Around San Rafael Swell

Weaving through a juniper forest, we continued south towards the Little Grand Canyon. It had been a few hours since we left Salt Lake City and we now found ourselves racing the waning light, trying to make camp before sunset. Across the high desert we went, with hardly a prominent feature to indicate our arrival. Suddenly, we emerged from the trees and were greeted with by the great expanse of nothingness. The canyon sprawled out before us. At the rim, we gazed down on walls of Navajo Sandstone and the San Rafael River running thousands of feet below. The setting sun lit up the rocks in an array of pinks, yellows and oranges. As the sun dipped below the horizon, coyotes in some side canyon below yipped and howled, ushering in the night and the start of a glorious week in San Rafael Swell.

After a few days of marathon like driving, we finally made it to Utah. We visited and stayed* in the city with my brother, Marty, for a night before continuing on to wilder locales. Late Saturday afternoon we arrived for our first stop at the Little Grand Canyon (or “The Wedge”) a large canyon complex with the San Rafael River running along the canyon floor. Hanging around the canyon rim the first night we found
a gaggle of some 15 or so women dressed in costumes. We were initially concerned that we were at a party spot but they were quiet and were only there for the weekend, departing on Sunday, the following morning.

With their departure, we were largely left to ourselves for the next 3 days. Another couple, Chris and Julie, stayed in the area for some of that period. We spent a few hours talking with them about their fancy Earth Roamer, life on the road, various travels and about their simulation business. We enjoyed their company and were sorry to see them leave. Our isolation was broken up by quick visitors, who would drive up to the edge, get out and take a few pictures then leave moments later.

Each day we would venture out a different direction, exploring both ways along the rim and trying a couple ways down below in efforts to reach the canyon floor. Our camp on the rim offered us a view of nearly everything in the area. The bighorn sheep that fed on the ledge below, the expansive night sky and the ever changing light display on the rocks throughout the day.

The weather has been pleasant, an appreciable difference to what we’d be experiencing in Alaska. In Salt Lake City, my brother and others mentioned how it was much colder than usual. Like on our bike trip, we seem have a knack of arriving and travelling through cold periods. Oh well. Thankfully, Alaska has seasoned us well, making the cold relative. The days with abundant sunshine and temperatures in the upper 30s, lower 40s have us wandering around very comfortable in t-shirts**. Come nightfall and temps dropping into the teens, we bundle up once more before ultimately retreating to our bearskins, blankets and sleeping bags.

After a few days up high, we decided to continue on , packing up camp and moving ~7 miles down canyon and about 2000 feet lower. We drove through Buckhorn Draw, setting up camp at it’s lower terminus on the bank of the San Rafael River. There was even less traffic at this spot and the next 3 days passed in relative isolation. The draw offered us a multitude of activities for each day, walking through old Navajo Sandstone tunnels, walking up Furniture Draw and side canyons as well as checking out the ~2000 year old pictograph and petroglyph display.

Baby bottle rock

One of our favorite hikes in the area was along the San Rafael river. We set out from camp thinking we’d go for a short walk and ended up further up canyon a few miles. Cattle graze the surrounding area and had trampled in a solid trail on the south side of the river. On our return, some cows were walking along some singletrack trail on cliffs above the river. We were headed the same direction, so I ran up the trail yelling out screams from Van Halens’s . Well, that scared the poop out of them and they took off the other direction. We went up the trail and around the bend. Only to find 2 cowboys on horseback with 3 dogs, trying to drive the cows further up canyon. Oops. They said nothing of it and we both continued on, they to presumably greener pastures up the canyon wash and us to our potatoes and an evening around the fire.

Din has taken well to camp life and is largely without complaint despite the relative hardships we are putting her through. She loves movement and is asleep for most of our hikes , allowing Alana and I to hike more or less as far as we would without a baby. The main lesson which we both have come to appreciate is how a child requires you to be more present in the moment. A mile from camp and the baby is hungry or has a dirty diaper? There is no just wait a little longer, which in the end is fine. So we stop, do what’s needed and continue on once more. Is there anywhere else where we really need to be?

We packed up yesterday and headed south once more. Off to Capitol Reef and Zion. Plenty more canyons, vistas and days under the endless sunshine. And perhaps more warmth.

*We’ll see if we are welcomed back. Taiga peed all over his apartment and I broke his shower faucet. All in less than 24 hrs!

**Barefoot for Alana on a couple occasions

Animals seen
-Whitetail Deer
-Bighorn Sheep
-Cottontail rabbit
-Pronghorn Antelope
-Desert mice
-Lots of cows. Moo


-Great Horned Owl
-Ravens and crows
-Stellar Jay
-various songbirds that I don’t know the names of


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