December 8, 2012

Mill Creek Canyon, Moab Area, Utah

If you want to see one of the most spectacular sites in the Moab area, you don't need to go to Arches National Park, or Canyonlands, or the Colorado River Gorge. Instead, there is an amazing canyon located right down the street from downtown Moab called Mill Creek Canyon. 500 foot red rock cliffs of Navajo Sandstone rise up above the perennial waters of Mill Creek. Mill Creek itself flows down from the La Sal Mountains and into downtown Moab.

Mill Creek Canyon begins in a wide sandy area, but within a quarter mile the canyon walls close in. The canyon soon splits into a north fork and a south fork. Either way, be prepared to cross the stream several times. The water is very cold, since it is snow melt. Which might be nice in the heat of the summer, but is definitely very chilly in fall and winter.

Immediately after crossing the creek for the first time up the north fork, you will see a large rock containing a couple of dozen ancient petroglyphs. The route weaves in and out of riparian forests, up onto rocky slopes, and across sand dunes. There are many different routes and way-trails, but you just need to find the one that looks good to you and keep heading up the canyon. 

Bypassing the waterfall

Soon you will encounter a beautiful waterfall. But, there is no feasible way to get up and past it. So, you will need to backtrack and look for where a trail heads up the slope and onto the rocks above and around the waterfalls. The route continues up-and-down sand dunes with towering rock walls drawing you further on.

Eventually you will come to a large bend in the canyon where the rock walls come to water level and a small waterfall drops over the slick rock. With no feasible way past this second waterfall without wading directly into the pool below it, this might be a good turn around point. If you continue, the canyon continues for miles further. Either way, Mill Creek Canyon rivals almost any other slickrock canyon I have ever seen.

If this were in another state other than Utah, especially anywhere east of the Rockies, it would be a national park. Here in Moab, it's just a "Wilderness Study Area", not even an officially designated wilderness. Just ho-hum spectacular beauty in the Moab area.

December 5, 2012

Forca d'Acero Loop, Parco Nazionale delle Abruzzi, Italy

Distance: 9.3 km (5.8 mi)
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 1420 - 1880 m (4657 - 6166 ft)
Season: late May - November

Forca d’Acero translates to "fork of the maples" and is the main pass providing access to the Parco Nazionale della Abruzzi from the west. Located at 1530 m, it is also an excellent jumping off point for accessing the high alpine meadows of the Abruzzi mountains. Forca d'Acero can be accessed by taking the Cassino exit if coming from Naples or the Frosinone exit if coming from Rome and following signs for Atina and Sora. Take the SS509 from Atina straight there or the SS666 from Sora to the intersection with SS509 and then turn right onto it.

Approximately 400 meters west of the pass at Forca d'Acero is the trailhead for the P2 trail, which is the entrance and exit for this loop hike. There is a small parking area across from the trailhead, which is not well signed. Look for a blue road sign which says “10 innesto ss83 km 10+000 ss 509 Forca D’Acero” at this parking spot. Should you miss the trailhead or if the pull out is full, it is possible to park at the pass itself, where there is a refugio and plenty of parking, and to walk the road back down approximately 400 meters, looking for the trailhead on the left across from the pullout on the right.

The trail begins as a pleasant stroll through an old-growth beech forest. Approximate 600 m into the forest, look for blue/white blazes on the trees to the right leading to an opening in the forest at the base of the slope. Turn right and follow the blue/white blazes. Soon the route will climb fairly steeply up the slope through a tangle of young beech up to the treeline. This climb is the most difficult part of the hike both physically and in terms of orientation. It is difficult to follow the blue/white blazes on the rocks and small trees. But, if you lose them, do not be concerned. Just bushwhack your way upward and soon you will emerge out of the trees into the alpine meadows and will intersect a well established trail paralleling the treeline.

