The Kaiparowits Plateau
May 6, 2018
Day 19 (continued)
By late morning I was headed up the Nipple Creek backroad away from the Wahweap Hoodoos trail-head. I had originally planned on going cross-country from the Wahweap Hoodoos area possibly up Ty Hatch Creek Canyon, but in an effort to make up time I opted for the longer, but easier route. The road seemed more traveled than I expected, though I didn’t see anybody the entire time I was walking. In the first mile or so the road diverted across a barren landscape of black and gray mudhills as it climbed a bypass around a rough section of the canyon.
Once around the bypass the route dropped back into the canyon and would stay there until near the top. Along the way I noticed a few bands of coal. I was also glad to see some stock “pools” put out by ranchers. I was OK on water — but still filled up just in case. Turns out I didn’t need to as Nipple Spring at the top of the canyon was flowing. It wasn’t completely protected from the cows, but it still provided good water.
From the spring I shortcut cross-country a bit to connect to another road near Nipple Butte. On this occasion the butte looked a bit like an active volcano with a happenstance cloud behind it:
I followed the backroad as it dropped down into Tibbett Canyon. I found an area with a small seep and decided to call it a night.
Woke in the morning and continued down the canyon. The wash was dry, so when I came to an outbreak of water I investigated. The ground was covered in crusty white power — a common indicator that nearby water contains magnesium sulfate or similar and is bad to drink. I filtered a small sample and tried it and sure enough — it was awful! I continued on as I had plenty of water.
A few miles farther down the canyon I came to another outbreak of water that had far less white crust around the edges. At this spot there was a large stone cairn seemingly marking a side drainage. I decided to investigate and it quickly led to a lush/mossy area. I thought for sure I was about to find a great spring, but alas… there was never any actual water in the side canyon. I returned to the road and tried another small sample of the surface water — this time it was much better than what I’d tried upcanyon, so I filled up. A little farther down the canyon I came to a big overhang with dripping walls. This was probably the best water in the area (thought still not great.)
From here I continued down the road eventually to the junction where I turned north to follow Smoky Hollow Road north along the dry Warm Creek. Headed up that canyon I took a short break in a shaded bend of the wash against a big wall of shale-like chipped rock. As I set there I noticed a near-continuous flow of mini rockfalls. One section would give way and slide down, then another. Nothing major, but it was crazy to see it in motion like this.
Around another bend and I spotted moss and grass growing under a rock wall at a bend in the river. I went to investigate and sure enough there was a small seep. I took the opportunity to fill up once again. Around the next bend there was actually an outbreak of surface water in the wash, but… there were also a bunch of cows partaking. By the looks of it — it was a common place for them to fill up!
At this spot the road (and me) left Warm Creek and diverted up Smoky Hollow — the side canyon for with the road is named. Around a bend I surprised another group of cows and then they started walking the road ahead of me. They’d run and leave me, then I’d catch up and they’d do it all again.
I eventually got around them in the upper part of the canyon. There were few old mines in the area, but I didn’t investigate. Not too much farther I decided to find camp and call it a day.
In the morning packed up and headed up the last part of road toward the top of Smoky Hollow Road. Rounding a bend I saw something I hadn’t seen in several day… a truck driving down the road! It ended up being a group from Texas in two vehicles. They stopped and we chatted a while. They ended up giving me some apples and oranges — very awesome! I had several for lunch and kept the rest for a treat later.
Soon I was at the top of the canyon. Behind me was good look back to the west with the canyon system I just walked up; a dry desolate land:
I soon came to the end of the road where it intersected Smoky Mountain Road. But, instead of making a turn in either direction — I crossed the road and kept going straight. My next goal was Needle Eye Canyon. Topo maps showed a spring in the upper end of the canyon and I hoped from there I could follow it down to connect with Last Chance Wash. As I made my way in that general direction I came upon a dilapidated corral and old road — neither marked on my map. The road there didn’t go the way I was headed so I continued NE through the junipers. As I got closer to the upper reaches of the canyon the wash began to get more pronounced and rocky. Soon I was following a rim around looking for any sign of water below — but saw none. I still wasn’t to the point marked spring on the map though. I followed the rim around a bend where I had a good look at the junction of the canyon below. Above the “spring” area now I scanned for any promising signs below. There was definitely more vegetation in one area and then… I saw two big waterwork tanks. I scrambled down form the rim and found they were indeed both piped and full! I stopped for lunch and filled up.
