Our Everyday Adventures

We are not adventurers by choice but by fate – Van Gogh

San Rafael Swell ~ Utah ~ Slot Canyons

Post by:  Jake

Over Memorial Day weekend, Veronica and I organized a bunch of friends and drove out to the desert for a long weekend of hiking and rappelling.  What started as a beautiful desert evening Thursday night, soon morphed into a biblical sand storm by Friday afternoon.  As we hiked away from our base camp Friday morning, the weather was calm, sunny, and overall fairly uneventful.  Five long miles later and deep into a slot canyon, we were struggling to stay on our feet as the wind pelted our bare legs with sand and pea gravel.  Hoping that somehow the slot canyon we were hiking was simply concentrating the wind, disappointment greeted us as we turned the last narrow corner and walked into the open desert where the wind seemed equally strong, if not stronger.  Immediately I felt a pit form in my stomach, knowing full well that we should have taken down our tents before leaving in the morning.  Wishing for the best, but expecting the worst, we headed back to our camp to find the following: 1 tent, precariously teetering over a cliff face, held fast by a single stake and a guy line; 1 tent perfectly fine, although nearly completely filled with sand; 1 tent with 2 of the 3 poles broken and protruding through the formerly waterproof fly; and 1 tent missing entirely.  Finding the missing tent a while later several hundred feet away at the bottom of a ravine, we were at a loss for words.  The group simply sat around on rocks, completely demoralized, trying to figure out our next move.  Move camp to a more sheltered location? Nope, the wind and blowing sand penetrated every crack of the desert equally; there was no place of refuge.  The wind continued, as if blowing salt into our wounds.  Staring at each other with blank, expressionless faces, we decided to throw in the towel and opt for a motel room in nearby Green River.  Booking one of the last rooms in town, we threw our tents and gear into the cars and dashed to the safety of 4 solid walls and a comfortable, sand free (nearly) bed. I contemplated the hardships of the early explorers and pioneers as I relaxed in the hotel’s hot tub, jets pounding into my sore shoulders and tired muscles.

The next day we woke to winds even more intense than before.  Although we certainly can claim no prizes for toughing out the storm in our tents, we also could not simply sit idle in the hotel room, through what was supposed to be an epic Utah adventure.  So, we hopped in the car, and following the directions of the hotel owner, we made our way out to Sego canyon where the wind seemed slightly less intense.  Ancient rock art panels and a beautiful desert canyon landscape filled our morning.  During the afternoon, we set a climbing rope and rappelled through the ceiling of a natural bridge cut into the sandstone.  Drop after drop, we hooted and hollered like a bunch of kids; and for a while even forgot about the intense wind.

Sunday morning, the wind had finally blown itself out and we ventured back to the San Rafael Swell to set up camp and hike to another incredible desert wonder, a massive cavernous alcove cut out of a tall sandstone cliff.  Sunday afternoon, we crossed into Goblin Valley State Park to explore the giant coliseum of cartoon characters that appear to have been frozen in time, preserved into a valley of sandstone hoodoos.  One step into the valley of goblins is enough to bring out anyone’s inner child. Before we knew it, we were calling out shapes of turtles, clowns, lions, tigers, and bears; all the while scrambling up and down blobs of sandstone. Back at camp, we toasted up a feast of Hobo Pies, and sat around the fire late into the night; watching embers burn into the starry night sky.

Monday morning dawned late as we were camped against an east facing cliff.  Originally we had planned to simply pack up camp and drive back home; however the allure of one more “quick” hike was too strong, so we hiked out and squeezed in one last slot canyon.  Driving home, the only thing any of us could think about was coming back for another adventure.  With endless slot canyons to hike, ancient dwellings to explore, and shapes to pick out of the sandstone hoodoos, it’s just a matter of time till were headed back to the desert.  The desert can be brutal and unforgiving; but even during the worst weather there’s always more adventures to be had.


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Winter Road Trip to the Dessert

Post By: Jake

December 26th 2009, one day after Christmas, Veronica and I hopped into the car at 4:30 a.m. and started driving south on what was to be a 3,000+ mile road trip. The road trip was initially planned for 2 reasons, 1-because we needed a vacation and 2-to visit my grandma in Phoenix. Although driving from Helena to Phoenix and back is long enough in itself, we decided to extend the trip a few days and add a few stops in the Utah dessert. Below is our day to day itinerary and an account of memories that will last us a lifetime.

