Expansive views of southern Utah and northern Arizona, cool canyon narrows, Pueblo II petroglyphs, a deep sand slog and delicious quiche in Kanab, "Utah's Little Hollywood."
On the trail to Mansard Benchmark (mesa on the left).
Ancient Moqui steps carved into Red Canyon (AKA Peekaboo)
Also called "moki" steps, these were carved into sandstone to access alcove above. The lowest step is about 5 feet from the canyon floor. Handmade ropes and ladders were possibly used to access the steps, or sediment has washed away, making the access higher. There may have been a granary in the alcove.
more Peekaboo photos below
Trip Stats - Mansard Benchmark and East Mansard Peak
Overview: Hike to petroglyphs tucked in a alcove overlooking northern Arizona, scramble up a weakness in Mansard Benchmark's cliffs to top out for a huge view. Summit #2 is a fun slickrock climb up East Mansard to look over multi-hued mesas to snow-covered mountains to the northwest.
Location: Vermilion Cliffs, Bureau of Land Management
Distance/Elevation gain: 6.2 miles/1,450' cumulative gain.
Coordinates: Trailhead = 37.03414 -112.42366. Mansard Benchmark = 37.04925 -112.43087
Difficulty: Moderate Class 1 to bases of the two summits, Class 2, 2+, and one Class 3 move onto Mansard Benchmark.
Maps and Apps: Stav is Lost's trip report, AllTrails GPX tracks, Kanab map from BLM.
Directions to trailhead: BLM website.
Date Hiked: 10/29/22
Trip Stats - Peekaboo Slot Canyon
Overview: Experience gorgeous shapes, textures and ever-changing colors as you wind through sandstone narrows. It's also fun to walk along the canyon rim for views of the White Tower to the north and the "White Wave".
Location: Trailhead is 9 miles north of Kanab on Highway 89 - Bureau of Land Management. Entrance to canyon: 37.17928616, -112.5597135.
Distance: 6.3 miles out and back if starting from trailhead on Highway 89, north of Kanab; 0.7 miles if you drive to canyon entrance.
Maps and Apps: AllTrails tracks.
Considerations: Sandy road (2.8 miles) to Peekaboo Canyon entrance requires 4WD and tires with good traction in sand.
Directions to trailhead: BLM website.
Date Hiked: 10/30/22
Kanab, "The Greatest Earth on Show" is adventure-central for southern Utah and a nice little city with good restaurants, a museum, and a great bakery. We stayed in an RV park with our small trailer for two nights, walked into town for dinner one night, and did two hikes. Mansard Benchmark and East Mansard Peak were just out of city limits, and a great way to get the lay of the land for miles around. The Peekaboo Canyon hike was a slog through deep sand to get to the slot canyon (we didn't have the right tires on our pick-up). Kanab has adventure companies galore that will take you to Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Peakaboo Canyon and the Grand Canyon. It's not far from the now world-famous "The Wave" in Vermillion Cliffs, as well as Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass. It used to be easier to get into "The Wave"; Fred and I have gone twice about 20 years ago, when all we had to do was to be the first in line at the Kanab Ranger Station by 8:00 a.m. to get two of the limited number of permits. Now you have to go through a lottery system.
There's a reason you may feel invigorated after visiting Kanab. There's a lot of orange. Orange is the color of warmth, vitality, and creativity. According to Color Theory, orange increases our activity levels and gives us a sharper awareness of our surroundings.
Mansard Benchmark and East Mansard Peak
This short hike combines most of the great attributes of southern Utah: slickrock scrambling, spectacular views, petroglyphs, striking landforms and geology, junipers and pinyon pines, and some route-finding. A couple of weaknesses in the north cliffs proved a bit daunting for me to climb, but then we found a rope that assisted me up and down the cliff band.
Peekaboo Slot Canyon (Red Canyon)
We didn't trust our truck's tires on the jeep/ATV road's deep sand (Road 102 from the highway trailhead), so we walked that 2.8-mile distance to the entrance of Peekaboo, which admittedly got a bit frustrating on the last mile back. But it was worth it. Within the confines of towering 80-foot high walls, you enter a silent, almost mysterious world. It's mind-boggling to consider how many millions of years it took for water to carve this Navajo Sandstone. We walked through at optimal light that shifted orange, red and purple hues during our time in the slot. So many compositions of curves, textures, lines can be captured with a camera. It becomes darker as you progress to the end, requiring a tripod if using a digital camera to capture sharp images. The moqui steps carved into a vertical wall by Native Americans were the most amazing feature. They clearly lead to a ledge, at this time illuminated with a fiery orange. Stripped and bleached tree trunks wedged between narrow sandstone spaces above attest to past waters moving fast enough to deposit them there.
Oh, yes. I mentioned we had the best quiche at Kanab Creek Bakery, which prepares food using "traditional European" methods. Their croissants looked so good. We got there when it opened at 8:00 a.m., and soon after there was already a line for breakfast.
The best modes of transportation to explore the desert around Kanab and Grand Staircase are jeeps and UTV side-by-sides. White Pocket in northern Arizona's Vermilion Cliffs is our next goal - just outside of Kanab near the famous "Wave" in Coyote Buttes. We just need to talk our neighbor, who has a jeep, into going with us.
Keep On Exploring!!
"The Wave" in Coyote Buttes North - Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Bureau of Land Management.
Mural in Kanab.
(more city of Kanab images at end of post)
Mansard Benchmark and East Mansard Peak
Cairn a short distance from parking lot. East Mansard Peak is center horizon.
Vermilion Cliffs: first mile of trail switch-backs up to the top where it heads north toward saddle between Mansard Benchmark and East Mansard Peak.
Mansard Trail switchbacks.
Off the switchbacks, onto the plateau. East Mansard Peak on the right.
Mansard Benchmark seen once on top of the plateau. The route to summit this is from the other (north) side of this mesa.
Pleasant stroll - East Mansard Peak seen here.
On the way to petroglyph site on south side of Mansard Benchmark.
Mansard Trail petroglyphs are ~ 870 - 1,070 years old according to Bureau of Land Management Mansard Trail page.
Detail in sandstone wall near petroglyph site.
Some cool stuff on the trail.
Just had to photograph (in high dynamic range) this beautiful, huge juniper!
Point at which we left the sandy road and headed toward Mansard Benchmark's north cliffs.
Approaching north cliffs.
Looking for a route to the top.
Get to climb beautiful slick rock!
Walking along cliff base to find a Class 3 weakness.
Found this rope: Fred used it only to climb down. He climbed up a weakness in the cliff just before this.
At the top of Mansard Benchmark looking over Kanab and Kanab Plateau into northern Arizona.
Heading down: large juniper marks where we ascended the cliff band.
Looking up at East Mansard Peak.
Social trail takes you from main Mansard Trail to base of East Mansard; begin climbing through sand/on sandstone to the left.
Maneuvering over sandstone to ridge and then following it to the right.
Summit at the right.
Cairn on summit. View includes Mansard Benchmark (left). Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument on right in photo.
Base of East Mansard Peak.
Our GPS tracks and elevation profile
click on map for larger view
The road leading to Peekaboo from the trailhead off Highway 89. Sand gets deeper than this in some parts of this road.