The BLM or Rancher who maintains the site had installed a wildlife camera adjacent to the tanks. I made a few faces at it while I filled up — so they are in for a surprise when they check that footage! 🙂
With a full tummy and jugs I headed down the canyon having absolutely zero idea what awaited me. I love exploring little bits of the unknown on my hikes. I always have a back-up plan if an area turns out to be impassable, but here that would require a long walk back and around so I was really hoping I’d be able to get down this direction.
The first mile or so was pretty easy along a sandy canyon bottom. Soon it got a bit more rocky as the canyon started to drop. Then, I could see the canyon dropping more rapidly. It was again through a “chunky” layer of rock so I felt confident that I’d be able to get down — it just required some work. I ended up walking down the canyon slopes as it was easier than the boulder-choked wash itself.
Soon I was down past the worst of it. And, not long after that I was at the junction of Last Chance Wash. It was a relief to be back to someplace I was familiar. It was also a relief to see running water. I expected that, but at times Last Chance runs dry and this was an extremely dry year, so I was happy to see water.
Headed down Last Chance was much faster walking. Soon I was back to a place I’d remembered from one of my previous trips — the “Crumbling Wall of Color”. Just a big wall at a bend in the creek that consists of really colorful rock which seems to be in a constant state of active erosion.
Just around the next bend was another memorable rock — a huge boulder that sat on a bank beside the wash resembling a bird (even even the state of Missouri). Again — my imagination tends to run wild while out on hikes!
Around another bend and I took a break in the shade by a cottonwood tree and contemplated my next move. I had originally considered following Last Chance Wash all the way down to Sit Down Bench area before going up Croton Canyon. But, I wasn’t too excited about that route as I know the lower section is fairly wide open and exposed and evidently not that scenic. I like doing new stuff, but I was leaning toward following a route that I’d done before instead — basically the Hayduke as it follows Reese Canyon up and then connects to Navajo Canyon back down. If I opted to go this direction, there was a “shortcut” that I could take up and over the saddle which connects to Reese Canyon from my current location. Looking up at it… it looked like quite the climb in the afternoon sun, but it would save about 4 miles of walking. There’s no trail, I’d just have to scramble up to the low point on the ridge ahead of me:
I changed my mind about a half dozen times as I sat there, but… in the end I opted to take the shortcut up and over the saddle to get to get to the route I’d taken before.
Climbing up was pretty tough as it was really steep. Not “fall-to-your-death” steep, but instead just a continuous grind of leaning in to keep balance while stepping up and up keeping an eye on each foothold to make sure it was secure. All while in the late-day sun and not many options for taking a break. I stopped a few times to squat behind small boulders, but it was so uncomfortable that I didn’t break for long. All-in-all is was about 750′ in elevation gain and I did it in about 30 minutes. Looking back to the cottonwoods where I’d contemplated my plan:
Once in the saddle I had a good look of where I was headed… and the equally steep descent that awaited me to get down into Reese Canyon. I picked the path of least resistance and made my way down. The lower third was probably the steepest section, but (obviously) going down took much less effort:
Near the bottom I found myself ledged out. Not a problem though — I just followed the ledge in the direction upcanyon that I was headed and soon I was able to drop down to the canyon floor. I dropped in right near a “bubble seep” that I’d remembered from last time I went through this canyon. I was happy to see it was still bubbling up from the ground. There was a larger seep just a short distance ahead where there route leaves Reese Canyon and climbs to the east so I didn’t bother filling up. But… when when I got to that later seep I was surprised to find it completely dry. I was about to set off into a really dry section, so I decided to go back to the bubble seep and fill up.
