Cottonwood Wash 2018-03

Every year or two I head out to southern Utah with my friend Joe Herbst and his animals, horse Sassy and mule Ruby. This spring break we went to Cottonwood Canyon and Cockscomb Ridge.

The dirt road runs between Highway 89 east of Kanab and Highway 12 east of Bryce Canyon. Cockscomb Ridge is a ridge line of upturned sedimentary rock, most prominently Navajo Sandstone, and is also the East Kaibab monocline, the warp that raises the north rim of the Grand Canyon to high elevation. The sedimentary beds are steeply tilted, though east and west of the fold the rocks are nearly flat lying, more like the traditional picture of the Colorado Plateau.

We camped near the road, two nights, opposite Hackberry Canyon, and then two nights at a tucked away campsite behinds a ridge of Entrada sandstone. The first two nights were cold and windy, so we used Joe’s Tentipi and roaring titanium wood stove, the the weather warmed and the wind dropped for the other two nights.

The first riding day we went up Hackberry Canyon, a stream that flows through the Cockscomb in a very narrow but very rideable canyon. Once through the Navajo sandstone, it widens a bit in the brilliant red Kayenta formation and multi-colored Moenave shale. Eventually the strata dips back down and the stream passes through a much rougher narrow canyon, still passable. At that point we turned back to camp. At the beginning of the upper narrows, the historical Watson cabin is being restored, but with questionable methods. Plastic tarpaper?? We saw a few longhorn cattle up in the upper section, and on out way out, ran into the cowboys who were going to gather them for a move to summer range. We also saw longhorns near our camp that evening.

The second day we rode up Road 430, the Brigham Plains Rd, which climbs at a remarkable angle up through the Dakota, Tropic, Straight Cliffs and Wahweap formations to the mesa above, which seems to be called Brigham Plains. We headed south across the mesa, following a ranching road that passes dry cattle tanks, and eventually found an extensive catchment of roofing metal with a underground tank and watering trough with water. This is a seldom visited place, with far distant views and a sense of openness that doesn’t exist below. It seems the road eventually goes to Coyote Canyon, but that was far beyond out ride. We walked the animals back down the steep road, playing it safe.

The third day we rode down Cottonwood Wash, which is flowing most of the way with water from Hackberry Canyon, though it sinks away before reaching the Paria River. The Paria Box is another narrow canyon cut through the Navajo sandstone of the Cockscomb by the Paria River, from its source on the east side of Bryce Canyon. The canyon is nowhere as narrow as Hackberry, but has more water. In the wide middle section of the canyon, the river braids across a wide flood plain, and the aggrading leaves a fine muck that must be unpleasant to backpack in. We visited a historical cabi and surrounding development on the north side of the river, and the Paria cemetery on the south side. The hills of brilliantly colored Moenave shale in this section is the highlight.

We hardly saw a flower or green plant. Perhaps early in the year, but more likely the result of drought. The soul is damp not far down, but the rain may have come too late for grass and flowers this year. The cattle were largely surviving on munching shrubs, and tiny bits of last-year grass.

Evenings were spent around the ‘campfire’ of Joe’s little wood-burner gasification stoves, eating dinner, telling stories new and repeated, and heading off to sleep. The moon was nearly full Thursday night, but many stars were still visible, Sirius up first and Orion and many other constellations eventually.

Photos on Flickr:

Escalante adventures

Many months later I am finally getting around to posting on my March trip to the Escalante area. Sometimes I have to choose between documenting my trips, and taking another trip, but in this case it relates to being very busy with work.

Joe & animals & portrait rock 2

As we have done three times now, Joe Herbst and I headed to the Escalante area for spring break, March 20-26. We had Sassy the horse, for Joe, and Ruby the mule for me, plus the dogs. We camped the same place above Harris Wash that we’d camped five years ago, an out-of-the-way place with good views in all directions. The beginning of the weeks saw really high winds, high enough to essentially prevent sleep, and wild skies with a bit of rain. Fortunately our camp site has stable clay and rock soil, so there wasn’t any blowing sand and dust that we’d have had if we down in the washes.

We did three day rides out from camp,one in the northern part of 25-Mile Wash including a hoodoo maze of Entrada(?) sandstone, and one in the badlands south of Harris Wash and east of our camp. If not for the date tags on photos, I’d probably not even remember that much. All good rides, with storms playing about overhead and on the horizon but we got wet only once. Joe has spent a lot of time riding this area, so he knows a lot of the destinations, but likes to put them together in different ways.

