Great Basin – Yosemite Road Trip – Sep 2017

Sept. 27 – Oct. 1, 2017

Great Basin National Park

It takes about four hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Great Basin National Park, but you pick up one hour by moving into Pacific Time.  Thus, we arrived with plenty of time to check out the two visitor’s centers and eat lunch before our 1:00 PM Lehman Caves Tour.  We also took the short nature walk near the visitor’s center prior to our tour.

There are two tours to choose from; the 60-minute Lodge Room Tour, or the longer 90-minute Grand Palace Tour.  We got reservations in advance since they only allow up to 20 people per tour.

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Entering the cave

Each tour is led by a ranger.  You are allowed to take a jacket, camera, and flashlight into the cave.  The cave is about 50° F year-round, so a jacket is highly recommended.  The flashlight is optional, but it is handy for taking a closer look at some of the formations.

The cave floor is fairly flat, but there are a few sections with stairs, and several areas where you have to duck to avoid hitting your head.  The tour was interesting and informative.  We learned a lot about the local geography and how such caves are formed.

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Lehman Caves

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Lehman Caves

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Lehman Caves

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Tall columns

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Interesting colors

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“Shield” formations

After our tour, we took the scenic drive up to Wheeler Peak.  Due to recent snow, the last mile of the road was closed, so we had to walk into the trail head.  There are several hikes to choose from, but we elected to just do the short nature walk.  The trail was mostly on boardwalks and was covered in a few inches of snow.

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Autumn leaves and pines

I was hoping to see some beautiful autumn colors, but the mountains here are mostly pine, so the colors where not all that great.  Nevertheless, it was a pleasant drive and great to visit this type of forest which is quite different from the forests around Salt Lake.

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Wheeler Peak

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Walking to the trail head

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On the nature trail

After our hike we drove just over one more hour to Ely, Nevada, for dinner and our motel.

Yosemite Tioga Road

The next morning, we drove for about five hours to get to Lee Vining, CA.  The road went over a lot of small mountain ranges – many more than I expected.  This made the long drive quite interesting.  I expected more barren desert, but it was actually a fairly scenic drive.

After buying gas in Lee Vining, we started up the Tioga Road towards Yosemite National Park.  We stopped at the first campground to eat lunch, then resumed our climb up the mountain.

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Tioga Road

You enter the national park shortly after reaching the summit.  The Tioga Road is very scenic, with large granite mountains and beautiful mountain lakes.  We stopped at a few lakes to take photos and a short walk along the beach.

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A lake near the pass

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Another lake

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Kim at Tenaya Lake

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Tenaya Lake

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The view from Olmstead Point (I think)

It took a few hours to make the drive across the mountain, so we were pretty tired by the end.  Rather than do more sightseeing, we opted to head to our motel room at the Rush Creek Lodge.  This is a fairly new facility just outside of the park, about 10 or 15 miles from Groveland, CA.  The rooms were nice, and they had a large pool and two hot tubs, along with fire pits and various games.  The only thing I didn’t like about the place was the restaurant.  This is one of those expensive restaurants where you can’t even understand the menu, and the helping sizes are very small.  We ate dinner there the first night, but avoided it for the remainder of our stay.

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The view from our room

Yosemite Valley

We ate our own breakfast in our motel room, packed a lunch, and headed towards Yosemite Valley.  As we approached the valley, we could see that the valley was quite smoky from the nearby forest fires.  Luckily, the smoke cleared as the sun warmed up the valley air.

We arrived fairly early to beat the crowds.  It was fairly easy to find a parking space near Yosemite Village, which acted as our base.  We didn’t want to move the car throughout the day for fear of not finding another parking space.

We walked through the village on our way to Lower Yosemite Falls.  The falls are much more impressive in the spring when the water is flowing fast, but it was still a beautiful sight.  I suspect the streams had increased in flow due to the recent snow and rain.

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Kim at Lower Yosemite Falls

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Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls

We then took a stroll through the meadow going over Swinging Bridge and Sentinel Bridge.

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The view from Swinging Bridge

Our feet and legs were getting pretty tired by then, so we jumped on a shuttle bus and headed to the trailhead for the “Mist Trail”, which leads to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, as well as the longer hike to the top of Half Dome.  This trail was paved, but very steep.  We didn’t even make it as far as the bridge before giving up and heading back down.  Our knees were not up for such a strenuous hike.

We decided to save our packed lunch for dinner, and buy lunch at the Yosemite Grill.  We each got a hamburger and shared a batch of fries and a lemonade.

We then visited the Visitor’s Center and enjoyed the two movies they show.  I think we both slept through part of it.

Because we were so tired, we decided to skip the ¼ mile hike to Bridalveil Falls and drove out to Glacier Point.  We drove right through one of the burning forest fires, which made us a little nervous.  We could see smoldering trees right along the road.  But we figured it must be safe since they hadn’t closed the road.

The view from Glacier Point is spectacular.  You get about a 270° field of view overlooking Yosemite Village, Half Dome Village, and the two waterfalls we failed to reach on the Mist Trail.  You also get great views of Half Dome, and can barely see the people that made the trek to the top.

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Vernal and Nevada Falls

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Half Dome

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Yosemite Falls

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Amazing views from Glacier Point

On our way back to the motel, we stopped at Tunnel View, which offers a great view of Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan.  We took a few photos of El Capitan showing where the large rocks fell the previous two days.  One of the falls killed one man from Wales and injured his wife.  That was sad news.

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Bridalveil Falls on the right, the rock fall on the left

South Lake Tahoe

On Saturday morning, we had about a four-hour drive to South Lake Tahoe.  This drive consisted mostly of back country mountain roads.  It was a fairly twisty road which would have been much more fun on a motorcycle.  The scenery was nice, but it is mostly more of the same – huge pine trees.

We were able to listen to LDS General Conference via satellite radio, which helped the time fly by.

We arrived at South Lake Tahoe at about lunch time and found a nearby beach for a picnic lunch.  The wind was fairly strong and bitterly cold, so we opted to eat in the car.

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Lake Tahoe

Our original plan was to either walk along the beach or take the gondola ride up to Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort.  The weather was too cold for a walk, and the gondola was closed for the season.  So, we opted to take the two-hour drive around the lake while we listened to the afternoon session of General Conference.

