Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bluff, Blanding and Wellington, UT (3/27 - 4/1/2017)

This will be the last travelogue from my winter "vacation", so I'll compress the last days into a single post to avoid a lot of repetition.  During this time, the weather didn't always cooperate, so I took more down time to edit photos and visit with friends old and new.  Like with most political decisions, there are varying opinions among the locals regarding the designation of Bears Ears National Monument.  Some feel it's too large or totally unnecessary, as the land involved was already managed by federal agencies.  Some say it was to appease the Indians, but others say the local Indians were opposed to it and fear they will lose the right to gather wood from the area.  Most likely, under BLM and Forest Service control, there will be few changes in the short term.

My last morning in Bluff, I lost track of time and was inside when sunrise occurred.  It was a nice one, so I took a few photos from the campground since I had no time to find a better viewpoint.

In Blanding, there were good views of the Abajo Mountains and some decent sunsets.  The last one shows the formations known as Bears Ears, for which the monument is named.  Some local Indians consider it a sacred place, others don't.

Nearing Moab on my way north, I stopped on the side of the road for a photo of the lovely La Sal Mountains.
Wellington is a tiny town without much to offer a tourist, but it is close to Nine Mile Canyon, a place I've wanted to visit for some time.  Contrary to its name, the canyon is more like 75 miles long, but the most significant part is a 25 mile stretch in the middle where many ancient petroglyphs can be found.  Hundreds of rock art panels can be seen along the main canyon, and surely many more are located within the numerous side canyons.  Some are easily spotted from the road, while others require some exploring.  Only a few locations are marked by signs, but most people enjoy the search for hidden panels.

For me, the beauty of the canyon itself was worth making the trip.  I don't know that any movie westerns have been filmed here, but the towering cliffs and canyon walls sure look like those seen in many movies.  The entrance to the canyon was still snow covered, but farther in the temperature rose a little and the snow disappeared.

I'll show only a few of the more significant petroglyph panels.  Notice in the first one the name of an early settler from the town of Vernal, at least 100 miles away.  Another has images of horses, indicating it is much more recent than most.  The Indians did not have horses until after the Spanish explorers arrived in the mid-1600s.  Many of the images are well over 800 years old.

I am back home in Montrose, settling in after a long and very enjoyable trip.  My plan was to be away longer, but it didn't work out that way.  Fortunately, Spring has arrived early here and everything is in bloom right now, a very pretty time to be here.  

It has been fun sharing my trip with you and I look forward to the next one, although I have no plans at this time.  It's likely that I will be staying fairly close to home over the next few months, possibly making occasional short trips.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bluff, UT (3/26/2017)

Several months ago, I stumbled across an article on the internet that told of a canyon near Bluff  that contains a large number of hoodoos.  Since I had neither heard nor seen anything like this in previous visits to Bluff, it was on the agenda for this trip to try finding this place.  It turned out to be quite easy.  The woman who runs the campground has lived in the area her entire life.  She told me she had heard of it only recently and gave me good directions for getting there.  It's called Recapture Pocket and it's only a few miles outside of town.

The sunrise that day wasn't particularly good, due to low lying clouds.  However, the fog over the San Juan River was enough to warrant photos.  This one was taken above Sand Island, a campground and launch point for river rafting trips.  Lots of people tent camp there to get an early start on the river.
On my way to find the hoodoos, I spotted some caves and went closer to check them out.  One of them contained a ruin that was a simple stone wall.  It isn't unusual to find such ruins, since this county has many thousands of them scattered about.  That's part of the reason President Obama recently designated a new national monument here called "Bears Ears".  At 1.5 million acres, it is one of our larger parks, generating much controversy in these parts.  No one is sure exactly what changes will be made, since the land was already under Federal management.

It was a fun drive into Recapture Pocket, an area within a large network of canyons.  Although many of the formations were high on the canyon walls, quite a few were on the floor of the canyon so I was able to drive right up to them.  Nice not to have to walk so far to see something like this.  The hoodoos were impressive, many standing twenty feet tall, maybe higher.  I spent a couple hours exploring the "pocket" and taking photos.

Later that day, I decided to try a route that turned up on my internet research, said to lead to some rock art along the San Juan River.  Although the road and the hike sounded tough, it offered access without entering private property.  The last part of the road is on slickrock and ended at the rim of a canyon that is the end of Butler Wash.  This wash runs along the east side of Comb Ridge for thirty or more miles.  Shallow in some places, it can be very deep at others, and the stream at the bottom can be quite large after rains.  At this location, the canyon is more than 200 feet deep with steep walls.  The directions  from the internet mentioned finding an old wagon trail into the canyon.  I never saw what I would consider to be a usable wagon trail, but did work my way along a series of shelves and spotted an obvious path that eventually led to the bottom.

The path followed the stream, crossing it several times and passing some cliff dwelling ruins, for more than a mile, ending near the river.   Walking among the boulders at the bottom of a cliff, I found quite a few petroglyphs.  Some were in good condition, others not so much.

There was also a good view of the river, as well as some of the mesas on the other side in the Navajo Reservation.  It was a good place to rest for a few minutes before starting the hike back and the steep climb out of the canyon.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Bluff, UT (3/25/2017)

One of my objectives in Bluff was to visit a set of Anasazi ruins known as "River House Ruins" because they are located near the banks of the San Juan River.  I looked for these ruins several years ago, but my directions then were incomplete.  This happens a lot because people who know the way often don't even think about a particular turn, so fail to mention it when describing the route.  Anyway, I had figured out where I went wrong and was determined to find it this time.  (Also, I've seen new directions on the internet that confirm my conclusion.)

The ruins are situated at the end of Comb Ridge, a 65 mile long monocline that ends at the river.  The cliffs formed by the break in the earth's crust rise as much as 1400 feet in places, but taper off near its end.  This was the last great obstacle faced by the 1880 Mormon expedition to establish an outpost in this remote corner of Utah.  Even at the lowest point of Comb Ridge, it was a formidable challenge and required a major effort on the part of the pioneers and their animals, some of which were killed or injured in the climb.  The town of Bluff takes great pride in what their ancestors accomplished and have a truly wonderful museum that depicts the hardships they faced, as well as the lifestyle of the settlement afterward.

The part of Comb Ridge they were finally able to cross was named San Juan Hill.

After following a rocky road past San Juan Hill, I came to a particularly rough patch of rock.  Not knowing what the trail was like beyond that point, and finding a pick-up truck parked there, I decided to park also.  It was only about half a mile from there to the ruins.  Some people call these ruins "Snake House" because they interpret a large pictograph as a snake.  I'm not sure it is a snake, thinking it could be a drawing of the river.


The ruins included several sets of structures, both housing and food storage units called "granaries".  No way I could tell whether the corn cobs there are 800 years old or put there more recently.  The walls and nearby boulders contained both petroglyphs and pictographs.  Note the petroglyph that has a more recent inscription, from 1894.  Also, note the "T" shape of the one door, which is fairly common in ruins I've seen.  There are theories, but no one knows for sure why that shape was used.

I had read about additional rock art located about two miles east of the ruins, but the "road" ended at private property.  I decided not to go there, although the couple from the pick-up truck joined me and said they had hiked to the Kachina Panel of petroglyphs.  Still, I would have felt uncomfortable crossing private property, so I explored the area a little more, finding the remains of what was once several buildings of a trading post called "Rincone".
Returning via the wash that leads back to the highway, I was impressed by the colorful rock there.