Some cool stuff in Kanab.
More than 100 movies and television shows, like Gunsmoke were filmed in Kanab and vicinity. It was the setting for The Lone Ranger, Billy the Kid, The Outlaw Josey Wales and even Planet of the Apes. A walking tour of "downtown" Kanab presents many nice-quality plaques that feature actors like John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Dale Evans, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, Ronald Reagan, and many other stars who came to Kanab to film movies.
"Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself"......Jacob Hamblin, Buckskin Apostle.
We found Summit Trail to be well-marked with cairns and tree blazes. I took a waypoint on my Garmin as we left the Summit Trail to make sure we would catch it again on the descent. There is no marked trail to the summit. If you pay attention on your descent from Signal, you will see Summit Trail, but it may not be obvious. I used Avenza app to find the summit. The peak is forested, so there's no great view.
It had been awhile since Fred and I had hiked 14 miles with such a gain. Doubts about whether I could do this hike with the same pace I have in the past crossed my mind. Even though we are 61, we hiked as we had 20 years ago. Well, maybe I was a bit more tired than I would have been 20 years ago. Guess our legs are so used to it. I believe our bodies, in many instances, can be pushed more than we think. And there are usually rewards that come with challenges: a stronger and happier body and mind!
Don't wait - just go! - Next post: Adventures in Kanab
“There’s a constant tension in climbing, and really all exploration, between pushing yourself into the unknown but trying not to push too far. The best any of us can do is to tread that line carefully.”
– Alex Honnold, the first person to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park
Peakaboo slot canyon
Click for larger image
For Google Earth view of our tracks, click Burger Peak post.
Miller, Rick. Our Geological Wonderland: The Pine Valley Mountain Laccolith. The Independent.
Highlights: Walk through a stream under spectacular sandstone walls to narrows and Lake Creek and Rattlesnake Creek waterfalls.
Location: Utah's Dixie National Forest - Cedar City Ranger District, Ashdown Gorge Wilderness.
Distance: Up to 8.8 miles round trip if you hike up to the end of both streams at confluence/fork, ~ 6.5 miles if just hiking left fork to the waterfalls.
Difficulty: Easy effort walking on combination of rocks in stream and on stream banks.
Maps and Apps: AllTrails tracks, Trails Illustrated Cedar City Markagunt Plateau #702.
Coordinates: Trailhead on Utah Highway 14: 37.63463 -112.94357
Considerations: Check weather forecast for nearby Cedar City and mountains above Ashdown to avoid possibility of being caught in flash floods in this canyon. I recommend old trail running shoes/closed-toed workout shoes with good tread and support.
Dates hiked: 9/2/22, 9/24/22.
History: Named after George Ashdown who set up a sawmill there in 1898.
Most of those traveling Utah’s Highway 14 from Cedar City to the heights of the Markagunt plateau are unaware that a spectacular hidden world is tucked away in a canyon beneath their feet. Most pass by not realizing that life millions of years ago is recorded in the rocks that the canyon’s waters, over the millennia, have worn through the plateau, pushing sand grains, scouring strata and revealing infinite colors to create beautiful Ashdown Gorge.
To venture through Ashdown Gorge is to experience so many exquisite elements that make up the quintessential Utah non-technical canyon hike. Soaring, overhanging walls change shape, color and texture around every stream bend. Walk by small car-sized boulders and stream-carved rocks of nearly all hues of the color spectrum. As the canyon narrows, bright green ferns grow on moist walls; hidden grottos and alcoves are cool, dark places in which to retreat and watch the water flow melodically. Conifers cling to near-vertical walls. Walk by the occasional ancient panels of preserved ripples and oyster bed fossils. Lots to take in - you could go on this hike many times and see something new.
The waters of Ashdown Gorge originate from an elevation of 10,000 feet in Cedar Breaks National Monument, coursing through the Ashdown Gorge Wilderness via Ashdown, Rattlesnake, and Lake Creeks, creating beautiful waterfalls at the end of the hike, after a walk through short narrows. Alternately, you can experience Ashdown after descending from Rattlesnake Trail, whose trailhead is just outside Cedar Breaks.
Each time I've hiked this gorge, water conditions have varied. This time, the stream was higher and clouded by salmon-colored silt; there must have been a storm that carried sand from Cedar Breaks higher up creating increased run-off.
A spectacular chunk of preserved ancient shoreline ripples, tilted almost vertically, has been plunked down on the right side of the creek as you ascend. You weave in and out of the water, walking through gravel bars and around boulders, over fallen flood-deposited trees. It is a unique experience to feel so tiny with tall overhanging walls close by on each side, blocking out most of the sky.
"Tom's Head", a noticeable 100-foot monolith greets you at the intersection between Ashdown Creek and Rattlesnake Creek. To see Rattlesnake Creek Falls, turn left at this confluence to follow Rattlesnake Creek. Shortly, another small confluence is seen; turn left and you hike a short distance to Lake Creek Falls. Turn right, hike through an ever-narrowing canyon, you hear Rattlesnake Falls before you see it - a long sheet of white water spilling into a multi-colored gravel pool.
Since moving to Utah, I have been amazed at how gorgeous and diverse the landscape is. This hike is just one example of how nature's elements fit together in harmony and draw us into a beautiful world. There's a lot to take in on this hike: textures, waterfalls, colors, something new around every bend. Interesting how a place can have so much to look at that it's almost overwhelming, but yet it is also so relaxing, and I can get to a state of "flow". I'll spend more time photographing and checking out the fossils and geology next time. For now, I will let the following images speak for themselves.
For the Geocurious: Rocks created in an interior sea
The walk through Ashdown Gorge is a journey through what was the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway that transgressed (filled) and regressed (emptied), leaving behind evidence such as oyster and other mollusk fossils. Mountain building during this time created a basin that collected thousands of feet of sediment where this inland sea existed. According to the geologic map for this area, this hike begins in the Dakota Formation, a ledge-forming, yellowish-brown, fine- to medium-grained sandstone and siltstone and gray smectitic (clay) mudstone.
As you walk further upstream, inside the narrower Ashdown Gorge, you enter into the Straight Cliffs Formation in which marine deposition stopped as the inland sea slowly withdrew in a beach and lagoon environment next to a coastal plain. You can't miss the bold, cliff-forming walls of this formation. At the top of these walls, the Smoky Hollow and John Henry members of the Straight Cliff Formation were deposited in a river and floodplain environment.
The cliffs of the Straight Cliffs Formation
From Biek, R., et. al. 2015. Geologic Map of the Panguitch 30' x 60' Quadrangle, Garfield, Iron, and Kane Counties, Utah. Map 270DM, Utah Geological Society.
Notice the engraving in tree trunk, lower left.
Ashdown Gorge Wilderness - Wikipedia
Biek, R., et. al. 2015. Geologic Map of the Panguitch 30' x 60' Quadrangle, Garfield, Iron, and Kane Counties, Utah. Map 270DM, Utah Geological Society.
Cretaceous Atlas of Ancient Life: Geology of the Western Interior Seaway. National Science Foundation.
