Cottonwood Canyon Road runs from Cannonville past Kodachrome Basin then turns south through Grand Staircase-Escalante all the way to Hwy 89 just east of Big Water, Utah. I don’t remember the mileage but it’s quite the haul. The first notable stop was at Grosvenor Arch. It was on a side road and attracted considerable traffic resulting in the road being pulverized into very fine sand. Lots of dust!
The dust clouds made us lazy so we quickly got out of the truck and snapped a couple shots and were back on the trail. No hiking for lazy folks. After a few miles we started down into Cottonwood Canyon and arrived at the north end of the narrows. This attracted several vehicles with hikers and from what we read there were slot canyons to be seen for the energetic at heart.
Prior to entering the Narrows we had seen a flatbed farm truck with a cattle trailer parked on the side of the road. That particular area was very flat and we didn’t see any sign of cattle or humans. As it turns out, the cowboys were out looking for their cattle and they found them about 8 miles south of the truck. I don’t know if they tracked them down or just looked for days but anyway, here they came, driving 6 cows and calves up the road. I slowed down not knowing how they would react to a vehicle and was promptly flagged through by one of the cowboys who showed years of experience in his weathered face and also by how easily he maneuvered the cattle while we passed. A dying breed.
We motored on for a few miles and found a little loop off the main road and set up camp in the shade of some big cottonwoods right on the creek bank. It looked like water came through the area some time last century and was dry as a bone. I’m guessing it flows only after a rain and is probably a flash flood for a few minutes and is over. There were some interesting rock formations guarding our campsite but the digital gods apparently didn’t like my photos and they’ve disappeared.
The next morning we broke camp and continued south. The landscape changes from flat scrub brush desert on the north end of Cottonwood Canyon Road to canyons and then a series of huge rock formations called Cockscomb Rocks. A few more miles and we came out onto Hwy 89 a little east of Big Water. There is a very nice visitor center there and we spent several minutes talking to the staff and decided to push on.
We topped off our gas and headed for Alstom Point. I had heard so much about it I was anxious to get there and see it myself. It’s located about 25 miles from Big Water and we were told it would take 2 hours to drive there. The first 20 miles were done in about 45 minutes and the remainder took us an additional 2 hours. The further we went, the rougher the road got and in places it was hard to determine where the road was. There were rock cairns in a few places and we carefully picked our way through. (And yes, we’re old and slow.) Once we got there we were overjoyed to find ourselves totally alone and immediately staked out the top campsite. Within a few minutes several other vehicles arrived and only one couple decided to stay and they setup in an area about a hundred yards below us.
To me, this was the most spectacular place I’ve ever been. I couldn’t get enough of it and took over a hundred photos. As with most such areas as this, my photography skills didn’t do it justice.
As it turns out, pitching your tent on the edge of a cliff that is 1800 feet above the lake can get a little breezy. For some reason, The Mrs didn’t sleep well that night. I didn’t either but mine was due to taking moonlit pictures, or at least attempting to.
The weather gods stopped the winds just in time for breakfast and breaking camp. We back tracked out of Alstrom Point and began working our way through Smoky Mountain Road to Left Hand Collet Road to Hole in the Rock Road in an effort to get to Escalante. This too was incredibly scenic although the going was pretty slow; nothing technical, just rough and rocky. If I remember it correctly, 8 hours for about 79 miles. Hole in the Rock Rd was the last 14 miles and it was 100% washboard.
These next shots are from Smokey Mountain Road, the first looking back at Alstrom Point and then looking forward as we climbed above the plateau.
Once we made it to Left Hand Collet, the views tightened up a little. This first shot shows how arid and salty things were. I stopped a little further down the trail to take a couple of pictures and The Mrs got all riled up about some rock??
We escaped getting flattened by the rock and proceeded north to Hole in the Rock Road, which was badly wash boarded all the way to Utah Hwy 12. We were already aired down but I wasn’t able to find a smooth speed so we just shook it out. Once on Hwy12 we did pavement for a while and the scenery on 12 is some of the best to be found on asphalt.
We stopped at the Goosenecks for a few shots as well.
At this point The Mrs. wasn’t feeling her best so we decided to continue north on Hwy 24 to Green River, Utah for a little taste of civilization. After a restful night, a shower, some greasy food and a resupply, we both felt good and were excited to be headed to Canyonlands. We stopped at Dead Horse Point SP first and found it to provide some great vantage points of the Colorado River, the La Sal Mountains and the beginning of the canyons.
Next was the visitor center for Canyonlands and we were pleasantly surprised to get a campsite on the White Rim Trail with no notice. I was stoked, as this was something I’ve wanted to do for many years. We wouldn’t be able to do the complete loop as flooding blocked the western side but I was happy to take what I could get. The Mrs. had seen The Shafer Trail from above and wasn’t all that excited about going down but she has tolerated much worse from me so we headed down the switchbacks. I’m loving it, she’s terrified.
Once at the bottom of the switchbacks things level out and we merge onto the White Rim Trail proper. If you’re not familiar with this trail, look it up. It is total visual overload.
