Queen of the Walkabout
Joined: 15 Jan 2004
| Posted: 7/31/2004, 4:12 pm
|These canyons are located off my favorite backcountry drive in southern utah--Cottonwood Canyon Road. This area is in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, but is historically a ranching area with deep mormon roots.
Cottonwood Canyon road runs from Hwy 89 between Page and Kanab--its closer to Page, north some 40 or so miles to Hwy 12 which takes you to Escalante or over to Panquitch. It's not a quick 40 miles however it's remarkably scenic especially in the fall , where part of the canyon must have 100+ yellow leaved cottonwood trees. Against the red and white rugged cliffs it's an amazing sight.
Hackberry Canyon is a beautiful, little known canyon, that runs lengthwise on the other side of the cockscomb paralleling Cottonwood Canyon.
To the other side of it is the Upper Paria, another great backpacking canyon. Round Valley Draw, an excellent Navajo sandstone slot which feeds into upper Hackberry makes the route I describe here.
I have backpacked this entire route twice, once with my friend Jerry, the first time I was solo and hitchhiked back up to my Jeep which worked out very well. I have also just wandered up the narrows, right off Cottonwood canyon road, with my shoes in hand and bare feet squishing through the soft mud in the stream, as I looked at vaulting walls and narrow sky.
This hike is only about 18-19 miles long. It could be done as a long day hike but there are lots of things to see and do. Scramble through the slot, take cattle trails up to the mesa top, Stone Donkey Canyon with it's spring and upper dark (headlamp) squeeze thru slot, a short climb, hike to Sam Pollock arch and visit Frank Watson's cabin. Then the lower two miles of spectacular colors in the narrows.
Drive your vehicle down the Rushbeds road, signed, off the northern section of Cottonwood Canyon road before it heads up a dugway. This is a definite dry weather road, it is clay based and woe to the driver if its' wet. The BLM has a trailhead about a mile from the start of the slot. Before the dry creek bed was jeepable until a parking area at an old campsite about 30 feet right above the start of the slot.
Round Valley Draw; the slot falls out below your feet, its just inches wide and drops 20 feet. You have to walk along the side and rope your pack off. Downclimb the slot at the start, usually there is a log in there and the tight walls help you brace and provide friction. In the bottom the walls are striated and wavy, it is almost hypnotic.
The slot deepens quickly and in spots its just wide enough for you and your pack. In the middle-- the Draw is about 3 miles long---there are some rock falls to get around, one I crawled through and dragged my pack. With Jerry we roped the packs off a large boulder and he chimneyed down. Several choke stones, slow but no real problem. The slot is reminescent of Buckskin through here. Soon it widens and there is a subtle confluence with Hackberry canyon. The canyon is wide , white walled and dry. Water will not be present until it seeps out of the bottom of the red Navajo about 8 miles down. Hiking in the main canyon is fast and easy. The upper canyon is kinda desolate, but as soon as water appears it becomes a green paradise to walk in. The easiest hiking is in the stream bed, its' shallow but you'll get your feet wet.
I don't know what it is about Hackberry but this is a special place for me. Maybe because its the first "wild" place I hiked outside of the parks in utah. I guess there are prettier canyons but in all my hiking here I have only seen 2-3 people, and that is dayhiking the narrows. The walls here have the greatest variety of colors I have seen. Orange red, deep purple red, mauve, beigy red, silver browns, blue greens, not only in the tapestry walls but in huge blocks of sandstone themselves.
As I proceed downcanyon I note the "WM Chenowyth- 1892" streamside on a wall. The Chenowyths were a prominent ranching family in the 1800's west. The Lower trail- a contructed cattle trail off the mesa top- also comes in here. I camp near this area on a bench, put my boots on a rock to dry out and run around in my Tevas. That night was a full moon, as I sleep it seems almost like daylight outside. As I doze I hear some splashing as some animal walks in the stream. The next day I come to the small mouth of Stone Donkey Canyon, marked by several small buildings, an old corral, and a beaver dam so the wading is deeper and brushier to get around. I drop my pack and take my fanny pack to the head of Stone Donkey.
This canyon has a very nice spring at its mouth and is narrow and winding, there are some large ponderosa pine as you walk upcanyon and some big wild rose bushes. You climb up some dry falls then the canyon abruptly slots up. I mean really narrow, you need a small day pack and a head lamp. I cross a pool on a log jam and start up, you will climb but it is easy with the rough textured walls. I don't go far but have to use my headlamp.
Back out at Hackberry, strolling along you come to a large white sand beach area with some trees, the trail takes you through a rock fall, where a large prow fell into the canyon and made a small lake. The lake is gone now but there are a series of small waterfalls. Below this rockfall the canyon is particulary pretty, with red walls, green trees, the narrow stream.
Campsites below here have white sand blown off the white cliffs that has washed down. Its narrow but soon opens up; a rough and rocky side canyon leads about 1 mile to the large Sam Pollock arch. Along a nearby bench is Frank Watson's cabin, circa 1912. Its hidden by brush but still pretty intact. The nice thing about Michael Kelsey's guidebooks is he gives a rather thorough history of points of interest in areas he covers in his hikes. You may need to have a longer estimate of his hiking times though.
Hackberry widens a lot through here then makes a jog south and narrows. Again, beautifully colored walls, wall to wall water, green trees make this a great hike. The narrows are about two miles long and end at Cottonwood Canyon road, just across the wash is the parking area on a bench beside the road; the trailhead sign in is almost hidden in brush.
My first time here I had made a sign on the flap of a cardboard box--MY CAR 20 MILES--I sat out by the road on my pack whenever I heard a car and in the shade other times. It took about 2 hrs and was the third truck; to get a ride with a local rancher from Cannonville in the back of his pickup. I sat on a bale of hay and had a view filled ride up the road, not too much dust. He was kind enough to take me down most of the Rush bed road so I had a very short walk to my Jeep.
This is a great area for exploration, in addition to my overnight backpack, you can dayhike Cottonwood Canyon narrows, go to Yellow Rock, several hiking possibilities there, go to Castle Rock, go on top of the Kaparowits plateau. Because of all the other neat places around --Paria Canyon and the Wave-- this area often gets overlooked, so you may have lots of solitude, something that some of us value the most.