Southern Utah Traverse 2009


Sep 6, 2012
Southern Utah Traverse 2009

Border to border traverse of Southern Utah completed successfully by three members of Expedition Utah and their three trusty vehicles between September fourth and September twelfth, two thousand and nine.

Adam, with a Jeep JK Wrangler Rubicon
Jan, with a Toyota HZJ73 LandCruiser
and Myself (Jared), with a Jeep XJ Cherokee Sport

0909SUT-D5_46 by xjblue, on Flickr

There are countless route options and even methods of travel with which a trip across southern Utah can be put together. One day on paved roads or two months exploring every spur, the sky isn't even the limit if you consider remote landing strips. Thinking about spending two months reminds me when while at an REI store years ago I listened to a presentation by folks who nearly crossed all of southern Utah by foot while avoiding roads of any kind as much as possible.

The ideal traverse will vary greatly depending on who you talk to. For those of us on Expedition Utah it’s safe to say the ideal vehicle dependent route avoids pavement by rule and escapes crowds often while taking the traveler across Utah's most wild and beautiful desert and mountain landscape.

Although this trip may pale in comparison to proper expeditions conducted regularly around the globe it was truly an epic trip for us.

Where to begin?

For us it all began one rainy night in Nevada’s scenic Beaver Dam State Park.
Remote and probably never full the state park campground makes for the perfect rendezvous with really decent under used campground facilities.

I arrived to find Jan and Adam waiting for me, a simple call on the CB radio at just the right moment brought us quickly together. We chose two adjacent sites with hardly any neighbors in site and set up for the night. Jan simply had to hop in the back of his ever ready cruiser, a model of overland efficiency. Adam set up a tent while I picked out a good spot under the stars hoping the dissipating rain clouds were finished and joking about how quickly I'll hop in the jeep if it starts to storm.

Hours later and after finally dozing off I awoke to a bright flash of lightning and the smell of rain. I quickly Started to unravel the waterproof bivy sack by my side while the thunder rolled. Then a whole series of lighting flashes in every direction caused me to stop and look around, lightning storms lit up every horizon. Galvanized by another close flash of lightning and drops of rain I was up and running to the Jeep with sleeping gear in hand. Looking around from the drivers seat as more lightning crashed around I realized I had time to put the ground tarp and camp chair away, just enough time. I noticed even Adam abandoned his tent in favor of weathering out the storm in his wrangler. After a brilliant display which lasted quite a while I finally found a comfortable position and drifted to sleep wedged cross ways in the back seat legs dangling over the center console.

Day One

Morning came too soon after finally getting to sleep but not soon enough to start the Southern Utah Traverse. Jan was chipper and ready to go, unfazed by the lightning and rain storm and with nothing to pack or re-arrange before breaking camp.

leaving the park we took a left turn heading south along Beaver Dam Flat and over Pine Ridge then the Doc Pass Road to Bunker Peak Road. A left on Bunker Peak road took us towards the border and offered a fun twisty route out of the mountains with great views in to Utah. A signed intersection directed us to the border and first goal of the traverse, an old border sign!

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Putting the Nevada map away we continued towards Motoqua then made a right turn to run the Scarecrow Peak Trail taking us back to run along the Utah side of the border through a thin Joshua tree forest and back down across Beaver Dam Wash which boasts being the lowest point in Utah somewhere along it's stretch.

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Joshua Trees along the Utah Nevada Border.

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towers on West Mountain Peak

Climbing out of the wash after a brief stop at Jackson Well we took a right on the Indian Springs Trail heading south again towards Hell Hole Pass. We drove up Hell Hole Pass taking a left at the top for the steep road up to the TV towers on West Mountain Peak, part of the Beaver Dam Mountains. There we enjoyed 360* views of the whole southwest corner of Utah and could retrace our whole route that morning from Bunker Pass.

After lunch on top we descended and finished the Hell Hole Pass trail followed by a right turn for our first short bit of blacktop down old Hwy 91 to take the Joshua Tree Road/Mojave Desert Scenic Backway. This we took northwest climbing up Bulldog pass and again across the Beaver Dam Mountains, after I missed a turn we quickly re-traced and descended toward Bloomington on Hollow Wash Road.