Back at the bubble seep I quickly confirmed what I already knew — it was going to be a tedious process to get an ample amount of water here. Not only was the seep slow, but it poured out without any type of pool before soaking into the gravel. So… I decided to camp nearby for the evening and make a catchment system out of my rain gear to snag a larger amount of water at once. Within an hour it had already captured a fair amount of water and then I re-enforced it and let it go over night.
Woke up and found my catchment system was full to the brim. From there I transferred to my gravity water. Unfortunately once filtered I realized this wasn’t a great water source. Even after filtering the water still had a semi-putrid taste — possibly alkaline or containing magnesium sulfate. I still had other water for drinking and I’d keep this new stuff for cooking and/or backup.
Setting out I headed back up Reese to the exit point and then trudged up the hills to the east. I followed the official Hayduke this time — as last time through the area I swung a bit farther north to follow a high ridge. That route was slightly more scenic, but probably not worth the extra effort. I left the Hayduke however as I neared the top ridge once again to follow an old road instead of the more tedious official route along the bottom of the wash. Looking back it was evident I was really out in the middle of nowhere!
Once up on top of the plateau the route connected briefly with the Croton Backcountry Road. I followed this for about 1/4 mile south before heading east again on another old unofficial road toward Surprise Valley. Once down in the wash the route cut through a rock layer with some interesting overhangs which make for a good place to a break:
Just downcanyon from this spot one meets up with Navajo Canyon. Just a few hundred yards south of this section is a brushy area where last time I hiked through her I found a small seep tucked up again the wall which I’d never read any mention of so I dubbed it “Surprise Seep”. I investigated the area and was happy to find it following once again. It’s a small seep, but I was able to pull about 1 Liter from it in a short time. Once filtered it tasted good as well — so I was happy to have more good drinking water.
Headed down Navajo there are several signs of old waterworks in the wash — some seemingly in their original place and others obviously washed down from floods. It all seems to indicate that maybe there used to be more water in this area, but for now it’s a pretty dry canyon.
Soon I came to the drop in Navajo Canyon where the canyon transforms into a section of narrows. This didn’t surprise me like it did the last time, so I made quick work of the short climb down to the lower part of the canyon. The next stretch is arguably best part of the canyon.
I was surprised however when I got to where the route used to pass under a huge chockstone boulder and now found that the wash had completely scoured out the ground underneath leaving an approximate 12′ drop! It looked like it might be possible to climb down, but instead I found a relatively easy way to climb up OVER the boulder and then down the other side and back into the wash. I lowered my pack with a rope here just to make it easier. Looking at the obstacle from once I’d made it downcanyon:
For fun.. here’s a look at the same spot from a previous trip. This is a shot from my 2015 video when I was able to simply walk right under the big chockstone. Serves as a great reminder how canyons are always changing!
Continuing down Navajo Canyon stays narrow for maybe a mile or so. There were some minor boulders to hop, but no more major surprises.
Once the narrows end, the next section of Navajo Canyon is quite tedious. As the canyon opens up and descends into black/gray badlands, one must climb down through multiple gullies of boulders. It’s a bit of a workout and I’ve read that some shorter hikers struggle in this area going up, but going down it’s not too bad — just tedious.
Once past the boulders it’s a a much flatter walk through the strange geology. This time is was still not an easy walk though as there was a plethora of tumbleweeds filling the canyon bottom. Dry brittle tumbleweeds like nothing more than to fill ones socks with sticky cling-ons which can be very frustrating.
Soon the canyon widened up and I was able to make better time. Along the way I came across a small outbreak of water, but a quick sample proved that it tasted terrible. I expected this again based on white crusty surroundings.
I kept hiking late into the evening enjoying a really awesome sundown and happy to be free from the difficulties that slowed me in the earlier part of the day.
