An Article from Aaron's Article ArchiveHiking North of Washington, Utah
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Hiking North of Washington, Utah
Saturday, 26 March 2005 6:00 PM MST
Yakkity Yak, Astounding Adventures
Another Saturday had arrived with sunny, shirt-sleeve weather, the air pleasantly cool and clear after recent stormy weather. Having had no real physical activity for two weeks, the urge to go hiking was nigh unto killing me. I made a quick call over to the Dixie State College computer lab where my brother was finishing up his Saturday shift to see if Kendall wanted to go hiking.
What a dumb question. Does rain fall? Does wind blow? Of course he wanted to go hiking. He too couldn't wait to escape into the marvelous out-of-doors.
He came by my house and picked me up. We decided to explore the red hills north of Washington, but without any real plan. I'd explored some of the dirt roads a few years ago in my black Chevy Blazer. I remembered that there was a trail that began near a water tank north of Interstate 15, north of the homes in the viscinity of a local radio tower. We figured we'd drive around a bit, park, pick a direction, and start walking.
In Washington we stopped at Nisson's Market (which looks like it's in decline after the arrival of the Super Wal-Mart less than a mile away) to pick up three bottles of water, one for Kendall and two for me. Instead of exiting the parking lot on to Telegraph Road, we headed northward up Main Street, passed under the freeway, then wandered around the several subdivisions that currently exist in a cluster around that area near a tall radio tower there north of the freeway.
We didn't see any spots to depart the pavement in a car, so we went back to Main Street again, and headed north. North of the freeway, the pavement on Main Street almost immediately ends. And to my surprise, there was a locked gate across the road. That was new. The last time I'd been this way, there was no gate. We parked and disembarked.
According to the sign there posted, the land parcels the road was entering is Utah School Trust Land, currently undeveloped. Some idiodic people with no care or concern for mankind have been littering, even dumping garbage on the trust land, so the put the gate in to block vehicular access except to authorized personnel, while still allowing pedestrian, bicycle, and horse access. Why do stupid vandals like that have to ruin things for all of us?
This became our new starting spot. We started our hike, walking on the hard-packed sandy road northward through the undeveloped desert surroundings. We noticed that there were large tufts of verdant grasses beneath the creosote bushes (also known locally as chapparal). The unusually moist winter meant the barren desert wasn't so barren. It was amazingly green, but the grasses were thickest and tallest beneath the creosote. Weird! I wonder why.
Having grown up in this area, when thuderstorms come, the first drops that stir up dust also disturb the creosote bush foilage, releasing a pungent scent that I've come to associate so closely with rain that I think of it as the smell of rain. That's what rain is supposed to smell like. I reached over as we walked past, and pinched a few of the small, coarse, waxy leaves and inhaled. Bliss! That is a scent I will always love.
Kendall noted that the recent rains had carved an interesting little channel along the east side of the road as the road continued to gently climb as it headed north. It was like looking down upon a miniature model of some of the many fascinating slot canyons eroded in the sandstone of the desert southwest.
Before long we came upon a couple heading south as we headed north. We said hello, and I asked them if there was anything of interest ahead. The woman paused then told us that the road continued for a ways northward, then curved eastward, and if one continued that way, one might eventually come to Elephant Arch.
As Kendall and I continued on, I commented to Kendall that I knew that Elephant Arch was in the general vicinity, but I'd complete forgotten about it. Interesting. Perhaps we'd see if we could find it. Or not. We still had no real plan.
Before long we came to a fence blocking the road, the border of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. I kiosk there had a map of various trails available to hikers (no motorized vehicles are permitted in this part of the reserve). There on the map was the route to Elephant Arch. We decided to follow the trail and see how far we got.
We headed northward along the same road as before further in to the reserve. We followed the same road until it crossed a wash where we turned eastward followed the was upstream, walking in the sandy wash bottom. Fortunately for us precipitation a day or so ago left the sand wet. If it had been dry, it the sand would have really slowed us down.
We wound along the wash bottom as it snaked eastward. The wash entered a little side canyon, sandstone rock flanking the north and south banks. We paused often as we continued along the wash bottom to stare at the interesting eroded sandstone formations on either side of us, or, in the shade of a huge sandstone rock, to take a drink from our water bottles.
When the wash turned abruptly northward, I remembered we were supposed to leave the main wash and continue in an eastward direction if we wanted to find Elephant Arch. Since neither of us had been to it before, and we only had a vague idea that we were getting closer, we looked up at the cliffs east of us, and decided to follow the bottom of a side-wash. We picked the wrong way to go. We should have instead followed a well-trodden path that headed northeastward up out of the wash bottom instead. Oops!
The wash bottom we followed soon narrowed. Man of considerable girth that I am, I commented to my brother that this was quickly becoming a fat man's misery of sorts. After sqeezing through a few narrow spots and scrabbling up some sandstone, I decided I wasn't in a scrabbling mood, carrying a plastic grocery store bag with my water bottles. So we headed back down the wash out of the narrow section.