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Bulldog canyon

Stopped briefly to view the petroglyphs in a little neighborhood park and again to refuel before I fulfilled my own prophecy and got turned around in St. George's suburban sprawl while trying to sneak past Civilization.

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Bloomington's petroglyph park detail

Finally back on track we traveled along the historic Honeymoon Trail and made quick work visiting Warner Valley's historic Ft Pearce and pre-historic dinosaur trackway.

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Continuing west we joined the Hurricane Cliffs Trail and with a brief but necessary dip in to Arizona drove up the amazing switchbacks paralleling the old Honeymoon Trail wagon road. On top the cliffs we found a campsite off of The Divide Trail next to Little Creek Mountain in time to set up and enjoy a spectacular rainbow laced sunset with dinner.

little Creek mountain

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All said and done, though a bit long and other than a couple missed turns day one worked out very well.


Featured image for home page:


Sep 6, 2012
Day Two

Our second day started early, we took the Divide Trail north then turned west paralleling Gould Wash between Little Creek Mountain still on our right and Gooseberry Mesa behind Hwy 59 on our left. We soon found ourselves in a brand new golf coarse community just getting started, then had to bypass off of our dirt road early for a pipeline going in under it.

windmill in Rosy Canyon

Hitting pavement south on Hwy 95 dipping back in to Arizona, again out of necessity, we turned off at the Cane Beds Road which turned to dirt lined with blossoming yellow and purple beeplant and took us north back in to Utah winding through lovely Rosy Canyon before becoming the paved Ponderosa Coral Pink Sand Dunes Scenic Backway. In an earlier time to avoid entering Arizona again, we could have taken Utah Avenue in Hildale , utilizing Canaan Mountain and connecting to our next goal via Broad Hallow but that route was never re-opened after a fire years ago. We made a brief stop at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, then attempted but failed to find the dinosaur tracks nearby before embarking on the next goal, The Barracks Trail.

Purple Beeplant (Cleome serrulata) at Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Scenery and remoteness build as you get deeper in towards the Barracks. Penetrating beyond Elephant Butte and circumnavigating around Harris Point, finding ourselves on a sandy two track navigating through many spur intersections. Finally reaching the East Fork Virgin River after what seemed like a long time I let the Jeep run down a steep sand hill toward bottom. I heard Adam respond to Jan on the CB and found my squelch was turned down so low I missed his call for help when he fell victim to the infamous soft sand of the area somewhere just behind us. I couldn't reverse to get turned around until letting enough air out of my tires, by that time I figured Adam would have him recovered so I shot some photos then noticed a Ranger truck in the canyon below. Our group rejoined and we descended the sand hill on steep switchbacks, avoiding the shortcuts straight down, the ranger waiting for us at the bottom.

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The Barracks

The friendly ranger chatted about our rigs for a minute and was happy we were behaving ourselves and wished us a good trip! Entering the first wash crossing we were greeted by the "Designated Route" sign.

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designated route

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Beautiful upper Parunaweap Canyon.

Driving up canyon past the Foot Ranch we respected the humorous 7 1/2 mph posted speed limit, if anything keeping the landowner happy helps keep access open. Before reaching Hwy 89 we stopped in the shade of some Cottonwoods for lunch.

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After a pit stop at Mt Carmel Junction we found the Johnson Canyon/Alton Scenic Backway and made for the Skutumpah Road. Driving it north for Butler Valley. We made good time and only stopped briefly at the Bull Valley Gorge bridge.

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Adam crosses the Bull Valley Gorge bridge.

We made a consensus at this point to reach Alstrom Point for the nights camp and to do so before sunset. So we made little delay in heading down the Cottonwood Canyon Road. Upon reaching the turnoff to Grosvenor Arch I couldn't resist making a mad dash to photograph it with afternoon light, Jan opted to continue and we would see if we could catch him back up before he reached Highway 89. Adam followed me to the Arch. Catching Jan back up was an absolute riot. I'm going to have to drive that road again because I didn't get a good look at all that scenery.