One day we rode down into the upper canyon of 25-Mile wash, with which Joe was mightily impressed, not having gone that far before. The canyon gradually drops below a rimrock and then deepens impressively. 25-Mile goes through several canyons, and the lower ones may or may not be rideable. I backpacked 25-Miles years ago (1993?), but I wasn’t looking with horse-eyes back then so I’m not sure, but hopefully we will get a chance to try it in some future year.

We moved our camp to 25-Mile Wash, where a branch of the Egypt road comes down to a corral, and did a short exploratory ride in the upper wash area.

Joe at Egypt.jpgThe final riding day we went out to Egypt. I’ve been here before, several times, but Joe never had. It is miles out through the badlands, in and out of washes, and through the piñon-juniper forest, to the edge of the world, where the plateau drops off into the Escalante Canyons. It may be the most spectacular view anywhere in the Escalante area. The origin of the Egypt appellation is fuzzy, I had always thought that it referred to the huge blocks of sandstone that tumble down below the rim, but checking place names later it seems to be a more general reference to the feel of the whole area. We spent a lot of time on the rim just looking, and speculating about the names and nature of the Henry Mountains to the northeast, and the bison herd, and wondering what areas of the canyons below and across from us could be ridden, and which only hiked, and which neither. The Henry’s had some new snow on them from the storms of the last few days. Coming back, we go spectacular views down into the side canyons of Harris Wash.

Given that I only ride with Joe once a year, and these multiple ride trips less often than that, I’m not in shape for all-day rides. Instead, we usually ride for 3-4 hours, though we did one 6 hour day. That leaves plenty of time for reading, eating, sky watching, napping, and most important, story telling. Joe and I have been doing things together since sixth or seventh grade, though with some long gaps when we lost touch, so we have a wealth of stories to tell. As an advantage to being older now, with gradually decreasing memory, we don’t remember which stories we have told and which not, so we tell them again. I think sometimes the details get fitted a bit to the current situation rather than the actual facts, but with no one there to contradict, the stories flow. Joe puts up a pretty good kitchen, so I eat way better on these trips than I ever do backpacking, or even than I did when I used to car camp.

Photos on Flickr:


Escalante horse trip

Joe Herbst beneath Wingate cliffs
Joe Herbst beneath Wingate cliffs

Still catching up with posts…

This spring break I joined my friend Joe in the Escalante area of southern Utah, riding horses and mules. Crossed the Escalante to the east side and camped off the Burr Trail on White Canyon Flat. From there we took a series of day rides, exploring the canyons that head west towards the river, and the draws that head east towards the Circle Cliffs.

We went down three different canyons, but they all narrowed up and became too rough to ride. They are beautiful and intricate, though, as they cut down through the White Rim sandstone.

Riding east towards the Circle Cliffs, we followed one draw up to a spectacular overlook of a canyon in the Waterpocket Fold, a tributary of Muley Twist Canyon. Another ride took us down a canyon that wound down into the edge of the fold, a variety of cliff aspects on every turn. It ended, for us, in a dry fall, though one could hike further down. Another day we rode up a draw to the base of the Circle Cliffs, 400 feet of red sandstone weathered into cracks and arches and spires. From there we rode along the top of the Shinarump formation that separates the flats from a “behind the ridge” area below the Circle Cliffs. We also explored other draws that go up through the Shinarump rim.

The weather that week was much colder than had been forecast, so we spent the nights with Joe’s titanium stove inside his teepee tent. A pretty slick setup! The days were nice, though, cool to warm, with a few light showers. A full moon eclipse occurred, and we stayed up to watch it, Joe lasting the whole time but me staying up for only the first part, and then hitting the sleeping bag.

Though this was spring break week, we saw very few people. Of course we saw no hikers because this is not known as the spectacular part of the Escalante canyons, though it compares well with the rest. But there were very few cars on the Burr Trail, which we expected would be chock full of people driving to Capitol Reef and beyond. Was it too cold for people? Did they all go somewhere else?

This is our second riding trip in the Escalante, the previous being spring break 2007. Far too long, both to spend quality time with Joe, and to be away for the Escalante. We may do it again in two years instead of seven. Though riding keeps us out of some of the most spectacular deep canyons, there are certainly many other areas to explore, years worth.

Photos on Flickr

West End Wash with Joe

Joe & balancing rock
Joe & balancing rock

Friday I had the pleasure of going out on a ride with my friend Joe Herbst to the West End Wash & Gale Hills area off the North Shore Road in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. We’ve been doing these rides about once a year for, hmm, probably at least ten years, usually around Christmas time but sometimes other times of the year. Joe is a friend from my childhood in Las Vegas, we met when we were about 12 years old and started hiking together.

