Outside the Wasatch

How I Ended up in Cranbrook, B.C.

The reality of what we had gotten ourselves into only hit me at the tiny, remote border crossing in Roosville, MT. After politely informing the Canadian border patrol agent that our travel plans were to head to Cranbrook, B.C., he followed up with an assertive, “Why?” I noticeably fumbled my words as I crafted a substantial-sounding answer. The words I thought in my head were sarcastically clear — “I don’t know, I definitely didn’t just choose to come here a couple hours ago on a whim because I saw this town for the first time on Google Maps.” He sternly told us to pull aside the border patrol office. For a few anxious moments, we sat stock-still in the car anticipating a full search because of our lack of reason for entering the country. Finally, another Canadian official tapped for the window to be lowered and he handed us our passports back without saying a word.

Apparently, spontaneous traveling without a good reason doesn’t make the cut at border crossings, but it’s a popular activity these days that is increasingly easier. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say many of us adventure-minded folk have dreamed of pointing to a spot on a map in another country and impulsively going. I did exactly this all in one day. I looked up pictures of the city on my phone, booked the cheapest motel I could find for the evening, and went purely for the sake of seeing a new place and the ensuing story that might come from it. Despite the fact this was just a short drive across the border, there are so many possibilities around the world if you can save up a bit of money for a plane ticket. Then the resources of the Information Age do the rest.

The pictures here are of Fernie, B.C., a popular ski town you would have expected us to visit and what the border patrol agent likely expected to hear as our destination. But we didn’t even bring skis. We did pop over to Fernie, but our true destination was Cranbrook, an unnoteworthy, unphotogenic town beside some photogenic distant mountains. That was the beauty of the trip — we went somewhere that wasn’t even adventurous on the outdoors spectrum. It was just somewhere new to explore that we found online on a map.

GOOGLE MAPS AND TRIMBLE OUTDOORS: 

From a random flight generator to adjusted public transit times in cities across the globe. Google Maps is my go-to travel companion and can help me pick my next internet-generated spot on the map to go to every time. Also included: driving route planning, reviews of hotels and restaurants, photos, write-ups, satellite images, and GPS data. Trimble Outdoors gives you access to different map lay-outs while helping you plan mileage and elevation gain on a hike.

COUCHSURFING, AIRBNB, WORKAWAY, HIPCAMP: 

These resources set you up with cheap lodging accommodations and unique travel situations. Couchsurfing sets you up with good samaritans looking to host people for a short amount of time in exchange for stories and connections with unique people. Airbnb costs money, but is a great (and cheap) way to have a personal experience with the residents. Workaway is tailored toward long-term international travelers, who trade work for room and board. Hipcamp is great for finding camping spots outside of traditional campgrounds.

THE OUTBOUND COLLECTIVE, THE OUTDOOR PROJECT, ALL TRAILS:

These handy resources can find you the best outdoor excursions wherever you end up. They are based on solid outdoor community reviews backed up with maps, pictures, and firsthand accounts to get to the best adventure you can find on a short notice.

c.hammock@wasatchmag.com

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A New Moab: From Cozy to Commercial

Twenty-seven-year Moab Local John Williams says “I don’t think there’s any going back to how it used to be.” His tired eyes are fixed on a placid, mid-December Main Street, “Moab is on the rise and it’s going to continue to be on the rise.”

Visitors both domestic and international have come to recognize Moab as a charming place of lodging amongst the expansive almost alien landscape of eroded sandstone and red rock icons. The isolated desert community rests along the shore of the Colorado River near an overlying rim, and serves as an access point to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, the La Sal mountains, and a seemingly endless idiosyncratic natural landscape.

While consisting of only 5,130 permanent residents in 2013, Moab accommodates over two million incoming tourists annually, generating a burgeoning tourist economy that former Moab City Councilwoman Kristin Peterson approximates at $263 million. As awareness of the peerless gem of southeastern Utah grows, so too does its commercial trajectory — with no sign of exhaustion.

Williams has owned and operated outdoor expedition and rafting company, Navtec Expeditions , since its small-scale foundation in 1987. He has experienced Moab’s profound growth first-hand, remarking that “The last two years have been the biggest in the travel industry in Moab that I’ve ever seen. Seasons are extending — we even ran trips clear through November last year.”