Jan tailgunning the Cottonwood Cyn Road

Grosvenor Arch 2 by xjblue, on Flickr
Grosvenor Arch

Cottonwood Canyon Road

Dusting it out to Alstrom Point after a pit stop in Big Water

near the Alstrom Point turnoff

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Dinner and a show

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Day two was amazing. In hind sight it would have been better if we found camp somewhere around Cannonville or Grosvenor Arch, we could have taken plenty more time to enjoy an extra day crossing that area and hiking some narrows. But we did have a wonderful camp that night high above Lake Powell.



Sep 6, 2012
Day Three

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Moonlit Lake Powell

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Our third day on the traverse was pretty simple. Leave Alstrom Point and take the Smokey Mountian Road to the Grand Bench, see Twitchell Canyon while out there, explore up towards the Grand Bench Neck if there is time. Then north via the Croton Road and see how it goes from there, perhaps try Left Hand Collet and decide where to camp.

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Little Valley Canyon

The Climb up out of Little Valley Canyon was in poor shape, ironically because of an attempt to fix it up. Loose fill dirt was bulldozed over the loose rock making up the steep shelf road. The result was you couldn't see the lines to pick through the rocks. Jan opted to ride along with Adam for this leg.

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Adam powers up the steep climb.

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Twitchell Canyon overlook

Links to panoramic views from the Grand Bench

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We shared lunch at the start of the Grand Bench Neck but afterword quickly discovered it could be rough going and so opted to save that for another day.

View from the start of the Grand Bench Neck

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We made good time up the Croton Road.

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and found the top entrance to Left Hand Collet to be drive-able.

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Left Hand Collet was a gorgeous drive, no photos I'd seen of it prior did any justice. What a great afternoon.

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She was washed out on the HITR end but we figured a way to cross, send Adam first to knock down the cut bank.

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Left Hand Collet Canyon was the icing on the cake this day!

Day three wrapped up with a brisk bumpy drive up the HITR road and scenic pavement of Hwy 12 to Boulder and a good home cooked style comfort food dinner on Jan. Thanks again Jan! We found room for a "camp" off of the Burr Trail, each curling up inside our own vehicles, I cleared off the back seat this time. Adam made some re-arrangement the night before allowing him to slip inside and sleep in his Wrangler too.



Sep 6, 2012
Day Four

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Morning light on Durffey Mesa greets us.

We enjoyed an early morning drive along the Burr Trail taking an easy pace then turned off on the Wolverine Loop below the Circle Cliffs

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Then we discovered the Joy of driving down Horse Canyon. Forget icing on cake, for me this was perhaps the best dessert of the whole traverse. I had seen a photo, knew it was in the general area, and had been looking for it, so to find it was great. Guide books to the area call it "not so interesting" because of motorized use on the road to the line cabin. From a hikers perspective, and to a large extent I can agree with "not so interesting", hiking a road is not my favorite by far, whether open to travel or closed. Furthermore by comparison to other road-less hikes and narrow canyons in the immediate area, yes it isn't so interesting in other ways too. Those hikes have been long on my to do list and I hope to return some day for that purpose. But there are few places like that left to drive anymore, and as we continued down following a few days old set of tracks along a flat dry wash between high red rock walls and occasional road graded sections, it was with a total sense of reverence and awe. From this drivers perspective the fully opposite was true, this canyon is a jewel.

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Coming out of the canyon we met and chatted with another friendly Ranger, who again expressed appreciation that we were the kind of visitors who travel respectfully and come to explore and enjoy the beauty of the land. But this time the Ranger gave us bad news of Horse Canyon's GSENM administrative road status. Why keep the "not so interesting" canyon from those who find it most interesting? At the very least regulation on a permit system if this road less traveled were to became more so? The County claims right of way still so it will be interesting to see what happens in the courts, but my earlier elation was dampened to some degree when he told us not to return now that we know better, the jewel becoming bitter sweet for having had a chance to experience the drive before any closed signs or gates with locks went in.

We continued to explore the Wolverine Loop eating lunch down the Silver Falls Creek Spur and checking out Moody Canyon, running in to the ranger several more times while doing so. I think we encountered only two or three other parties on the Loop. I remember one older gentleman in a Jeep and a couple in an SUV.