We then checked into our motel, which turned out to be very run down – but at least it had a decent bed.  We found a nearby pizza shop for dinner and watched “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” on TV before going to sleep.

The next morning, we began our long drive home (about 8.5 hours), stopping for breakfast (in the car) and lunch (in the car) and to buy gas in Elko.  We arrived home at about 5:00 PM to a pleasant surprise – Marcy and Isaac came over to fix us dinner.

We covered a lot of miles and spent a lot of time in the car, but the scenery was absolutely spectacular.  It was a great road trip.

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Boulder Mountain Adventure – Sept 2017

Sept. 12-16, 2017

In 2016, we attempted a ride from Challis, Idaho, to Burgdorf Hot Springs.  We had to go elsewhere due to a large forest fire.  So, we tried again this year.  I spent months planning and refining the route, only to cancel yet again because of fires and smoke.

Thus, this year’s Idaho trip ended up in southern Utah.  We decided to explore the Boulder Mountains.  I also wanted to include a few trails I have been wanting to ride for several years; such as Cathedral Valley, the Wolverine Loop, the Burr Trail, and the Rosebud ATV trail.

I only had one week to put the plan together, and luckily it turned out to be a great route.  The original plan included over 600 miles of trail, dirt road, and paved road.  Our actual route ended up somewhere around 440 miles.  The route was challenging, but I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.

Day 1 – The Great Western Trail:

We started our ride at the Gooseberry staging area just outside of Salina.  This is just a 2-hour drive from Salt Lake City, so it worked out really well.  We rode south on the Great Western Trail (GWT) for about 50 miles.  I didn’t have a detailed GPS track for the GWT, so I did the best I could with my GPS software (Garmin Basecamp) and GoogleEarth.  Most of the route was on ATV trails, but I missed a few sections and planned in a few dirt roads to connect ATV segments.  This turned out well because it gave us a change of pace, allowing us to ride a little faster on the twisty mountain roads than we could on the ATV trails.

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Bob crossing the stream right at the trailhead

The trail had a good mixture of easy, flowing trail, and a few rocky sections to keep you on your toes.  We rode through Aspen glades, pine forests, and open meadows.  The Aspen leaves were starting to turn, and the overall scenery was absolutely beautiful.

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The Great Western Trail

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Rain squalls and autumn leaves

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The view from our lunch stop

We started our ride at about 11:00 AM and stopped for lunch at about 1:30 PM.  It started to rain and hail while we ate lunch.  The higher elevations were completely covered in a light blanket of hail, but luckily the trails were not too muddy or slippery.

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The trail is covered in hail

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Wet trails and great scenery

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More great scenery

After completing the GWT, we rode some dirt roads to an overlook above Cathedral Valley.  I planned on camping at Round Lake so Ross and Bob could fish.  Since it had been raining, we decided to camp at lower elevation.  Ross knew of a place near Meeks Lake at about 8300’.  This was a nice camp, but there was not a fishing lake nearby, nor any great scenery.

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Overlooking Cathedral Valley

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Our first camp

Day 1 - 2017

GPS track for day 1

Day 2 – Cathedral Valley & Henry Mountains:

Ross got up early and rode down to Morrell Pond to fish.  The rest of us took our time eating breakfast and packing up camp.  It was a beautiful, sunny day.

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Ross at Morrell Pond

Ross knew of a trail that would traverse over to Round Lake, putting us back on our original track.  Round Lake was 400’ higher in elevation, but it would have made a much nicer camp.  It even had a picnic table and outhouse.

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Ron at Round Lake

From there we dropped into Cathedral Valley and stopped at the overlook.  Cathedral Valley is a bizarre place.  We had been riding in mountain forests, and now we were in this strange desert environment.

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Cathedral Valley

It was a fast ride through Cathedral Valley, but we took our time to enjoy the scenery and the odd rock/dirt formations.  We stopped to see Gypsum Sink, which Bob claimed was formed by a meteor.  We also stopped at Glass Mountain, Temple of the Sun, and Temple of the Moon.

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Gypsum Sink

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Glass Mountain

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Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon

 

We had a light rain as we rode along Cathedral Valley Road.  The rain felt refreshing in the heat of the desert.  From there we took Hwy 24 to Hanksville for gas and a late lunch at Stan’s Burger Shack.

We stocked up on water, and then headed into the Henry Mountains.  The road through the Henry Mountains was rockier than I expected.  It wasn’t difficult on a dirt bike, but I wouldn’t want to drive it in an SUV unless it had good off-road tires.  We saw several deer along the way, and at one point I had a small herd of deer running parallel to the road for several hundred yards.

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Henry Mountains

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Autumn leaves in the Henry Mountains

It started to rain just as we reached Bull Creek Pass, at over 10,000’ elevation.  Rain was becoming a major theme of this trip.

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Rain is coming

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Bob at Bull Creek Pass

Rather than rush to try to keep to our original schedule, we decided to camp at McMillan Springs Campground, which is also at about 8300’ elevation.  This is a beautiful campground and we were the only ones there until one Jeep pulled in later in the evening.  The rain had stopped by the time we arrived at camp, so we were able to enjoy the evening and allow our gear to dry somewhat.

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Camp at McMillan Springs

We logged about 112 miles of scenic, but fairly easy riding.  It was a refreshing change of pace from the more rugged, but fun, ATV trail the day before.

Day 2 - 2017

GPS track for day 2

Day 3 – The Burr Trail & Wolverine Loop:

Once again, the day started off clear and sunny.  We packed up camp, and headed down out of the Henry Mountains.  Just a few miles from camp, I spotted a small herd of buffalo.  They entered the road, then jogged down the road for a few hundred yards, before turning off again.  I quickly turned on the helmet camera, but didn’t get very good footage of them.

The ride from camp to the Notom Road was more interesting than I expected.  In GoogleEarth is looks quite desolate, but it was actually fairly good scenery and a nice ride.

It started to rain again just before we reached the Burr Trail switchbacks.  After climbing the switchbacks, we rode a side spur out to the trailhead for Upper Muley Twist.  This was a fun ride down a sandy wash.  We also took a short hike out to an overlook.

