Thursday, June 21, 2018

San Rafael Swell, UT (6/15 & 6/17/2018), Green River (6/18/2018)

After leaving Buckhorn Wash, I drove through some areas for the first time and found a few interesting/strange things I want to share. 

In 1948, the Department of Defense let a contract with the Morrison Knudsen Company to dig a series of tunnels into several sandstone buttes near here.  Later, large explosions were detonated above each tunnel, obviously testing the ability to withstand powerful blasts.  The project lasted more than four years, but was kept secret.  Even workers on the project weren't told its purpose.  Several years later, the NORAD (North American Defense) system started construction of a "bunker" deep within Cheyenne Mountain, near Colorado Springs, CO.  That facility is below some 2000 feet of solid granite, which I think is a much stronger defense against blasts (such as nuclear bombs) than the sandstone in San Rafael Swell.

Also along the roadway, there is a series of metal cutouts, showing prospectors leading pack mules.  This signifies the past importance of mining to this region.
Next, smoke billowed above a large butte, but I never learned what was burning.  It must have been some man-made structure, as there is nothing natural in this desert that will burn.
One of the more famous rock art sites is called the Rochester Panel, so remote I had never visited it.  Arriving at the site, I found it was necessary to hike down into a canyon, along the bottom, then up again to the canyon rim.  After half a mile, the petroglyphs came into view.  I'll show only the more significant ones.

 One looks a lot like an alligator, but I don't know how an Indian here would have been aware of alligators.
Another seems to be a bear image.  Given the hump on the shoulder, it must have been a grizzly.
There was also an inscription from a settler, dated1928.
Heading back toward Green River, I detoured to visit another site I had not seen before.  Here were several inscriptions by CCC workers in 1939, no doubt building roads at that time.  Another boulder contained a petroglyph of a snake about six feet long.

On another day, I revisited some sites I had seen more than ten years ago.  Unfortunately, some rock containing spectacular pictographs has broken in the interim, severely damaging the art.  This is a reminder of how incredible it is that so many art sites are still in good shape.
The Dutchman Arch is still doing well.
I had not seen the Lone Warrior pictograph before this trip.
The four Swasey Brothers ran cattle in the Swell for many years without any living quarters.  They slept on the ground, in caves, etc, wherever they happened to be at the time.  Finally, they built a one room cabin.  For many reasons, locals considered the Swaseys to be "wild boys".  Several landmarks in the area are named for them, such as "Sid's Leap", where Joe dared Sid to jump a gorge sixteen feet wide and quite deep.  Here is a photo of the cabin.
Near the Temple Mountain Campground, pictographs show signs of bullet holes, possibly put there by the Swaseys.
Three Finger Canyon was next on my route.  After a long, rough ride, I found the petroglyphs were very close to the parking area.  It was unusual that images were pecked into the sandstone slope that leads to the vertical cliff, where more images are located.

My last day in Green River, I drove into Coal Canyon and located petroglyphs on a couple large boulders, thanks to the nice lady at the Visitor Center who gave me a map.
I'm back in Montrose now, awaiting the next opportunity to make a short trip.  See you then.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Green River, UT (6/14/2018) & San Rafael Swell, UT (6/15/2018)

You find some strange things while wandering around in the desert, and here's a good example.

I had a hand-drawn map of some petroglyph locations in Tusher Canyon, not far from Green River.  To reach the canyon required a drive across some miles of dirt road/wash in what appeared to be empty desert.  Along the way, I came upon an odd "community" of run down RVs, buildings and other equipment.  No one was around to ask what this collection of oddities was for.

I saw two signs that had names I could Google, Jenkstar Ranch and Building Man.  I later found the Jenkstars' web site which describes a " collective of up-cycle engineers and artists who develop creative solutions for real-world problems. The mission is to use art and science to inspire the use of renewable energy and sustainable living applications across the globe." "Building Man" is an event produced in the desert, featuring art, music and home-made products to promote sustainable living.  It claims to be family friendly, unlike the Burning Man event held annually in the Nevada desert.  Admissions help finance the group's future projects.   What a surprising find.  The three petroglyph sites in Tusher Canyon were pretty mundane, so I won't bore you with photos of them.

Moving along, the next morning I drove into the San Rafael Swell where there is more interesting rock art I have visited before.  The first is Black Dragon Canyon, named for one of the pictographs found there.  The canyon is one of many in the San Rafael Reef, that huge crack in the earth's crust that exposes more than 250 million years of rock layers. 
 The art is Barrier Canyon Style,  meaning it is quite old and painted rather than chiseled.  The drawings are fairly well preserved because they are in a protected area.  There is some damage from modern inscriptions, such as the one by Vida Gunnarson (presumably an early settler in this region).