Location: Fishlake NF, Tushar Mountains, near Beaver, Utah. Fishlake National Forest - Beaver Ranger District.
Distance/Elevation gain: 7.3 miles/2,500'. Trailhead = 10,400'. Delano Peak = 12,169'. Mt. Holly = 11,985'.
Coordinates: Trailhead = 38.35896 -112.39289.
Prominence: Delano Peak = 4,689'. Mt. Holly = 425'.
Difficulty: Mostly moderate effort, Class 1.
Trails: #225 (Skyline National Recreation Trail) for Holly approach, and #224 from Delano summit to road.
Maps and Apps: Fishlake National Forest-Beaver and Fillmore Ranger Districts Travel Map -USDA, AllTrails tracks for Mt. Holly, route map from Stavislost.com.
Date hiked: 9/19/22.
Geology: The Tushar Mountains are remnants of volcanos whose first eruption period was 22-35 million years ago (Bullion Canyon Volcanics) and second eruption 21 million years ago (Mt. Belknap Volcanics). Delano Peak resides in the Bullion Canyon Volcanics. It is the highest point on the edge of Big John's Caldera, a concealed structure on Delano's west side that subsided ~ 23 million years ago during ash flow eruptions. This caldera filled and eroded over time. The second eruption created the source rock for the mined uranium of the Marysvale mining district north and east of Delano Peak.
Native Peoples: Five native Paiute bands were present in Beaver County ~ 700 years ago: Tu-roon-quints band in the northeast corner of the county; the Qui-ump-uts band around Beaver and Adamsville; the Pa-moki-abs band in the vicinity of Minersville; the Toy-ehe-its band in the Milford area; and the Indian Peak band in the western part of the county and into Nevada. Evidence such as pottery, tools, weapons, and petroglyphs left by Paleo native Americans as far back as 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age is present in Beaver County in which the Tushars are located.
(from A History of Beaver County, by Martha Sonntag Bradley).
"The area possesses a very high degree of naturalness, palpable solitude, and nearly unlimited opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation," says Wikipedia. A variety of great things are packed into this 7-mile hike: forest, sustained spectacular ridge views, goats, aspens and meadows below, and a fun steep climb between peaks.
After a nice forest hike from the Skyline Trail trailhead off of graded gravel road and #123, we came to a saddle where we descended into a beautiful valley with Mt. Holly on the horizon. Our route left the Skyline Trail at Merchant Creek, walking toward Holly on the left side of a prominence covered with pines to the right. Shortly, a defined trail appears in the grasses. It becomes less-defined as you arrive on wide expanse of the tundra, just below Mt. Holly and then becomes more defined as it traverses Mt. Holly's southwest flank.
The mountain goats on Mt. Holly were hunkered down enduring the wind. They reluctantly got up as I got closer to them, and when we were on the ridge hiking toward Delano Peak, we saw that some of them had sought safer places on Holly's northwestern cliffs. We stayed on Mt. Holly long enough to sign the register, then descended back down out of the summit gusts to find a way to Delano Peak. We didn't see an obvious trail linking Mount Holly to the northwest ridge leading to Delano Peak; we probably could have gotten to the top of the ridge sooner than we did (see our route).
We gained the ridge at a saddle between Delano and Holly where we found the ridge trail. We took a windy break observing a spectacular view of steep Cottonwood Creek to the east. We battled the winds up a short and somewhat loose ascent to a gentler tundra ridge walk. The trail was easy to follow to Delano Peak. We didn't want to stand too long on this highest point in the Tushars for fear of being blown over the edge.
The walk down Trail # 224 is a quad burner, losing 1,700' of elevation in 1.8 miles. We then walked south on road #123, where the wind was less brisk, to our car at the trailhead, a short 0.6-mile distance.
The definition of "grit" is achieving goals through passion, perseverance and commitment. An important attribute for many aspects of life. An important trait to teach our kids. With some "grit" we reached the summits during the windstorm, although I have to admit, the thought of going back down after Mount Holly briefly crossed my mind. I plan on getting back to this hike with some friends. If I go in the next few weeks, the forest will be splashed with stands of yellow aspens in a sea of dark green.
As the crickets' soft autumn hum
Is to us
So are we to the trees
As are they
To the rocks and the hills.
click on map for larger image
Sontag Bradley, M. A History of Beaver County. 1999. Utah State Historical Society Beaver County Commission.
Location: Dixie National Forest, Pine Valley Ranger District. Trailhead in Pine Valley Recreation Area near town of Pine Valley, north of St. George, Utah.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 9.2 miles round-trip; gain of 2,900' in 4.6 miles to summit. Trailhead elevation = 6,627'. Summit = 9,488'.
Difficulty: Moderate Class 1 on cairned trail, Class 2 off-trail from base of mountain and Class 3 climbing near summit with minimal exposure.
Coordinates: Summit = 37.39125, -113.45160. Trailhead = 37.38428, -113.48358.
Permit: Day hikers parking at trailhead inside Pine Valley Recreation Area do not have to pay a fee at entrance station.
Maps and Apps: Trails Illustrated Topo Map - St. George/Pine Valley Mountains #715, AllTrails app, Garmin GPS, USGS 7.5 minute topo - Grass Valley quad.
Dates Hiked: 9/3/2021, 8/28/2022.
Considerations: Experience in navigating through forest necessary (no official trail). I suggest long pants to avoid shin scraping when crawling over deadfall and through rock walls.
Geology: Pine Valley Mountains are remnants of the Pine Valley Laccolith, one of the largest laccoliths in the U.S. (See "For the Geo-curious" below). Radiometric dates show the monzonite porphyry rock was formed 22 million years ago.
History: Robert Gardner, Jr. was one of the original settlers of Pine Valley who helped establish a lumber mill.
Driving Directions: Directions from St. George: Take Highway 18 north for about 24 miles, turn right at the Pine Valley junction (E. Pine Valley Road) and drive 8 miles until you reach a "T" in the road. Turn left and continue for about 1.5 miles. The trailhead is located on the left just after the Pine Valley Recreation Area entrance gate.
This time, on our second Gardner Peak hike, Fred and I got to share the trail with Lydia and Robin. Lydia, our lithe, exuberant and fit yoga teacher showed her love and refreshing awareness of nature and a beautiful tree pose atop a sculpted boulder. Robin, our fit fellow yogi, with a huge supply of bright optimism, has been training for her upcoming Grand Canyon rim to rim hike. Since we knew the way, Fred and I were able to get us up the steep and rocky deadfall-littered summit block. After a cairned trail to Gardner's base, there's few signs of a trail, except for a few "ducks" here and there. We followed my previous Gardner Peak GPS tracks, had a summit celebration, and found our entry from last year in the summit register. We discovered another register a few steps down on a slightly lower summit. Check out Lydia's excellent and fun adventure website - On the Loose Live for an account of this hike plus lots more interesting explorations and beautiful photography.
What's a "duck", you ask? Used to mark trails, ducks are small piles of rocks placed on top of each other, usually 3 or 4 rocks, but I have seen ducks made with 2 rocks. Cairns are large piles of rocks, many times used to mark a trail in the distance, like on top of a saddle or across a ridge. Ducks across long stretches of smooth sandstone are especially effective. I happened to run across a literal rock duck on a St. George trail, a beautifully balanced piece of rock art (left).
The Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, a "sky island" rising above black basalt flows and red sandstone cliffs of southwestern Utah, is the antithesis to the internationally-known Zion National Park seen from its summits, a welcome respite for adventurers that have witnessed crowded Zion trails. It doesn't have Zion's spectacular sandstone towers, but it's beautiful forests offer solitude and a large variety of vegetation, including a large stand of virgin Engelmann spruce and many peaceful meadows.
Marker at 0.9 miles indicates Gardner Peak Trail - take a right (north).
Steep, rocky trail first mile after intersection with Canal Trail.
Driving past the Pine Valley Recreation Area entrance station, Gardner Peak trailhead is a short distance on the left. You may share the sagebrush-lined trail with cows for the first 1/2 mile. The trail quickly ascends into the forest, then at 0.9 miles intersects with the Canal Trail which traverses the base of the mountain. By walking a few yards to the left on the Canal Trail, painted rocks and an old signless post propped by a cut tree trunk mark the Gardner Peak trailhead. Continue north on a steep and rocky trail.
At 3.8 miles from the trailhead, after the short fire area, reach the small meadow, Jodes Flat, to see the thick forest on the west side of Gardner Peak. This is where the trail ends. We walked straight up this flank for a 900' gain, aiming toward the peak coordinates. There is a lot of deadfall to crawl over and Class 3 climbing through huge rock outcrops toward the top, as well as 2 false summits. The summit is small - basically a few huge boulders with a register with a few entries hidden under rocks.
The summit is mostly forested, but a view to the east looks over a deep canyon. A forested summit is not as spectacular as a bare, above-treeline perch overlooking huge expanses of terrain, like Leatherman Peak, which we summited last July. But they are still great and each has its own characteristics that stand out in my memory of them. The reward of finding an unseen summit as you keep on seeing more sky as you climb is extraordinary.
Keeping the bare rock outcrop we had passed on the way up in view, and using my GPS trackback, we found our way back to Jodes Flat. It's easy to get disoriented; you basically want to head northwest.
Hiking with Robin and Lydia was a joyful excursion, reminding me that moving in nature is important for optimal health. And if you can do yoga balance poses on a steep boulder, all the better!
- John Muir
Keep On Exploring! Stay close to Nature!
(900' elevation gain).
A laccolith is a large amount of magma that is injected between layers of rock, causing a dome-shaped mass. In this case, the Pine Valley Laccolith was a final surge of magma that occurred after the initial volcanic vents were shut off, causing the magma to be squeezed and move sideways between the layers of the Claron formation below it and the overlying magma layer. This injection, 22 million years ago, amounted to a 3,000-foot layer of monzonite porphyry, composed mainly of plagioclase and alkali feldspar. This is similar to granite, and when you look at a fresh surface of the rock, you can see the crystals, indicating the rock cooled slowly enough to form large crystals - allowing us to easily see them. The laccolith was uncovered when the volcanic layer above it eroded. The Claron Formation is made of limestone and mudstone; it is the rock that makes the spectacular hoodoos seen in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Miller, R. Our Geological Wonderland: The Pine Valley Mountain Laccolith. The Independent - A Voice for Southern Utah. Feb. 2018.
Pine Valley Day: The story of how 'the most beautiful sight' went from lumber supplier to summer retreat. By Reuben Wadsworth reporting in the St, George News.
Pine Valley Chapel 1868. Informational flyer about the history of Pine Valley and its chapel, available at the Pine Valley Chapel.
List with Links for Utah Hikes/Bikes
Hike Mount Nebo - On Top of the Wasatch
Location: Fishlake NF, Tushar Mountains, Trail #224, near Beaver, Utah. Fishlake National Forest - Beaver Ranger District.
Distance/Elevation gain: West ridge approach = 3 miles round trip - 1,625' gain. Trailhead = 10,500', summit = 12,169'.
Difficulty: Moderate Class 1 on cairned trail to Delano Peak.
Coordinates: Trail head = 38.36753, -112.39561 Delano Peak = 38.36917, -112.37137
Date Hiked: 8/1/22
Maps and Apps: AllTrails Delano Peak, Fishlake National Forest Beaver and Fillmore Ranger Districts Travel Map - USDA.
Considerations: most passenger cars can drive the graded dirt/gravel road to trailhead (FR 123). This road is also part of the Paiute ATV trail, so there is some ATV use on roads nearby. No motorized vehicles allowed on hiking trails.
History: named after Columbus Delano (1809–1896), Secretary of the Interior during the Grant administration. He was instrumental in establishing Yellowstone National Park after supervising the first federally-funded scientific expedition into Yellowstone in 1871, and the first Secretary of the Interior to request congress to protect preservation of a nationally important site (from Wikipedia).
Geology: The Tushar Mountains are remnants of volcanos whose first eruption period was 22-35 million years ago (Bullion Canyon Volcanics) and second eruption 21 million years ago (Mt. Belknap Volcanics). Delano Peak resides in the Bullion Canyon Volcanics. It is the highest point on the edge of Big John's Caldera, a concealed structure on Delano's west side that subsided ~ 23 million years ago during ash flow eruptions. This caldera filled and eroded over time. The second eruption created the source rock for the mined uranium of the Marysvale mining district north and east of Delano Peak. (See "For the Geocurious" below).
Ramblers - Beaver County, Utah
How to Day Hike Three Different Sections of the Scenic 23-Mile Skyline Trail - Utah - Life Elevated
We had planned to hike a loop on on the Tushar range's highest ridge to Delano Peak and Mount Holly further down the ridge, but when we got to Delano's summit, we could barely see each other, let alone the ridge. A few times, Fred got ahead of me and vanished into the huge clouds that engulfed the summit. The terrain below was occasionally revealed as sunny and bright green, but not for long. Getting cold with the wind blowing us around, we descended the short trail to our truck and drove to the Skyline National Recreation Trail trailhead. Mount Holly can be accessed from this trail.
Delano Peak is the highest summit in the Tushar Mountains - the third-highest range in Utah, after the Uinta and the La Sal Mountain ranges. The Geologic Map of the Tushar Mountains looks like a chaotic Jackson Pollock painting and one that would bring a sparkle to any geologist's eyes. It's a symphony of color blotches and random hatched lines that represent almost all major forms of volcanic rocks and structural features. Red Hills Tuff, Grey Hills Rhyolite and Blue Lake Rhyolite are just a few of the members of volcanic assemblages. Thrust faults, caldera walls and breakaway scarps scatter about this complicated terrain. Delano Peak's summit sits at the top of Big John Caldera. Four more calderas exist, as well as eight major mining centers.
We were surprised that such a large, gorgeous wilderness area with more than a few peaks over 11,000 feet had so few visitors. While hikers flock to the Wasatch and Uinta ranges, the Tushars are not as well-known. There are ATV trails that course through parts of this range, but there are plenty of hiking trails where they are not allowed.