We rode in and out of the washes, over ridges, along routes Joe has been before. Joe spends a lot of time out here, riding at least three days a week (an advantage to being retired). I used to spend quite a bit of time off the North Shore Road, but hadn’t been in this particular area in many, many years. Joe has three animals, Sassy and Ellie the horses, and Ruby the mule, plus two dogs. I used to ride Ellie all the time, but Ellie is in semi-retirement and mostly goes along for the trip now, so I’ve been riding Ruby. Ruby is a very sure-footed mule, easy to ride and safe, except…

Dan on Ruby
Dan on Ruby

Well, I got thrown off / fell off. Ruby stepped down over a ledge and stopped. STOPPED. I did not not, and went down hard on the hard rock of the canyon bottom. A few cuts and scrapes, and a pulled muscle in my rib cage, most of which was incurred in trying to stay on the mule, but without success. Ruby’s saddle was forward, which could have been the cause of the sudden stop, or could have just resulted from me trying to hang on as I was flying. No permanent injury. It’s a good reminder that it is my responsibility to check the cinch, and lazing along old roads doesn’t mean I get to relax when the country gets rougher.

As we ride along, we tell each other stories and remembrances, some from recent times and some from long ago hiking and backpacking with Howard Booth and others. We’ve probably told most of these stories many times before, but one of the advantages to only riding together once a year is that we’ve forgotten during the year which stories, and the details of the stories, so we get to tell them again.

Almost seven years ago we spent a week day-riding in the Escalante in southern Utah, and we are starting to talk about doing it again in April. Yahoo!

Photos on Flickr, some from me and some from Joe

Bowl of Fire on horse

Joe Herbst
Joe Herbst with Sassy & Ellie

On the day after Christmas, Joe Herbst and I did our annual (more or less) horse ride out in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This year we rode in the Bowl of Fire, off the North Shore Road. Driving up Callville Wash, which was not possible last year with the washed our road and deep mud, we parked the trailer and unloaded Sassy, Ellie, and Ruby. We then headed further up the wash and over a nearly invisible saddle to the back side of the Bowl of Fire, then headed west behind the bluffs, and wound down through a narrow wash and back to the truck. The weather was perfect, a brilliant blue sky of the sort I never see in Sacramento where I now live.

Joe and I have been friends for 48 years or so, starting out hiking, backpacking and climbing with Howard Booth. We lost touch for a while as we both went off to do different things, but have reconnected for about the last 10 years, and immensely enjoy our time together. Our biggest adventure was a 2007 week-long series of rides in the Escalante Canyons of Utah, but we’ve been doing at least one trip a year (last year, in the same area).

After the ride, we went out to dinner with Joe’s wife Pam, which was the first time I’d gotten to spend much time with Pam.

Photos on Picasa at

With my irregular posting, I miss a lot of things, which I often think I’ll go back and pick up later, but don’t. Recently, my life included seeing friends Ann Pitchford, Jeff vanEe, Howard Booth and Ursula Wilson, Mike Pearson, Mark Vranesh, and Norma Biggar, all long-standing Las Vegas area friends. I spent Christmas with my mom, sister, nieces, and grandniece. Earlier in December I attended the Gaskell Ball and one day of the Dickens Fair, and spent time with Michael Charnofsky. I saw several movies over the month, out at theaters which is rare for me. By far my favorite was Hugo.

Horse ride with Joe

Joe on Ruby, upper Calville Wash
Joe on Ruby, upper Calville Wash

Sunday Joe Herbst and I got out for a short horse ride. I truly enjoy these days out, though they only happen for me about once a year (Joe goes nearly every weekend), these are always among the best days.

Today we rode upper Calville Wash, north of the North Shore Road in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The Bowl of Fire is just to the north of the wash, and the wash drains a part of the bowl. Joe was riding his new mule Ruby, and I rode Pam’s Arabian Elle (Pam is Joe’s wife). The dogs Trixie and Rufus also went along. We went up the north fork of the wash, encountering a lot of soft mud and quicksand which was a little sketchy, over the saddle, and back down the wet but more stable east fork. We rode for perhaps four hours, but with such a beautiful day, it seems like enough. A few more photos on PicasaWeb.

For those of you who don’t know him, Joe is a nearly lifelong friend, who I met shortly after moving to Las Vegas when I was 11. His dad Emmett and my dad worked together for an AEC contractor, and we were introduced as hiking partners, which we immediately became under the mentorship of Howard Booth. The only long trip Joe and I have had is a week in Escalante Canyons, Utah, in April 2007, which I did not post about in this blog, but you can see photos on PicasaWeb from that trip.