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The Burr Trail Switchbacks

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The road to Upper Muley Twist

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Looking towards Lake Powell from the overlook

Our next adventure was the Wolverine Loop.  My wife and I drove this loop a few years ago, and I remember thinking it would be a great ride on a motorcycle.  I was right!

Rather than ride the entire loop, we took the “Cutoff Road”.  I wouldn’t recommend this for stock cars or SUVs, but it was a fun ride on a dirt bike.  It also followed a sandy wash much of the way.

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The Cutoff Road

Shortly after rejoining the main loop, I spotted a tarantula crossing the road.  That was the first tarantula I have seen in the wild.

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Tarantula on the Wolverine Loop

We stopped at the trailhead for the Wolverine Petrified Forest.  We ate lunch, and changed into our hiking shoes (at least those of us that hadn’t lost a shoe off the back of our bike).  My friend Dave Buckmiller said the good wood is about one mile down the canyon, so off we went.

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Petrified wood

At about ¾ of a mile, I climbed the side of the wash to see a large collection of wood.  From that higher vantage point, I could see a huge storm moving in fast.  I could tell this was much larger than the other storms we had encountered.  But I had no way of telling the rest of the group, who continued on down the canyon.

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The approaching storm

The storm front hit just before we got back to our bikes.  There were strong gusts of wind, and I saw it blow over Bob’s bike.  Then it started to rain and hail, with lots of thunder and lightning.  The only shelter we could find was a small Juniper tree at the trailhead.

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Seeking shelter from the storm

It was raining so hard that small streams began forming all around us.  As soon as the wind stopped and the rain let up a bit, we hit the trail and wanted to get out of that area.

I knew the road back to the Burr Trail crossed the wash a number of times, but eventually climbed out of the wash bottom.  So off we went.

At first, there were small streams, maybe a few feet across, which we crossed repeatedly.  But as we traveled down river, the streams combined and became a fairly significant stream.  In some places, the entire road was a river.  The only way I could tell where the road was, was by the berms along the side left by the road grader.

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Small streams starting to form

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Getting larger

The river got deeper and deeper, and it was really quite swift.  There were small waves all along the course.  I hit a few places where the water was up to my front axle, so it was probably over one-foot deep.  At one point the road left the streambed for a few hundred feet.  Where it re-entered, it was steep and the waves were significantly larger.  I did not want to ride into that with my bike.

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The water was pretty swift

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The road is a river

Just behind us there was a flat area where we could camp if we had to wait out the storm.  We watched the river continue to rise and wondered if the camping area was high enough to be safe.

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Waiting for the water to drop

Some wondered off, looking for alternate places to camp.  Bob called me over to talk.  He noticed that we had missed a turn about ¼ of a mile back, and we were no longer on the main road.

It turns out we turned onto the side spur to the Horse Canyon Trailhead.  The stream in Horse Canyon was fed by the road we came down, and the road we should have taken.  That is why it got deep so fast.

The river was too deep to ride safely back up, but we found a cow trail that led back to the main road, avoiding the deepest sections of the river.

After getting back on the main road, the stream got smaller and smaller as we moved north.  We eventually left the streambed entirely and quickly rode back to the paved Burr Trail.

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Ron crossing one of the last streams

The rain had picked up again, so it was a chilly and wet ride down Long Canyon to the Deer Creek Campground.  Deer Creek is a small campground near a swift stream.  No one was camping there, but there were signs all over warning of flash flood danger.  The storm was starting to subside, so we decided to stay.  In fact, the sun came out about two minutes before it went behind the sandstone cliff.  Deer Creek is in a fairly narrow canyon, so you lose the sun early, and don’t get it in the morning until fairly late.  That is great on a hot summer day, but not so great when you want to dry out all of your gear.

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My campsite at Deer Creek campground

We logged about 94 miles, plus the hike, and sitting out the storm for about an hour.  Deer Creek is only 5700’ in elevation, which was nice since the storm brought in much cooler temperatures.

Day 3 - 2017

GPS track for day 3

Day 4 – The Boulder Mountains:

We didn’t get packed up and ready to ride until about noon.  We took our time getting ready, waiting for the sun to come up and dry out our tents.  Once we were on our way, we rode in to Boulder to get gas and supplies.

We abandoned our original goal of exploring the Boulder Mountains – we were too far behind schedule and it was too cold at higher elevations.  So, we headed north on Highway 12, up and over the mountain on a scenic paved road.

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Heading up Hwy 12

Since I prefer to avoid pavement whenever possible, we took a side road that paralleled the highway.  I think it is called Big Ridge.  It is road #180 and #169 on my map.

Just as we reached the turnoff for #180, I asked the group if they wanted to skip this since there was another large storm building to the north.  Ross said we could easily beat the storm, so we pressed on.  We almost finished Big Ridge before the storm hit, but we still had the Rosebud ATV trail and the road down Pleasant Creek to do.  Once again, we all got quite wet before the day was done.

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Ron on Big Ridge

The Big Ridge trail is an old Jeep road.  Some sections are fairly smooth, while other sections are rocky.  Occasionally the trail would pop out of the trees with great views overlooking Capitol Reef National Park.

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Overlooking Lower Bowns Reservoir and the approaching storm

The rain hit before we finished, and it was coming down hard by the time we got back to the pavement.  We rode north for a fraction of a mile or so, before turning off on the road to Lower Bowns Reservoir.

For years I have wanted to ride the Rosebud ATV trail, which parallels the road to Lower Bowns.  It was raining pretty hard, but we stuck with the plan and rode the trail.  I was somewhat disappointed.  I had heard great things about the trail.  It was quite rocky, and it wasn’t very long.

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Somewhere along the Rosebud trail

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Approaching Lower Bowns Reservoir

After finishing the trail, we stopped for lunch at Lower Bowns Reservoir.  Luckily the rain had let up a bit during our lunch break.

After lunch, we started down the Pleasant Creek road (#168).  It was a bit slippery in places, but most of it had enough rock content to not be too bad.

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Pleasant Creek Road

There is a fairly steep, sandy descent just before the trail crosses Tantalus Creek.  When we got there, it was running fast and deep; a dark brown water from all of the rain.  Bob and Ross were right behind me, but there was no sign of Ron or Danny.