This is a quick hike on a trail through grass and small rocks - only 1.5 miles to the summit. It is a bit challenging because you start at 10,000 feet. Delano Peak can also be summited from the northeast; in fact, this trail continues from the summit down to the base of Mt. Brigham. We plan on giving our loop another try.
The SNRT is an 8.3-mile trail that is part of the panoramic Tushar Skyline Trail stretching 23 miles and passes under Delano Peak, the highest mountain in southwestern Utah. It takes you through streams, meadows, and forests. In 1986 and 1988, 25 mountain goats were introduced into the Tushars from the Wasatch range in northern Utah and Olympic National Park. They have prospered to number 120 goats, and some have been transplanted to other areas. They can be seen on the Delano-Holly ridge line.
We entered the SNRT where it intersects with FR 123, ~ 1 mile south of Delano Peak trailhead and hiked toward Mt. Holly's base. The high Tushar's grassy slopes don't appear intimidating; no major cliffs or talus slopes. By this time, the clouds had retreated from the high ridge, but we decided to enjoy a rambling hike rather than a climb up Mount Holly. Ah, maybe we are getting soft in our "old age"!! Any time out in the wilderness, whether we get to our planned destination or not, is cherished.
- Ellen DeGeneres
Just east of the Tushar Mountains, the Mount Belknap Volcanics erupted radioactive lava flows and ash-flow tuffs (rocks of consolidated ash) ~ 21 million years ago. Unique geologic processes then created the uranium deposits that formed in a shallow water vein system in the Central Mining Area near Marysvale, a short distance from the Tushars. The veins formed 19 million years ago above a magma chamber, filling in open spaces and fractures with fluids rich in fluorine, molybdenum, and uranium. Hydrothermal fluids and rock reacted to precipitate uranium. Nine mines in the Central Mining area produced uranium. Because of decreased demand for uranium, Utah's mines were closed before 2000.
click on photo for complete geologic map of the Tushar Mountains
These wildflowers like to grow in rich, moist soils - water use is high. They are poisonous to humans if ingested.
click on map for link to AllTrails website.
Cunningham, C.G., Rasmussen, J. D., Steven, T.A., Rye, R.O., Rowley. P.D., Romberger , S.B., Selverstone. J. 1998. Mineralium Deposita, 33:477.
Delano Peak - Wikipedia
Geologic map of the Tushar Mountains and adjoining areas, Marysvale volcanic field, Utah. USGS National Geologic Map Database.
Mindat.org. Marysvale Mining District.
Plant Database: Aconitum columbianum. The University of Texas at Austin website.
Ringholz, R. C. Uranium Mining in Utah. Utah History Encyclopedia.
Steven, T. 2013. Igneous Activity and Related Ore Deposits in the Western and Southern Tushar Mountains, Marysvale Volcanic Field, West-Central Utah: USGS Professional Paperback.
Alpine Peak, 9,861': Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness - Never Stop Climbing Mountains
Leatherman Peak, 12,228': On Top of Idaho
Mackay Peak, 10,273', and Mackay Mine Hill Tour - Idaho
Reward Peak, 10,074' via Upper Redfish Lakes - Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness
Complete list of Idaho hikes on this website
Upper Redfish Lakes Cross-Country Hike - Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness
Moving Makes You Feel Better: The Latest Research
Location: Salmon-Challis National Forest, Beaverhead Mountains, Bitterroot Range, Idaho.
Distance/Elevation gain: 11.8 miles round-trip. Trailhead elevation = 5,330', Continental Divide Trail at Montana border = 9,200'. Total gain = 3,900'.
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous effort on Class 1 (old mining road) and Class 1-2 (scramble/faint trail above treeline).
Coordinates: Trailhead = 45.26574 -113.76137. Pass at Montana border = 45.27297 -113.68483
QR code Freeman Trail TH
Date hiked: 7/10/22
Dogs: do not have to be on leash. Salmon-Challis NF: 208-756-5100.
Maps and Apps: AllTrails Freeman Peak Trail, USDA Salmon - Challis National Forest map.
Weather forecast: mountain-forecast.com
Geology: Miner Lake-Beaverhead Divide Fault Zone is directly behind Freeman Peak, where Freeman Peak Trail traverses. This faulting helped develop the minerals mined from the Ore Cash Mine (see "For the Geocurious" below).
QR code Salmon-Challis NF Visitor Atlas (road map to trailhead p. 11)
The Freeman Peak Trail (#6033) out of Carmen, Idaho, just north of Salmon, follows an old mining road past the climbing route to Freeman Peak's east flank, through a glaciated cirque to the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail on the Idaho/Montana border. The pass affords a "wow!" moment with a great view of Montana's Upper Miner Lake, 400 feet below, surrounded by snow-covered jagged mountains. During its almost 4,000-foot gain, this hike will take you from relatively dry and sparse woodlands, through a lush forest with water tumbling over the trail, to alpine tundra above tree line. Rain storms the past few days seemed to leave water everywhere: white water rumbled in Freeman Creek and drops of moisture dotted leaves. Freeman Peak dominates the Salmon skyline to the northeast.
The Salmon-Challis National Forest is a pretty incredible place. It's one of the largest national forests in the lower 48 states. It contains most of the land mass of the second-largest wilderness in all of the U.S., named Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River runs unrestricted through this wilderness - "perhaps the best river trip in the world" - according to the website, Whitewater Guidebook.
Our trip to escape southern Utah's searing heat included a climb up the Wasatch range's highest summit, Mount Nebo on the way up to Salmon, Idaho. We were familiar with this "neck of the woods" since we had spent 20 fantastic years living in Boise, and had done many hikes in Idaho. We stayed at a wonderful Carmen Airbnb that had beautiful horses and green pastures.
Trailhead to cabin at base of Freeman Peak - 4.6 miles
To avoid driving on the steep, narrow access road along Freeman Creek, we parked at the "flat" intersection of Freeman Creek Road and a road that heads due south toward Golway and Kirtley Creek (three miles after taking a right off of Carmen Creek Road). You can drive up further than we did, and we saw a small pick-up parked higher up on the way back, but it gets pretty narrow. Our walk took us quickly to Freeman Creek rushing noisily beside us, thick vegetation blocking our view of waterfalls.
The road/trail climbs steadily east-northeast with one good view of the small stepped waterfalls in Freeman Creek. As with many mining roads in Idaho, it traverses a large talus slope, flattening its base as it goes, and then enters the dense forest. We met Eric, a hiker that caught up to us while we took a break. He had his bear spray canister mounted on his pack's chest strap. We had seen bear claw scratches on one tree (see below). He ended up hiking with us the rest of the way in this bear country - safety in numbers! He was a great hiking companion and he said his wife felt better knowing he was with other hikers.
Run-off from side creeks flowed over the road for a few stretches. The looming point of Freeman Peak comes into view through the trees. A sturdy log cabin sits at its base looking at the steep, snow-filled couloir, the daunting route up Freeman Peak. According to a hiker we met on the trail who had summited it a few times, it's better to climb it with someone who has done it before. It seemed a bit much for me, but I could be talked into trying Freeman Peak with a guide. Tom Lopez, in his book Idaho: A Climbing Guide, states that "This route involves sustained Class 3 climbing and route-finding difficulties. The route can be very slippery when wet or icy." Ore Cash Mine, extracting gold from 1897-1912 is near this site.
