Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hiking Striped Butte

I returned to Butte Valley, a very peaceful and remote place in Death Valley NP. I drove through there last month, but I wanted to hike up Striped Butte. Here's a google map centered on Striped Butte. Here's a view from the summit of Striped Butte looking back toward the Geologist Cabin. It took a little over an hour to hike up along the western ridgeline. The view was great.

My friend Steve joined me for this adventure. We drove in via Goler Wash and Mengel Pass and we camped at the Geologist Cabin. It was great. The weather was nice too, with highs about 93F and lows around 60F.

We never saw any of the feral donkeys, but the ground is littered with donkey poo. At night we could hear them braying.

The star gazing was amazing. We could see the Milky Way, and were pleased to be able to spot 5 satellites in orbit passing overhead. I was surprised to see a little light pollution from Las Vegas.

Sunset yielded the best photos of the butte and at sunrise I got some nice pics of the rising thin crescent moon.

The next day we drove back out the way we came in. I was a little worried because I'd never driven that direction over Mengel Pass. It turned out to be ok. With some careful route planning and a little road-building, I drove up the rock garden with less trouble than I had coming down it the previous day.

Here's a link to a zipped kml file if you want to view this route in Google Earth.

For those interested in the road conditions ... The dry waterfalls on the west end of Goler Wash are a little worse than last month, but still present no difficulty. The photo above is me driving down the rock garden. This time I actually tapped a rock or two against the underside of the truck. The photo below is of the same rocks the next morning after I drove up them.

We tried to visit a plane crash site on the way back to Los Angeles. It's located off Pine Tree Canyon road, but we found the road to be blocked by LADWP about 3 miles from Hwy 14, apparently due to the construction of wind turbine farm infrastructure.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jawbone Canyon

Yesterday I went for a drive in the Jawbone Canyon OHV recreation area located 20 miles north of Mojave, CA. I wanted to drive up the steep switchbacks of the Geringer Grade into the Sequoia National Forest and then return down the easier grade on Piute Mountain Road.

Geringer Grade wasn't as steep as I remembered it. But the Land Rover does make some roads much easiser to drive than my old MDX. The forest was peaceful. But it was sad to see the remains of this summer's Landers fire that burned much of that area.

Here's a zipped KML file (right click and save the file) that will let you see my route in Google Earth. [Note: I hope these work for everyone. Some of my tests result in GE crashing when I double click on the KML file, but work fine when I open the kml file from within GE.]

I passed the Sageland monolith along the way. It's an interesting read. I found a website that said 800-1000 people lived in Sageland before a mass exodus around 1869 to the silver mining districts of Nevada.

I doubled back on this narrow trail because too much scrub was rubbing against my truck.

When I returned to the OHV area, I explored some of the powerline roads and the BLM trails and the aqueduct service roads. One road follows the aqueduct up the steep hillside. My inclinometer said it was about 20 degrees incline. Fun!

I got out and took a photo looking back down.

Two huge steel pipelines carry the Los Angeles Aqueduct through Jawbone Canyon here. One is black and the other is white. The Center For Land Use Interpretation has some nifty trivia about it here. Here's the LADWP facts page for that aqueduct.

Alstrom Point

During my adventure in Utah, I returned to Alstrom Point. This time I camped there so I'd be able to get some nice sunset photos. Since it's in the Glen Canyon NRA, backcountry camping requires no permit. Here's a Google Map page that's centered on Alstrom Point. If you zoom in, you can see the dirt roads.

I originally planned to get there via Smoky Mountain Road, but the washed out road forced me to take another route via the highway.

The route was much easier than my last visit 4 years ago, thanks to my new Garmin Nuvi GPS toy. All the dirt roads are in the Garmin database, and so I didn't have to consult my trail book at each new road intersection.

Alstrom Point is just 24 miles from the small town of Big Water on Highway 89 and takes 1.5 hours to drive one way. However ... the last 5 miles takes 30 minutes of that 1.5 hours. That part is slow going because of the mostly slickrock surface there. I'm sure a modified 4x4 can drive much faster than I did.

Four wheel drive isn't required to get there, but high clearance is. The biggest challenge was crossing the creek a half mile from Big Water - which was mostly getting up the 12-18 inch sandy side of the creek's wash. OK, maybe 4WD is helpful.

I took the obligatory photos of my car on the cliff with Lake Powell in the background. And the rock colors came out more as the sun began to set.

These are my favorites. That's Gunsight Butte directly across the water. Navajo Mountain is visible in the distance (10,388 ft summit).

I counted 10 houseboats parked in the water below Alstrom Point. I was envious of them and it made me want to try that some day.

Hole In The Rock Road

I enjoyed my return to Hole In The Rock Road, southeast of Escalante, UT. Four years ago I drove that road but was blocked from reaching the end because my Acura MDX's 8 inches of ground clearance couldn't handle the steep rocky sections. My new Land Rover did just fine and had no troubles at all.

The roughly 60 mile long road is mostly graded dirt with the occasional switchback to drop down into, and climb back out of washes that cross the road. The views are terrific. The weather was great this time with highs around 90F and lows around 48F. It was about 110F on my previous visit and that was very draining. The last 5 miles of the road are partly on slickrock and are less maintained (this section is technically in the Glen Canyon NRA).

