December in Lower Muley Twist


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
"Attach this to your pack." The park ranger slid the wax-coated paper across the counter. "I'll be honest — you're not going to see another ranger once you leave the visitor center. It doesn't look like anyone's been in the canyon for days. You'll be alone down there."

"I hope so. That's why I'm here at this time of year."

"Make sure you've told someone your plans," she continued, unfazed. "We're pretty short on staff during the winter. There's a good chance if something happens, no one will notice your car at the Post for weeks. If you run into trouble, your emergency contact will need to call the county sheriff. Then, if necessary, they'll contact us."


I've had mixed results with December outings the last few years. It's a toss-up between wintry weather or mild, enjoyable conditions in the canyon country.

With a week off work after Thanksgiving, I weighed options for places to go. Hoping for some amazing scenery, I opted to head through the Swell to Capitol Reef.


Unfortunately, the very mild skies Utah experienced during most of November and December took a brief sojourn for the time I was away. This meant no amazing sunset shots from the Wedge.





I overnighted here, then drove down to I-70 the next morning.


Along the way, I made the obligatory stop at the well-documented Buckhorn Wash panel.



As well as the San Rafael River bridge.


From the freeway, I headed west to SR 72 and then south over Hogan Pass. I'd never taken this route to Capitol Reef, usually doing the run down I-15 to highways 50 and 24.


Snow falling over the Fishlake National Forest had me wondering whether or not it would be worth backpacking. Reluctant, I picked up a permit for Lower Muley Twist at the Capitol Reef visitor center. The kind ranger manning the desk gave me no attitude, just advice to watch the steep wash crossing on the road to the Post.

The crossing was no problem. I was much more disturbed by this roadside scene. Does anyone want some naturally-tanned cow leather?


Low, flat clouds on the drive along the Notom Road didn't buoy my enthusiasm much.


But it was too late to have a change of heart. Once at the Post, I made some sandwiches, packed up and set out over the cutoff trail.




Interesting extrusions are exposed along the top of the reef.


The air felt cool but sweat dripped from my chin on the climb up the reef. Then, a pleasant walk through a meadow led to Lower Muley Twist Canyon proper.



Having made a late start, I wasn't able to get far before the onset of dark forced me to find a place to pitch camp.


This giant alcove seemed to fit the bill.



Flood waters at the back of the alcove had formed a cut bank and, above it, a flat sandy patch perfect for my small camp.

Cooking for One by ashergrey, on Flickr

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The onset of night's dark came without a sunset. The air chilled, remaining quiet and still. I settled in with a book and enjoyed the silence.


A bright moon broke free of the canyon rim around 4 a.m. It slid over a hole in the clouds. Its beam of silver light brought me awake. Knowing daylight remained hours away, I read some more before dropping off to sleep for a second time.

At around 7:30 I rose, dressed in clothes made stiff by the night's freezing cold and broke camp.

The cobbles under foot were solid, sand cemented by rain that had fallen and frozen days before. Only faint outlines of footsteps were visible here or there in the softer spots.

Giant alcoves begged for exploration, though many were located high on the slopes above the canyon bottom and out of my reach.



The unmistakable Cowboy Camp stank like desiccated horse manure.


Much to my excitement, sunlight started to pierce the clouds as the canyon turned to cut through the Waterpocket Fold.



Miles of walking and frustration over lackluster photography conditions started to pay off as I munched an apple along Halls Creek.

Dark Skies over the Reef by ashergrey, on Flickr

iPhone 6 panorama encompassing about 220 degrees field of view, looking south.


Clouds boiled to the south as the sun played peek-a-boo.

Waiting for Rain by ashergrey, on Flickr

Miles more walking waited though. No time to sit around enjoying the scenery.


The clouds were moving north, but slowly.


Patches of golden light kept popping up on the Reef and on the cliffs to the east.



Hot spots were also popping up on my heels.


I should have stopped and dealt with them, but instead kept telling myself I only had a mile or so left to go. That lasted six or eight miles.

The pain became intense. I tried to focus on other things. Cotton tails darted among the brush. Coyote scat littered the trail.

Another iPhone shot. I think this one was actually a mistake, but I ended up liking the square composition.


Every time I hike in Capitol Reef, I find interesting rocks. I'm not sure what it is about the area but it just seems to bring in such an odd assortment.