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Approaching Tantalus Creek

Ross and Bob went back to find Ron and Danny, while I found a stick to measure the depth of the water.  At the road crossing, it looked to be about 2’ deep, but about 10’ to the left was only about 8” deep.  It seemed like we could safely cross it.

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The river crossing

After making that assessment, I rode back to find the others.  Danny noticed that his tent had fallen off the back of his bike.  It must have happened while he was riding in the back, or someone in the group would have seen it.  He went back to look for it, without success.

We considered our options and decided to stay together as a group and go back to the pavement and drive into Torrey and find a motel.  Danny and Ross were sharing a tent, and with all of the rain, it would have been a long and miserable night without a tent.  It was probably good that we didn’t cross Tantalus Creek because there is a much larger crossing later on after Tantalus Creek merges with Pleasant Creek and Sulphur Creek.  It was probably be treacherous with all of this rain.

When we got back to the pavement, we decided to have Ross and Danny go back to the Big Ridge trail and ride to the gate.  Danny closed the gate, and was therefore in the back during that stretch of the ride.

Ron and Bob and I hung out in the Lower Pleasant Creek campground while we waited for them.  The sun came out for a while, which we soaked up as best we could.

Ross and Danny found the tent, but we decided that since it was now fairly cold and most of us were quite wet, we would stick with the plan of staying in a motel.

We slowly rode down to Torrey (Bob had a leaky rear tire), only to find that all of the motels were full.  I guess all of the other campers also wanted to get out of the rain.  But then the sun came out again, and brightened our spirits once more.  We found a place to camp just east of Torrey.  I guess this is a popular overflow camping area – there were tents and motorhomes everywhere.  We logged about 115 miles that day.

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Looking for a place to camp east of Torrey

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My campsite near Torrey

I got my tent set up and then called my wife to check in.  This was the first time we had cell service since leaving Salina.  I also checked in a few times per day with my inReach satellite communicator.

I then cooked up my last freeze-dried dinner, and spent another long night in the tent.  It got dark at about 8:00 PM and we never built any campfires, so the nights seemed fairly long.

Day 4 - 2017

GPS track for day 4

Day 5 – The Great Western Trail:

We awoke to another beautiful clear day.  In fact, this was the only day we didn’t get rained on.

Bob repaired his rear tire, and we headed back to Torrey for gas.  We then rode north along another section of the Great Western Trail.  I got a GPS track from Dave McIntire, which really helped because there were a lot of trail junctions in the first few miles.

This is really a rocky road.  It wasn’t hard (at first), but it was rough.  Ross commented that my kids would hate this trail.  I said they could handle it fine, but my wife wouldn’t enjoy it.  But then the trail got worse!  Ross was right – my kids would hate that trail.

As with many of our other trails, this one occasionally broke out of the trees for some gorgeous scenic views.

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View from the Great Western Trail

I think this trail is about 12 miles long.  The first 10 miles or so aren’t too bad, but as the trail climbs in elevation, it gets rockier and because of all of the recent rain – muddier.  That last few miles are limited to 50” or narrower vehicles, and it is pretty rough ride.  There were some long rocky climbs, and a few sections were muddy and slippery.  There was one bog that had logs laid down for the ATVs.  These logs were extremely slick on a dirt bike.  I went down extremely fast.  Ron and I had a hard time getting solid footing to pick up my bike.

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One of several rocky climbs

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The smooth “cream filling” in between rocky stretches

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The slippery logs

 

We stopped for a break after one muddy climb, and then pressed on to the top where the trail meets forest road #206, which goes directly past Elkhorn campground.

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A great place for a break

From here, my plan was to ride easy roads back to the car.  But because the weather was good, and the Great Western Trail we rode up on the first day was so fun, we decided to take the Great Western Trail back to the car.

The autumn colors were even better than before, and it was a great ride back along the trail.  This is really a fun trail, going either direction.

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Great views along the GWT

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Riding through the Aspens

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Riding through the Aspens

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More great trail

 

We did, however, encounter more mud.  We had to cross one pass at over 10,000’ elevation.  There was snow along the side of the road, and the melting snow made the trail very muddy.  I went down two more times in the mud, and a few others struggled as well.  Ross did an amazing job manhandling his heavy KLR through the rocks and mud.

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One of the muddy sections

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More mud

At just after 4:00 PM we decided we better bail and take the paved road back so we could get home at a decent hour.  We logged about 80 miles on that last day, including maybe 40 or 50 miles of ATV trail.

Day 5 - 2017

GPS track for day 5

Our entire trip came in at about 440 miles.  It was really a great trip.  I think everyone had a blast.  The rainy weather even added to the experience.  Although I prefer to ride and camp in better weather, it did create some interesting experiences and generated great memories and stories.  It will be tough to beat this trip!

2017 Adventure

GPS track for the entire trip

Posted in Dirt biking, Utah - Southern | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Potter’s Ponds Loop – Sep 2017

Sept. 2, 2017

For Labor Day weekend, the Gardiner and Bradley families decided to enjoy an easy ATV loop near the Skyline Drive above Fairview, Utah.  This is a fairly easy 38 mile loop.

We parked at the staging area along Hwy 31 just east of the Skyline Drive.  We rode ATV trail #12, which parallels the highway for several miles.  We stopped for lunch at Huntington Reservoir, and then continued on #12, and then took the Miller Flat Road south.

We enjoyed another ATV trail, #57, just before reaching Potter’s Ponds.  We took a short break at Potter’s Ponds, and a few photographs.  We then headed up Potter’s Canyon to the Skyline Drive, which took us back to our car.

Trail #12 was perhaps the most technical part of the ride, but it was easily doable by most novice riders.  The biggest challenge is oncoming traffic on the narrow trail.

Miller Flat Road is a major road in the area, so be careful of high speed vehicle traffic – including large motorhomes.

Trail #57 was a little easier than #12, and it is fun as it winds through the forest.

Potter’s Canyon was rougher than I expected, but it wasn’t very difficult.

The first part of the Skyline Drive had a lot of ruts, but the northern 10 miles or so was fast and smooth.  You then finish off with another short segment of trail #12, arriving back at the staging area.

This turned out to be a great ride for a crowded holiday weekend.  Other than trail #12, the roads are wide enough to easily pass oncoming traffic.  It was a beautiful day.