The road has historical significance as it roughly follows the route of Mormon settlers in the 1879 San Juan Mission, directed by Brigham Young to settle the southeastern portion of Utah. Drivers are reminded of this by the occasional wooden signpost with a wagon symbol that marks the trail. At the road's end is the sheer drop to the Escalante River. The settlers camped nearby for about 6 weeks while their men blasted the rock and built wooden ramps to allow their wagons to reach the river below. For more details about the expedition and this trail, I recommend this book. I've read it and it was interesting.

Here's Dance Hall Rock. This natural ampitheater served as a meeting place and dance hall for the Mormon settlers during their stay here. To really appreciate the enormity of this rock, check out this photo.

Hole in the Rock Road provides access to many trailheads, including Spooky Gulch and Peek-a-Boo Gulch slot canyons. I've hiked them both but didn't stop this time. Well, I stopped, but for a different reason. I was flagged down by a foreign couple in their 20s. They were trying to get to Spooky and Peek-a-Boo, but wanted to take Early Weed Bench road, simply because the free craptacular map from the visitor center showed the canyon names closer to that road. I set them straight and steered them to the actual trailhead road a quarter mile south. They might have never found those particular slots from the other road, and bad things might have happened to them. The very next day, a couple from CA died in a flash flood in a nearby canyon.

If you want to visit Spooky and Peek-a-Boo slot canyons, then I recommend this site. It has a great map and useful info.

I took a pic of one of the many cattle guards along the road. I'd never seen one like that. The space between the pipes was big enough for cattle hooves to easily fall through. My own foot barely spans across the openings.

A turnaround and parking area is located at the end of the road. The visitor register includes free forms for overnight camping. You can camp right there if you like.

I took a few pics looking down the "hole in the rock". It looked like I could probably hike a ways down, but I decided against it.

I walked up the slickrock to a great vista looking out on the Escalante River. At this point, it's about 5 or 6 miles from entering Lake Powell.

The current road conditions on Hole in the Rock Road would allow any modern car with enough ground clearance and decent approach/departure angles to drive to the end.

I stopped several times to setup my camera and take videos of me driving over some of the more interesting sections.

Here's the NPS website for the Hole in the Rock Road. Here's the NPS website describing the history of Hole in the Rock. And here's the BLM site for Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM), which includes Hole in the Rock Road.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Smoky Mountain Road

Here is a Google Earth KML file (470kB) showing my route for a couple of the days on this trip. I forgot to download the earlier days from my Garmin Nuvi before it deleted them. It includes the route I drove along the Smoky Mountain Road Scenic Backway. I was taking that road to get down to Alstrom Point but was turned back when I encountered a sign warning me that the road was washed out ahead.

The warning sign bore annotations from people saying that ATV and motorcycles could get through, along with an obscure "if you believe it" mention for 4x4. I was disappointed that the ranger didn't mention the washout when I asked specifically about the conditions on this road. I tried an alternate way back and hit another (more permanent) warning sign of another washout.

That second one wasn't a surprise, as I'd read about that closure on the Internet before my trip. The road was definitely scenic, with loads of twists and switchbacks. A couple registered 20 deg incline on my inclinometers; that's a 36 percent grade.

This is one of the roads that are famous for being totally impassable when wet, even if you have 4WD. There were clear signs of the danger. Someone had driven the road recently when it was wet, leaving ruts that occasionally skidded from one side of the road to the other. It looked like a 2wd vechicle left them. This is all important because ... then it started to rain and I was 50 miles from pavement. Within a few miles the road started to get pretty slick, but I outpaced the storm and made it back safe.

The last pic is looking back at the storm clouds that I just left. So I wasn't able to reach the southern end of the road and enjoy the great views from the Kelly Grade, or see the smoke coming from the underground coal fires (the origins of the road's name).

The rain that day was scattered across the Escalante region and produced a deadly flash flood in one of the canyons. A CA couple was killed on the Egypt trail. I was in that neighborhood the day before.

Red Canyon & Calf Creek Falls

Utah's Highway 12 has many scenic spots. Just west of Bryce Canyon NP it passes by Red Canyon, a great place to hike and scramble around the red rock formations. The highway there passes through two short tunnels in the rock.

The friendly young ranger girl at the Interagency Visitor Center in Escalante suggested that I hike the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail. So I did. It was an easy out-and-back trail (less than 6 mile round-trip) to a 126 ft waterfall. With plenty of shade and a pool to cool yourself off, it's a great place to bring a picnic lunch. This site gives simple directions.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Camping Along Rock Creek

On Labor Day weekend I went camping in Rock Creek Canyon, northwest of Bishop. There are 13 campgrounds in that canyon and I was lucky to find empty unreserved sites in the biggest: East Fork. It was great. I needed some time away to catch up on some reading. I was treated to an amazing star display in the evenings, thanks to the 9,000 ft elevation.
The East Fork campground is different from those I normally visit in Yosemite and Zion. The canyon prevents an open expansive flat area for campsites, and so the sites are mostly along the hillside. Most of them have a parking spot that's 5 to 12 feet above or below the small area with a picnic table and fire pit. Also, the sites are separated by a greater distance than those in Yosemite and Zion. That resulted in a greater sense of privacy and less noise from neighboring campers.