Wednesday, June 17

Backpacking & Day Hiking Zion Natl Park - Kelso Sand Dunes in Mojave

After all the talk I had heard it was time to see Zion for myself. Being only a short days drive from my home in LA it was crazy I'd never been to see this stunning place. Planning for a week solo trip I had an open canvas of opportunity. Weather seemed to be a factor that all trips battle with & this was no exception. Originally, a five day backpacking trip turned into the Plan B trip that proved to be a most excellent time.

With the small weather window I did have before three to four days of rain hit the park I chose to backpack the East Rim Trail & try to reach portions of the park that were far less traveled. Besides, the East Rim has everything from narrow canyons, hanging gardens, open rock slabs & high mountain plateaus. 

Setting out from Weeping Rock I climbed a beautifully designed trail blasted right out of the side of the cliff. My goal of Cable Mountain loomed high over head. I would be taking a huge round about way to get there b/c that's just how the trail happens to go. 

| Cable Mountain - 6,900ft  |

A couple hours passed & I crested into a higher valley that crossed open rock formations with small cairns marking the way to go. With one solid climb left before reaching the high plateau I sat & ate lunch looking out into the white walled cliffs, dropping thousands of feet down to the tree covered valleys below.

I was ahead of schedule & covered the trail quickly to the junction for Cable Mt. Three more miles from here. The trail continue in a mild, meandering way. Long open vistas of Utah rock mesas filled the horizon. The gathering clouds added a dramatic touch to everything the eye could see.

| Beautiful trail |

Finally dropping back down to the actual summit (ugg!) of Cable Mt I had it all so myself. Views in all directions into the main canyon of Zion. Towering far above Angels Landing I could only imagine the crowds swarming the thin ribbon of rock. I sat simply on edge of an almost 7,000ft vertical cliff, listening to the wind whisper quietly to the birds open wings.

| Cable Moutain - Third on the left w/ flat face |

I spent two hours on the summit taking in all that I could. Also resting my shoulders from the "all water" carry on this trip. Stave Spring was dry early this year & there was no natural water source in this area of the park. 

| East Rim Trail - Upper Plateau |

| On Cable Mt/Deertrap Mt trail  |

Hoisting my pack I slowly made the way three miles back to the East Rim trail. Still slow & meandering the trail hadn't changed. The sun was dipping lower in the day by that time adding extra color to the thick white cumulus clouds.

| Summit of Cable Moutain - Looking down at Angels Landing |

| Old cable system infrastructure |

| Best seat in the house |

A small patch of empty ground was found, shelter set up & dinner cooking over the stove. Time for a pull of whiskey & staring at the sunset. Doesn't get much better.

| I don't recommend Bushnell SolarWrap as a solar charger, but works well as a battery cell (1 year of use) |

The next morning, after packing up, I made my way along the last miles of the East Rim Trail. Crossing very near to several deep reaching white walled canyons. At Jolley Gulch you can stand right on the crumbling edge of the fantastic natural wonder.

| Jolley Gulch |

Back at the car a cold beer was had, some planning was done & off I went to see more of Zion. The East Rim & Checkerboard Mesa, then down to the main valley for the classic tourist history stops. Heck, I'd never been here, need to get into the mix for at least one afternoon.

| Shelf Canyon |

The next day I planned two day hikes that would hopefully bring very few crowds. Starting at dawn I drove to a turn out along the road heading to the East Entrance in search of Shelf Canyon. This is an unmarked "trail" in the sense that it is a slot canyon that is passable to a point that begins just off the highway.

Climbing over rocks deeper into the canyon the walls began to grow taller & closer, eventually choked at one point I took a narrow side trail up & around. From here on Shelf Canyon is a magical wonder of sheer winding cliffs & fallen yellow blocks.

| Shelf Canyon Slots |

Eventually the canyon becomes too narrow & full of debris. There is no forward progress from here, but what a marvelous secret place... WITH NO PEOPLE. Not even other foot prints in the sand.

Tracing my steps back, the hiked looked totally different heading the other direction. And with good time I was back in my car heading to the Kolab Terrace area next. Rain had begun to fall in small bursts but nothing terribly threatening yet. Forty Five minutes later I was on the entire other side of Zion, far from the main valley & the crowds. 

| Taylor Creek, Kolob Terrace |

Plans had been working to avoid the main trails & sights while still thoroughly engaging in a true Zion Utah experience. I parked at the Taylor Creek Trail & was looking to make it to Double Arch Cove, plus some miles off trail after.

