Peakbagging: Wagon Road Ridge

I’ve been trying to get up to the summit of Wagon Road Ridge for a long time. After my first trip to the Bookcliffs when I became rather enchanted with their remote, rugged beauty, I knew that I’d eventually have to check their highpoint off my list (or more specifically, the Lower 48 Range5 highpoint list on Peakbagger).

9 Hole, Right Hand Tusher Canyon

I’d heard that Right Hand Tusher Canyon was a difficult drive but found that it was pretty straight forward to drive so before we knew it, we were at the “trailhead.” The trail is definitely not an official one and climbs really steeply. Fortunately, most of the steepest climb is in some sort of shade although there is a long exposed traverse around “9 Hole” before you make the final climb up onto the ridge. The views (pictured above) are pretty fantastic.

Wagon Road Ridge

I have to admit that the best views weren’t actually on the highpoint but rather just when I reached the road on the ridge. Sprocket and I persevered and hiked the rest of the way to the highpoint just because we needed to and then headed back down to meet up with Amanda.

Wagon Road Ridge

Stats:
Highpoint of the Central Roan Cliffs (aka Bookcliffs): 9,503′
Hike: 10mi RT, 1,900′ elevation gain

4×4 Roads: Right Hand Tusher Canyon

I’ve been trying to figure out how to get myself to the top of Wagon Road Ridge to claim the Bookcliff’s high point but that point is really in the middle of nowhere. I attempted to access it from the north at the beginning of May but was turned around because I was on tribal land without the appropriate permit.

FSJ on Right Hand Tusher Canyon

I’d done some research on approaching it from Green River, Utah and I was excited to try it from there since I really love exploring the Bookcliffs but there appeared to be no good trail reports on the upper part of Right Hand Tusher Canyon Road. There was one post where the drivers abandoned their attempt mid-way up the road because they figured there was nothing up higher for them and another on Peakbagger.com that claimed that the road was really terrible and required high-clearance, 4×4, and possibly a locker or traction control.

Right Hand Tusher Canyon

I finally decided to go for it (and take Amanda along with me for the adventure). Of course, a road of unknown difficulty level is the perfect place to take a vintage Jeep on it’s first off road adventure with you. 🙂

It was a long dirt road that was occasionally a little bit rough but really wasn’t that much of a challenge. I used 4-wheel drive in one place to crawl over a couple of rocks and I used low range 4-wheel drive to drive one step hill with a little bit of a loose, washed out channel. Besides those two places, the road was a really easy drive.

Right Hand Tusher Canyon

This is the hardest part of the road, the rock is loose to the right and necessitates driving fairly far towards the “edge.” I tried going up with just my hubs locked but found I needed to shift into low range to make it easier. A locker may be helpful here but is certainly not necessary.

Hardest part, Right Hand Tusher Canyon

Immediately after a rain, I wouldn’t attempt this solo or without a winch since there are a few places that look like they might turn into some slick, deep mud but overall, it was a pretty drive up into the Bookcliffs (that accesses a prominence point! more on that soon!).

Cedar Mesa: Fish and Owl Canyons

I was planning on heading to Utah’s La Sal Mountains for Memorial Day weekend but when I started chatting with a fellow teacher, I discovered that she and her husband were hoping to get out backpacking on Memorial Day so I happily changed my plans a bit and we obtained permits to hike Fish and Owl Canyons off of Cedar Mesa.

Both Meghan and I needed to be at graduation on Friday evening so we set our departure time for very early on Saturday morning. We got a little bit later start than we wanted but still had time to stop and grab breakfast at The Peace Tree in Montecello (I believe it is owned by the same people as The Peace Tree in Moab).

As we approached the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to pick up our permits, I was a little apprehensive about the whole trip. The temperatures were in the upper thirties and it was raining. At the ranger station, we learned about where the water sources were in the canyons (we’d had enough rain that there was pretty much water the entire way except from Fish Canyon about a mile from the confluence to Owl Canyon about two miles up from the confluence). We watched a quick ten minute video about protecting the water and archaeological resources on Cedar Mesa and then we were off.

