North and a bit west of St George is a range of mountains snuggled up against the Nevada border. They haven't hit my radar at all yet 'cause they don't lie between here and St George, not even by way of my jagged thinking. I've put the trans utah obsession on temporary hold and saddled up with the crackhead for some "local" explorations this weekend.
Looking north from Gunlock Res there are two side-by-side prominent peaks - Square Top and Jackson. They lie in BLM land...the surface maps show a trail going between them. That was the destination, to explore the trail in that pass between these peaks. From this view NE of the peaks they looked huge, gaining that pass would be no easy affair - probably hike a bike - if the trail does indeed exist. We didn't find out...
The early part of the route heads up Veyo Shoal Creek road. It proved to be a wonderful backcountry route, lots of climbing, sometimes in canyons, sometimes in wide open desert terrain, it climbed roughly 4k' before we left it.
Then was the rancher encounter. This place is back o beyond...we surprised half a dozen cowboys and ranchers, one with his pants literally down ;) It was initially a barage of questions "where'd you come from" "where ya goin" and when this one grizzled old leather faced guy had processed our responses he proceeded to tell us where we were going, tossing out at least 15 place names that of course didn't even ring a bell. Good ol boyz for sure.
Surprise finds along the way. Slickrock where I least expected it!
These granite pinnacles sparked a fire in the old climber in me...looked just like Joshua Tree rock!
Then the hike a bike began. The really fun part of exploration using GPS, maps, and inquisitiveness is that you just don't know what conditions are going to be like until you get there. There is a trail on the Dixie National Forest boundary with BLM land called the South Boundary Trail. Well, it didn't exist at all. We got a good solid dose of Scott-a-bike. Following random horse tracks sometimes took the best route through, but those tall critters put the rider above the endless scratchy brush. It was never ending...turns out the only thing worse than hike a bike is hike a bike where you can't actually hike ;) And there's more than a little guilt to dragging someone else through it. I had to keep reminding myself that I was with Lynda, toughest non-complaining mountain biker I know.
So that hike-a-bike took the wind out our sails for further exploration...not to mention sunset was getting ever closer but the truck wasn't.
But of course, it isn't about the destination, it's about the journey.
The Smoky Mountain road between Big Water and Escalante covers huge expanse of remote, lonely, beautiful country. The road surface is actually quite good for the most part. Water availability is not bad either. It's been dry for a good long while yet we found plenty. The area lends itself nicely to an ambitious 2 day or ambling 3 day bike trip - I highly recommend it so I'll post a few more details than normal for this one.
A lot of these pics ya gotta click for the big version...
Near the start of the route (starting at Big Water) this sign looks so new and official. Not to worry, the man was nowhere to be seen and every other sign was bullet riddled, old and illegible ;)
After a bit the climbing comes on in earnest taking you up to the southern end of the Kaiparowits plateau. Initially steep, it rolls a lot through drainages and contours in other spots.
Lake Powell in the distance, Smoky Mountain road contouring below.
Other signs of life. This was the first (but not last) time I would hear yee-haw! this trip. Cowboys are grumpy.
We took a diversion. At Collet Top we headed over the Left Hand Collet canyon to descend to Hole in the Rock road. The Grand Staircase site said the road conditions were "unknown." In the future I'll know unknown means non-existant. The conditions were unknown cause this rockslide prevented vehicle traffic and the road was later abandoned.
For the most part we traveled a stream/canyon bottom for 11 miles. Most of it was rideable but very slow. Sand, water, big rocks and boulders, a bit of slickrock - a real cornucopia of conditions. Slow going, but it really put a smile on our face anyway. It's not everyday you get to ride something like that.
A cruise on HitR road took us to Escalante. It'd be easy to get lodging there and not take the overnight gear...
But you'd miss out on this.
You'd also miss out on the redneck locals. For future reference don't ever camp in the open near towns on a Sat night. Holy crap...repeated high powered rifle shots overhead scared me beyond belief. And here I thought I was afraid of nothing in the woods....drunk johny reb and his 12 half brothers were playing all sorts of antics. Big spotlights looking for gawd knows what, they spotted us in our sleeping bags. Shit. Nothing like being the evening's entertainment for local drunken idiots.
Yea, nice sunrise pic but note the atv track in the lower right corner. This shot was taken from where I was camped. They came by within inches in the middle of the night spewing rocks and hoots and hollers. The episode lasted at least 2 hours...
Heading south from Escalante on the Smoky Mtn road takes a nice climb to the ride's high point.