This sandstone piece had delicate ridges and bowls.


While this kidney-shaped slab showed some very obvious scrape marks along the inner curve.


Arriving back at the Post, I found my car alone. Just as I left it.


Swap Mesa by ashergrey, on Flickr


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The sun started to dip low as I drove back along the Notom Road.

Caineville Mesa by ashergrey, on Flickr

Lost in the Clouds by ashergrey, on Flickr


Salmon Sandstone by ashergrey, on Flickr


The clouds closed, skies darkened and night fell. But not before a last reminder of why I love this place.

Notom Road by ashergrey, on Flickr

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I like hiking cows
Dec 18, 2012
You took some really nice pictures, I love the colors.


Jul 5, 2014
Looks like a great trip. I'd choose the solitude you had over optimim photography conditions every time. Besides, your pictures ended up coming out great anyways.


Mar 13, 2014
Seems like a nice, short trip. Those can really recharge the soul, especially in the off-season. Great photos!


Jan 6, 2013
Great hike! We were there while hiking a section of Hayduke in October. Slept in the cowboy cave :) We did not see a soul from Poison Spring to Coyote Gulch, for 6 days.

BTW, that "slab" in your hand looks like petrified wood, then the scrapes along inner curve would be the fibers of the wood


Sep 9, 2013
what a great post. awesome pics. curious though -- the red line on the second map doesn't connect to your starting point. how did you get back to your car?


walking somewhere
Apr 1, 2014
Great pictures, and great write up as well. Thanks! That's a wonderful place. Upper Muley's gets all the love, but that lower Muley's area, along with Strike Valley, is my favorite. Great solitude as well.


walking somewhere
Apr 1, 2014
what a great post. awesome pics. curious though -- the red line on the second map doesn't connect to your starting point. how did you get back to your car?
You might have just looked at it wrong. It looks to me to match up.


Oct 27, 2013
What a beautiful area! I'm leaning toward Capitol Reef for my next trip. What months should I avoid visiting if I don't want to see crowds of people?


Mar 19, 2014
What a beautiful area! I'm leaning toward Capitol Reef for my next trip. What months should I avoid visiting if I don't want to see crowds of people?

April and May for sure. July and August are my favorites. The monsoon storms are fantastic.


Hiker Trash
Jan 4, 2015
What a beautiful area! I'm leaning toward Capitol Reef for my next trip. What months should I avoid visiting if I don't want to see crowds of people?

It's "out there" enough that you won't really ever see crowds of people. We saw one other person on a trip to Upper Muley in late September, and one other person on a trip to Lower Muley in early October.

I'd echo Glasterpiece's comments about the monsoons. The two aforementioned trips both took place about a week after huge storms had moved through the area and dumped a couple inches of rain. It was interesting seeing the high-water mark several feet above my head in the narrows, and huge tree branches freshly deposited on on rocks ten feet tall. Just check the forecast before you go!


walking somewhere
Apr 1, 2014
What a beautiful area! I'm leaning toward Capitol Reef for my next trip. What months should I avoid visiting if I don't want to see crowds of people?
Honestly, there aren't really ever crowds of people in Capitol Reef. Definitely not in the backcountry. Places like the Fruita area, Hickman Bridge, Chimney Rock, and the Grand Wash trail get busy in late March, April, and May. But that's because they are close to the road. And it really isn't that busy for a National Park at all. Personally I like the spring time there.


Sep 7, 2014
Lovely pics & nice report. :) Yes, that is definitely petrified wood. Also, the shot you call Salmon Sandstone is a formation known as The Golden Throne, which is also a park trail (you can't get to the top of the Throne from it, just to a nice viewpoint).

Definitely pretty much never crowds of people in the backcountry, although I've seen large groups in Pleasant Creek canyon during some spring breaks. Avoid the main drag (hwy 24) on any holiday weekend. Monsoon season can be gorgeous, to be sure, but also can add interesting twists to your travel depending on what happens to the roads. Also not always a good choice for slot canyon hikes then, of course, although you just need to keep an eye on the weather and be aware. I love the spring months for the flowers and the sense of everything awakening again, but I also adore the fall months there. Bright yellow cottonwoods in the washes framed by red cliffs is always pretty fantastic to see.


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
Thanks for the comment. This was hardly my first trip to the Reef, I'm quite familiar with the park and its features. ;)
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