Finishing the day with Upper Muley Twist Canyon was a delight and perhaps any other place in Utah might have been too anti-climactic for me after finding Horse Canyon but Upper Muley is just too cool. Adams Jeep was running rough at this point, bad gas from Boulder perhaps? So with considering options he chose to go alone to Ticaboo for an emergency premium gas stop while Jan and I hiked to the Strike Valley Overlook. We planned to meet up again on the Notom Bullfrog Road near Sandy Ranch before looking for a campsite this side of the Henry's.

Strike Valley Overlook panorama

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Jan and I stopped frequently for photos on the way out and down the Burr Trail Switchbacks, then got nervous we had missed Adam so we cruised up the Notom Road To Sandy Ranch then waited a half hour or so for Adam to come along.

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Camp that night was nice and cool, the first good flat ground we found after crossing Sandy Creek.

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Sep 6, 2012
Day Five

I tried a self heating breakfast which was palatable but took longer to fix than expected. That combined with plenty of shade to the East meant for a little bit later start with less of a rush. Still we made good time driving the well graded roads up the Henry Mountains.

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There was a lot of freshly familiar country visible behind us.

Once on top Bull Creek Pass Adam and I donned hiking apparel and made for the 11,522 ft Summit of Mt Ellen some 2.5 miles to the North. This hike gave us our first real opportunity for wildlife viewing during the traverse. Jan stayed with the rigs chatting with passers by and keeping in touch with us via GMRS radio. After reaching the summit and signing in on a summit log stored in a mail box, as is commonly found on many of Utah's summits, the return hike was uneventful.

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This Mountain Short Horned Lizard (I'm guessing), more particularly it's small young we spotted first was very interesting, both sitting right on the trail.

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Yes, only one distant Bison but very cool to have spotted one from the last free roaming herd in the country.

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Link to large panoramic, view from the top.

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Following our hike we descended via Wickiup Pass past Lonesome Beaver campground on one of the roughest rockiest roads around, and out to the Hanksville BLM station to check on our next goal, crossing the Dirty Devil River. The flow report was curiously zero so after a pit stop in town we grabbed a little of Hwy 95 southbound for Poison Springs Canyon. Poison Springs started as rough as the road out of the Henry's then just got plain dusty, but was more beautiful than I remembered.

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Unusual traffic in Poison Spring Canyon, something rare for us to experience.

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We stopped for our group photo at the overlook of the Dirty Devil Crossing then continued on finding the crossing at zero flow to be very dusty.

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Stopped again to look at the languid pools of the Dirty Devil River

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large size

The rest of the drive up North Hatch Canyon was mind numbing last time I drove it and this time was no exception, much like Lockheart basin the constant winding in and out of constant side canyons though beautiful, sort of puts a spell on you and wears you down. I had a campsite in mind and remembered correctly just where it was. Again we arrived just in time to set up, grab dinner, enjoy the scenery, share stories, and this time enjoyed a campfire instead of a cow pie while the stars came out. In spite of our attempt to take it easy it was still a long day. looking back the one thing I would do differently is not pass up looking for the rock art sites along the way. A better trip would be twice as long or more giving you two days or more to do what we covered in one.

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Sep 6, 2012
Day Six

I had slept out under the stars again while Adam was getting good at his arrangements in the JK and Jan was always pretty much ready to go waiting on us to re-pack again. We made easy work of the road over Gunsight Pass, taking the right turn for NPS 633 taking us to Hite in very good time. Knowing now how my good friend Alex must feel driving the lead vehicle all the time it was nice to take a break and have Adam out in front for a while, less dusty for him too.

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A stop for fuel and water in Hite then we were heading up the Woodenshoe Road having crossed the mighty Colorado and with only using the smallest amount of pavement. Our next stop was a bit of a mystery, a spot on the map called the Hideout.

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Great scenery near the start of the Woodenshoe Road

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Views of the Dark Canyon Wilderness area from the Woodenshoe Road.

The road at the Hideout seemed to end on private property complete with some locals about. Adam and I are pretty shy at happening upon strangers land but Jan doesn't suffer from that problem and further explained from his experiences that a rancher would prefer to find out what your about rather than have you lurking around suspiciously. So upon inquiring he received a warm invitation to us to come in and check out this thing called The Hideout.