Beyond this point there is a wonderful section of rolling road. It skirts several canyons, crosses others, big views abound. You'll have to ride it to see it, I was too enthralled to stop ;)
I took a spur to the SW on Heads of the Canyons road. It goes in and out of several drainages. Plenty of up and down and road conditions similar to the Kokopelli trail. I kept having deja vu...then I realized riding this was remarkably similar to the White Rim - except much less traveled, more tech and more climby.
It drops through canyons on it's way to Big Water. This looked old and abandoned but there was food in the cupboards - oops!
Everywhere to the north is wilderness study area - no motorized vehicles allowed. Nice ATV tracks here, not one of them turning around at the signs. What is about ATVs that requires disrespect for land and your fellow man plus mass stupidity to ride them? My disgust is complete.
Strange black hearted canyons on the way into Big Water.
So there you have it. This may be the off-season and all...and I think I'm chilling out but I've got quite the string of 25 hour weeks going here. It's just too much fun to stop!
The older I get the more I like to take my time with things, it leaves more time for savoring. Destinations often have a finality attached to them; everything that happens before then is the purpose. I don't seek the payout, I seek the experience.
You can draw a ton of analogies to this...racing is certainly among them. How often have you done a big event, full of excitement for it only to hit the post-race blues?
So this past weekend I continued on with my journey, explorations of new surroundings. It's cloaked in the guise of course research, but it's fullfilling other needs beautifully.
The previous week's outing gave glimpses of this huge plateau. I simply had to find a way to it's summit.
There are easier ways up than I chose.
But the easy ways don't have these views - and the summit would come and go too quickly. More savoring.
It was one of those all day climbs, filled with wonder around every turn.
With 4k' elevation over the surrounding region most of southern Utah is in view. It's a powerful chunk of turf up there.
And, wouldn't ya know it - from the top more new terrain comes into view, picquing my curiosity for another adventure.
What a constrast. Last weekend was a struggle within; this weekend was a purely, deliciously, physical struggle.
Post Moab recovery took about 2 days. I built a SS out of my old Trek 9.8 hardtail - I had the parts in the garage to get it done and within 2 hours of motivating I had a SS bike. It has got to be the fastest thing I've pedaled....so after a couple days of hammering SS style, the weekend was ripe for some Trans-Utah explorations.
The setup I was using on the Yeti earlier this year, this time on the Lev. On front is the sleeping kit, misc food/maps, note water bottles on fork legs. This proved much too heavy on the front end of the Lev, repacking day 2 I learned that the sleeping kit fits nicely under the saddle and the bike handles oh so much better.
As I was cruising through Warner Valley towards the Hurricane cliffs all that joy and excitement of the spring came flooding back. The realization of a night away from civilization was a breath of fresh air.
The first sign is a nice try by the BLM, but I'm fairly convinced all Utah OHVers are illiterate. The second sign came out of freaking nowhere, posted about 30 ft off trail as I was cruising along beneath Little Creek mesa.
Gould spring. Yum.
The view from the top of Little Creek is endless. That "small" ridgeline is Gooseberry mesa.
Little Creek mesa was named for the creek, not the mesa. It's huge, higher than Goose and pinyon/juniper covered.
The timing couldn't have been better for this as I decided to pass on the Gould Spring oil slick.
This is an interesting slice of americana. Hilldale and Colorado city are adjoining towns on the AZ/UT stateline where polygamy is the norm. The homes are massive 10+ bedroom affairs. This is the site of Warren Jeffs that Krakauer had so much to say about in "Under the Banner of Heaven." Awesome read.
As I was rolling through the area my proposed route had me bumping into several locked gates. No signs, just locks. Usually I might go past such obstructions...but not here. Something about potentially trespassing on folks property who's way of life is against the laws of the land is most unsettling.
Shortly past Hilldale the hiking began. I spent the better part of the next 9 hours on foot. Steep & sand was the rule. The only place there was no sand was where the terrain was too steep for it to settle - and even the slickrock areas were sandy.
But, it was over the top gorgeous.
Sand and rock.
Just as I was thinking the trail couldn't be any harder (5 labored steps, bike on back and 3 points of contact, rest...repeat) reality showed it could be worse. Choose your horse carefully. Two laser like holes in the eye socket told the full story.
Just past this point I ran into a polygomous hiking group (or so I was informed by the next crowd I met): 40ish year old guy and 4 gals in their teens wearing long dresses. We chatted for a good long while, mostly about the area. They told me the route I had come up was nothing compared to what I had planned...I should have listened....one of the gals asked me why I didn't just toss my bike into the bushes since it was only slowing me down.
Plenty more happened beyond that point but it gets on towards a painful blur...
The first 64 miles took about 6 hours. The last 16...well let's just say that won't be part of the southern trans utah route. But if you need some beta on a good hike in the area let me know!