Dec. 26th Day 1 was by far the longest day in the car. 13+ hours, 900+ miles from Helena Montana to Las Vegas, NV. We stayed at the Hilton, “just off” the strip. Apparently “Just off” the strip to someone from Vegas is WAY different then what I was expecting. Never having been to the strip, I had no idea of the massive size of everything and how far apart everything really is. We explored the strip this night, and even managed to win a couple bucks in a penny slot!

Dec. 27th Day 2. We spent the day exploring the strip, riding the New York New York roller coaster, lost our winnings in a slot machine and then took in an incredible show, Cirque Du Soleil-Mystere’ at the Treasure Island.

Dec. 28th Day 3. Having explored Vegas for a day and a night, we were done with the city and ready to move on, so we hopped back in the car and drove to Phoenix, via the Hoover dam! Along the way I won the contest by spotting the first saguaro cactus.

Dec. 29th Day 4. We visited Grandma all day, picked some fresh lemons and oranges on the tree in the backyard, and had some wonderful BBQ at a tiny dive restaurant.

Dec. 30th Day 5. Back in the car we headed north to Cortez, Colorado. Along the way we stopped at the Grand Canyon (10 foot visibility!!!) drove through Monument Valley, and even detoured to 4-Corners, making it JUST in time (apparently 4-Corners closes at 5:00 p.m. sharp!) to snap a few pictures. Most of the day was a blizzard, clearing up perfectly for about 30 minutes while we drove through Monument Valley.

Dec. 31st Day 6. Waking up to sunny skies and a fresh 12” of snow in Cortez, Colorado, we headed out to Mesa Verde National Park, which was over 90% closed due to the snow. The 10% that was open required studded snow tires or chains to visit (luckily we had the snow tires put on a few weeks prior.) And despite the lousy conditions, the 10% that was open was incredible! Well worth the stop. The ancient pueblo cliff dwellings ARE really worth a visit, however in addition to Mesa Verde I fully recommend hiking to an “off the trail”, hard to find ruin in various places around Utah. After Mesa Verde we drove to Blanding, Utah, and then onto Natural Bridges Nat. Mon. for a quick road tour of the natural bridges. New Years eve was fairly uneventful, my wife and I shared a bottle of champagne, watched the ball drop (east coast time), and drifted to sleep.

Jan. 1st Day 7. We started the day with a 4 mile hike through knee deep untracked powder to a seldom visited ancient pueblo ruin. Ballroom Cave Ruins. It was pretty cool to sign the register and date it 1-1-10. The latest entry before ours was on 11-15-09, long before the snow started flying. The only tracks we encountered were from a pair of elk! Following the hike, we drove to Moab, stopping at Newspaper Rock and a natural arch along the way.

Jan 2nd Day 8. Woke up today to a skiff of fresh snow and headed into Arches National Park for a day full of hikes to arches. We started the day at Delicate Arch (even though the rangers warned us not too because of the “hazardous” snow covered trail) and also hit up the Devil’s Garden area and the Window’s area. Back in Moab, we were so excited to finally be in a town that had more than 1 restaurant, however apparently most restaurants close for the winter!

Jan 3rd Day 9. We woke up early and headed over to Goblin Valley State Park for our favorite experience of the trip. Hiking around Goblin Valley in the winter is surreal; It brings back childhood imagination as faces in the rocks are visible on nearly every stone throughout the valley of rock goblins. We spent a large part of our day simply laughing, exploring, and chasing each other through the maze of rocks like a couple of children. After we were fully exhausted, yet completely refreshed, we hopped back in the car and drove north, stopping in Provo for the night, taking in a dollar theater movie and dinner at the much anticipated Olive Garden.

Jan 4th Day 10. The drive home was filled with memories racing through our heads and smiles spread across our faces. That is, until the cop pulled me over for driving too slow on the interstate!!! I tried to explain to him that we were just finishing up a 3,000+ mile road trip, and that I was in no hurry to return home. He let me off with a warning.