Turn right onto this trail and follow it as it switchbacks a couple of times and then emerges onto a beautiful promontory with the spectacular view to the north and west across the Abruzzi range, the meadows of Campo Luogo and Campo Rotondo, and the village of Pescasseroli in the distance. Follow the trail around the westside of the ridge until reaching a series of snow fences. The fences were built to prevent landslides and avalanches from reaching the road below. The trail appears to end at this snow fences, with the exception of a myriad of small livestock and game trails. Instead, turn straight up the slope to the saddle above. It is steep, but short, and just walk between the fences and use them for support, if necessary.

Once at the saddle, the most spectacular part of this hike is about to begin. The view becomes fully panoramic, with the entire Abruzzi range in view. Below is a beautiful valley, which you will descend into later. You can also see the dominant peak of the range, Monte Marsicano which stands over 2230 m high.

From the saddle, turn right and climb up the grassy slope to the summit above. From the summit, the next 2 km is just a pleasant stroll along the ridgeline, with magnificent views all around. There is not much of an established trail, but there is a faint path of beaten down grass caused by the wild horses that live on these slopes and occasional yellow stripes on the rocks indicating some sort of route. However, this faint this trail does not appear on the maps and the way is obvious in this open landscape.

The ridge undulates up and down over several short summits and saddles. Across the steep valley to the southwest is Monte San Marcello and in the distance to the west are the 2200 m peaks of Monte Petrose and Monte Altara. Between the last two summits on the ridgeline in the saddle you will come across the F9 trail blazed in orange descending down into the valley to the left. This is the trail down to loop back to Forca D’Acero. But, if you want to make one last climb to the summit of Monte San Nicola, you can stay straight and go up to the top, before returning back to the F9. It will initially descend very steeply into the valley, before becoming more gradual upon entering the beech forest.

This is a very pleasant trail and easy to follow as it gradually works its way down the slopes through the old-growth beech trees. Eventually, the F9 trail will descend all the way down to 1420 m and will emerge into the small meadow that you had seen from above. Here, it can get a little confusing with a myriad of blazes heading in several directions. Just head out into the middle of the meadow and look for a large limestone rock with several blazes on it.

It will read Inizio F8 pointing to the left. Turn left on the F8 following the orange blazes as it climbs up out of the valley and towards the ridgeline above. This is a fairly relentless climb of 200 m, especially since you may not really feel like climbing at this stage of the hike after having descended so far. The F8 will continue until reaching a saddle in the forest. At the saddle, it changes its name to the P2 – the same P2 you started on. Follow this gentle trail back to the trailhead.

November 30, 2012

Klondike Bluffs, Arches National Park, Moab

One of the biggest issues people have when they come to the Moab area is what to do about their dogs? Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park sit just across from each other separated by just a few miles by Moab and the Spanish Valley. Yet, neither of these amazing geological areas are open to dogs. Just on a hunch, we decided to get as close to Arches as possible and see what we could find that would allow us to take our dogs with us.

Looking up the Salt Valley toward the La Sal Mountains in the distance

We drove into Arches National Park from the main entrance just a couple of miles north of Moab on US-191. We then drove almost completely through the park until arriving at the Salt Valley Road on the left. This dirt road drops off the spectacular red-finned bluffs into the desolate Salt Valley, which is a down-drop basin associated with faulting in the region and the Paradox formation, which is a thousand-foot thick layer of salt associated when the region was a warm, shallow sea surrounded by hot desert climates. As the salt dissolved away with groundwater intrusion, the area sunk downward to form the valley.

Following the fenceline of Arches National Park toward Klondike Bluffs

We drove 10.1 miles across the valley to the north until we reached the Klondike Bluffs trail access road. However, that trailhead is still within the park and does not allow dogs. So, we continued for one mile further until we saw a sign indicating we were leaving the park boundary. Safely on BLM lands, we parked the car and began walking the fenceline toward the bluffs, dogs in tow.