A glimpse of the Colorado, muddy with snow melt.
A shot across a canyon of the snow dappled La Sals
The White Rim
Washer Woman and Monster Man
We saw one other couple in a tricked out 80 series and a group of motorcycles who were just day tripping. This made me wish I had by WR250 with me.
A couple of shots from our campsite, Gooseberry B.
As the sun began to set on Gooseberry B, we broke out the Shiftpod and maybe, just maybe a bottle of bourbon. I could have that wrong.
Since we could only camp on the White Rim for one night, we got up and headed out. As you know, reversing a trail leads to totally different views plus the morning sun made for what seemed, an all new adventure.
Here’s a shot of our 4Runner from an area called Walking Rocks. It’s white rim rock which stair steps along the edge for maybe a half mile. I hopped from rock to rock until I could go no further and took this shot while The Mrs. patiently waited in the air conditioning.
Here’s the view from where The Mrs. waited.
The Muddy Mississippi Colorado.
Once we got back to the intersection of The White Rim, Shafer Trail and Potash Road we turned right because The Mrs. had had enough of the Shafer Switchbacks. This turned out to be very scenic in a different way. Potash mining is a process of flooding the underground area to absorb the salts which contain potash then pumping it into evaporative ponds to allow the 360+ days of sunlight in the area to do it’s work, free. I thought it was pretty interesting.
After getting through the mining area we came to an area of petroglyphs. These were located right along the cliffs on the side of the Colorado. The road runs just beneath them since they were 20 feet or more from ground level. I don’t know if erosion has lowered the ground level that much or if the ancients had ladders.
More to follow, Moab, Arches and we exit Utah.................
After the petroglyphs it was only a few miles and we were dumped out into civilization. It was called Moab. I think that is a word from some ancient language that means crazy, congested, touristy stuff. It had been about 25 years since The Mrs. had been to Moab and she couldn't believe it. We found a relatively quiet restaurant and had a good lunch. Then we went to a camping/outdoor shop I remembered from my last trip and purchased a couple of things and then sought lower population density. We had spent a lot of time in Arches years ago with our youngest son but felt we at least had to drive through since we're not in Utah all that often. It too is pretty amazing and we drove through all the paved roads which took all afternoon. Here’s a shot of the La Sals we took on the climb into Arches.
Then we came to a few arches; Pothole, Delicate, Sand, Starline and Broken were just a few. Balanced Rock and the Parade of Elephants.
By this point, the shadows were getting long and I wanted to find a campsite on Hwy 128 which cuts the corner from Moab to I-70 near the Colorado border. We drove almost all the way to I-70 and every single site was full until we found Fisher’s Towers CG. It was near dusk and being an old fart that doesn’t like driving in the dark, we settled on this.
The next morning we reluctantly said farewell to Utah and proceeded into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Colorado National Monument was beautiful but I had the Million Dollar Highway on my mind.
We stopped at the Ranger Station in Montrose and learned that most of the high mountain passes were still closed and not likely to open anytime soon. This was June 27th. The staff could see the disappointment on my boyish face and were very helpful in getting us maps and info on what was open, what was likely to open soon and what we could forget about unless we wanted to stay another 6 weeks or so. Down Hwy 550 we went with the views getting better and better by the mile. We slowly passed through Ouray and began climbing toward Red Mountain Pass. Once a few miles out of town we started checking the side roads for potential campsites and found one near the historic mining town of Ironton. After talking to some locals we decided to stay at this site for a couple of nights as many of the sites over the pass had been opened, then reclosed with mandatory evacuation due to avalanche danger. We found it gets pretty cool at night at 9,600 feet, burr. Over the next couple days we explored Ouray and some of the few side roads that were open. Every stream, large or small was roaring with snow melt. Many of the trails were flowing with runoff. We had never seen avalanche damage or debris but we saw plenty. It was impressive.
There were a couple places where I even did a little road clearing……….
After exploring the Ouray area we continued south on 550 to Silverton and Durango. These were more miles of absolute beauty. The San Juan’s are beyond my description, you just have to go there. Between Creede and Lake City we found the headwaters of the Rio Grande. Sorry Texas but it looks better in Colorado.
Then we came across Clear Creek Falls. It was right in the middle of a fellows cow pasture. I walked up to the edge and the fence didn’t look like it would keep any cow from falling down the falls. Maybe Colorado cows are smarter than North Carolina cows………
The next shot is from an area that had a lot of logging activity. I tried to convince The Mrs. we could find a great, dispersed campsite but at an elevation of over 11,000 feet she wanted no part of my plans.
On we went, finding ourselves at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison that night at the North Rim CG. The canyon here is the narrowest and steepest of its type in the US. The river drops at 95’ per mile giving it incredible erosion power.
The next morning we awoke to July 3rd on the calendar. We had been on the road for about 6 weeks and with the Colorado snowpack being firmly in control we made the decision to head towards home.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our wanderings so far and I will continue with another little jaunt we did in the fall which took us to Nova Scotia but that will have to wait a few days because,……….. Santa Claus is coming!