The pictograph for which the canyon is named was apparently thought to be a drawing of a dragon, but I've never agreed with that interpretation.  First, it isn't black, it's red.  Also, what may have been thought of as a "tail", I think is a river.  The "dragon" appears to me to be a bird, such as a heron or crane.  I also see what may be a jumping fish near the bird.  What do you think?
Driving I-70 across the "reef" provides spectacular scenery.  It was an engineering marvel to construct this eight mile section of highway, and one of the most expensive per mile.  It wasn't completed until long after the original interstate system and required removal of 3.5 million cubic yards of rock.
Once through the "reef", I turned onto the gravel road that leads to Buckhorn Wash, where another famous art site is located.  This part of the Swell is called "Castle Valley" because the many buttes reminded the first settlers of the medieval castles in Europe.

A band of wild burros also use the road.
The old bridge across the San Rafael River is called the "swinging bridge" because it is suspended from cables anchored in the ground.  Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937, the bridge was used for automobile traffic until the 1990s, but now is open only for pedestrian traffic.  The river is quite small until flooded by rain somewhere upstream.
The Buckhorn Wash art panel is also Barrier Canyon Style. These figures depict the practice of snake handling, and some of them have wings.

I'll interrupt this trip for now and pick up with the next travelogue.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Green River, UT (6/13/2018)

This sleepy little, somewhat dilapidated, town took its name from the river that is a major tributary of the Colorado River.  The town has always been about passers-by, starting when the Old Spanish Trail forded the river here, due to a short stretch of shallow water.  A ferry service in the 1870s gave the town its real start catering to travelers.Now it offers the only services along I-70 between Grand Junction, CO and Richfield, UT, each about 100 miles away.

Green River is just barely in Emery County, a vast wilderness area that includes the San Rafael Swell, where the earth's crust bulged upward until it eventually cracked.  The crack, geologically known as an anticline and named the San Rafael Reef, is a 75 mile long piece of jagged sandstone steeply tilted with a multitude of twisting canyons hundreds of feet deep.  The surrounding area has some of the most colorful and picturesque landscape found anywhere, although you must look past its harshness to appreciate its beauty.  When early settlers arrived, part of the Mormon expansion program, one woman reportedly said, "Damn the man who would bring a woman to such a God-forsaken country".

The heyday for Emery County and Green River was in the 1950s, driven by uranium mining.  The U.S. government was paying top dollar for uranium and this area had lots of it.  Between 1950 and 1956, Emery County alone had more than 50,000 recorded mining claims.  Abandoned mines can now be found all over the desert near here and the massive clean-up of waste material is still going on.  Green River's population peaked at 1075 in the 1960 census and has declined slowly since then, now less than 1000.  In addition to travelers passing through, Green River also hosts a large volume of outdoor enthusiasts who come to play in "the Swell".  Prehistoric Indians lived in  the many canyons and left their rock art as another attraction, which is why I come here.

A natural feature called Crystal Geyser is located nine miles south of Green River.  While most geysers, such as those in Yellowstone, are driven by heat, Crystal Geyser is a cold water phenomenon driven by carbon dioxide pressure.  I'm told its erratic eruptions can go as high as sixty feet, but I've never been lucky enough to see that.  I was happy to see it bubbling at all on this visit.
With eruptions every twelve to sixteen hours, the water flowing into the Green River has created beautiful terraces of iron-rich deposits.

The Green River is vital to local farms and ranches that couldn't survive without irrigation.  The area is widely known for its watermelon crop, said to be the sweetest melons anywhere.  A "melon festival" each September draws people from far and wide.  Old farm equipment can often be found left in the field for visitors to see.

 The river is also a popular spot for locals to cool off on the hot summer days that regularly exceed 100 F.  The rapids offer a challenge for the frequent rafting trips.  John Wesley Powell's expeditions came by here in 1869 and 1870 on their way to explore the Grand Canyon.

Old homesteads, mostly made of stone, can be found scattered about.  Stone was readily available, while wood had to be hauled down from distant mountains.  Local cottonwood trees did not make good lumber.
As mentioned, Indian rock art was left on canyon walls and large boulders, usually in remote and hard to reach locations.  The local visitor center provides hand-drawn maaps to some of the art sites near town.  The first ones I visited were petroglyphs, and not very impressive.  I know there is better quality that I'll see later.

In my travels searching for art, I did encounter some wildlife, such as desert bighorn sheep and the ever present pronghorns.

My first full day in Green River ended with a spectacular sunset that revealed rain in the distance, but none where I was.