Northern Arizona – Southern Utah Loop

Yakushi the Van and I are off on another advanture. This time we’ll depart from Flagstaff and drive in a whirlwind 5-day counterclockwise loop through places like Monument Valley, Goosenecks State Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Burr Trail, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Horsehoe Bend.

May 27, 2020

Mid-morning I hit the road and drive north through the Navajo Nation. Then through Monument Valley where monoliths of red rock rise from the desert floor in strange and lovely shapes. Through the town of Mexican Hat. On to Goosenecks State Park. It’s hot here. And windy. A man is angry at his very pregnant wife, who sticks to her guns about something, and he complains loudly about her on the phone to someone. Here the San Juan river has incised through layers of time and sedimentary rock to form exaggerated meanders, or “goosenecks”. It’s only 4pm so I opt not to camp here. I return to the town of Mexican Hat to fuel up, then continue on down the dirt road leading to the Valley of the Gods, which harbors more rock formations of red rock. At the camp spot of my chosing I fing a Yeti travel mug which I imagine fell from the roof of someones vehicle as they sped off into the desert. Anyway – score for me. I savor a beer and a no-cook dinner in the heat and hope for a good nights sleep.

May 28, 2020

I wake early in the Valley of the Gods to admire the desert sunrise. The road winds up from the valley floor atop Cedar Mesa and I take in the valley views in the waxing morning light. A short hike for me at Bullet Canyon Trail, followed by fruit and granola for breakfast. On to Natural Bridges National Monument. It’s small and pretty and I feel antsy so continue on after only a short walk. Back on the road toward the town of Hite, on the north end of Lake Powell.

I drive over the Colorado River. So many red and orange rock cliffs and formations. Lunch pitstop at the Hite Overlook where I sit on an extremely hot rock under the blazing sun and eat quickly until I can tolerate the burning rock seat no-longer and am back on the road and bound for the Burr Trail. Past Mt Hiller and Mt Holmes. The landscape is so pretty and varied. I diesel up at the first of many stations in Ticaboo. A right turn onto the narrow and winding Burr Trail Road – named after James Atlantic Burr who drove his old timey cattle here, back in the day. Very few vehicles or people are out here. Skies look like rain.

I consider a hike in Surprise Canyon, which looks beautiful with rocks of red, orange, yellow, and white at its mouth. But after some fat drops of rain fall and my flash flood paranoia surfaces, I decide to drive on instead. The Burr Trail is dirt here. I drive up the iconic and spectacular Burr Trail Switchbacks, snapping a picture at every bend. When I reach the top it’s early, only 3 pm, but too pretty to pass up, so I decide to van camp here. There’s a little spot tucked off the road, complete with a picnic table. I pass the time without phone service with writing, reading, and podcast listening. The tiny flies here are horrendous. I waffle between staying or going, but opt to stay, looking forward to a morning canyon hike.

May 29, 2020

I wake at the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks. Thankfully there were no tiny flies in the night. I probably would have gone insane. After coffee I hike a few miles down Lower Muley Twist Canyon – named by Mormon pioneers who thought a muley sure could get twisted in this tight canyon, no joke. The canyon is spectacular! Photogenic towering canyon walls of all the desert colors. I see only one other hiker heading into the canyon on my way back up.  Granola. Back on the road. And back onto pavement. Burr Trail winds through so much red rock! I’m tempted by a few different canyon hikes (the Gulch?).

I continue on to the town of Boulder and Route 12. More cars and people back on the main road for sure. The road suddenly snakes along top of a ridge with amazing views of the canyons below. Maybe I’ll hike down below at Calf Creek Falls. When I approach the parking lot I see cars and trucks spilling out of the lot and down the road. Um, pass. Drive on to Escalante, Tropic, Panguitch, and up (oh so slowly in Yakushi van) to Cedar Breaks National Monument. There’s still some snow up here! Lovely overlooks of the orange rock formations below. Sadly the trails are closed here. I find the campsite at Bear Flats that Tim and Melody mentioned. It’s only 4, early, but I stay. A little windy. Lots of four-wheelers and dirt bikes zipping around. Podcasts and dinner.

May 30, 2020

A full whirlwind day. I wake irritable. A short walk on the Marathon trail. I feel eager to descend to lower elevations. After breakfast I’m back on the road and winding down the road with traffic tailing me. Fuel up. I’m near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, but pass. I’m already at Kanab! This is where I started my 2018 Arizona Trail hike. I stop at a market for some snacks. Onward to White House Campground/Paria Canyon. It’s hot. I eat a lunch wrap. Cute campground though. As I set off for a hike, a middle aged dude intersects my path and begins to chat. I deflect the semi-weird vibes and hang back, reminded of the weirdo creeper I’d hitched a ride with before my AZT hike, not far from here actually. Come to think of it, every weird male interaction I’ve had has been in southern Utah or northern Arizona…what’s up with that? This guy hikes ahead but then I see him paused at a canyon thing, now shirtless. Geesh. I’ve seen enough. I turn back. Besides, it’s hot as hell out here, there are storm clouds in the distance, and I’m in a canyon. Fuck it.

I return to Yakushi and drive the washboard road back to 89 and toward Page. It’s windy and ominous clouds hover overhead. Yakushi gets tossed around by the winds. In Page the wind turns into a legit sandstorm and I pull over. I tuck behind a McDonalds where I use the WiFi for a second until the windstorm subsides. Time for me to check out the overly-instagrammed Horsehoe Bend. I’m hoping the wind and sand may have cleared out a few tourists on this Saturday afternoon. I pay the $10 entry fee and walk the 1 1/2 miles to the semi-crowded overlook. A few young women crowd me out from my vantage point to snap the perfect insta-pic I’d overheard them planning. Admittedly, the view is great and very photogenic. The blue river, the red rock, the green trees, the deeply incised Colorado river meander.

From Horsehoe Bend I head over to Vermillion Cliffs – huge towering pinkish red rock walls. Beautiful! The desert storm continues. Intermittent rain, lightning, wind and sand. I consider camping nearby but it’s still too damn hot. And it’s pretty early. Guess I’ll climb in elevation up to Jacob Lake, AZ. I find a nice, cooler, spot tucked in the pines. A few other vans and campers tucked into other pulloffs as well. Dinner, podcasts, YouTube TV, read, sleep.

May 31, 2020

Breakfast. Coffee. I go for a walk along the AZT north from Jacobs Lake. Relatively flat and uneventful topography. Drive back to Flagstaff. Headwind, climbing, and high elevation make for slow speeds but Yakushi and I make the trip unscathed.

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