Turns out it is just that, a small ranch house near a spring tucked under the rim and trees around the Woodenshoe Buttes at the head of Hideout Canyon, formerly perfect for use by those on the dodge from the law. The friendly couple who live there in a small house through the summer and ranch there with a son showed us the fixed up old bunk house next to their place and pointed out what direction the old ranch house used to stand. Remains of a chimney are all that exist from it now days according to the man. The Hay shed was pretty much unchanged. They rattled off famous outlaws including Posey and members of the Wild Bunch who used the place. They encouraged us to enjoy the view to the south toward Monument Valley out from the bunkhouse porch. Would have loved to have had a recorder and pick their brains but we still felt like we were imposing a bit and moseyed off after a short visit, stopping for lunch at a nearby meadow.

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The Hideout Hay Shed, if it could tell tales!

Our next stop was the Bears Ears followed by an overlook of Arch Canyon as lightning and heavy rain started to fall.

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Adam's Jeep still wasn't running at optimum, so our proximity to the Colorado border, the rain storm developing overhead, and other worries [and comforts] at home all perhaps helped him decide to make an early bid for the border. We parted ways at the Junction of the North Cottonwood Road which he took after saying goodbye.

We had already reached the area I intended to camp, but with plenty of time left in the day and now not being sure what to do I settled on checking out Peavine Canyon rather than hang out in the high country during the storm. In the pouring rain we drove to the trail head then carefully down the shelf road in to Peavine Canyon and it's narrow corridor through the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area. The rain went away and at a suitable campsite, pretty sure the same one we used during the Loose Screws Tour a few years previously, Jan stopped to set up camp while I continued to Dark Canyon not much further to see Peavine Arch. Jan got a great fire going when I re-joined him and while sharing the canyon with a few loud youth wilderness rehab participants and many loud cows, we had a long chat trading adventure stories (Jan has some great ones anyway) and talking about movies as the temperature dropped and day slowly turned to night. Regrettably didn't get any photos of camp that night.

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Sep 6, 2012
Day Seven

Cold and crisp after the previous evenings rain dawned day seven of our Southern Utah Traverse. Curled up against the cold in the back seat made for a great nights sleep. The Jeep didn't want to run smooth at first when starting up to leave but once warmed up it ran fine. Only issue it had during the traverse.

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On the way out while distracted by the beauty of the canyon I failed to see a particularly deep wash cut that had grabbed our rear bumpers on the way in, so hitting it at regular speed before I could react caused quite a bounce and did a number to my poor ARB Bull Bar. Upon re-gaining the trail head on top we made a futile attempt at pulling out the bumper.

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With one member of the group gone we re-evaluated our plans, putting our heads together we decided to drive through the Abajo mountains and go in to Monticello, choosing the most interesting looking route to get there.

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Big Notch and the Abajo Mountains

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Lime Creek Road

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Reef of Rocks

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Maverick Point overlook

View out the window driving along the flanks of the Abajo, the Bears Ears just visible

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Fall color in the Abajo

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Near Cooley Pass

Hunting parties were everywhere, every turn out and meadow had a respectable hunting camp and hunters in orange passed us frequently as we wound our way over the Abajo.

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Naturally this is when we got to see Deer during the traverse.

Soon we were gassed up in Monticello so I bought lunch this time at a local restaurant then we decided on taking Montezuma Canyon towards Hovenweep National Monument stopping at every Anasazi sight I could spot along the way. Spotted quite a few so we stopped often.

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Alcove with scattered remnants of the past.

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Detail shot at the Bradford Canyon site.

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Three Kiva Pueblo.

At the bottom of Montezuma Canyon Jan and I parted ways, He made for the Colorado Border and on to a friends place to get a chance to clean up before his next expedition started, while I continued on to Hovenweep making one more stop at some road side petroglyphs I happened to glance over and see before arriving there.

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Arriving at Hovenweep after a storm and with the one I had just driven through threatening, I set up a tent in the campground then set off to hike around Little Ruin Canyon photographing the ruins. My best results came as the oncoming thunder storm died and the sun appeared below it just before setting.

Hovenweep Castle by xjblue, on Flickr

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Sunset panoramic featuring the quickly dissipated remains of the storm,

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Last camp, Sleeping Ute Mountain dominates the horizon east of Hovenweep.