At one point we looked up and saw a whole herd of Mule Deer on the rocky slopes. They saw the dogs and took off up what was almost a vertical slope. But, that gave us an idea, let's follow their route to the top of the bluffs for a panoramic view. Surely if they can do it, so can we.

A view of Klondike Bluffs with the La Sal Mountains in the distance

We began climbing the slope, hand-over-hand in places toward the first of several false summits. But, really it wasn't too bad in most places, as we just followed the deer tracks on already laid game trails. Upon reaching the top, there was a spectacular 360 degree view of the region.

Hilina is turning into a real hiker and rock climber. She loved scrambling up the slopes and did not complain one time. In fact, she was even laughing and excited about each new rocky reach to scale. I know our old bones and joints were far worse off than her spry little body, even if her limbs are not as long.

From the top, we could see across the Moab Fault and off toward the distant Henry Mountains. You could see north toward the San Rafael Swell, the cliffs of Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point, and south across all of Arches National Park.

It was a fun off-trail adventure. The dogs loved climbing the rocks and exploring the game trails. It was like being in Arches National Park, without the rules.

November 12, 2012

West Clear Creek Wilderness, Arizona

With temperatures dropping into the 30's (teens at night) at 7,000 feet this weekend, we decided to descend in elevation and see what was happening in the Verde Valley at 3,000 feet. We went up into the West Clear Creek Wilderness. West Clear Creek cuts a deep canyon some 20 miles long and 1,000 feet deep into the Mogollon Rim. Most of it is only about 1 mile wide.

Back in 2006, the Arizona Department of Fish and Game reintroduced Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep into the wilderness as part of their greater efforts to restore bighorn sheep to the state after nearly the entire population was extirpated in the early 20th century. We saw two of them on the rocky slopes along the way.

To access the trail, take Hwy 260 east out of Camp Verde for 5 miles. Just before the Clear Creek Campground, look for a forest service road heading off to the left. There is a sign for Bull Pen and Beaver Creek. Drive down this road for 2 miles and then look for FR 215 branching right. Follow this rough dirt road until it ends at a fence under the canopy of sycamores.

The trail starts out in an open mesquite-juniper shrubland just on the bench above the creek's bottomland riparian forest of Arizona sycamores, alders, and ash. There are magnificent views of the cliffs on the opposite side of the canyon. Seeps flow where the volcanic rocks meet the limestone layers below and deciduous trees hang from the cliff face like some tropical vision. After about a mile the trail will approach a redrock cliff and descend down to the creekside itself.

Eventually, after following the creek for a short distance, you will reach the first crossing. There really is no way to get across without getting wet. We tried many different approaches, but the boulders were always just a bit too far apart. So, we just waded into the foot deep water.

After a short distance on the cobbles of the old river bed, it was back across yet again toward the redrock cliff. The trail then climbs out of the bottomland and back up onto the mesquite flats. The views are spectacular up and down the canyon.

At about two miles you will reach creek crossing #3. The trail will then climb up a hill into the juniper stand. There are tantalizing glimpses down the canyon, but no completely open views due to the canopy cover.

Eventually the trail crosses for a fourth time before eventually heading steeply upslope to the canyon rim. We didn't go that far, turning back just before the fourth crossing. West Clear Creek is a great place to go in the heat of the summer to cool down under the shade of the riparian trees and take a cool dip in the deep pools along the cliff faces. In November, the temperatures have finally dropped into the 70s and the trees are just beginning to change color.

While the colors are not quite as spectacular as Sycamore Canyon or West Fork Oak Creek Canyon, there is a different quality here. The bronze of the sycamores, the orange/brown hues of the ash and walnut, the subtle yellows and pale greens of the alders and netleaf hackberries give it a calm late fall glow.

