As you might guess by the title, this is the day we got a lot done.
We woke up in the usual way of sun blasting into the tents/car way too early for comfort but in a way, you can’t really complain about. Today’s agenda was, like yesterday’s, a little fluid – the plan was arch canyon, a tight, deep canyon following a river to a campsite and arch at the top. It had a road, but we didn’t know what to expect, though we didn’t expect it would take more than a few hours since it was only 6 miles long.
We thought we would explore the mesa a little, assuming we had plenty of time. there was a trail that went up around a round and joined up with where we wanted to be that diverted through a place called no man’s island. As we started down the trail it started becoming obvious that this trail was meant for smaller vehicles. We turned around and had our assumptions confirmed by someone I considered a reliable source, at least visually. A man on his 4-wheeler with jeans, a flannel shirt and a wide brim hat. Since this was grazing country, I could only surmise this person wasn’t out for a pleasure cruise. He told us the road narrows substantially up ahead and that it was a tight fit for him on his 4-wheeler and that the tracks we were following were indeed his. He did point us however to the exit of this road saying it was better for width and lots of fun. So off we went.
If this was the better road then the other road must have really been tight. A little poking and prodding reveals it does indeed go through. It’s fun to be in low range as we didn’t actually get much call for it on this trip owing to the fantastic quality of the graded roads in the area. I never needed lockers but I know Wade and Tom got to exercise their traction control systems.
I find out later that the roads are in great shape because the storms that hammered the state the weeks prior had washed away many of them and they had most likely been recently regraded. All I can say is that the graded roads were in way better shape than some of the paved roads we drove.
We stop for lunch at the top and on the other side of comb ridge after a short blast on the highway and then head out for arch canyon. It’s not easy to find as the trail is literally the creek but after some confused wandering, we get into it, then it suddenly appears to stop at a dead end.
After a walk around we realize this is actually the trail. We go for it.
Wade REALLY goes for it. Knowing the road meets up at the creek again he takes the direct route without checking the water first…its deep. I walk it later and it’s at least waist deep. I realize that people do deep crossings than this but bear in mind we are all desert boys and water is pretty rare for us generally. More importantly when you aren’t expecting it, having your truck dive into 3 feet of water to the point where the inside of his bed was wet is an…unsettling feeling.
No harm done other than an elevated heart rate we press on. We cross the creek a few more times and then come to a deep washout that would require trail building and luck to cross, and knowing this was an out and back, cross again. We consult the map and realize that we’re only half a mile in and that the trail will do this crisscross at least 2 dozen more times and realize that the trail is likely beyond our reach this time of year.
We park the trucks and continue on foot for another half mile or so until we get to a deep part of the creek. The temptation is too great for me and I have a sit and a quick backcountry bath in the freezing water. Feels great. The nice thing about the desert is that the air is so dry that you rarely need a towel as the walk back to the trucks leaves me almost entirely dried out and ready. Heading back across the creeks doesn’t present too much difficulty until the last climb out of the creek that is steep and because of our decent, loose dirt.
Nate with his 35 inch duratracs makes it look easy. The 80 series is just a beast for this kind of work. Tom is next and while he has good 33 inch tires they are not nearly as well suited for mud. This coupled with his longer wheelbase and poorer breakover put him high and dry. After a few tried we whip out the trusty knockoff maxtrax and he’s up. Followed by Wade who makes it easily with the maxtrax still forming a route. Lastly, I go. I triple lock just for kicks and make it without even a wheelspin, though I can’t make the turn on account of it being a sharp right. A little throttle and the truck digs and slips right and I make it up like a champ.
Now we’ve got time and nothing to fill it, having no real plans past this canyon for the day. Consulting the map, we see an overlook for arch canyon, and we head that way. If we can’t be in the canyon, we can at least see it. We start to climb…and climb.
This road takes you to and through the bears ears, a pair of buttes that have some resemblance to the cropped ears of a bear and up into the alpine terrain of the Abajo mountains in the Bears Ears national monument.
I’ve spent some time in the monuments northern area in the Lockhart basin and beef basin area’s, but this is the first time I’ve been in the meat of the monument. I 1000% see the point of the monument. Its stunning. Canyons RICH with native American heritage, unique geology and stunning beauty. We’re a little in awe at how quickly and dramatically the scenery changes here - open desert, monoclines, folds, high alpine, sandstone canyons, natural bridges and arches...all right here. It’s like a best of Utah.
I’m starting to warm to this place a lot, despite the cool weather.
We retreat off the mountain and start looking for a place to camp, we saw some pullouts on the way up and we start hunting for good spots on our way out. We find a nice little secluded spot in the trees out of the wind. We’re still at 8000 feet so it’s going to be a nice cool night. Fine by me.
See day 1 here