Potters Pond 2017

Potter’s Ponds Loop

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Jamie heading down trail #12

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Lauren

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Jamie at Huntington Reservoir

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Lunch stop

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Jamie riding past Huntington Reservoir

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Jason

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Jamie on the Miller Flat Road

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Paul on his new KTM

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Kevin on trail #57

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Kim heading to Potter’s Ponds

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Taking a break at Potter’s Ponds

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Gardiner family photo

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Liz heading up to the Skyline Drive

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Kevin

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Sarah on the Skyline Drive

 

 

 

 

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Rainbow Rim Trail – North Rim of the Grand Canyon – Aug 2017

Aug. 4-6, 2017

August is probably not the best time to ride the Rainbow Rim Trail along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  August is monsoon season.  It rains almost every day.  In fact, it rained so hard the day before we left, we almost canceled our trip.  But after discussing our options, Jamie and Jason decided they were more interested in visiting the North Rim than mountain biking, so why not go for it.

The Rainbow Rim Trail, as far as I know, is the only mountain bike trail on the Kaibab Plateau.  The trail lies just outside of Grand Canyon National Park, on the western rim of the Kaibab Plateau.  The entire trail is 18 miles long, and connects to 5 lookout points.  Locust Point is in the middle, so we camped there.  Our plan was to ride the northern half the first day, then the southern half the second day, for a total ride of about 36 miles.

Rainbow Rim Trail

Rainbow Rim Trail

We left home early Friday morning and drove to Jacob Lake for lunch.  While eating lunch, we considered the weather and wondered how muddy the dirt roads and trails would be.  Our waitress said the roads shouldn’t be too bad, even though they got a lot of rain the previous day and some rain that morning.  We decided we would stick with our original plan and attempt to camp at Locust Point.

After lunch, we drove south on Hwy 67 for about 20 miles.  We turned west on Forest Road 22, which goes all the way back to Fredonia.  Most directions I found suggested staying on 22 for several miles, then south on 206 for several miles.  FR22 is a good road, allowing travel of about 40 mph, but it goes a long way out of the way.  We took a slightly rougher road that was more direct (FR222 I think).  This connected us to FR294, which goes out to Locust Point.

Rainbow Rim Access

Accessing the trailheads

From Hwy 67 to Locust Point via our route was about 18 miles of dirt road.  The first 15 miles were pretty good, the road covered in some form of road base, so it wasn’t muddy.  The last 3 miles got a little rougher, and had numerous large mud puddles.  Only one of them was quite deep, which sent gear flying all over the car when we hit it.

We found a great campsite just a few hundred feet from the point, and quickly set up our tents and rain fly.

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Camp

We started our bike ride at about 4:00 PM – a few hours later than hoped.

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View from Locust Point (I think)

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Ready to ride

Our plan was to ride north about 3 miles to Fence Point, then another 6 miles to Parissawampitts Point.  We only made it about 6 miles before I had had enough.  Being out of shape, the altitude and climbs were getting to me.  In general, the 5 lookout points are the low points on the trail.  You climb as you ride east to go around a small canyon, then descend as you ride west to the next point.

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Heading north towards Parissawampitts 

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Dee walking another climb

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The kids were feeling it too

We all decided to turn back since it was getting late.

The trail is kind of like the road – mostly covered in broken rocks – so mud really wasn’t an issue.  The trail isn’t all that technical, but it is somewhat rocky, so it takes some effort to keep your wheels rolling.  There are also vicious thorn bushes all along the trail – so be prepared to get scratched up.  Also, be prepared for flat tires.

We got back to camp just before sunset, so I sent the kids back down to the rim to take some pictures while I started getting dinner ready.

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Sunset at Locust Point

It got dark while we were cooking dinner, and it sprinkled on and off.  Luckily, it didn’t rain while we were on our ride.  Dinner was great.  We enjoyed sitting and relaxing until bedtime.

It started raining during the night – not a hard rain – but steady.  It rained through breakfast, and showed no sign of letting up.

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Wet tent

None of us wanted to ride in the rain, so we decided to drive out to Parissawampitts Point to see what we missed.  We never did find a lookout point there, so we weren’t too disappointed that we didn’t make it on our bikes.

By the time we got back to camp, the rain had let up and the sun was poking through the clouds.  We packed our lunch and headed out on the southern portion of the trail at about 2:00 PM.

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Panorama somewhere along the trail

I found the southern portion to be more enjoyable than the northern leg.  Some of it was because I had somewhat adapted to the altitude and I was starting to get my leg strength back.  But mostly it was because the trail was smoother and I think it had less vertical climbing.

We rode about 6 miles to North Timp Point.  Just before getting there we could look across the gully and see Locust Point.  It wasn’t very far away as the crow flies – but 6 miles on the trail.

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Somewhere on the southern leg

We ate our lunch at North Timp Point, and then continued on another 3 miles to Timp Point.  This was my favorite section of the trail.  There were a few technical bits, but most of it was pretty smooth and not too steep.  I was able to ride most of this section, whereas the other sections I had to walk a lot of the climbs.

After a short break, we headed back.  We took another break at North Timp Point, and then headed back to camp.  About ½ mile from camp I rode over a branch on the trail and heard a pop.  My rear tire went flat.  The kids were ahead of me, heading to camp.  It was getting dark, and my tires were muddy.  I decided to walk back to camp rather than spend the remaining daylight repairing my tire.  When I got home, I found that the branch actually sliced my tire, so a new tube may not have lasted long anyway.

The next morning, we found that Jason’s rear tire was also flat.  He got a pinch flat, but luckily it was a slow leak so he was able to finish the ride.

Because I had to walk so many of the climbs, it took us a lot longer to ride the trail than we had planned.  We averaged about 3 mph.  While riding the flat sections, I was typically going about 6 mph, and 10-12 mph on the downhill portions.  I imagine the kids could have done the ride in about half the time it took me.  They were nice to wait for their old man.

On Sunday morning, we packed up camp and took a Jeep road south to Point Sublime.  It was obvious that this road is seldom traveled, but it wasn’t too much for my Grand Cherokee to handle.  At one point, we came to a downed pine tree across the road, which we cut with our bow saw and removed.