I noticed a little path that climbed the north bank of this side wash, so we started following it, climbing up the north bank. Before long, we were atop the ridge separating the south branch wash and another tributary wash north of us. We continued hiking up the ridge, thinking that once we got high enough, we might be able to spot something that would tell us where we should have gone.
Soon we encountered some short sandstone cliffs blocking our path up the ridge top. We skirted along the cliff base on the north side, then paused again in the deep, cool shade for another drink.
While we waited, I couldn't help myself. I had to test the acoustic properties of the surroundings. The spot where we stood, our backs to the cliff face standing above us, sout of us, was one of the most perfect spots I've ever been for an echo. And what an echo it was, or rather echos. The multiple sound reflections that came back to us were nearly perfectly rhythmically timed. Before long, we were shouting and singing and making all sorts of noise in short bursts, even harmonizing with our own reflected voices. I think I got a little carried away.
By now we were high enough on the ridge, that I felt the compulsive need to get up on top, above the cliffs, to see what we could see. Kendall, spryly scrabbled up a steep spot and was soon looking down upon me. Still not feeling up to such antics, I continued along the bottom of the cliffs, a bit more, until I found a steep draw that cut upwards to the top.
I'd made it. I was atop the ridge. And what a view! What a beautiful place. And I felt it was about time for me to head back, considering my state of unfitness. As high above the wash bottom as we now were, I was loath to descend, so I made a proposal to my brother. What if we contiued eastward up the ridge just a little bit more, then turned southward and skirted the canyons below, until made it to the hill to the south. I recalled from the map that another main trail followed along the top of the south hill that would take us back.
We finished our ascent, and began angling to the south, the desert green (relatively speaking, green for such a dry place, green from the marvelous moisture of the winter) and beautiful around us. Soon we met up with the trail atop the south hill, and turned westward, following the trail.
This trail too was very, very sandy as well—not surprising considering the sandstone surrounding us—so we were grateful that here too recent moisture made the going much easier. The trail skirted the rim of the canyons below us on the north, affording an excellent view from above of the fascinating nooks and crannies carved into the sandstone below us.
We could also see across the canyons to the black basalt lava rocks around the base of a cinder cone or small volcano (or whatever such geological formations are called—a volcanic vent from which lava once spewed?). Kendall had commented earlier in our journey that he has wanted to hike to the top of it for some time now. We were surprised at how close our current hike had brought us. Looking at a map now, it looks like we came to about seven-tenths of a mile away from it. Had we taken a 3/4 mile (or a mile once one winds around through the terrain) side trip and ascended another 400 feet in elevation, we could have stood atop it.
Looking at a topographical map, it looks like the summit of the sandy hill we were atop same spot along the trail where we overlooked the wash below us on the north. Soon the trail began to descend.
Have you ever hiked downhill in the sand? It's very enjoyable. You can jog, run, and leap, the deep sand cushioning the impact of each footfall. I was wishing the trail's descent was steeper, I was enjoying the deep sand stretches so much.
Not far from where we first joined this trail, we'd noticed fresh footprints from earlier today. Then as the trail descended, we noticed a change. Instead of shoe prints, there were toe prints. Whoever had hiked this path earlier today had removed his or her shoes. Now there's an idea!
Off came my shoes and socks. Now I was plunging downhill barefoot. The sand was warm where the sun shined upon it, and surprisingly cool in the shade of the desert shrubs and brush. It was delightful! I felt like a kid playing in the sand again.
We followed a branch of the trail that headed almost due west down a ridge line with yet another small sandstone ravine opening below our feet, this time on the south side of us.
As is almost always the case when hiking downhill, we quickly covered the distance down the ridge to the bottom, where the trail joined a diagonal service road. At the road, I found a soft bank of cool sand and sat down to clean the sand out of my socks and shoes, and from off my feet, and to put my shoes back on.
We followed the service road to where it intersected our original path. We turned south and headed back down the road towards where we were parked a little over a mile-and-a-half away.
When we crossed the fence that marked the border of the Desert Reserve, there was a vehicle parked at the road intersection just outside the fence, where we would have parked had a gate not blocked our path further down the road. No one was around to ask how they'd made it through.
We did notice four or five empty beer bottles in the sand around the parking area. Since I had my plastic grocery bag which carried my now-empty disposable plastic water bottles with me, and since I was very annoyed at the litter bugs who left their trash behind, I picked up the stinky bottles and carried them out with me and dropped them in a garbage can at a park in Washington. Why do people litter? I don't understand it.
During the last mile back to the car, my feet started letting me know that I'd had enough, that this hike was about as far as someone in my lack-of-shape should be going.
Looking at a map now, it looks like we hiked about six-and-a-half to six-and-three-quarters miles, and ascended about 750 to 775 feet in altitude from where we parked to the top of the red sandy hill south of the canyons. That's about right for me. I hope to improve, however, so I can do some 12-14 mile hikes, and/or hikes that climb several thousand feet.
I had a blast, and I think Kendall did too. I need to go hiking more often. And I want to return and hike up to Elephant Arch and this time follow the path up out of the wash bottom. I think I have a much better idea now where to go, but I'd still like to talk to someone who's been there recently.
What a great late-afternoon/evening!