Cabin to Continental Divide at 5.9 miles
The road continues past the cabin, ending at tree line. From here, hiking toward the lowest point on the horizon (the pass), we eventually found a trail that ascends to the pass for ~ 0.5 miles. We picked our way through this alpine terrain strewn with rocks and low-profile wildflowers, including one of my favorites, Western Moss Heather. It also grows on the slopes of Alpine Peak in the Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness. It was great to have Eric hiking with us because we got another source of encouragement.
The view we three saw from the Continental Divide was about as picture-perfect as you can get. We stood on packed snow overlooking a small steel-blue lake surrounded by the Beaverhead Mountains, with snow clinging to steep talus fields and couloirs, the clouds reflecting in the water. The actual Continental Divide Trail avoids these high peaks and steep terrain; it heads in an easterly direction just north of Freeman peak to traverse by lakes.
There's a feeling of celebration when you head back to the trail head, a subconscious bonding with your fellow hikers. Inspiring scenes, camaraderie and movement combine to create a certain elation, not to mention the good brain chemicals that are released during exercise in nature. Movement makes you feel better! On our way down the alpine valley, most of the clouds had drifted away, and the forest we had ascended was now illuminated by the sun. It's one of those transient scenes - a fleeting moment of time that I add on to all of the treasured memories I have accumulated while feeling so small in the grandeur of the American West.
- Frank Church, former U.S. Senator from Idaho, instrumental in creation of Idaho's River of No Return Wilderness in 1980.
This trail gets close to the remains of cabins and some equipment of the Ore Cash Mine. Gold was the primary mineral mined from Oro Cache Mine (on map called "Ore Cash" mine) between 1897 and 1912. The host rock was quartzite (metamorphic quartz sandstone) of neoproterozoic age (1/2 to 1 billion years ago). The deposits were from four veins; the Oro Cache vein was 4-6 feet wide in a shear zone (zone of strong rock deformation). There were 9 adits that became inaccessible in 1976.
from Salmon-Challis National Forest, Idaho - Visitor Atlas 2020.
Utah Hikes: List and Links
Utah's Red Rock Country
Moving Makes You Feel Better: The Latest Research
Experiencing "Flow" - The Secret to Happiness
Location: Uinta National Forest - Wasatch Front South - Mount Nebo Wilderness - Utah. Mount Nebo is the highest point in the Wasatch range.
Distance/Elevation gain: 9.0 miles out and back/3,700' cumulative gain. Trailhead = 9,254', Summit = 11,928'.
Prominence: One of the "Ultra-prominence Peaks" of the lower 48 states at 5,488'.
Difficulty: Moderate - Strenuous Class 1 on well-traveled trail, even on highest section, occasionally marked by cairns.
Waypoints: Trailhead: 39.84847, -111.72203. Summit: 39.82208,-111.75991
Nebo Trailhead QR Code
Weather forecast: mountain-forecast.com
Date Hiked: July 6, 2022.
Directions to trailhead from Nephi, Utah: From the town of Nephi, take UT 132 (I-15 exit 225) east. Drive 4.8 miles from I-15 to Mount Nebo Scenic Loop Road (FR 015), take a left. Drive 13.4 miles to junction of Mona Pole Road (FR 160), at Monument Trailhead. Take Mona Pole road - drive 0.4 miles on good dirt road to parking area on left.
Geology: Mount Nebo is comprised of the Oquirrh Formation: interbedded limestone and sandstone.
Mount Nebo, a towering bare hunk of tilted limestone, is aptly named to mean "Sentinel of God" by early Mormon pioneers. You can't miss this impressive-looking mountain that dominates the Nephi (pronounced NEE-fy) skyline, close to Utah's I-15. Some people think Mt. Timpanogos, another impressive peak near Provo, is the highest in the Wasatch range; however it is 179 feet lower than Mount Nebo. I was advised by a sales associate at The Desert Rat, St. George's outdoor specialty store to NOT summit Nebo via the southern route, Nebo Peak Trail. After telling me to hike the North Peak Trail, its trailhead north of Mount Nebo, he said, "You should probably see some great wildflowers." He was right on both accounts: the trail was great and profuse wildflowers of every color covered the forest understory.
The trailhead is at 9,254 feet and the summit is 11,928 feet. However, you lose elevation on the way to the summit and gain elevation on the way back, making the cumulative gain 3,700 feet. The trail passes over Wolf Pass Peak (Point 11,440') first before it tackles the great pyramid-shaped Mount Nebo. There's a really steep pitch on Wolf Pass Peak's northeast slope. It's short switchbacks make for a heart-pounding climb of over 800 feet in just 0.4 miles. Glad I had my hiking pole for the way down! We hiked Nebo on a weekday and ran into four other parties. I imagine this is a busy trail on weekends. But that would not deter me - this hike is fantastic!
Mount Nebo is #39 out of 57 ultra-prominence peaks in the lower 48 states. To qualify as"ultra-prominence", the summit of a peak has to rise at least 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) above its key saddle, which is the lowest contour that encircles it, and no other peak.
North Peak Trailhead to Wolf Pass: Miles 0 - 3.5 with a 1,350' gain
We began our hike at 7:20 a.m. to ensure we would be off the most exposed part of the peak around noon. The North Peak Trail ascends through a lush forest with lots of wildflowers and vegetation spilling over to arrive at a bare avalanche area where we crossed a small snow field and continued steeply up to a saddle on North Peak's north ridge for the first incredible view of Mount Nebo. You also get a great view of Juab Valley and Mona Reservoir to the west. From here, the trail splits in 0.2 miles to the left to summit North Mountain. Keep right on the main trail to traverse North Mountain's shady west flank to arrive at Wolf Pass, just south of North Mountain. Here's a place with great views to both the west and the east, and an opportunity to rest a bit before tackling Wolf Pass Peak.
I felt quite small standing on Wolf Pass, an immediate 800 feet of climbing staring me in the face. We put our heads down and used a modified rest-step to get up this steep and rocky pitch efficiently. We use this technique for long, steep pitches, especially at elevation to save energy: use momentum to kick your foot forward while keeping back knee straight - rest a second and repeat with other leg, going in a measured, rhythmical gait, not over-using your quads or glutes.
Before topping off on Wolf Pass Peak, we followed a trail going left, traversing just under the summit for a short distance. We had to scramble back up to the ridge just after the summit. We avoided that on the way back and just stayed on the ridge over Wolf Pass Peak. The walk on the ridge to Mount Nebo's summit was divine. A feeling of being on the top of everything else in the region with steep basins and canyons with names like Hell Hole, Middle, North and South Basin dropping for a long way on both sides. Occasional scant stands of scraggly trees line a few steep couloirs. The ridge trail is wide and stable enough so it doesn't feel precarious or scary.
As soon as we reached what we thought was the summit, suddenly there was the "true" summit just behind it, only about 40 feet higher. The summit is narrow and long, a trail leads to the next high point to the south, Nebo Middle and then after that, Mount Nebo South Peak. The summit register consisted of a glass mason jar stuffed with sticky notes with lots of names, dates, and comments.