 

As we unloaded from the car, it started raining and rained on us for pretty much the next couple of hours as we descended into the canyon. The rain did not dampen the spirits of any of us (dogs included) as we stretched our legs after the long ride.

Fish and Owl Canyon Trailhead

The mile and half to the edge of Fish Canyon went quickly and before we knew it, we were at the edge of the canyon. Growing up in Washington State, I hated going to the eastern part of the state because it was a boring desert. Now, I have this big place in my heart for deserts (eastern Washington included!) and the views just made my heart happy.

IMG_2719

Hiking to the entrance for Fish Canyon

Descending into Fish Canyon

Fish Canyon

Many trip reports make a big deal about “The Crack” into Fish Canyon and we made quick work of it. My friends’ pup, Wilson, wasn’t so sure about making the descent but Sprocket had quite easily demonstrated the descent into my arms technique and we all made it just fine.

The "Crack," descent into Fish Canyon

Owl canyon exit

Sprocket backpacking

Fish Canyon

I decided to take you all a rainy selfie while waiting for Meghan and Ethan:

Backpacking in the rain

Fish Canyon

Sprocket in Fish Canyon

I love wandering through canyon bottoms. The trail was fairly well cairned as it crossed back and forth across the canyon and we covered about eight miles or so from the car before we made camp. After making some meals, trying to keep the dogs out of Fish Creek (I hate wet dog in my tent!), and a little bourbon, we headed to bed. I’m glad that we were choosy about where to pitch our tents because about 1am, it absolutely poured on us!

The next day, we decided to make the push all the way out of the canyon so we tried to keep up a nice steady pace down the rest of Fish Canyon and then up Owl Canyon.

Fish Canyon

Fish Canyon

 

Rocking some serious backpacking style:

Backpacking attire Beth style

Fish Canyon

Fish Canyon

The hiking in Owl Canyon was a little bit easier than it was in Fish Canyon. (The route finding in upper Owl was a little more difficult though). The rock formations were also a little more diverse.

Friends in Owl Canyon

Beth and Sprocket at Nevills Arch

The dogs were super happy when their three miles without water ended and Owl Creek appeared.

Dogs cooling off in Owl Creek

I really enjoyed the route finding on the way out of Owl Canyon (and my curiosity about all the side canyons was totally piqued!). There were some awesome waterfalls, with actual water!, and an exciting ascent out of the canyon.

IMG_2859

Waterfall in Owl Canyon

IMG_2863

 

The pups and I paused at the top of the canyon to wait for Meghan and Ethan. The views were again, incredible.

Sprocket looking at the view

Sprocket resting on backpack

We’d had a great time in the canyons. There’d been some rain, some fun hiking, beautiful canyons and really good company. Since we’d put in 10 solid miles that day, we decided to head for home to sleep in our own beds. We stopped on the way home at Stateline Bar and Grill near Dove Creek, Colorado for some very needed burgers.

Cows on Cedar Mesa

I think we tuckered out the dogs:

IMG_2872

Uintah Basin & Book Cliffs Exploration

I had originally planned to spend my three day weekend heading down to New Mexico and Arizona to grab a couple of county high points but when I needed to look at a Jeep in Salt Lake, plans changed. It was still quite the road trip!

Road Trip May 2015After cruising up to Salt Lake, I had my steering debacle that I handled all #damselNOTindistress style and took the chance to visit with a couple of friends before leaving town. (Thank you to both Josh and Jenn for lending me places to crash for a night!)

I thought about hiking Murdock Mountain and hitting a certain point on its western slope that just happens to be the Wasatch County High Point. I’d packed my snowshoes and it sounded like just the adventure that Sprocket and I needed. Although I looked into snowpack issues, I didn’t think to check for road closures. As I was pulling out of Kamas, I saw a sign that said “Road Closed 14 miles ahead.” My hike was supposed to start 25 miles ahead. I quickly checked the Utah DOT site and found that, yes, the road was in fact closed.

Quickly thinking of another goal, I decided to attempt to reach another point that has been bugging me: Wagon Road Ridge. Wagon Road Ridge is the high point of the central Book Cliffs area and the Grand County Prominence Point. Plus, I thought it would be cool to check out the Unita Basin. Since I was already further north of where I usually hang out I decided to come at the point from the north.

