Sweetwater Reef Area


Relax, slip away...
Jan 17, 2012
Alan proposed a trip he had been planning in the Sweetwater Reef area of the San Rafael Desert, which meant another 5:15AM wake-up call on Saturday morning. We'd apparently both been researching the area recently. I already had a few places I wanted to check out near there, and I'd been reading up about the springs in the area in my recently-purchased Utah's Canyon Country Place Names book by Steve Allen. Alan picked me up at 6AM and we met Wade at the usual spot on UT-24, and during the remainder of the drive we changed our plans a bit. We'd originally planned on visiting Sweetwater Spring first, then doing a loop hike through the two unnamed canyons north of Middle Canyon, but instead we decided our second priority after Sweetwater Spring would be the North Spring Wash area. We hiked around Sweetwater Spring for a bit but didn't find any surprises there. We saw a partial-dugout stone cabin near the spring and a rock wall in a box canyon that was used to corral livestock, plus a couple of names carved in a rock near the spring, most of which we'd already read about from Janie and Steve's blog.

Remains of a partial-dugout cabin at Sweetwater Spring

Torrey at Sweetwater Spring

1918 Dwendon A. Lee

E.B. '17

Rock wall in a box canyon to hold livestock

Old sign for Sweetwater Spring

After a relatively short drive to the east, we were at the end of a road near North Spring and following a cattle trail into North Spring Wash. Once in the canyon I scrambled up to an arch-like formation, looking for inscriptions, but found that it really was an arch and I could see blue sky through it. We hiked up a small fenced-off side-canyon and only found a single brand scrawled into a cliff, then we moved on toward North Spring.

The Henrys viewed from our parking spot above North Spring Wash

Boulder on the canyon rim

Descending into North Spring Wash

North Spring Wash

An arch?

It *is* an arch!

Axle shaft used in the construction of a fence

Rocking TE brand scratched into the canyon wall

Near North Spring we found several inscriptions from the first quarter of the 1900s, including one from Bill Tibbetts, whose name Alan and I found miles away in an alcove almost exactly a year earlier. North Spring had formed a large sheet of ice in the shaded canyon. At the head of the spring, inside an alcove and below a dryfall, was an old concrete dam.

North Spring Canyon

W.L. Jr., S.D., Calif.

Sog Allred, Moab UT

D.T., Jan. th 11, 1923 (probably Daff Thompson)

J.D. Gillis, 10-14-1909

Bill Tibbetts, Moab, Utah

The dogs running toward North Spring

Concrete dam at North Spring

Inside the North Spring alcove

Icicles spilling over the dam

Dryfall above North Spring

We next headed downstream in North Spring Wash with the intention of cutting across toward the Middle Canyon drainage. On the way, though, we got separated, with each of us going to investigate something different. I'd spotted an alcove that looked interesting and found that it was an Indian habitation site. There were a lot of grinding marks and a few sharpening grooves in the sandstone, plus a more recent humorous message left for the BLM. I hadn't seen Alan or Wade for a while so I hiked back toward North Spring Wash hoping to find them waiting for me. Eventually I found them hiking back up the wash looking for me--I wasn't worried about finding them as much as I was Torrey and Boulder, who had followed one of them. Luckily both of my dogs had stuck around with Alan and Wade. We checked out nearby Hooch Spring before continuing back down the canyon.

Arch in North Spring Wash

Grinding stones in an alcove

Chiseled circles and an incised cross

Looking out from the Indian alcove

A love letter to the BLM, probably left by a member of the Moore family

Water tank at Hooch Spring

G.C. inscription at Hooch Spring

Sophie at Hooch Spring

While hiking cross-country toward Middle Canyon we followed a very old road that hasn't seen tracks in decades. We approached a cave marked on the USGS topo map that I expected to just be a moderately-deep alcove, but what we found was a huge cavern, carved out by a drainage that flows through it. Inside, on one of the many boulders that have fallen from the ceiling, were the names of two Moore family members who once owned the nearby springs and commensurate grazing rights in the 1930s. The cave turned out to be the highlight of my day.

Heading across the flat desert toward the Middle Canyon drainage, Jack's Knob on the distant horizon

Jack's Knob

Cave near Village Home Spring

Billie Moore, June 21, 1936

Chad Moore, June 21

Inside the cave

A boy and his dog, in a cave

In the next small drainage to the west, only a few hundred feet away, was Village Home Spring. There was a long sandstone ridge between us and the drainage, and we each ended up taking a different route to get there. My route consisted of as direct a route as possible, with a sketchy downclimb/jump that I had to force my dogs down before I went. We all met back up at Village Home Spring, which was the only flowing (non-frozen) spring we'd seen that day.

Alan looking for a way around the dryfall I was standing atop

Water running from Village Home Spring

Torrey and Boulder drinking from Village Home Spring

Alcove at Village Home Spring

Old inscription at Village Home Spring

Daylight was growing short but we saw one last place that we wanted to explore. Just across Middle Canyon were three alcoves that looked promising. Two of them held nothing special but one of the alcoves was actually a good-sized natural arch.

Three alcoves in Middle Canyon

View from one of the Middle Canyon alcoves

Natural arch

A boy and his dog, under an arch

For me, the hike back to the truck was a long trudge. It had been a wonderfully sunny day and I'd hiked all of it in a t-shirt--hardly befitting a mid-January day. At the end of the day my total hiking distance was 8.5 miles. Wade headed home when we dropped him off at his car, but Alan and I continued to Green River where we met Butch and Jeanie, of Tavaputs Ranch, for dinner at Ray's Tavern.

Torrey on one of the many circular 'sand pipe' formations in the area

Parting shot of Jack's Knob

Cattle bridge on the old road into North Spring Wash

Eat at Y's

Full photo gallery:

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Aug 9, 2007
Awesome man. Amazing how much cool stuff you found out there for a place that I think most people don't even realize existed. Oh, and congrats on being the 1,000th trip report on BCP. I think you won something. I'll send it over if I ever figure out what it is. :)


Jun 14, 2012
Very cool. When I checked out that big alcove by Village Home Spring I was really wishing I had someone with me to give a picture of it some perspective - it's that big and impressive!

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