October 23, 2012

Huckaby Trail, Oak Creek Canyon, near Sedona, AZ

Fall is such an amazing time in Northern Arizona. Brilliant blue skies, warm temperatures, and hikes available at every elevation. Fall colors start high up on the peaks in September and migrate down to the deserts in November. As the fall colors have past peak in Flagstaff, we decided to see what was happening 2,000 feet lower in Sedona. We drove down to Oak Creek Canyon. West Fork Oak Creek, the world famous canyon I have written about previously is at full peak color and was jammed packed with people. We decided to avoid the crowds and head further downstream to the Huckaby Trail to follow the mainstem of Oak Creek just above Sedona. While temperatures remain in the upper-60's in Flagstaff, they were in the mid-70's in Sedona. What a comfortable temperature for late October.

We parked at Midgely Bridge, which spans a side canyon. The parking is tight, but if you go early enough, you can find a spot. The trail then descends under the bridge and heads downslope toward the bottom of the canyon. Upon arriving at the creek, you find yourself under a canopy of large sycamores, alders, and willows. Interestingly, the trees really have not yet started changing colors at 5,000 feet yet. Most of them were still completely green.

There are two sections of the creek you have to cross, but the stones are large and piled up nicely to cross without getting wet. On the otherside of Oak Creek, you will pass an old orchard of what look like apricots or peaches, although the trees are so old and spindly, it's hard to tell. The site must be well over 100 years old.

The trail follows the edge of the riparian strip for the next mile or so. Most of the large trees are sycamores, but there are some cottonwoods, as well as, some large Ponderosa pines growing at the edge of the riparian zone and 2,000 feet below the main portion of their range. The ground water and shade of the canyon must allow them to just hang on.

The beautiful fall colors of poison ivy along the river

Eventually the trail climbs out of the canyon floor and onto the slides of the slopes. The vegetation transitions into the typical juniper and desert scrub of the area with lots of prickly pears, sugar sumac, manzanita, and even a few ocotillos. Once it rises out of the canyon, you get some great views of the surrounding landscape.


The trail continues onto Schnebly Hill Road where there is another parking area. Linda and Hilina continued down the road to Tlaaquepaque for ice cream and then into Uptown Sedona. I walked back with Sophie the way we came to get the car and then meet them in Uptown.

Looking back up Oak Creek Canyon to Midgely Bridge with Mount Wilson above to the left

All-in-all, this 6 mile round trip makes for a wonderful fall hike to do.

A view into Uptown Sedona

June 11, 2012

Copper Ridge Dinosaur Tracks and Petroglyphs, Moab, UT

This is a post I had written up back in November, but forgot to post and has been sitting in my archives. Better late than never...
The view north from Copper Ridge

Just north of Moab on your way to Green River, there is an unsigned dirt road that heads 2 miles out to the base of Copper Ridge. At the parking area, there is a short trail up the slope to the Jurassic Age dinosaur tracks. There is a platform of wavy mudstone, only about 30 feet long where the tracks are located. There are two specific tracks.

One set of tracks include a sauropod, thought to be either a Diplodocus or Apatosaurus. What is amazing about this particular set of tracks, is that it is the only set of tracks known where a dinosaur made a 90 degree turn.

Above, you can see where the in the image,
the sauropod was walking (what appears to be downhill) and then turns right.

Unfortunately, the image of the Allosaurus tracks at this site will not load properly into this blog. But, here it is sideways. 

But, at another site, down the Potash Road just outside of Moab, there is a set of Allosaurus tracks located at the trailhead for the Poison Spider Trail.

Also down the Potash Road are numerous petroglyphs on the cliffs right along the Colorado River. Many of them appeared to be "alien-like" creatures, as well as, the normal assortment of bighorn sheep, deer, and snakes.

But, one petroglyph that really stood out was a very clear image of a bear. It's unlikely bear were living down in the Colorado River Gorge at the time, but the nearby La Sal Mountains would most definitely have been a habitat for them. In addition, often the images on petroglyphs are thought to represent clans and spiritual beings rather than the animals themselves.

Below are some additional petroglyphs. Just be careful because there are so many that you don't want to be looking up and swerve into on-coming traffic. It's much better just to pull over a bunch of times.