San Rafael Reef


Still right here.
Jan 17, 2012
I forced myself to go hiking this past weekend. I woke up on Saturday feeling lethargic, with the threat of bad weather looming. However, I had stayed home the previous weekend and I knew I'd regret doing so two weekends in a row. I got myself and the dogs ready and started out late for a day hike in the San Rafael Reef. During the drive south I saw a familiar vehicle parked at Woodside and hit the brakes. I knew Listorama was in Utah but didn't expect to see him so soon. We chatted for a while and talked about getting together in the next week or two for a hike in the Moab area. I got back underway and made good time to the Goblin Valley area, stopping for a few photos of the large fields of primrose blooming in the San Rafael Desert along the Temple Mountain road. I also stopped at the new kiosk that Wade had spearheaded, detailing John C. Fremont's fifth expedition and Solomon Carvalho's daguerreotype photography. While stopped at the kiosk another couple had pulled in, and I heard one of them ask, "Are you Udink?" It turned out to be a couple from the Denver area who reads my blog and recognized the Jeep. We talked for a bit about what they'd been doing--exploring a bit of the northern Swell for the weekend--before they started off for home. I continued on to my parking spot on the Little Wild Horse road and started hiking right at noon.

Primrose blooms across the San Rafael Desert, with the Henry Mountains and Gilson Buttes on the horizon

Gilson Buttes over a field of primrose

Kiosk at Wild Horse Butte

Parked at my starting point at noon

I was really hoping to duplicate the success I had on a previous hike in the same area a year ago. I'll spare you the suspense: I didn't find any rock art on this trip, but everything else was ridiculously similar to the previous trip. There were many wildflowers blooming in the desert. Pinks, reds, oranges, purples, and yellows were abundant everywhere. I hiked through some ugly Carmel Formation terrain before reaching the Navajo Sandstone that I love. I had to dip into the four liters of water that I always carry so the dogs could get a drink, just before reaching a large pothole where they could get their fill.

Colorful Carmel Formation foothills at the base of the Reef


Hiking in a wash of Carmel Formation layers

Indian Paintbrush

Entering a canyon of Navajo Sandstone

Carmel rubble on top of Navajo Sandstone

Giving the doggies a drink


Torrey and Boulder drinking from a pothole

With this being a relatively small drainage there were a lot of small obstacles to be overcome. I scrambled up dryfalls and around potholes before reaching the head of the drainage I was ascending. At one dryfall I had to literally throw Boulder over my head to get her up it. Torrey clawed her way up on her own, but Boulder doesn't yet know her own strength. Once at the head of the drainage it was a short walk to a spot overlooking Little Wild Horse Canyon. I had reached a similar overlook last fall above the main narrows of Little Wild Horse, but this time I was above the upper end of the narrows. I stopped there for a snack, and fed and watered the pups.

10' dryfall that was moderately difficult to climb

Torrey in a pothole

Head of the drainage

Final climb to my highest point of the hike

View down the Reef into the flat desert

Molly's Castle and Wild Horse Butte

Little Wild Horse Canyon

Upper end of Little Wild Horse Canyon slot

High point of the San Rafael Reef between Bell and Little Wild Horse canyons


Dark clouds were moving in as I began descending the Reef. I hurried, hoping to not get soaked, but the weather man was wrong in his forecast. I never got more than a heavy sprinkling of rain for a brief moment, but most of the time conditions were dry with dark, dramatic skies. There were more potholes and dryfalls to avoid during the descent. I wasn't looking as closely as I normally would for rock art in the lower Reef, though I saw a couple of spots I wouldn't mind checking out more closely under better conditions. I found a broken arrowhead that almost made my day, but nothing was better than seeing the Jeep as I crested the final hill before completing the hike.

Darker clouds moving in from the south

Henry Mountains

Factory Butte

Hump Arch

Patches of blue sky showing to the east

Torrey above a big dryfall

Peeking down at my parking spot

Ooh, a pretty rock!

The dogs and a pothole

Shrub growing in a small pocket of sand

A series of impassible potholes

Leaving the Navajo Sandstone behind

Carmel Formation sidewalk

Lupinus pusillus (Lupine)

Amost done!

GPS stats for the hike (obviously the altimeter needed to be calibrated). It was a very rugged 6.72 miles.

