Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tour of S Utah Day 7: The day of two hikes (Calf Creek and Surprise Canyon)

We had several days off the grid, and then we went to Cortez, Colorado for a mountain bike race where were too busy to post and didn’t have Wi-Fi anyway.  So I’ll pick up where I left off last week.
On Tuesday we had fueled up, charged up, bought groceries, and had our last hot shower of the week. Wednesday morning we said goodbye to creature comforts (with one last espresso and cinnamon roll in Escalante) and headed off the grid for some days of hiking and wide open spaces.
Well, not so fast. First we hiked Lower Calf Creek Falls, a super popular 6 mile hike that neither of us had ever hiked. Even on a Wednesday morning with rain clouds threatening, the trail was quite busy.  It was still enjoyable though and the falls are spectacular.

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Lower Calf Creek Falls
This area is rich in archaeological ruins and artifacts.  The Fremont Indians inhabited this canyon sometime between 500 AD and 1300 AD.
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They left these and more pictographs and numerous granaries for us to see and appreciate.  Drew thought he could easily live in this canyon if he could hang out at the air conditioned Calf Creek Falls every hot day.
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The canyon walls are art in and of themselves.
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I haven’t shown many pictures of the flowers but I’ve seen more desert wildflowers and trees and shrubs blooming than ever before.
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I forgot to introduce Drew’s little mascot to the blog, Captain Pete, or Cap'n Petey as we like to call him.  He's a mouthy (i.e. he makes a sound when squeezed) light-hearted parrot dressed up in pirate gear.  So far this trip, Capt'n Petey has tried to make friends with Jean Luc Picard, but their leadership styles are very different.  Cap’n Petey is a bit of a joker and I am afraid Captain Picard likes to run the Dewey-mobile by the book. It’s best we keep them in separate packs.
We finished the hike and pushed on.  Scenic Highway 12 lives up to its name.
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The view looking back onto Calf Creek Canyon from Hwy 12.  We hiked up the lower part of the canyon,the part that looks dark in the picture above. The falls are almost center of the picture where the canyon seems to disappear.

Toward more new roads and trails: The Burr Trail

There wasn’t a lot of pre-planning for this trip. My friend Ken said the road going east from Boulder was pretty.  I asked about it at the Visitor Center in Escalante.  It is paved for 34 miles and then plummets down the Waterpocket Fold monocline at the Burr Trail Switchbacks and that part is gravel. The visitor center lady said if there is rain it could be impassable for our 2WD fun mobile. There was rain, but that’s all part of the adventure. We turned off the highway at Boulder onto the Burr Trail.  It was, indeed, a beautiful drive.
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Cool giant boulder of sandstone protecting more easily eroded Chinle Formation shale and siltstone below it.
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Click the image above to enlarge this panoramic view at the edge of the monocline.
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More cool rocks and clouds.
And then the switchbacks.
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The Burr Trail Switchbacks. Note three visible switchbacks.  The road was in great shape. No problems going down in the van at all.  Coming up might have been more difficult because it was steeeep.
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Panorama of the Burr Trail Switchbacks. Click to enlarge.
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It kind of just doesn't seem like a road should go here.

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The trail was originally built by John Atlantic Burr as a way to get cattle from the high ground of the Aquarius Plateau to the Colorado River. It was widened into the road in the 1940s for mineral exploration.  It is one of only three roads through the 100+ mile long Waterpocket Fold. The pictures above show the high angle of dip on the rocks in this monocline (one sided fold) in relation to the near-horizontal strata in the background. 

Block diagram of a monocline.
If you can’t picture it, just wait, I’ve got more pictures coming up in later in this post and I’ll talk more geology in tomorrow’s post.
For now, it was getting late in the day, there were still storm clouds to the north, and we wanted to get down the switchbacks before nightfall and possible rain.
Down we went.


Do we have time for a Surprise?

It was about 5 PM and we were now in the southern arm of Capitol Reef National Park. With our earlier 6 mile hike, we certainly could have just found a camp spot and called it a day, but there were too many trail head symbols on the map to ignore and the lighting and mild temperature begged us to explore.  The trail that sounded the most enticing was Surprise Canyon. We didn’t know what kind of hike it would be, but then of course, that would be part of the surprise.
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Entering Surprise Canyon
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The hike takes you through the rock layers of the Waterpocket Fold.  This white sand is from the Navajo Formation just up canyon (but down section) from this outcrop of red sandstone in the Carmel Formation. I love the contrast.
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Happy hikers
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Thrilled to view the beautiful texture on the walls of sandstone.

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The narrowest part of surprise canyon.
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2015-05-06 D7Escalante 126Can’t get over that texture!

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And here is the surprise!  We think. In the alcove we thought we could see what looks like a granary, likely from the Fremont people?
We turned around about a mile into the hike where the canyon narrowed and became a scramble. Then returned the way we came.

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Coming back out, a nice exposure of eroded Morrison Formation capped by Dakota Sandstone on other side of the valley was beautifully lit by the evening sun.
With two good hikes under our belts, it was time to find a resting spot.  We jumped back in the van and motored up the other side of the valley, out of hte national park, onto Big Thomson Mesa.
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On Big Thompson Mesa looking to the Henry Mountains. The cliffs in the foreground are the lower part of the Cretaceous Mancos Shale capped by the Ferron Sandstone member. Click to enlarge.
Our map showed a road out to Hall’s Creek Overlook. It wasn’t a great road, but Dewey was a trooper and got us to this, the most spectacular campsite of the trip!
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Our campsite near Halls Creek Overlook at the edge of Capitol Reef National Park. Little Rocky Mountains in the background.
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The fire pit was really elaborate!
From the overlook you can see a loooong way up and down Waterpocket Fold.
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Waterpocket Fold strike valley looking north from Halls Creek Overlook, Capitol Reef National Park.
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Waterpocket Fold looking south from Halls Creek Overlook, Capitol Reef NP.
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And finally, we ended a fabulous day of hiking and exploring with an inspiring sky over the fold.
Today included seeing new places, exploring the unknown, jaw dropping scenery and geology everywhere, exercise in the fresh air; this day was the best day of vacation so far!

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