Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Moab, Goosenecks State Park, and the Grand Gulch, Utah - Biking and Hiking

Rob and I headed down to the Moab area Thursday afternoon for a weekend of biking and hiking to celebrate his birthday. Because it was a random Thursday, I didn't expect we'd have a difficult time finding a camping spot along the Colorado. Of course I was wrong. I should have know better - the crowds flock to my peaceful desert during those few months between the extreme heat and the extreme cold. Luckily we explored a place called Onion Creek a few years ago and remembered that there were some camping spots not too far up the road. We had the place to ourselves Thursday night- everything worked out perfectly. We always camp by the Colorado, and while nice and convenient, it's right by the road and not very peaceful. The spot we found was dark, quiet, and right next to the creek. The sound of running water is so relaxing. Sometimes I have a hard time sleeping on camping trips because I'm too busy enjoying the experience to waste it on sleep.

Onion Creek in the morning

Looking toward Fisher Towers from Onion Creek

After our traditional breakfast at Eklectic Cafe in Moab, we got the bikes ready for a ride through Castle Valley and into the La Sal Mountains. The weather had changed overnight, and the usual hot, sunny weather of Moab in June was replaced with cool temperatures, gusty winds, and cloudy skies. The cooler temperatures were nice, but the gusty winds made for a brutal bike ride. We started at the road leading into Castle Valley (my future retirement home!) and headed east towards the La Sal Mountains. We average about 6 miles per hour as we ascended the La Sals with a stiff headwind. It felt like we had ridden 50 miles, but after about 15 miles we were exhausted. We had climbed 3,8000 feet from our starting point and the view of Castle Valley far below was amazing. The ride back to the car was all downhill, and with a strong tailwind those 15 miles flew by in what seemed like a matter of minutes. We rewarded ourselves with some tasty beer by the Colorado River.

Getting ready to ride into Castle Valley

Rob riding through Castle Valley

Rob biking in the La Sal Mountains

Taking a break in the La Sal Mountains

Colorado River and Fisher Towers in a thundershower

After relaxing a bit in Moab, we headed south to camp at Goosenecks State Park near Mexican Hat. The wind had gotten stronger all day and I was a little worried that camping was going to be an unpleasant experience on Friday night. We managed to get the tent set up near the canyon rim (with the help of large rocks to keep the tent from blowing away). The stormy sunset was unbelievable. Cooking in the windstorm was near impossible, but after getting in the tent for the night the wind began to die down and the nearly full moon made an appearance. It was peaceful and quiet late into the night.

Camping near the canyon

The bikes at sunset

Beautiful sunset at Goosenecks State Park

Goosenecks State Park

Goosenecks State Park

The next morning we headed north to the Grand Gulch - a large canyon that drains into Lake Powell and is full of Ancestral Puebloan ruins and artifacts. You could spend weeks or months exploring this area, but we planned a quick day trip into the gulch to see the famous Big Man pictograph panel. Rob drive his car as far as he could on the rough road (almost to the trail head) and then we set off across the plateau. The Grand Gulch appears suddenly and the flat terrain falls into the deep canyon. The hike through the Gulch was beautiful with lots of green cottonwood trees and patches of water. It's easy to see why the Grand Gulch was such a popular place for the Ancestral Puebloans. Along the way we saw a few small ruins high on the canyon walls. After a couple miles we reached the Big Man pictograph panel and spent a long time enjoying the peaceful canyon and the beautiful rock art.

Small ruin in the Grand Gulch

A ruin near the canyon rim

Big Man pictograph panel

Big Man pictograph panel

Cedar Mesa near the Grand Gulch

We decided to camp at Natural Bridges National Monument instead of staying near the Grand Gulch because the wind was so strong and there was a lot of blowing dust. Of course Natural Bridges was full, so we ended up finding a nice site nearby on BLM land. We were surrounded by a nice forest and a pretty canyon where we watched the sun set.

Rob setting up camp

Rob watching the sun set

Watching the sun set near our camp for Saturday night

We took our time heading back to Salt Lake on Sunday. We spent some time near the spot where the Colorado flows into Lake Powell, and then a brief stop in quaint little Hanksville for some food.

Bridge over the Colorado

Dirty Devil River and Colorado River merge