Full photo gallery:

[parsehtml]<iframe width="640" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" src=";hl=en&amp;sll=39.60063,-110.806334&amp;sspn=0.082137,0.169086&amp;t=h&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;ll=38.592523,-110.779266&amp;spn=0.04166,0.084543&amp;output=embed"></iframe><br /><small><a href=";hl=en&amp;sll=39.60063,-110.806334&amp;sspn=0.082137,0.169086&amp;t=h&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;ll=38.592523,-110.779266&amp;spn=0.04166,0.084543&amp;source=embed" style="color:#0000FF;text-align:left">View Larger Map</a></small>[/parsehtml]
Similar threads
Thread starter Title Forum Replies Date
J Moving down to Southern San Rafael Reef Wilderness for two more loop hikes April 13-14 2021 Hiking & Camping 1
J San Rafael Reef Wilderness. Rambling on the Reef March 30-31, 2021 Hiking & Camping 1
kansas San Rafael Reef Trip Planning 2
Udink San Rafael Reef Exploration Hiking & Camping 7
Udink San Rafael Reef between LWH and Chute Hiking & Camping 3
Michael Black Dragon Slickrock 'Trail' - San Rafael Reef, 6-2011 Hiking & Camping 5
Udink San Rafael Reef above Spring Canyon Hiking & Camping 3
Udink San Rafael Reef Rock Art Hiking & Camping 3
Udink San Rafael Reef between Iron Wash and Mormon Tanks Hiking & Camping 10
Udink Old Woman Wash, San Rafael Reef Hiking & Camping 4
Tyler San Rafael Reef March 2011; Day 2 Hiking & Camping 0
Tyler San Rafael Reef March 2011; Day 1 Hiking & Camping 0
D Horseshoe Canyon or San Rafael Swell? Trip Planning 9
D San Rafael Swell Recommendations Trip Planning 9
J Bunch O' N. San Rafael Swell summit scrambles April 10-12, 2021 (now w/rock art) Hiking & Camping 3
fossana San Rafael Swell MTB and salvaged packraft weekend Everything Else 13
Stephanie B Old Woman Wash, Three Finger Petroglyphs, and Wild Horse Canyon (Backcountry Fest in the San Rafael Swell) Hiking & Camping 6
Mikjik86 Video Hiking/Camping San Rafael Swell/Goblin Valley/Horseshoe Canyon - Feb 2019 Hiking & Camping 2
J San Rafael Swell Wilderness Designations General Discussion 13
Nick Invite Backcountry Fest! - April 5-7, 2019, San Rafael Swell Meet Up (Members Only) 274
Jackson Jurassic National Monument and San Rafael Swell Conservation Area General Discussion 9
TrektheWorld The San Rafael Sure is.....Swell Hiking & Camping 1
Jackson Return to the San Rafael River Gorge Backpacking 17
fiber Invite Late March 3-4 day San Rafael Swell Backpacking Loop Meet Up (Members Only) 1
Devin Ashby Nate’s Canyon/ Spring Canyon San Rafael Swell Trip Planning 2
George_Washington_Hayduke Packrafting and Bikepacking from the San Rafael River to Muddy Creek On The Water 0
Jackson San Rafael River Backpacking 7
S Moab/San Rafael Swell Trip advice-family Trip Planning 6
Artemus Help Requested - Conserving the San Rafael Swell Wilderness - Interested? General Discussion 16
SwimsWithTrout Best time of year for San Rafael Swell/Cedar Mesa ? Trip Planning 4
hatchcanyon San Rafael Swell: South Fork Eagle Canyon Off Road 2
Udink San Rafael Fall 2015 Hiking & Camping 4
Artemus Conserving the San Rafael Swell - Interested? General Discussion 13
P Noob looking for solitary beauty in canyon lands, san rafael, escalante Noobs: Introduce yourself! 2
IntrepidXJ Legislative resolution: Drilling is ‘best use’ for Cedar Mesa and San Rafael Swell General Discussion 13
kansas Sunsets in the San Rafael Swell Trip Planning 13
kansas Hunting in San Rafael Swell Trip Planning 2
steve San Rafael River Float On The Water 5
hatchcanyon San Rafael Swell - Cane Wash Off Road 4
hatchcanyon San Rafael Swell - Swaseys Leap (2006) Hiking & Camping 4
hatchcanyon San Rafael Swell - The Western Slope - Slaughter Slopes Off Road 4
hatchcanyon San Rafael Swell - The Western Slope and Lone Tree Wedge Off Road 0
hatchcanyon San Rafael Swell - The Western Slope and Mesa Butte Off Road 2
Udink San Rafael Spring 2014 Hiking & Camping 11
Scott Chandler Easter Weekend Day 3: The Upper San Rafael Hiking & Camping 2
steve Invite San Rafael Swell River Float - dates TBD depending on water levels Meet Up (Members Only) 73
steve Floating the San Rafael General Discussion 9
K This weekend: San Rafael Swell or Moab? Trip Planning 4
steve San Rafael Swell Quickie Off Road 8
Udink Lower San Rafael Hiking & Camping 4

Similar threads