UnitaBasin
Map by Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust

Beth driving FSJ

After gassing up in Roosevelt, I cruised along Seep Ridge Road which is super well maintained (paved!) by Uintah County for extractive industry purposes. It was a super lonely drive of just the kind that I like. Exploring little known corners of the US is one of my favorite things to do.

Oil rigs, Seep Ridge Road, Unitah Basin

Eventually, we turned on to Buck Canyon Road and started navigating up towards Wagon Road Ridge. The road starts off on BLM land but then crosses into an indian reservation Unfortunately, I decided to just “go for it” and didn’t get a permit for travel on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. I wasn’t going to pass through Fort Duchesne where permits were sold and it was a Saturday so I was kinda skeptical that I’d be able to get one. (It looks like they are available at a store too so… I probably could have…)

Map by Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust via Unita Basin: An Unconventional Future

That $10 fishing permit for Weaver Reservoir would have come in really handy when I was within 15 miles of my destination and came across a Tribal police officer. (Even though with that permit I still wouldn’t technically be able to drive to Wagon Road Ridge it would have legally put me within a couple of miles.) I was sitting on the side of the road waiting for Francis to get over one of her vapor lock hiccups. He was very cool and when I assured him that I thought I was on BLM (hmm…) but that as soon as I was moving again I would turn around and head off of tribal land. Since he left me sitting there, I briefly thought about going for it anyway but when I passed him sitting along side the road about a mile after turning around I was glad I didn’t. It would have been hard to justify the time to drive 30 miles of dirt!

The red dot below was my destination but I got turned back at the point marked Black Knolls Road. It was so frustrating! (Although I deserved it…)

Wagon Road Ridge attempt

Fortunately, it wasn’t all a waste. Sprocket and I were able to retrace our steps to Seep Ridge Road and follow it to the end of the pavement then down the Book Cliffs side. The traverse to the east along the top of the Cliffs was spectacular with views in every direction.

Book Cliffs Divide

Jeep on Book Cliffs Ridge Road

Book Cliffs

Love this view of the La Sals:

La Sal Mountains from the Book Cliffs

As we started to descend, we dropped more into the classic Book Cliffs scenery:

Book Cliffs

And then, finally, we dropped into the grassy plains at the foot of the Cliffs and crossed into Colorado:

Foot of the Book Cliffs

Sprocket and I stopped for a few minutes to watch these really curious pronghorn hang out before we continued on home.

Pronghorn

In the end, it was a great weekend even though Francis had some issues (in a parking lot near an auto parts store thankfully!) and we didn’t reach any high points. I always love exploring new places and we definitely added some miles of new roads to the memory bank!

 

Winter Desert Weekend: Part 3: Honaker Trail

We woke up in our gorgeous campsite, made some coffee and breakfast in the morning chill while enjoying the view. The pups happily jumped in the car and we headed off to find the Honaker Trailhead. I’d hastily discovered the existence of this trail while en route from Paige so I hadn’t had too much time to thoroughly research it but hearing that we could hike from the canyon rim near Goosenecks State Park down to the San Juan River itself was enough for me.

Our directions to the trailhead were pretty vague and we drove past it the first time but eventually we found the 2WD parking area and walked down to the large pile of rocks marking where to descend into the canyon.

Honaker Trail

The Honaker Trail was originally built in 1893 as a supply route for gold miners exploring in the area. Along the way, numbers can be seen painted on the rock walls. These were added in the early 1950s for a geology symposium.

Honaker Trail markings

The trail is remarkably easy to hike. Although it descends about 1,200′, it takes about 2 ½ miles to reach the shores of the San Juan which makes for a pretty mellow (if exposed) hike. The whole way down I couldn’t quite believe that we were going to be able to make it all the way down to the river!

Honaker Trail

Honaker Trail

Yes, that is the trail switchbacking below my vantage point:

Honaker Trail

Honaker Trail

Finally, we found ourselves at the river. The pups immediately indulged their retriever tendencies and went for a swim in the silt-laden water.