My peace and happiness was shattered however when I started a rattlesnake in the wash. I say I started him, but it was really me that was likely startled the most! He rattled like crazy and coiled up even though I was still at a safe distance. From that point on I slowed my pace and tried to keep a closer eye, but soon it was too dark for that so I made camp just short of reaching the bottom of Navajo Canyon.
Woke in the morning to find dozens of ants had gotten into my water which I’d left out to filter over night. I’d lost my filter’s cap on day 3 of my trip — so I had been improvising. I ended up wasting about 1 liter of water which really bummed me out.
Off and hiking I was soon at Rogers Canyon just up from the junction with Navajo. (The two canyons come together to form Croton Canyon.) I’d contemplated taking one of two new-to-me routes from this point. Last time I was here I wasn’t a big fan of my route up Rogers and Monday Canyon. So instead I’d considered going SW to the Grand Bench Jeep Road and then up to connect to a Kelsey route to the top of Fiftymile Mountain. My other idea was to do an exploratory route up Sunday Canyon Ridge. But… in the end I decided there were just too many unknowns with either of those routes. I was low on water and that’s not a good time to head out into the unknown in a predominately dry region like this. The old adage seemed to apply — the devil you know, is better than the one you don’t. So… reluctantly I headed up Rogers.
Not too far up Rogers I arrived at the section with water. Unfortunately the water here is really bad. There are lots of cows in the area and they tend to get most of the blame, but they aren’t (fully) at fault here. There’s a brown algae that grows giving much of the stagnant water a putrid look. This is a decent looking section:
But, even farther up where the water runs fairly clear — it’s not potable as it contains so much magnesium sulfate. I was running somewhat low on water so I filtered some just to try it out. As thirsty as I was, I couldn’t drink it. My throat would instinctively close as I swallowed and I would immediately gag. It was really awful.
By about noon I’d only gone about 4-5 miles as I was really dragging. The day before had been a long/hard day and I was feeling pretty beat. It was turning out to be a rather warm day and to be around so much undrinkable water having to ration my small supply was frustrating. I took a break in the shade of a big boulder and tried to take a nap. It wasn’t very pleasant though as I couldn’t really rest with the warm air blowing. Just as I’d begin to nod off I’d get jarred awake in a panic. In my half-asleep dream-like state I had visions of being lost out there; and seeing myself shrivel up in the sun. It was really strange and unlike anything from previous hikes. I wondered if I was getting dehydrated so I drank more of my water reserve, but it didn’t bring much relief. I’d had a long break by this time, but really still felt tired and defeated. But, I knew I had to push on so I got up and did just that.
I hadn’t gone far at all and still felt lousy. But, then I had an idea. I couldn’t drink this water, but… what if I got IN the water. I found a decent-sized pool and did just that:
It was was such a great feeling. It was so cool and relaxing. I enjoyed it for while before getting out and setting off again; rejuvenated and feeling so much better! Later in the day I realized my legs and lower body were entirely covered in a white power (see galley). It was the dried magnesium sulfate which taints the water.
Soon I was to the junction of Monday Canyon which I would follow up to Fiftymile Mountain. The first part is relatively easy followed by a tedious section of boulders. This tough section really zapped my energy once again. Once past that it was quick walking again along another “easy street” section.
It was getting late in the day by the time I reached the next difficult section of the canyon — a series of dryfalls in the mid-section of the canyon. Last time I learned that it was best to climb the cliffs to the east to bypass the difficult main course. But, I was hoping that I might find some water near the drfalls so I opted for the harder route instead. Nearly dark by the time I got near the first big dryfall I decided to set up camp. Then, I scouted underneath the dryfall for water, but found none. 🙁 I knew it was more likely that I’d find water on top of the dryfall, but it was dark by this point and footing was a bit treacherous, so I decided to wait until morning to explore more. I had a terrible “dry” dinner trying to save as much water as possible in case I didn’t find any in the morning. I knew the next possibility was a ways off.
Woke to a windy, but sunny day. Got up and eagerly made the climb up to the top of the dryfall. I was ecstatic to see several large tanks of water!
