Friday, October 31, 2008

Cathedral Arch and Angel Arch in Arch Canyon

Arch Canyon in the Cedar Mesa area of southeast Utah is named for two large arches that are about eight miles up the canyon at the end of an ATV Trail. The trail head is up a BLM dirt road, 2.5 miles north of Utah Route 95, just west of the rugged Comb Ridge.

At the end of the ATV trail the land status changes from the BLM to the Forest Service and the trail becomes a footpath. Cathedral Arch is visible at the trail head.

The forest at the upper end of Arch Canyon is dominated by Ponderosa Pines rather than the Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper forest of the lower canyon and patches of evergreen manzanita are common. The trail continues to cross and recross the creek that runs through Arch Canyon. In late October 2008, there was only a small amount of flowing water with pools forming in a few places.

There didn't appear to be an angle to get blue sky through the Cathedral Arch from the trail. It was a long hike to get up this far and a long way back, so I didn't use up my energy to get up underneath for the blue sky angle.
A few minutes more of hiking, Angel Arch comes into view. Besides the spectacular scenery and large arches, Arch Canyon has the cultural overlay of Ancestral Pueblo Ruins. There are many small sites in the canyon but they are hard to see much less get close to.

At Angel Arch, it was possible to get an angle to see blue sky, but it involves maneuvering through some brush and finding a gap in the tall pines.
It looks like one could climb up higher and get under Angel Arch but it would take more energy than I had. It took me about 4:00 hours of hiking to get to this point and I turned around here.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mule Canyon South Fork Trail

The Mule Canyon South Fork Trail visits several small Ancestral Pueblo ruins in a fairly small canyon in the Cedar Mesa area in southeast Utah. The trailhead is a short distance along a gravel road on the north side of Scenic Byway 95 just east of the roadside Mule Canyon Ruins site.

This is one of several trails in this BLM managed area that has a $2 per person day hiking permit fee. The trail head for the parallel Mule Canyon North Fork trail is another 0.5 miles along the same gravel road.

The trail follows a sandy and rocky creek bed, crossing frequently. In fall there is no flowing water, only a few pools. Deeper into the canyon, there are more cool weather Ponderosa Pines, Engelmann Spruce and Douglas Firs along with the riparian Cottonwoods and willows.

The first ruin site arrives after about one mile and 30 minutes of hiking. The small site is well known as the "house on fire" ruin due to the way light plays on the ripples of sandstone in the alcove ceiling.

 This effect seems to show up better in photos than it did actually looking at it.

Another mile or so past the "house on fire" there is another small storage looking site. I only went up far enough to get a picture. The canyon has more large sandstone cliffs through the middle part of the trail.

The small ruins sites are spaced fairly evenly. The third site that I saw is perched high on a sandstone cliff, with the trail crossing bare rock at this point.

The last two of the five sites that I saw were also small and hard to see much. They are in locations where it would be difficult to get close to them. I walked about 4.2 miles to a point where the trail seemed to fizzle out.
The last part of the trail was very green and had quite a few large evergreen trees mixed with the riparian creek side trees. I also saw quite a bit of manzanita, an evergreen shrub member of the Heath family that I haven't seen very often in this region.

I used about 2:15 to get to the end of the trail, walking slowly while scanning for the ruins sites. My total hike was 4:00 hours.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Upper Butler Wash Trail and Ballroom Cave

The Upper Butler Wash Trail is an unpublicized 1.25 mile route that visits three Ancestral Pueblo sites along a sandy creek bed. The trail begins at the well marked Butler Wash Ruins Trail that is along Scenic Byway Utah Route 95 west of Blanding in southeast Utah.

Just inside the fence at the trail head for the Butler Wash Ruins Trail, an unnoticed path takes off to the right and follows near the fence for 0.25 miles. There is a BLM sign in box and an alternate place to park near the highway sign for the better known trail.

After about 40 minutes along a somewhat overgrown path, criss crossing the creek and stepping over a lot of small fallen trees, the first of three ruins sites appears in an alcove to the left.

I climbed up the sandy hill to the right, though left might have been a better choice. The first site is known as Ballroom Cave. There is some interpretive information in an ammo box on the right side of the site. Besides the main alcove there are side caves on each side.
On the alcove walls to the right are several small petroglyphs. I suppose the one to the left is a deer with a big rack, somewhat stylized.

 Room blocks to the right have some roof beams still in place. Stepping carefully past these, there is a cave room that appears empty but I didn't go in there very far.

Above the room blocks is a good multicolored pictograph. There are more handprint pictographs along the right side wall.

On the left side there are some wall sections and another deeper cave room that looked mostly empty but I didn't go down there. The view from the site is elevated and the creek bottom below is thick with cottonwoods and brushy plants. This site seemed to have a very thick sand layer below the sandstone layer. Along the left side of the site there may be a seep spring providing water.
Within the next 500 yards there are two more sites. The second site is hard to climb up into, and I just looked from below. The third site is mostly a small storage area in a small elevated alcove with a wall fragment down below. There is not much to see except to marvel at the placement of the sites and the environment they reside in. I spent about 2:00 hours on this trail.

There are two more ruins sites along the Upper Bulter Wash Trail that aren't obvious from the trail. On the return hike look for side trails that climb abruptly, on the same side as the Ballroom site. One of the side trails leads to the interesting Target Ruins site.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Kigalia Canyon Trail

The Kigalia Canyon Trail is a 2.5 mile route in the Manti La Sal National Forest along the Elk Ridge Road near Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah. The trail head is at the Kilgalia Guard Station, marked as 026, about 10 miles along the forest road from the junction with the paved road that leads to Natural Bridges.
This trail is higher in elevation than the high desert Pinon PIne and Utah Juniper areas of most of the Cedar Mesa area and starts in a Ponderosa Pine and Aspen forest
There is a ruin along the early part of the trail, but not the type we are usually looking for in this area of numerous Ancestral Pueblo dwellings. There was also the remains of an old wagon near the cabin site.
The trail descends steadily down a small drainage. As the trail gets deeper there are more cool weather deep forest trees like Douglas Firs and Engelmann Spruce. The forest is very dense down below and there weren't any views on the part that I walked.
The day I hiked here there were quite a few deer along the trail and I also saw a group of turkeys. I only sampled the trail for 30 minutes down and back up for a total 1:00 hour hike.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bears Ears and Arch Canyon

The Bears Ears is a pair of buttes 6 miles along the Elk Ridge access road to the Manti La Sal National Forest near Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah.

The turn off is about 4 miles before the entrance to Natural Bridges and the road climbs steeply the first couple of miles. About 3 miles past the Bears Ears on the Elk Ridge road is the Arch Canyon Overlook looking to the southeast. The canyon mouth starts near the point where Scenic Route Utah 95 passes through an engineered notch is the massive Comb Ridge sandstone formation.
The canyon runs for about 10 miles from northwest to southeast. There is an Arch Canyon Trail that penetrates the canyon to Cathedral Arch and Angel Arch, but these two features are about 7 miles up the trail.

The Bears Ears aren't spectacular in themselves, but they are visible from long distances in the Four Corners area and have served as a regional navigation point. The Bears Ears are the remnants of Wingate Sandstone. This layer sits on top of the shales of the Chinle Layer and just below the thick Navajo and Entrada Sandstones that are visible near the Arches and Canyonlands National Park area.

The gravel forest road splits the Bears Ears, passing between them. It looks like there are unofficial trails going up that climbers probably use.