Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Road Canyon South Rim

The south rim of upper Road Canyon can be accessed along the Cigarette Springs Road. This bumpy road is one of the east turnoff, about 10 miles south of the Kane Gulch Ranger Station along Utah Route 261 in the Cedar Mesa area of southeast Utah.

About 6 miles east there is a north turnoff that leads about 0.8 miles to the Road Canyon south rim. At the rim there is a route that descends into the canyon and a trail both east and west along the rim. I followed the rim trail east. Road Canyon is deep and layered as it meanders toward the east. With binoculars, there may be small Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites visible across the canyon.

The trail is easy to follow along the dirt segments and has rock cairns marking the way on the bare sandstone segments. After about 2 miles, there is a peninsula extending out into the twisting canyon. Just before the peninsula, there is a rocky outcrop with several large potholes that were holding pools of water.

The trail descends, with some rock scrambling, about 30 feet on the west side to a ledge and then crosses above the neck of the peninsula. There is more scrambling with a looping descent down the sloping sandstone before reaching the level of the narrow neck that leads to the large outcrop at the tip. This segment is somewhat exposed but is marked with cairns.

On the south side of the large boulder formation at several well preserved rooms. Sometimes these large boulder based sites have rooms on the boulder top, but there is no sign of that here. I didn’t see any kivas or rubble pile structures in the level area below these rooms. This doesn’t appear to be a village. Not very many people could live here and it looks like there isn’t much winter shelter.

These rooms don’t have a view toward the approach along the peninsula. One room has a good view down the canyon. 

Sleeping Ute Mountain, Mesa Verde, and the LaPlata Mountains are visible in the far distance, about 100 miles away.

One of the rooms has what appears to be a small window. Many of these structures have small openings in addition to the doorways, but an intermediate size opening like this seems unusual. There was a small display of artifacts here.
There are two low walls along the walkway out to the rocky peninsula. If these were for defense, they don’t seem to be much of a barrier compared to the rocky ledges that come before. My total hike took 4:00 hours on a 64 F windy mid October day. I carried and drank 3 liters of water. I saw 4 other hikers and 4 dogs during my hike.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lower Snow Flats Road and Mormon Trail

The lower end of the Snow Flats Road begins about 2 miles north of the south end of the Comb Wash Road. The south end of the Comb Wash Road is a north turn off of Highway 163 about 8 miles west of Bluff in southeast Utah.

There is a junction where the Snow Flats Road splits from the Comb Wash Road with Snow Flats branching off to the left. It is marked as County Road 237 and there are also the covered wagon symbols of the Mormon Trail. About 3 miles past this junction, there is an information kiosk.

This route has some bumpy eroded spots where it crosses the small washes. There is a sign reminding visitors that a special permit is now required to visit the Moon House ruins site. I think that from where I started hiking, it is at least 10 miles to Moon House. Hiking in this area has good views of the west side of Comb Ridge and is historic.

I started hiking at the information kiosk that is 5 miles north of the junction with Highway 163. The Snow Flats Road turns northwest and starts to climb. The vegetation close to the Comb Wash is mostly Greasewood and Three Winged Saltbush. As the road climbs, the vegetation changes to Blackbrush and Mormon Tea with Cliff Rose, Narrowleaf Yucca, Indian Rice Grass and a few Utah Junipers.

About 2 miles past the information kiosk, there is a short side road that leads to a south overlook over the lower part of Road Canyon. There was a trail leading down from the overlook and it looked like this was a route to the canyon floor.

I followed the trail down a short distance, but on this hike I wanted to explore along the road. I spent about 30 minutes looking around this rim area but didn’t notice any Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites. Continuing on, there is an entrance sign for the Road Canyon Wilderness Sturdy Area.

After 2:20 hours of hiking and about 4 miles, I stopped and climbed a low hilltop that had good 360 degree views. It looked like there is a survey monument on top of this hill. The Snow Flats Road continues across a level area for about 1.5 miles before reaching the distant cliffs. The road on the section I hiked was in good condition.

The return hike shows the views of the massive barrier that the Mormon pioneers faced as they descended off of Cedar Mesa. In 1879-1880, 200 people with 83 wagons, several hundred horses and 1000 cattle descended this way. There aren’t any interpretive signs along this section of trail. On the rough road that continues south of Highway 163 there are several signs pointing out the places where the pioneers were eventually able to cross Comb Ridge. In Bluff, the Fort Bluff site has been developed into an interesting historical site.

When viewing Comb Ridge from the east side, the pinkish Navajo Sandstone is mostly visible. From the west side, this appears to be the cliffs of the Wingate Sandstone sitting on the shales and mudstones of the Chinle layer. The ledgy Kayenta layer above the Wingate seems to be present most of the way with a few glimpses of the Navajo sandstone. This section of Comb Ridge just east of the Snow Flats Road, where the Navajo sandstone is visible, is the area where the Procession Panel is located.

My total hike took 4:00 hours for 8 or 9 miles. I carried and drank 3 liters of water on a 65 F degree mid October day. I didn’t see any vehicles on the Snow Flats road during my hike. There was one vehicle that appeared to be camping.

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