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Stopped by a downed tree

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I was glad I brought my bow saw

This road turned out to be a fun ride – but Jamie commented that it would have been a lot more fun on our dirt bikes.  The bulk of this trail is inside the national park, but there is nothing more than a sign indicating the park boundary.

Point Sublime is perhaps the best viewpoint within the park.  You have about a 270° view of the canyon, and can even see the Colorado River.

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Us at Point Sublime

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Panorama at Point Sublime

Most people that venture out to Point Sublime take the Point Sublime Road, which heads west from near the visitor’s center.  I assumed this road would be better than the Jeep road we came in on, but that was not the case.  This road was noticeably rougher, and not as enjoyable, as the other road.  We also managed to get a flat tire about 15 miles from pavement.  We had to completely unload the car to access the spare.  By the time we had the tire changed, it was time for lunch.

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Jason ready to tackle the flat tire

After lunch we continued on, moving at a slower pace so as not to get another flat.  No sooner than we started, when it started to pour.  This was the hardest rainstorm of our three-day trip.  We were sure glad we got the tire changed before the storm hit.

Our intent was to attend church at the North Rim at 1:00 PM, but because of the flat tire, we missed that.  We spent a few minutes walking out to Bright Angel Point, and then headed for home.

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View from Bright Angel Point

We really lucked out with the weather.  We got some rain, but never at inconvenient times.  The temperatures were slightly warm for mountain biking, but great for camping.  The elevation at camp was about 7700’.

The Rainbow Rim trail is really a pretty fun bike trail, and the wonder of riding along the rim of the Grand Canyon make it well worth the drive.

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Split Mountain – July 2017

July 26-28, 2017

This is part two of our trip report.  For part one, see “Flaming Gorge Trip Report.”

We moved from the Lodgepole campground (~8000’) to Green River campground at only 4750’ elevation.  The storm had passed, so we moved from cool mountain air to hot, dry air in a campground with little shade.  I was surprised how crowded the campground was.  Why were there so many people in this hot, desolate place?

We were here, mainly, to run the river through Split Mountain.  I had a permit for Thursday, and Isaac had a permit for Friday.  I suppose most of the other people were there to visit the Dinosaur Quarry.

We arrived at our campsite Wednesday evening at about 9:00 PM.  We quickly got dinner cooking and tents set up.  Eating in the dark was a little annoying because of all of the moths flying in our face.  But at least we didn’t have many mosquitoes.

The next morning, a few stayed at camp with the kids, while the rest of us headed out on the 50-minute drive to the put-in Rainbow Park.  Hannah brought her IK, so we now had two IKs and my raft.

Since the river is inside Dinosaur National Monument, we needed a permit and we had to meet all of their guidelines.  For a day trip, the guidelines seem excessive to me.  They recommend a portable toilet, and require an extra life jacket and paddle/oar for every boat.  We also had to have a major first aid kit, Z-drag rescue rope and pulleys, etc.

There are four named rapids on this stretch of the Green River; Moonshine, SOB, Schoolboy, and Inglesby.  But there are also several unnamed rapids that have some fun waves.

Just as we were about to launch, a group coming through Island Park from Lodore Canyon was about to catch us.  We paddled on to have a little space between groups.

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The entrance to Split Mountain

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Jamie and Marcy in the IK

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Hannah and Jarem in Hannah’s IK

The river was flowing at about 3000 cfs.  Some of these rapids are really fun in higher water, and extremely rocky in lower water.  At this level, the rapids were fun, but nothing to really brag about.  There were still a lot of rocks, so you had to pay attention all the time.

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One of the rapids

We had an ambush waiting for us at the take-out.

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Ambush

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Luke loved playing in the water

Isaac and all of the kids were waiting with buckets and squirt guns.  It felt good to get cooled off by the water since the rapids failed to get us very wet.

The Split Mountain take-out is only about two miles upriver from our camp, so Isaac and Tressa decided to give the kids a ride in the IKs down to camp.  We later learned that you really need a “play” permit to do this – since it is still inside the park boundaries.

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Tressa, Afton, and Heber

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Isaac, Aspen, and Sophie

After lunch, we went to visit the dinosaur quarry and visitor’s center.

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Marcy’s family at the visitor’s center

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The quarry

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The kids all got sworn in as junior rangers

We returned to camp for dinner, and then went on an evening hike near Josie Morris’ cabin.

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The kids loved doing the dishes

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Josie Morris’ cabin

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Luke had a great time

The hike goes up a short box canyon and offers lots of shade.  It is a great family hike.

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Hannah, Jamie, and Karla

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Sophie

After breakfast the next morning, we got to celebrate Sophie’s birthday.

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Sophie opening presents

The adults that watched the kids yesterday got their turn on the river today.  I turned my raft over to Barry so I could ride in the IK with Jamie.  It was a fun ride.

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Jamie and I hitting a wave

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Jamie got plastered

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A quick stop at the hot spring

For our first run, we never saw a ranger, so we just dropped our permit in the drop box.  For day two, we had two rangers at the put-in, who verified that we had all of the required safety gear.  And then another ranger at the take-out, making sure we didn’t hog too much space on the ramp.  That ranger also informed us we couldn’t float the kids down to camp.

So, we quickly dried off the boats, packed up, and returned to camp for lunch.  We then started for home.  We stopped for dinner at Granny’s in Heber.  They always have great milk shakes.

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Flaming Gorge – Red Canyon – July 2017

July 24-26, 2017

Marcy and Isaac planned an extended family vacation to the Flaming Gorge Dam area.  The plan was to camp for two nights near Flaming Gorge, then two nights near the Dinosaur Quarry by Jensen, Utah.  We also planned on floating the river.  This trip report covers just the first half of the week, around Flaming Gorge.

The only ones that could go for the entire trip included Marcy’s family, her in-laws (Barry & Karla), and my wife (Kim) and I.  Barry and Karla rode with us to save on gas costs.

We left home Monday morning, July 24.  We stopped for a lunch break at the Fort Bridger Historic Site.  We spent a few hours there looking at the old buildings and farming equipment.  It kind of reminded us of the Lloyd farm in Star Valley, WY.

