Slickrock Guides. A day—or better yet, a week of dayhiking—with us could well rank among your most memorable hiking experiences ever.

Together, we’ll appreciate the wavey undulations, quilted cracks, and corrugated textures of our local slickrock. We’ll find slender balconies (only a couple boots wide) allowing us to stay high, and traverse the shoulders of huge, slickrock formations. Reading the rippling sandstone, we’ll find ramps granting us safe passage down into chasms and ravines, then up gorges and over passes.

Driving Highway 12, between the southern Utah towns of Escalante and Boulder, you’ll see slickrock flowing to the horizons. But there are only a couple, actual trails in this entire region. For a true, slickrock adventure, join us: Utah Slickrock Guides. Explore the extraordinary, unpublicized routes we’ve decrypted in the vast, canyon-country labyrinth near Escalante and Boulder, Utah. The ones we call “Boulder Jazz Festival,” “Witchcraft Caldron,” “Escalante Alchemy,” “Whirling Dervish Reef,” and “Never-Speak-of-It Gulch” are primarily on slickrock. But all our routes traverse a lot of wondrous, swirling sandstone.

For details about our guided-hiking service, visit www.hikingcamping.com, and click on “guided hiking.” We invite you to get in touch with us, even on short notice: <nomads@hikingcamping.com>, or (435) 335-7544.

Click on photo to enlarge, click again to enlarge fully.

Join us—in person, or in print:

Hike with us in canyon country.

Join Us on Water-Master, spring, summer, or fall. Our 8-hour route traverses the slickrock walls of a perennial creek canyon until we can step into the flow. We’ll hike upstream: often in the water, sometimes beside it. We’ll pierce the sensuous narrows and savor  the canyon’s tranquility. This route took several determined attempts to piece together. For details, click on “guided hiking” above.

 

Join us—in person, or in print:

Southern Utah: Snow-Free Winter Wonderland for Hikers

The Opinionated Hikers On Patrol For You

Since mid-November, we’ve been hiking in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park, in south-central Utah.

We’ve been alone. Under sunny skies. On bare slickrock, free of snow or ice. And it’s been glorious.

                      (Click on a photo once enlarge. Click on it again to enlarge fully.)

The daytime temperatures have been comfortable: about 54° F  (12° C). The nights have, of course, been well below freezing, but we’ve been dayhiking, not backpacking, so frigid nights have not deterred us.

Minimal daylight (sunrise at about 7:21 am, sunset at about 5 pm) necessitates we start early and be vigilant about our turn-around time. But that’s the only drawback here, in the season when hiking is fraught with discouragement across most of North America.

Looking ahead, into the first week of December, the weather forecast remains optimistic: no precipitation, and daytime highs nipping above 40° F (4° C). So we’ll continue ranging into the backcountry.

Our intention isn’t to gloat. It’s to prod you to consider a winter visit to canyon-country. By February, the high-desert terrain at about 4800 ft (1463 m) will again likely offer the optimal hiking conditions we’re enjoying now.

To plan your trip, get our book: Hiking From Here to Wow, Utah Canyon Country. You’ll find it online at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Hiking-Here-WOW-Canyon-Country/dp/089997452X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448821951&sr=8-1&keywords=hiking+from+here+to+wow+utah

Walk on!

Join us—in person, or in print:

Freelance “Slickwalking” in Snow Canyon, Utah

Snow Canyon, just outside St. George, Utah, is one of our all-time favorite places to camp. We describe it in detail in our guidebook: “Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country.” It’s Trip 1, on page 34. So on our recent migration south, from Canmore, Alberta, to Tucson, Arizona, we camped here and explored the area yet again. We brought our road bikes and cycled the dedicated path heading north out of the State Park, then looping back to the park via the city. We cycled the bike path from the park, east to Kayenta, where we looped through trophy-home neighborhoods in a gorgeous, high-desert setting. We hiked the trails (covered in our book) within the park. We enjoyed it all, even though we’d done it before. But this time we did something new: We rambled off-trail on the slickrock at the head (north end) of Snow Canyon. We discovered superb “slickwalking” terrain, where we roamed—climbing, traversing, descending—for hours. If you’re a strong hiker, capable of navigating cross-country, and comfortable on steep terrain, we urge you to try it. The photos we’ve posted here (click once to enlarge, click a second time to enlarge fully) are a testament to the beauty and intrigue that await you. The last photo attests to the appeal of the campground setting. Bear in mind, all these photos were shot in December. As for how to approach Snow Canyon’s optimal slickwalk terrain, begin on the Whiterocks trail, follow the north fork into the slickrock draw, then begin ascending. Or hike west on the Lava Flow trail, then veer off trail, northwest, at the point nearest the slickrock. If you’re capable, this is all the directional advise you’ll need to begin hours of freelancing. If you feel the need for more directional assistance, you’re in over your head and should keep to the established trails. As always when hiking in Utah canyon country, take care not to step on the fragile, cryptobiotic soil. … Walk on!