Even though I’d just started for the day, I took a break right there to grab and filter as much water as possible. Trying the initial sample yielded the best-tasting water I’d had in days. I probably drank over a liter on the spot and then filled every jug to capacity (approx. 7 liters total.)
Continuing up canyon there was one more rough section before the canyon widened and I was on “upper easy street” as I like to call it. The wind was blowing like crazy, but otherwise it was fairly fast walking.
Past the junction with West End Canyon I came to another water source — the “heart tank” or “acorn pool” (more of my made-up names!) This water tank was full back in 2015 so I was curious to see if it had water this year which was much drier. And it was near-full once again, so I’m guessing it’s a pretty consistent provider. I enjoyed a big drink and topped off my jugs once again.
Farther up canyon Monday gets difficult again as it gets more constricted. The bottom of the canyon gets choked with rocks and brush slowing travel. Then, there is another sizable dryfall. I know people who have tackled this obstacle directly by climbing — but that’s too sketchy for me. Luckily last time I was here I found a bypass just down canyon by climbing a brushy hill on the east side which provides access to the upper ledge. Once I got up and out and I was amused to see that somebody had marked the top with a rock cairn (who knows — possibly a previous Hayduker after reading the suggestion on my site. most of them head down canyon so this would make sense.)
The remaining portion of the upper canyon isn’t too bad, and soon I was climbing the steep slopes up and out of the canyon. After a little more work I was up on the seemingly wide-open flats of Fiftymile Mountain and among the sagebrush and cattle.
I headed south toward Pocket Hollow. When I got there I found that the great water source from 2015 was no longer. The rancher-installed tank seemed to have cracked and no-longer held water and all nearby surface water was a muddy mess and contaminated by the cows. I was fine for water though and expected more ahead, so no worries. In fact…
Within about another mile I arrived at Mudholes Spring. There an old corral here near the spring itself. There’s also a BLM lineshack/cabin with a protected tank of piped water nearby. The water here was plentiful and good. I filled up once again.
From here a fairly well-defined path headed east and toward the opposite side of Fiftymile Mountain. I made my way across the sagebrush plain as the sun went down. Soon after I found a spot to camp near the eastern edge of the mountain.
Got up and made my way toward the descent route off the eastern edge of Fiftymile Mountain. But… before I’d get there I took a diversion to a point-of-interest that I’d skipped in the past. The awkwardly-named Window Wind Arch is a mere 1/4 mile north of the trail and I wasn’t going to miss it again.
Not only is the site a cool natural arch providing a unique view along the Straight Cliffs, but it’s also the location of many historical rock art inscriptions showcasing the significance of the location for more than 100 years.
From the arch I followed the rim of the mountain to the south to the location I’d descend. There are a few various “use” trail near the top, but they seem to converge and before long the official trail emerges. It’s a pretty cool route known as Middle Trail that the ranchers developed long ago as a way to get cattle up/down through the cliffs connecting the high plateau with the area below.
Once down on Fiftymile Bench I decided to NOT follow the Hayduke which goes south to connect with a dirt road. Instead I opted to continue on the lower section of the Middle Trail which takes a more direct route down to the the Hurricane Wash area. And it is pretty direct as the trail dives down a ridgeline toward the plains below.
Another cool benefit of going this way… there was an awesome hoodoo/toadstool to check out just off the trail:
Nearing the bottom of the hills the official route turned north toward an old corral. Here I opted to go cross-country toward Hurricane Wash instead. Parts were tedious as I tried to find the path of least resistance while dodged big patches of prickly-pear cactus. But, in under an hour or so I was nearing the road and… this was also the location of my next cache. So, I tracked it down at my hidden spot and gathered everything together and went to the trail-head for a nice long break to eat some of my newly-acquired “heavy” food and re-organize my gear.
Once I was all packed up, I set off toward Hurricane Wash, but… that’ll have to wait for Part 8: Coyote Gulch and Stevens Canyon.