A couple of things were remarkable about the descent. The first was Wolf Pass Peak's steep, rocky pitch - it reminded me of a short version of Mt. Borah's (the highest peak in Idaho) descent - steep and slippery. The second was the abundant wildflowers, reminding me of Colorado hikes. We didn't know that Utah's high country could be so beautiful. Our adventure possibilities have just expanded - again. Wouldn't it be great if the years of our lives expanded accordingly? I guess the key is in living in the moment and fully appreciating that we have the ability to get to the "top of the world" and see Indian paintbrush splash the forest with magenta.
- George Mallory, mountaineer who climbed with the first three British expeditions to Mt. Everest in the 1920's.
Wheeler Peak, 13,063', Great Basin NP
Virgin Peak: 8,071': Seeking Solitude in the Mojave
Davidson Peak, Eastern Great Basin, Nevada
Goat Mountain, Pioneer Mountain Range, Idaho
Experiencing "Flow" - The Secret to Happiness
Overview: A short hike through a pristine aspen forest leads to a scramble over grass/talus to the Schell Creek ridgeline and then final ascent to the summit of the ninth-highest peak (11,883') and fifth-most prominent peak (5,404') in Nevada. The trailhead approach is an easy drive from Ely, Nevada.
Location: Highest peak in the Schell Creek range, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, mid-eastern Nevada.
Distance/Elevation gain: 6.2 miles out and back, 2,900' gain.
Prominence: One of the "ultra-prominent peaks" in the lower 48 states at 5,403'.
North Schell T.H. QR code
Coordinates: Trailhead = 39.40025 -114.61907. Summit = 39.41332 -114.59959.
Maps and Apps: (see our tracks below). Avenza High Schells Wilderness, Humboldt-Toiyabe Wilderness - USFS, Stav Is Lost's hike description, USGS topo map
Date Hiked: June 15, 2022.
We four were at it again - quenching our drive and desire to reach hard-won rocky heights for that feeling of standing on top of the world. On our last summit together, we stood at just over 13,000 feet on Wheeler Peak in Great Basin NP. Now we set our sights on the highest peak in the Schell Creek Wilderness at almost 12,000 feet, and one of the "ultra-prominent" peaks in the lower 48 states. What was our motivation? To prove that four 60- and 70-year olds still had the physical ability to conquer heart-pounding talus slopes and cold battering summit winds? To cross more summits off of our bucket lists? To REALLY enjoy the celebratory beer, burgers and fries afterward? We like the workout, but we love the sheer joy of reaching the summit.
Fred, Sue, Val and John on Wheeler Peak, 10/2021.
The Schell Creek range is one of those parallel mountain ranges in Nevada's Great Basin, and North Schell is its highest summit. Most sources say its length of 140 miles makes it the longest mountain range in Nevada. Once you summit North Schell Peak, you can hike the ridge southward, bagging Middle Schell, Taft Peak and Peak 11345 to complete a loop on the way back to the trailhead. This range is seldom-visited so you get this stunning wilderness virtually to yourself. Bare, windswept peaks with dramatic views rise out of valleys with large aspen stands. This range is an important north-south corridor of uninterrupted land.
Right: Map of Nevada illustrating north-south trending parallel mountain ranges as a result of extension, or spreading. The Schell Creek Range is the longest and circled in red.
- from Wikimedia Commons.
A few primitive campgrounds line the good forest road whose end is the trailhead and a brown kiosk signboard. Start walking on the road after parking. It turns north (left) into a discernible path that ascends an aspen-forested valley and stays near the stream, crossing it a few times. The aspen forest opens to the head of this creek and North Schell's western talus/grass slopes. The trail, not marked is easy to follow. Once we got to the head of the creek and the end of the dirt path, we took the steeper, rockier and shorter way to Schell Creek ridge, taking more of an acute right-hand turn heading east/southeast than we needed to. When we descended, we stayed further north, following the grassy areas as much as we could just under the ridge to avoid the prolonged talus slopes (see map of our tracks, below).
The talus slope was filled with patches of abundant and robust wildflowers - mats of phlox and buckwheat. We headed to the saddle left (north) of the dark North Schell summit and encountered freezing winds which required a slight wardrobe change into windbreakers and warmer hats (or no hats!). A short walk on the ridge brought us to the summit block. When we reached the summit, walking on a path through the rocks, wind was no longer a problem. We identified Wheeler Peak in the Snake Range - the next parallel range to the southeast. The Schell Creek range ridge south to the next high points - one of them Middle Schell Peak, looked inviting; follow it and you can walk on top of eastern Nevada for a few more miles!
The eye-catching view on the way down is that of the cirque above the headwaters of Timber Creek to the south. Its U-shaped valley and the peaks above it look inviting. We passed a few small snow patches in the grass/talus and then easily located the path along the creek to head back to the trailhead.
Val and John are training for Mt. Idaho, Idaho's seventh tallest peak. Fred and I just hiked Mt. Nebo, the highest peak in Utah's Wasatch range. Maybe we go a little bit slower than the 20-somethings, but we can get to the "top of the world" and savor it, if just for a few moments.
- George Mallory, took part in the first three British expeditions to Mt. Everest in the 1920's.
Canaan Mountain via Squirrel Canyon
Utah's Red Rock Country
Southern Utah Hiking and Biking in a Pandemic: Wire Mesa, Snow Canyon, Zion National Park
Mt. Kinesava Hike - Zion NP
Angels Landing in Zion - Not for the Faint of Heart
Location: Canaan Mountain Wilderness, adjacent to the southeast boundary of Zion National Park in southern Utah, administered by BLM. Routes are primitive and not signed.
Distance/Elevation Gain: 7.8 miles out and back. Trailhead = 5,200', White Domes = 6,934' (1,700' gain).
Difficulty: Moderate Class 1-2 on cairned route up Water Canyon, moderate Class 1-2 hiking and scrambling to White Domes.
QR code Water Canyon T.H.
Maps and Apps:
Maps and Apps: USGS 7.5 min topo, Hildale, Utah-Arizona, AllTrails White Domes via Water Canyon Trail, Avenza and physical map of St. George, Springdale, Hurricane & Zion NP, Utah by Adventure Maps, Inc.
Link to Zion topo Map of Canaan Mountain
Considerations: Take GPS coordinates when you top off out of Water Canyon so you can return to the same point to descend. Once on the plateau, experience with navigation using physical topo maps as well as smart phone apps is advised; trails are not marked and "social trails" go in various directions. There are limited openings through the Water Canyon cliffs, so you must return to the same point at which you entered the wilderness above the cliffs. Allow enough time to get off the mountain.
Date Hiked: May 8, 2022.
Directions to Water Canyon Trailhead: From Hwy 59 in the border town of Hildale, Utah, turn left on Utah Ave., which heads 2 miles east before turning north (left) onto Canyon St. In less than a mile, turn right at the intersection of Maxwell Canyon Rd. and Water Canyon Rd. Follow this dirt road for another 2 miles to park at one of two parking lots at the trailhead. Can be treacherous driving on this road if it is wet.