Join us—in person, or in print:

Hikng Utah: Stranger in a Strange Land

By guidebook authors Craig & Kathy Copeland, originally published in the travel section of the Calgary Herald.

Fisher Towers

Fisher Towers

“Where the heck are we?”

Typically that’s not a question you’re happy to hear from your hiking companions. Especially when you’re thinking it yourself, and you’re the trip leader.

But staring in bewildered astonishment is common in Utah canyon country. Not because you’re lost, but because what you see strongly suggests that last bend in the trail somehow transported you to Mars.

Suddenly nothing in sight jives with your conception of Earth. Your mental wheels spin furiously: no traction whatsoever. And that’s the appeal of this exotic realm. Exploring Utah canyon country is as close to vacationing on a distant planet as we earthlings will probably ever manage. It’s as otherworldly as it gets without requiring a space suit to step out of your vehicle.

Yet a three-hour flight or an 18-hour drive is all that separates Calgarians from southern Utah’s redrock cliffs, ancient ruins, soaring arches, and certified massage therapist known as “the desert sun.”

The first hint you’ve arrived on alien soil is the region’s colour palette. It’s as appetizing as it is arresting. Honey, mustard, salmon, tangerine, pumpkin, peach, coffee, and chocolate appear in distinct strata representing 300 million years of geologic history.

Next comes the antigravity sensation of walking on sandstone. Known as “slickrock,” it’s frequently underfoot and rapturously liberating. The rock’s gritty surface (“slick” is a misnomer) grants extraordinary traction, enabling you to negotiate steep pitches with Spiderman confidence. And it’s rock, so there’s no vegetation to shunt you this way or that. You can follow your bliss.

Wherever your bliss leads, you’ll soon realize you are indeed a stranger in a strange land, because you’ll encounter evidence of the natives who preceded you thousands of years ago.

They carved and painted bizarre, dramatic images on rock surfaces. They built fantastic, multistory, stone-and-mortar structures. Much of their art and architecture remains remarkably intact. Alert hikers see it constantly.

Slickrock hiking, or "slick walking"

Slickrock hiking, or “slick walking”

Then there’s the topography itself. It’s called “canyon country” because it’s cracked open. Shot full of fissures. From airy vantages, gazing across it is like staring up at a clear night sky. The baffling, dizzying complexity of southern Utah is as unfathomable as an infinite, star-filled universe.

And many of the canyons harbour natural wonders-arches, bridges, alcoves, hoodoos, fins, pinnacles, domes, hamburger buns, mushrooms, flying saucers-as if the rock had once been Play-Doh in the hands of an imaginative child.

Some of these geologic anomalies are delicate, intimate. Others are massive, overwhelming. All look so improbable you’d expect to find them only in a book by Dr. Seuss or perhaps a documentary film about Planet Zenon.

You can of course sample the beauty and mystery of southern Utah without hiking. All the state’s famous, national parks-Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches-have paved roads and convenient viewpoints.

Why shoulder a pack and plod beyond? For the same reason Neil Armstrong didn’t just peer out the window of his Apollo 11 lunar module once he’d landed on the moon. He came to experience, not just sightsee. So he went for a walk. You should too.

Fisher Towers

location: Colorado River Canyon, northeast of Moab

round-trip distance: 7.4 kilometres

elevation gain: 320 metres

hiking time: 2.5 to 3.5 hours

The Colorado River is a prolific artist. But her most famous work, the Grand Canyon, overshadows her myriad, extraordinary creations. One of them-the Fisher Towers-is a cluster of lofty, rococo monoliths including the 274-metre Titan. The trail winding among them provides a fascinating encounter with the eccentric towers plus sweeping vistas across the Colorado River Canyon and into the La Sal Mountains. Parents herding kids find this an ideal outing.

Corona Arch

location: Potash Road, west of Moab

round-trip distance: 5 kilometres

elevation gain: 170 metres

hiking time: 1.5 to 2.5 hours

Closer to Moab than any of the arches consecrated in nearby Arches National Park-yet equally impressive and far less crowded-is Corona Arch. It’s mammoth: 43 metres high, spanning 102 metres. The setting is magnificent: on the wall of Bootlegger Canyon, in an amphitheatre also containing Bowtie Arch. This very short hike is a fun romp, mostly on slickrock, suitable for families with children.

Angels Landing

location: Zion Canyon, Zion National Park

round-trip distance: 8.4 kilometres

elevation gain: 457 metres

hiking time: 2 to 3 hours

Angels Landing

Angels Landing

If angels actually visit us, and they need a majestic place to alight-someplace near to earth yet close to heaven-this would be it. Angels Landing is a peninsula, a mountainous wall, thrusting into Zion Canyon, forcing the Virgin River to detour around it. A short but very steep ascent culminates atop the slender, airy crest. Here, high above the canyon floor, you can overlook the heart of Zion National Park. Though the trail is quite safe given the vertical terrain, acrophobes should hike elsewhere.