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Fort Bridger group photo

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One of many exhibits

As we got closer to Flaming Gorge, it was obvious that it had recently rained.  On past trips, we have suffered from the heat and lack of shade, so this time we got campground reservations at the highest elevation campground – Lodgepole.  I think the campground is at around 8000’ elevation.  It is a pretty nice campground with flush toilets, but it is adjacent to the highway so there was a lot of traffic noise.

We set up camp and ate dinner.  The kids enjoyed playing on the trailer ramp and with our fox tail ball toss.  We feared rain, so we set up my rain fly – and it was a good thing we did.

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Camping in the rain

During the night, it got fairly windy for a while, and then the rain came.  It didn’t rain too hard, but it rained steadily through the night and much of the next day.

Our original plan was to run the Green River from the dam down to Little Hole, but with the rain, we decided to postpone for one day, and instead, go take a tour of the dam.

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Flaming Gorge Dam is full

The tour was interesting, but our tour guide got some of her facts mixed up.  The kids enjoyed feeding the fish at the bottom of the dam.

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Marcy’s family near the fish food dispensers

On the way back up the elevator, our tour guide asked if there were any more questions.  Luke, in his cute little voice, said; “no”.  He says no to everything.  I am not sure if the guide knew who said it or not, but it was pretty funny.

We then drove out to Red Canyon Overlook and took a short hike.  Sophie had fun collecting pine cones, and we studied some of the different types of trees.

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Sophie collecting pine cones

The rain let up a bit, so we ate lunch West Greens Lake.

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Lunch by the lake

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The lake

We returned to camp for a fabulous Dutch Oven dinner.  We also inflated the raft and inflatable kayak, getting ready for the next day.

On Wednesday morning we broke camp, loaded the raft on top of the gear in the trailer, and headed to the put-in below the dam.

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The put-in as seen from the top of the dam

We thought the storm would move out by early morning, but it was still drizzling rain while we rigged the boat and waited for Kim and Isaac to drive shuttle.

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Grandma “Sugar” and Luke

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Crowds at the put-in

Barry and Karla put on their wet-suits and took first turn in the inflatable kayak.  Everyone else sought shelter under my raft umbrellas.

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Shelter from the rain

Aspen wasn’t so sure about this whole thing, so she snuggled inside a towel to keep warm.  Sophie seemed quite content wrapped in her dad’s raincoat.  She played in the water and climbed on the raft while waiting to launch, and then had fun looking for fish in the river as we floated down.

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Sophie looking for fish

It didn’t take long before Sophie wanted a turn at rowing the raft.  She picked it up pretty quickly.  And so, a fourth-generation river rat is born.

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Fourth generation river rat

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Entering one of the small rapids

After stopping for lunch, Aspen started to perk up.  She enjoyed playing on the beach, and it was getting warmer.

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Aspen and Kim

Isaac and Sophie traded Barry and Karla for the inflatable kayak (IK).  Sophie loved it!  She was laughing and giggling and had a great time.  During the calmer water in the last few miles, Aspen even wanted a ride in the IK.  The weather continued to improve, which brightened everyone’s spirit.

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Isaac, Aspen, and Sophie in the IK

The river was running at about 2400 cfs, so the rapids weren’t too bad.  It took us about 2 hours to float.  During typical late summer flows, it could take around 5 hours if there is any wind.

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Little Hole

After arriving at Little Hole, we quickly drove shuttle to get the other vehicle.  Isaac drove back to the Visitor’s Center to find Jarem and his family while I headed back to pick up the raft.

It was late afternoon when Jarem’s family started their run down the river.  Once they were done, we loaded up and headed to our new camp at Green River Campground near the Dinosaur Quarry.  Jamie and Hannah were already there, and were anxious for us to bring their dinner.  We had a very late dinner that night, eating in the dark.

This story continues in the “Split Mountain Trip Report.”

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Desolation Canyon – July 2017

July 12-17, 2017

The upper Green River Basin had a huge snow-pack this year.  Some reports indicate about 250% of normal.  That means two things for Desolation Canyon; high water, and lots of mosquitoes!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to enjoy the high water.  One week before we launched, the Flaming Gorge Operations Group began reducing the outflow from Flaming Gorge Dam.  They had been releasing 8600 cfs all spring, but started reducing the flow on July 5.  They dropped it about 1000 cfs per day, until they reached their final summer flow of 2400 cfs on July 11th – one day before our launch.  It takes about two days for the change in flow to reach the put-in at Sand Wash, so that meant we basically had a fairly low water trip ahead of us.  We estimated the flow at Sand Wash to be around 3600 cfs during our trip.  That actually isn’t all that low – we have experienced much lower.  But it isn’t high either.

Fortunately, the mosquitos pretty much died out during that week of dropping water level.  Spring reports indicated a very thick mosquito population, so we went prepared.  We pre-treated out clothing and bought new bottles of DEET and restocked our Thermacell supplies.  We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the put-in with hardly a mosquito to be found.

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Group photo at the put-in

We arrived at the put-in at about 11:00 AM and began rigging our boats.  We had four rafts and one inflatable kayak.  We took a break for lunch, finished rigging, and had our check-in with the ranger for a launch at about 2:00 PM.  Even though we have been through this routine many times, it usually takes about 3 hours to rig the boats.

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Barry & Karla enjoying their lunch break in the shade

Luckily, we also had very light winds.  Thus, we were able to make good progress and made it about 15 miles downstream before camping at Lower Gold Hole.  This camp wasn’t great, but it was better than any of the other camps we have stayed at farther upstream.  We had some mosquitoes during the evening, but it was pretty tolerable.

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Lower Gold Hole

There had been a lot of bear sightings this year as well, so we took extra precautions at each camp to keep our food and garbage away from our tents.  Barry would wipe down the kitchen each evening with ammonia and leave out a small dish full to hopefully keep the bears away.  I think some in our group spotted four bears during our six days on the river.

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A bear directly across the river from our camp

Malayna is a former river guide, so she showed us several interesting side stops along the way.  Our first excursion was up Firewater Canyon to a secluded shelter where someone used to make moonshine.

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Hiking up Firewater Canyon

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The old home

After the hike, we stopped just downstream at Cedar Ridge Camp #1.  This was a pretty nice camp.  But since it was my families turn to cook dinner, as usual, a storm moved in.  It rained hard enough that we set up my rain fly.  The fly was just large enough to cover the 11 of us plus our cook stove.  I was sure glad I bought that new rain fly last year.  It has earned its keep this year on various outings.

