Monday, November 30, 2009

Capitol Reef National Park and Goblin Valley State Park, Utah - Hiking

It was another Thanksgiving holiday to be thankful for. After spending a great day with Jake and his family feasting on tofurkey and playing Phase10 (the best game ever), Brandon and I headed out for some Thanksgiving adventure in the canyons of southern Utah's San Rafael Swell. So far this year, my trips with Brandon have included -10 degree temperatures, rock slides, flash floods, hail, and other similar weather surprises. I'm thankful to report that our Thanksgiving adventure had nearly perfect weather.

We arrived in Capitol Reef Friday morning and set out on the Bullfrog-Notom road to Cedar Mesa campground, the primitive camping area that we became flood refugees at during this year's Memorial Day adventure. We quickly set up camp (no time to waste during the short days of winter) and traveled back up the dirt road a few mile for our first adventure of the trip.

We spent several hours hiking up Sheets Gulch slot canyon, a non-technical canyon cutting into the reef. Slot canyons are a ton of fun if proper respect is given to the canyon and the weather. Many slot canyons require advanced canyoneering skills (which I currently lack), but many others are easy to navigate with some basic gear. Slot canyons have stretches of "narrows" where you have to squeeze yourself through tight canyon walls sculpted and carved out by violent flash floods. Sheets Gulch had a few stretches of narrows and all were easy to navigate.

Brandon crawling into one of the narrows in Sheets Gulch

Beautiful canyon walls

Brandon in Sheets Gulch

Me above one of the narrows in Sheets Gulch

The beginning of Sheets Gulch

It was a cold night in Capitol Reef, but we bought plenty of firewood in Loa and I spent several hours sitting (very) close to the fire and enjoying the peaceful quiet of the desert. The nearly-full moon had a brilliant halo around it for a while, but the thin clouds blocked most of the stars from giving us the nighttime show that Capitol Reef is famous for.

I spent some time Saturday morning walking around at camp site at Cedar Mesa. It was a very different experience from six months ago when muddy flood water was flowing through the washes. Things seemed much more peaceful and relaxed. Winter and summer have the same stillness in the desert.

Capitol Reef

Me and a tree friend

Capitol Reef

On our way to Goblin Valley Saturday afternoon we stopped in Hanksville to meet up with my friend Sheldon. It was definitely a highlight of the trip, and he was awesome enough to join us in Goblin Valley for a few hours later that night.

Meeting up with Sheldon at Hollow Mountain

Goblin Valley is the best outdoor playground in Utah. It is also a very nice and convenient place to camp for further exploration of the San Rafael Swell. Brandon and I spent Saturday afternoon enjoying the crazy rock formations in Goblin Valley before cooking dinner and enjoying another evening by the camp fire with Sheldon.

Me in Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

Me in Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley and the San Rafael Swell

On Sunday, Brandon and I did another slot canyon before heading back to Salt Lake. Crack Canyon is located near Goblin Valley and is another non-technical slot canyon that is a ton of fun. The weather was absolutely perfect for late November, and the scenery was fantastic.

Sunrise in Goblin Valley

Climbing through Crack Canyon

Brandon in Crack Canyon

Brandon in Crack Canyon

Crack Canyon