Within just a few minutes of walking the trail takes you into huge open valleys with thousand foot canyon walls on all sides! There are no other hikers out. Rivaling anything down in the main canyon this wonderland is totally empty. The history nerd in me makes it to the first 1930's era Larson Cabin, still anxious for the second Fife Cabin that is deeper in the Middle Fork.

| Middle Fork, Taylor Creek |

As the day hits noon, a few more day hikers appear while I make the final stretch to Double Arch Cove. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight that clung to the sides of the cliff walls. Thousands of feet above the first arch glowed in the afternoon sun, just below it an alcove sheltered by a second arch could house a tennis arena. Truly a magnificently huge area hidden behind many twists & turns in the river. 

| Fife Cabin - 1930s |

Pressing on further passed the alcove the trail disappears up a landslide next to a waterfall type setting. Up I went, with views opening up for miles into the upper reaches of the canyon. My goal was to bushwhack to another set of remote narrows. 

| Double Arches |

| Double Arch Alcove - Notice the photographer in the bottom right! |

Hiking further up canyon rain began to fall. The grey clouds had finally unleashed their contents & it seriously made me think about my options. Climbing higher on the embankment, trying to check my distance left to the narrows, a thunderous boom echoed through the canyon directly above me, rolling through the heavens.

| Middle Fork, Taylor Creek |

It was pretty clear it would be better choice to turn around. For the next couple hours hike out the storm only increased. Thunder continue to fill the ear drums of all the wildlife in the western corner of Zion, while thoroughly washing us all with rain, then hail, then rain again.

Back at the car now I did some scenic driving before heading out of the park. The North western corner of the park really took me by surprise. Hopefully people make it all the way out there, but not TOO many people (wink wink).

| Mojave |

The next goal for the trip was to try & get away from the the rain. I had overheard it was snowing in Bryce so I wasn't going there. Pulled out the map & decided on checking out the Mojave Desert. Being the third largest national park (or something like that) I had never set foot in it.

After some quick research I learned they allow camping along the road in certain areas of the park so I set off in search of another flat place for my tent. Eventually landing myself in the largest concentration of Joshua Trees on the United States, Mojave was really paying off right away.

That night it rained for several hours & dropped down quite low in the temps, enough to freeze all the moisture that had fallen. Packed up, I set out across the park on it's endless two lane highways. My goal was to see the Kelso Sand Dunes & maybe do some hiking. 

I stopped in the small town ghost town of Kelso & checkout the historical relics. Like most old Western towns it cropped up around mining operations & was abandoned when the companies went bust.

| Kelso Ghost Town |

| Kelso Jail |

Turning on the washboard dirt road out to the dunes really makes you feel how big this place is. I had only seen three cars in the first two hours of driving & there wasn't a soul insight at the dunes. 

| Kelso Sand Dunes |

After having done a bit of hiking in my life, I really didn't think the dunes hike would be too hard, boy was I wrong. It took a solid fifty minutes just to approach to base of the dune. The sand roller coasters up & down unforgivingly.

I chose to head diagonally up the face then walk the ridge line up to the peak, just like any normal hike. This proved to work & the best part of the hike was the half hour spent walking the A-Frame ridge. The overnight storm had washed away all tracks & the sand was a clean blanket of perfect terrain.

Though still extremely difficult to walk, I knew a fall would only be met with a sandy stop & a lot of laughing at myself. After emptying my shoes time after time I decided it was appropriate to finally head back to the car before it got too hot.

Sitting on the bumper of my car I starred into the sprawling Mojave expanse, reflecting on how my Plan B style trip had proven to really be an excellent adventure around the southwest. Full of spontaneous choices that led to wonderful memories.

Getting back to Los Angeles with one more day in the weekend to spare, I spent it with friends at the Topanga Banjo & Fiddle contest. Which was a furiously awesome finger plucking good time.

1 comment:

Enrique Freeque said...

What a wonderful trip report. Those videos you made backpacking and hiking through the slot canyons of Zion were awesome. Driven through there, but never stopped to explore.

The East Mojave is a special place. I've never been to the Kelso Dunes, but have explored the Mid Hills and Hole-In-the-Wall areas extensively. Hiked the trail that connects Mid Hills Campground to Banshee Canyon near Hole-In-The-Wall on New Year's Day, 1995, sixteen miles round trip. It was literally below freezing most of the day. Just had to keep hiking, keep moving, to stay warm.

Thanks for this spectacular trip report!