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2017 May - Colorado Plateau Trip, Part 1

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Colorado Plateau Exploring – 2017

Part 1

By Gordon Howe

   This year we spent 7 days exploring and 6 nights camping in some of the least visited geography of SE Utah. The trip included at least one day of intense route finding challenges, 3 moderately serious breakdowns, a couple nights of unexpected freezing temperatures and one absolutely necessary fuel stop where the pumps were out of order. Additionally there were a couple of excruciating miles of nasty paint scratching sage brush, a trail maintenance project, and at least 4 geocaches located.  There was very little down time (we were busy), and nothing the 17 copacetic travelers couldn’t handle.

   We started in Green River Utah with the obligatory dinner at Ray’s.  The first day out we didn’t see Chafin Geyser erupt, but we took advantage of the last pit toilet for who know how long, at the Horseshoe Canyon trail head.
Robbers Roost start

Starting the adventure

We were finally able to complete the faint route that appears to exist when browsing Google Earth between Emery County Road 1010 and Robbers Roost Spring. This was the third attempt over a five year period.
Robbers Roost lunch

Lunch before we ran the faint road (upper left, see it?)

Just as we succeeded in that activity and were inspecting the cowboy carvings at Robbers Roost Spring, Stacey realized her alternator had given up. The decision was made that Gail would provide the functional vehicle to return to Green River for the dolly, and then Moab to secure a replacement. They were able to rejoin the group two days later at Hite Marina. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back at Robbers Roost Spring, the rest of the group headed to Sam’s Mesa for the first campsite. Erosion modified my late afternoon optimistic thought, “Oh from here it will be easy,” to, “Okay I’m out kicking around the blackbrush looking for the trail yet again.”  We did persevere and made it to our planned camp.

Due to this bit of erosional trail damage, the next morning I asked Adam if he would walk the alternate “trail” to see if it looked passable. He said it did at least around the corner, so if there was no problem getting into the dry wash, all would be good.


Sam

Three Cowboys

Suffice it to say, the transition from trail to dry wash needed a little shovel work.
Leaving Sam

Leaving Sam’s Mesa

   We exited Sam’s Mesa, stopped at a couple of incredible overlooks, found a geocache, and ate lunch at yet another spectacular overlook. Our destination was the Big Ridge which lies just outside the National Park to the west.  After crossing Lands End (about 2000’ above the land below), and The Neck (only 200’ wide in one location), we proceeded to move onto the high peninsular landform known as The Big Ridge.  Our challenge now was to determine if either of the trails that circumnavigate the even higher mesa on The Big Ridge would be passable. The northern route was not, and the expected good camp locations in this area turned out to be covered with prolific growths of cryptobiotic soil.  Can’t drive or camp there, so we returned to the point where the trail split and found a perfect camp with unsurpassable views.
Big Ridge Campsite

Big Ridge camp site

The third day we needed to make it back across The Neck, Land’s End, down the Flint Trail and into Waterhole Flat. From there Hite and our fuel stop would “only” be about 30 miles of “good trail”.  Just as we were passing Lands End, one of Paula’s front leaf spring center bolts broke. Part of the u-bolt spring plate was mangled too.
Break Down on Big Ridge

Major repair


Broken leaf plate

Broke plate (hole by shock)

After an hour or so of innovation to “create” a new spring center bolt we discovered the threads on the u-bolt were mangled too.  Carefully, the bad threads were filed away and finally a nut was threaded on the u-bolt. We were back on the trail.

   All went well until I swiped my credit card at the gas pump and it was refused. Not really refused, the card reader system was out of order. The store had already closed but the pumps were supposed to be functional 24/7.  Long story, but Jeff found the store operator at her trailer and she told us a repair person was on the way.  She also said we could camp just around the corner from the store, and that she would open the store early the next morning just for us. The camping area was sparsely grassy and totally out in the open (read no wind protection, and yes the wind did blow).
Hite camp site

Hite camp site

It had just enough area, not really defined campsites though, for our group. That was scary, but sure enough the pumps were repaired just before dusk and we had a place to camp.

   Day four, and we were off to find an elusive Anasazi cliff dwelling. We climbed up the Forest Service road between Bears Ears, which is on the flank of the Abajo Mountains at about 8500’ elevation. From there we followed the route we had determined should place us at a point we could easily hike to Dollhouse Ruin.
Doll House ruins

Doll House ruin

It turns out we were right on and the ruin was in near perfect condition. Our camp was a few miles back up the Forest Service road along a high mesa that provided some weather protection. It was an old drill site from 1963; a dry hole for them, but a nicely flowered campsite for us.