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Shelter from the rain

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Rain

On day three we stopped to visit the incredible Flat Canyon Petroglyphs.

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Aliens and petroglyphs

We also made our usual stop at Rock Creek for a dip in the cold, clear water of the side stream.

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That water drops your core temperature real fast

I submerged my new GoPro Hero 5 to see how well it would record under water, only to learn that I had a faulty lens seal, so I got water in the lens.  I dried out the camera as best I could, but the water ruined my footage of the biggest rapid on the trip – Joe Hutch Canyon.  (I now have a new replacement camera from GoPro).

Our next camp was at Three Canyon, which is an excellent beach camp with plenty of space for tents and games.  This is where the gale force winds hit us last time I was in Desolation Canyon.

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Three Canyon camp

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Spike ball

We stopped near the mouth of Chandler Canyon to look for the inscription of Denis Julien, an American fur trapper back in the late 1830s.  We never did find the inscription, but after getting home I found this description on Wikipedia; “There is also an undated “DJ” inscription at the mouth of Chandler Creek in Desolation Canyon on the Upper Green River. It is located on a large boulder to the left of the road as the road comes out on to the bottom of the canyon.”

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Us not finding the inscription

On day four we hit Joe Hutch Canyon Rapid.  It doesn’t have nearly the punch that it did when first formed, but it still offers a pretty good ride with a decent sized hole right in the center of the run.  Jamie rowed our boat safely to the right side, while Kevin and Jason, in the larger boat, hit the hole straight on and got a great ride.

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Barry approaching Joe Hutch Canyon Rapid

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Malayna reverse rowing past the hole

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Kevin hits the hole dead on

We stopped after Joe Hutch Canyon to take photos and take a break.  Jason had gotten sick earlier in the morning.  I suspect he was dehydrated.  Barry gave him some anti-nausea medicine, and I let him take a 20-minute nap while everyone else went down to check out the old McPherson Ranch.

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Homesteaders looking right at home

Our next camp was Wire Fence #1.  This was another great camp, and once again we got hit with a short storm.  This one had some strong winds for a while, but luckily died down before – you guessed it – it was our families turn to cook dinner.  This camp also had a few great hammock trees.

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Five hammocks

Wire Fence is a very picturesque rapid, but the waves weren’t all that large at this flow.  But Three Fords had some great waves which got everyone wet.

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Kevin’s boat gets plastered

In the past, Jamie usually rode in one of the inflatable kayaks, but she has been wanting to gain more experience rowing the raft.  She did a great job in Joe Hutch Canyon, and would have had a perfect run through Coal Creek Rapid if she didn’t get some bad advice from me.  She ended up skimming the edge of one submerged rock, but otherwise had a clean run.

Our final camp was at School Section Canyon.  We were pretty nervous staying here because there was a bear encounter at this camp just a few weeks earlier.

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Our kitchen at School Section camp

Supposedly the aggressive bear had been shot by the rangers, and we couldn’t find any fresh bear scat around camp.  We did find a lot of old bear scat, full of berries from all of the berry bushes around camp.  We wanted to stay here because of the interesting hike up the narrow canyon.

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Heading up the canyon

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School photo in School Section Canyon

After running Rattlesnake Rapid and Nefertiti Rapid, we stopped to visit the petroglyphs near the mouth of the Price River.

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Queen Nefertiti Rock

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Price River petroglyphs

I decided to take a turn in the inflatable kayak with Jamie.  It has been years since I paddled a kayak of any kind, but it was really fun.  We even tried a little surfing in one of the smaller rapids.

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A little (very little) surfing action

Sand Knolls has one of the best waves on the river, so we were sure to hit that head on.  After running that rapid, we gave the inflatable kayak back to Hannah and finished out the trip in our raft.

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Barry hitting the wave at Sand Knolls

We were surprised to find the take-out boat ramp completely deserted.  Usually there is quite a crowd and it is a challenge to keep track of all the gear and adequately clean and dry the boats.  But we were also surprised to find that my car and Wade’s truck were not at the take-out.  One of the shuttle drivers was sitting in the shade of the cottonwood tree, and he informed us that only the lead vehicle (Barry’s SUV) would be at the main parking.  The other vehicles were up the road at the Swasey parking area.

We got the boats cleaned and rolled up, the trailer loaded, and enjoyed lunch in about two hours.  I think the temperature was about 102°, so were glad to get the car air conditioner going full blast.  We stopped at the Balanced Rock Eatery in Helper for dinner. They have a good selection of sandwiches to choose from.  It was much better than the fast food joints we normally stop at.

All in all, it was a pretty good trip.  The rapids weren’t as fun as at high water, but we had pretty decent weather, not too many bugs, explored some new-to-me points of interest, and had great camps, great food, and great company.

Here are some more of my favorite photos from the trip (thanks to Hannah and Jamie for sharing their photos with me):

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Carrying our small raft to the river

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Enjoying the lack of wind as we work our way through the flat water

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With no rapids, Mike and Wade make their own entertainment

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Kevin at the oars

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Jason and JW in the IK

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Dee enjoying the shade of the umbrella

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Storm clouds building

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Breaking camp in the morning

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Wade, Mike, and Malayna

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Barry and Karla in the IK

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Jamie scouting the next rapid

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No, we are not tired

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Karla helping JW set up the tent while Jason naps in his hammock

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Barry cooling off while Karla handles the oars

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Dee & Jamie in the IK

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Jamie really likes her river hat

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JW’s first river trip

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Photogenic Barry

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Mike was always enthusiastic

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Malayna

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Hannah being chill

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Jamie and Jason solving the world’s problems

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Old man river

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Hannah…

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Kevin

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Umbrellas

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A rare photo of Karla not smiling

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The “key” to the toilet (“hooter”)

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Looking south from Wire Fence camp

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Nap time

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Kevin and Jamie cooking dinner

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I have no idea

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School Section Canyon hike

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Wade riding an old tire through Sand Knolls Rapid

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Jamie and Hannah reunited in the IK

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Family tradition photo with Gunnison Butte in the background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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