 

 

 

Navajo Knobs

location: Capitol Reef National Park

round-trip distance: 14.5 kilometres

elevation gain: 762 metres

hiking time: 4 to 5 hours

Starting along the Fremont River, ending atop a panoramic promontory, you’ll gradually ascend broad, gently-ramping sandstone ledges. This is among the longest, easy slickwalks in the state. Constant, panoramic views allow you to admire the Waterpocket Fold-the 161-kilometre-long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that Capitol Reef National Park enshrines. Think of it as a thousand suspended waves-all part of a stone tsunami leaping out of the desert.

Horseshoe Canyon

location: Canyonlands National Park, Maze District, northeast of Hanksville

round-trip distance: 11.9 kilometres

elevation gain: 213 metres

hiking time: 3 to 4.5 hours

Great Gallery

Great Gallery

A long drive on a dirt road, then an easy hike into Horseshoe Canyon, is all it takes to see North America’s premier display of prehistoric rock art. Known as “the Great Gallery,” it’s 4.6 metres high and 61 metres long. The 75, life-size, phantom-like figures were painted 2,000 to 8,000 years ago by Desert Archaic Indians. The centerpiece is a 2.1-metre-tall, ethereal presence known as “the Holy Ghost.” It has huge, vacant eyes, a head that appears to waver, and a streamlined, arm-less, leg-less body that seems to be rising. The anthropomorphs surrounding it also look like they’re in perpetual vertical motion. Researchers believe the artists where shamans attempting to show their spiritual journey from the human world to the realm of the spirit. Shedding their physicality, they felt weightless, hence the streamlined bodies. Departing for the unknown, they felt they were traveling, hence the skyward trajectory. Perhaps they were saying to the tribe, “This was our experience. This is what is possible for our species.”

Paria River Canyon

location: Paria Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, east of Kanab

one-way distance: 62 kilometres

elevation loss: 345 metres

hiking time: 3 to 5 days

Canyons are terrestrial lacerations. They range from paper cuts to gaping wounds. You’ll witness the entire spectrum while hiking Paria River Canyon. It ranks among the world’s great treks. With the riverbed as your trail, you’ll often splash through ankle-deep water. The vertical walls rise 823 metres high. The serpentine narrows constrict to just 2 metres. Sleeping within the depths of this exquisitely serene canyon, you’ll feel the embrace of Mother Earth. Go with friends so you’ll have a second vehicle. Arrange a shuttle, then hike one way, downstream, between the White House and Lee’s Ferry trailheads. Backpacking know-how is a prerequisite for this moderately difficult venture.

When To Go

Utah canyon country (blistering summers, nippy winters) affords about thirteen weeks of optimal, warm, hiking-camping weather: late September through mid-November, and mid-March through April. That’s just 25% of the year. Carpe diem.

Where To Stay

Sorrel River Ranch (www.sorrelriver.com) offers luxury a la Louis L’Amour. The property, the rooms, the service, the food- all live up to the grandeur of the surrounding high desert. Sorrel is the only Small Luxury Hotel in Utah and the only AAA Four-Diamond resort in Moab.

Boulder-a molecule of a town between Escalante and Capitol Reef National Park-is graced with the Boulder Mountain Lodge (www.boulder-utah.com). Outside Magazine raved about it in an article titled “The Perfect 10: Adventure Lodges We Love.” Next door, the Burr Trail Grill is the place to eat, according to long-time locals.

Join us—in person, or in print:

YOUR SAFETY IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY

Hiking and camping in the wilderness can be dangerous. Experience and preparation reduce risk but will never eliminate it.

Information published in a book or on a website—regardless how authoritative—is not a substitute for common sense or sound judgment. Your safety is your responsibility. The unique details of your specific situation and the decisions you make at that time will determine the outcome.

When hiking, threats to your wellbeing are unpredictable; you must always be aware. In the backcountry, risk is subjective; you must gauge it for yourself. Away from civilization, small mistakes can have severe consequences; you must vigilantly prevent injury and avoid becoming disoriented.

Never hike alone. Before setting out, check the weather forecast and current trail conditions; adjust your plans accordingly. Always carry a map and compass, a first-aid kit, extra clothing, a personal locator beacon, plus enough food and water to survive an emergency.

If you doubt your ability to negotiate rough terrain, respond to wild animals, or handle sudden, extreme weather changes, hike only in a group led by a competent, licensed guide.

The authors and the publisher disclaim liability for any loss or injury incurred by anyone using information published on this website or in the books presented on this website.