Geology: Block of Navajo sandstone originally deposited on the continent of Pangea, which included today's North America, Africa, Europe, and South America, existing as a single continent. Sand was wind-blown and deposited in a huge sand sea - creating the petrified sand dunes seen in many Utah state and national parks. The parallel sand layers are cross-beds: the inclination of the layering was caused by aeolian (wind-blown) sand, migrating down-wind.
Navajo Sandstone cliffs, 2,000 feet high, surround Canaan Mountain on three sides, making this an exceptional wilderness with limited access. The landscape is always interesting and gorgeous; around every corner, atop every plateau and rising up out of sandy washes are the various landforms sculpted by wind, water and ice erosion. The red and orange Vermillion Cliffs form its base. The cream, yellow, red, orange and white colors compliment greens of scattered ponderosa and pinyon pines, scrub oak and gambel oak, creating a striking color palette. Cross-bedded cliff walls, pinnacles, domes, slot canyons, hoodoos, natural arches, ledges, open slickrock, waterfalls, seeps with hanging gardens, and carved pools are some of the things you see in this extraordinary land. It has only a few primitive routes, with one rocky and sandy 4WD road, the Sawmill Trail/Canaan Mountain Trail, a historic logging route that enters from the east. To us it is comparable in beauty to Zion NP, and we get to practice our navigation skills.
Miles 0 - 2.2: Water Canyon to top of cliffs/entry onto mesa at "Top Rock".
Miles 2.2 - 3.9: "Top Rock" through mesa to White Domes/Canaan Mountain Ridge.
Fred and I got "temporarily bewildered", not exactly lost, when we attempted this hike a few years ago. We neglected to take a waypoint at our Water Canyon exit onto Canaan Mountain plateau's unmarked wilderness. We followed the wrong path and found ourselves further from the White Domes. When we decided to head back to the canyon rim, we took a waypoint just in case because there were a few paths there, but nothing marked - no cairns or signs. We came close to our entry at the canyon rim but missed it by a short distance. So, we returned back (one mile!) to our waypoint, carefully retraced our footsteps, and finally got back to our entry, the only way we knew to get back down.
The lesson: when hiking in Southern Utah's canyon country, there may be only one entrance/exit point and it is crucial to know how to navigate back to that point when there is no marked trail. This wild and spectacular country is filled with numerous washes, pedestal rocks, slick rock, and boulders; it can turn into a maze where landmarks can look similar.
This time we were ready, armed with AllTrails and Avenza maps, as well as our physical map. My Garmin GPS insured we were backtracking successfully. We took the crucial waypoint at Top Rock (see below). We followed Joe's Guide to Zion NP - Water Canyon and Canaan Mountain hike directions. Occasional rock cairns helped, too.
Fred and I began trudging (at times) through sand, passing under canopies of pine and juniper to the picturesque waterfall section of Water Canyon. Here, the canyon is dark and narrow; walls drip water onto bright green leaves, and a series of small waterfalls tumble over sandstone. Long striped walls on both sides converge at a slot where you walk through the shallow stream. Just past this, at about one mile into the hike, you start to climb steeply up the west (left) cliffs of Water Canyon, passing more waterfalls, walking over a series of rock ledges, hoisting over boulders now and then, and even walking over a log propped against a ledge to gain access to the top of it.
This trail to the plateau above is a masterfully-planned route through available ledges and passages with the canyon at times dropping steeply below to the right, but you won't feel overly exposed. There are some rock cairns to follow. At about 1.9 miles into the hike, the trail makes a U-turn and heads south to ascend the final wall to the opening into the plateau, and to Canaan Mountain Wilderness boundary. Impressive towering walls of cross-bedded sandstone seem close as the canyon widens. Shortly, "Top Rock" is reached - a large, weathered sandstone rock on a flat area (see Fred and I sitting on it, below). A few websites and topographical maps refer to this landmark as Top Rock.
RECORD YOUR COORDINATES NEAR PLATEAU ENTRY - We recorded "Top Rock" coordinates for a waypoint.
As you stand at Top Rock, the White Domes on Canaan Mountain's ridge to the northwest are 400 feet higher. We walked straight towards them, initially descending, finding a discernible path marked often by small rock cairns, hiking in a northwest direction. Our route took us through the forest, down through small drainages and short stretches of slick rock into a larger sandy wash (upper Water Canyon), where I placed some tree branches to mark our entry into the wash. We followed this creek west upstream for ~ 0.25 miles, going around a few dry waterfalls to their north (right) side. Reach a wide intersection between two washes; take the side wash to the right (NW) and follow it for ~1.0 mile to the domes. Walking over sand and slick rock is exquisite as you pass by sandstone walls and moqui marble collections - round sandstone balls coated with dark red or black iron oxide. As you near the top of this side wash, White Domes come into view - you exit the canyon and start hiking steeply up pure white sandstone. Top out on Canaan Mountain's ridge between these layered domes to see the temples and mountains of Zion National Park to the north.
Walking on the bright white, bare sandstone with cream-colored veins flowing through it and bright blue sky above is an almost surreal experience. The curves between the domes have been masterfully formed by wind and water, and make it easy to walk around them. A website describes this area as "wondrous" - I would have to agree.
We returned, using my GPS to backtrack, as there are a few shallow canyons coming down from White Domes, and no rock cairns. I'm glad I marked the exit out of the upper Water Canyon wash with branches because the distance back in the wash seemed shorter than the morning's distance.
From White Domes, the Sawmill Trail, an old jeep road continues west toward a few more landmarks that represent Canaan Mountain's lumber history. The trail leads to the southwestern edge of Canaan Mountain to the windlass ruins, the remains of a cable system that lowered timber to the valley floor. It continues to the highest point on Canaan Mountain at 7,363' (~400' higher than White Domes) and Sawmill Spring, the remains of the sawmill.
Again, we feel lucky to be able to hike to these awesome places. So many adventures to be had, so many beautiful things to see, so much appreciation for the American west. Ah, but so little time.....
Fred and Sue on "Top Rock", at entrance to plateau from Water Canyon.
About this blog
To Subscribe to Explorumentary adventure blog and receive new posts by email:
About the Author
In 1992, Ray Wilson and I conceived the first Cactus to Clouds hike which climbs over 10,000 feet in one day to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto near Palm Springs, California.
citizen botany for the phytocurious
Bird and Hike
"Intended to encourage people to visit, learn about, and fall in love with the desert."
Draw and Shoot
Earthline: The American West
Debra "writes to extol our beloved Earth." Detailed hike info, excellently written.
Geology and Geologic Time through Photographs
Vermont artist's paintings "inspired by a place based on the land .... drawn to painting the representation and abstraction of nature."
In the Company of Plants and Rocks
A natural history blog about botany, plant ecology, and geology.
Walking through nature with John Palka, a neuroscientist who loves plants and ponders big questions
Rangewriter - What Comes Next?
With excellent writing, Linda tells the story of her unique mother's life including WWII era; with beautiful photographs.
SeekingLost - Hiking and Backpacking Adventures.
Stav Is Lost- Unconventional, out-of-the way hikes in the American West.
Leah Yetter's beautiful "photo journal on life, love, and the spirit of Wyoming."