San Juan River at the bottom of the Honaker Trail

Sprocket swimming in the San Juan River

Sprocket's sandy face

Thanks to the long rest grades, we made great time on the way out of the canyon enjoying the views the whole way.

San Juan River, Honaker Trail

IMG_0007

Honaker Trail Panorama

Honaker Trail

Geology nerd that I am, I wish I would have had this illustration of the stratigraphy of the canyon on the hike!

Photo: Daily Kos
Photo: Daily Kos

After our hike, we quickly packed up camp and hit the road. While distracted from my navigational duties by my DJ duties, I accidentally instructed Kelly to turn left onto Highway 261 (I was thinking we were at the UT 261 and US 191 junction!). I was alerted to my mistake when I heard “We’re driving up that?

Turns out that I’d directed us at the Moki Dugway instead of on our intended route. We just rolled with it and enjoyed our tour of Cedar Mesa on our way to Blanding and then home.

I had such a great weekend in the desert. Thanks to all my friends who helped make it awesome.

Winter Desert Weekend, Part 2

The next morning by the time Kelly and I got out of bed, the boys had headed out to take some sunrise photos. To stay warm in the morning chill we walked around the desert near the campground.

Whitehouse Campground

Whitehouse Campground

Whitehouse campground

Eventually we headed back to camp just as the boys were returning. They’d hiked up a trail to the “Toadstools” and insisted that we check them out as we headed out of town. We said our goodbyes since they were headed back to SLC via Zion and we were continuing the desert adventure.

I’m so glad we took their advice. It was less than a mile up to the toadstools and it’s always fun to see unique desert formations:

Toadstools, Kanab, Utah

Toadstools Trail

Toadstools Trail

Toadstools Trail

Toadstools Trail

As we approached Kayenta, we stopped at a flea market where I could not resist an Indian taco. I’d been craving one for weeks and I intended to make the most of the trip through the reservation:

Navajo Taco

From Kayenta, we cut north on US-163 through Monument Valley. We stopped to take a picture of this goat and then the following rez dog did NOT want to let us get going again.

Rez Dog

Seriously, we played the “He’s in front of the car. … He’s next to the window! Go! Go! … Oh wait, he’s in front again” game for a long time. SO MUCH LAUGHTER.

Goat

We continued north through Mexican Hat and headed on to Goosenecks State Park. We enjoyed a nice walk along the canyon rim before heading out for free camping on BLM land adjacent to the State Park. I’ve camped at the park before and it can be spectacular but I didn’t feel like paying the $10 and as it turned out we found a spot that was also super amazing as you will see.

Sprocket at Goosenecks

Goosenecks Selfie, Beth

Goosenecks State Park

Here is our campsite for the night. It wasn’t the edge of the canyon but the sunset on the mesa behind camp combined with the silhouettes of Monument Valley in the distance were really tough to beat—especially for free.

Mule Point

Mule Point

Teton Sports

Sprocket and Monument Valley

We tried to sit on the tailgate of the car with our beers but it was too cold so Kelly and I retreated to the front seats of her car to escape the cold, shared a few beers and talked for a long time about anything and everything. Finally, Sprocket and I headed to bed. I was too cozy in my TurboDown to share so I gave him my Millenium Blur. He was happier about it than he looks. I promise.

Sprocket in Millenium Flash jacket

Winter Desert Weekend, Part 1

Right after Christmas, Josh contacted me to see if I would be interested in joining Ofa, Prajit, and himself in for some slot canyon adventuring. I decided since it was such a long drive that it might be fun to invite a friend along for the ride especially since I had a long weekend and Josh and his crew had to get back to SLC on Sunday. Fortunately, Kelly decided that she and her pup Petey would join Sprocket and I on our adventure.

We pulled out of Ridgway right after school on Friday and headed out over Lizard Head Pass. Sprocket insisted we stop at the top of the pass for a quick stretch break and photo opportunity. (He actually whined all the way from the Telluride round-about to Lizard Head and just wanted to frolic in the snow.) We pushed through a long dark drive across the Navajo Reservation, experienced some desert fog, and talked about skinwalkers and eventually made camp at Whitehouse Campground between Page, Arizona and Kanab, Utah. We were both exhaused and I hardly registered it when Josh, Prajit and Ofa drove in and were setting up their tents.