Finished the hike just before dark then cooked one last freeze dried meal via the jet boil and slept really well in spite of being out of the wilderness for the first time in a week and surrounded by the semi civilized environs of a 1/2 full campground albeit a fairly remote one. Day seven was done and the Colorado border was very close.



Sep 6, 2012
Day Eight

The excellent construction at Hovenweep exemplifies the Mesa Verde influence, particularly that of prolific tower building commonly around heads of canyons and near springs or seeps. It is thought that many of the Hovenweep structures were held in significance to the culture, not all that different than how we regard our large and important buildings today. The questions of what the towers and castles of Hovenweep were specifically used for will keep those students of their pre-history occupied for some time.

I got up early to re-hike the Little Ruin Canyon loop to catch morning light on the ruins before breakfast.

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Boulder house ruin is pretty crazy.

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Twin towers was a personal favorite.

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Example of the quality of construction at these ruins.

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Interestingly perched Stronghold House.

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Hovenweep Castle.

After breakfast and casually packing up I left the park headed for it's outliers in Colorado and other nearby Canyons of the Ancients sites. I found the boarder between Utah and Colorado to be most appropriately signed for officially finishing our 2009 Southern Utah Traverse.

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4WD Adventures Utah - Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson
Hiking and Exploring the Paria River - 4th Edition - Michael R. Kelsey
Hiking and Exploring Utah's Henry Mountains and Robbers Roost - Michael Kelsey
Non Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau - 5th Edition - Michael R. Kelsey
Canyoneering 3 Loop Hikes in Utah's Escalante - Steve Allen
Hiking Grand Staircase-Escalante & the Glen Canyon Region - Ron Adkison
Hiking Utah's Summits - Paula Huff and Tom Wharton
Utah road and recreation atlas
Nevada road and recreation atlas
Colorado road and recreation atlas

Cool Danish

Jan 13, 2013
Awesome trip report and great pictures!!.
Does anyone know if Horse Canyon is open to vehicles?
It would be great to drive down to the line shack and then hike op into Little Death Hollow and see the slots there :)


Feb 23, 2012
Very cool. I enjoyed the pics from the remote areas of the Kaiparowits Plateau.

That's the same year I walked across the state! It took me a week for each of your days and I also took pics of the "end" sign at the Colorado line. :) Our paths would have crossed several times (but I did it in the Spring.)

I have also driven upper Horse Canyon (back in the '90s when it was still legal.) I am more of a walkin' kind of guy now, but I somewhat concur that it would be nice to leave at least a portion of it open (above Wolverine maybe?) I was back there last year (on foot) and it irked me to see tire tracks almost all way down to the Escalante. Finding a happy medium which people would respect would be awesome.

- Jamal


I walk
Jun 25, 2012
Wild! I am going to have to study (and more thoroughly enjoy) this one. Thanks Jared!


Desperately Seeking Sandstone
Jan 21, 2012
What an amazing trip! It must have been hard to keep driving instead of stopping to explore some of those places. Love the pictures, too! Especially the one of Hovenweep Castle.:twothumbs:


Sep 6, 2012
ashergrey, It was fun to put together, thanks. Hardest part was picking what to miss given the time we allowed ourselves.

Cool Danish, well it's a little complicated, but in a nutshell it is an administrative road (technically closed even if not signed or gated) with an I believe still pending county right of way claim that only appears to me to have a slim chance of trumping the land managers travel plan. I agree it would be nice to start hikes from there.

Jammer, very cool, you are one of the hard core to cross by foot, bet you got to see quite a lot more! I've always considered my trips like this to be the quickest of previews for what I'd like to go back and see in depth.

I would concede to closure at just above Wolverine somewhere, a compromise I think I could easily live with for the chance of still driving much of it. It irks me too if (it sounds like) those tracks went past the closure signs at the cabin?


Sep 6, 2012
langutah, your welcome, and thanks for the compliment you posted elsewhere.

Miss Buffalo, yes, some of those roads are on the rough side, and seldom traveled, I'm starting to get used to the idea that my own bucket list grows exponentially. Here's to future ticking things off the list, and thank you.

pixie1339, for sure it was hard though the CO border was calling, I daydream about being able to check out for three months, spend a week or two in each area, hike all the trails and explore all the points of interest... That shot of Hovenweep Castle is a personal favorite! thank you.
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