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.