Lizard Head Pass

The next morning, we made a quick run to Kanab to try for obtain day-of permits for The Wave, however, during the winter all the permits for the weekend are given away on Friday so we settled for breakfast in town before heading out to hike Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch.

Happy Dogs

It was a gorgeous winter day for hiking:

Wire Pass trailhead

After a short ramble through the wash, we dropped into Wire Pass.

Sprocket in Wire Pass

Beth and Sprocket, Wire Pass

Wire Pass

I tried to help Sprocket over the following chockstone and he basically decided to jump over my shoulder. This is my Class 3+ doggy:

Sprocket doesn't mind chockstones

Sprocket on Wire Pass Trail

Beth, Wire Pass, Utah

Wire Pass, Utah

Wire Pass

Eventually we emerged at the junction of Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass:

Buckskin Gulch

Unfortunately, there was a lot of water going both directions. Sprocket was the only one who thought continuing was a good idea. Instead, we enjoyed the views and enjoyed the majestic canyon junction before heading back out of the canyon.

Petroglyphs, Buckskin Gulch

Sandstone Art

The Wave trail, Utah

Some of Ofa and Prajit’s friends were headed to the Horseshoe of the Colorado River just south of Paige to watch sunset so Kelly and I hopped in Prajit’s car and joined them. The Horseshoe is majestic but it was so crowded (although it did inspire our trip to the Goosenecks of the San Juan on the way home).

Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River

The sunset colors were pretty sweet though:

Horseshoe Bend Sunset

Back at camp, we had a beer and then headed for our warm sleeping bags. (Well, Prajit and Josh decided to make some awesome art first.) Sprocket had spent a good chunk of Friday night shivering so I decided to cozy him up in my Turbodown. At first, he wasn’t really sure how he felt about it:

Unsure about this. Sprocket

I pulled the hood up and he suddenly understood and immediately fell asleep in his cozy coat.

Warm puppy

TurboDown Pup. #omnidog

Homeward Journey, Part 3: Bruin Point

Sprocket and I camped just down the hill from Strawberry Peak. In the morning, we meandered along Reservation Ridge Road and tried to descend a road through a canyon. Just before we reached the flats before US 6, the road was gated and locked. We turned around and headed back for Reservation Ridge Road and were treated to the happy sounds of a flock of grazing sheep.

Reservation Ridge Road

We finally left Reservation Ridge Road onto US 191 and descended towards Price, Utah. From Price, we headed for Bruin Point, another Utah 2,000′ prominence peak. The views just got better and better after we passed through Sunnydale and the road wound up to the summit at 10,184′.

Highway 191

Utah 123

Big Horn Sheep

Bruin Point Road

A pretty sweet aerial mining tram hung above the road most of the way up the mountain. I can’t find too much specific information but it looks like the mine was for natural asphalt. According to Carbon County’s US GenWeb site, the mine was established in the 1890s and closed in 1898. Between 1903 and the mid-1930s the mine operated occasionally, sometimes selling its product for 50% of its value to try and bolster the market. Today, you can still spot some tram cars on the cables as you drive up the valley.

End of Arial tram

Arial tram station

After hitting the summit of Bruin point, we headed back to the highway and turned for home.

Utah 124

Homeward Adventure, Part 2: Strawberry Peak

From Strawberry Reservoir, we headed to our next objective, Strawberry Peak. Strawberry Peak is one of Utah’s 80+ peaks with 2,000′ of prominence. Sprocket hasn’t been up for much hiking lately so we were on a Jeep based peakbagging adventure!

Strawberry Reservoir

Ashley National Forest

Sprocket and Beth

Sheep dog and puppies

Ashley National Forest

Sprocket

After quite a bit of meandering around, we approached Strawberry Peak just as the sun was turning everything gold.

Ashley National Forest sunset

Strawberry Peak

We drove right the summit of the 10,335′ peak. What amazing views all around!

Jeep on the summit of Strawberry Peak

Strawberry Peak Benchmark

Strawberry Peak views