With the ubiquitous advertisements and trademark Delicate Arch license plates, it is easy to conceive of tourism as a tacit fact of nature in the Moab area, though that couldn’t be any farther from the truth. What initially existed in obscurity as a small-scale agricultural community mushroomed in size after the eventful early 20th century discovery of high deposits of uranium and other valuable materials, and became known near the 1950s as “The Uranium Capital of the World.”

In the early 1980s, the mines had subsided with the conclusion of the Cold War and mounting environmental concerns, leaving the once flourishing industrial community deflated and in rapid decline. Local governments stridently shifted attention to showcasing the region’s natural wonders, particularly its immense oportunities for  outdoor recreation, thereby revitalizing — even rescuing — Moab for years to come. “Moab has been a tourist town since the uranium industry went under,” Williams stated, “it’s all we have — we need it here.”

Moab’s emergence as a tourist hotspot is a double-edged sword however, and many residents fear displacement as the town becomes progressively more commercialized, and thus more expensive to live in each year. To better understand the extent and implications of this resort-town transition, I travelled to a vacated, snow-covered Moab to speak with the individuals whose lives hang in the balance. Largely unoccupied in the languid lull of the off-season, these local residents were more than happy to share their perspectives.

Marie, or “Moonbeam” as her friends call her, is an 11-year Moab resident and owner of Star Shine Gifts, a metaphysical gift shop on Main Street. She, like virtually every other small business owner I spoke to, notices that “the season starts earlier and ends later,” growing busier each cycle. She recognizes that “Moab is transitioning into a resort town ­— all that’s needed is a bigger airport.” When asked of her conceived worst-case scenario, she emphatically stated, “The worst would be the arrival of big-box retailers” similar to Walmart.

Like many locals who relish Moab’s small town atmosphere, Marie fears that monetizing the area threatens to diminish its natural tranquility.“There are things that you can’t put a price on,” she says, “like clean air, and clean water, and dark skies — peace and quiet. These are beyond priceless.”

Co-owner of Amber Waves Salon and lifetime resident, Morgi Croasmun, suggests that locals can cope with growing commercialization by working to “keep it small town,” by “supporting local businesses first and foremost.” This trajectory, she feels, is inevitable. “If we don’t keep growing, we’ll stop where we are or regress.”

When asked about Moab’s skyrocketing cost of living, she admits that it has grown tougher to afford to live in the town, “especially rent-wise. We make good money through a certain period of time when the tourists are here, but it becomes more difficult through the off-season.”

While local residents and policy-makers were successfully able to block the suffocating induction of Walmart into the town in 2007, largescale commercial developments, particularly in lodging, have multiplied in recent years. Three major hotels, two of which were commissioned by Hilton Worldwide, began construction just last year. Another major resort near the iconic Lion’s Back formation is also in the works, threatening to interfere with access to the popular Sand Flats hiking area.

More troubling still are the soaring property values and increasing cost of living — 11 percent higher than the national average and continually rising— a new fiscal environment that 73-year Moab local and former miner, D, fears is threatening his ability to live in his home town.

Exasperated, D said, “The old people that have lived here can’t afford to pay the taxes. We’re all on a fixed income now. Rent is going up every month — how the hell are we gonna make it here? We can hardly even do it now.”

Reflecting similar anxiety of Moab’s commercial future, another longtime local who chose to remain anonymous shared that she has “good friends in Aspen. The same thing that happened there, and places like Vale and Telluride, is happening here in Moab.” Low-income service workers in Moab, she projects, will no longer be able to afford to live in town, and will ultimately have to live elsewhere and commute — a lifestyle that grows less sustainable each year as the cost of living in neighboring communities like La Sal, Monticello, Blanding, and Bluff increase correspondingly. “I feel a privilege, a huge privilege, that I knew Moab before all of this.”

“That’s one of the big problems we have: housing,” Williams observes, “there’s just not enough good, low-income housing here.” While some low-income housing units do exist in Moab, many residents that I spoke to felt that it wasn’t nearly enough to adequately accommodate the town’s struggling service worker foundation as they face displacement with the encroaching commercial future.

Many locals, however, are optimistic about the new face of Moab, and feel that with proper reception it can potentially be the best thing for the town. Rebecca McAllister, owner and operator of Moab Made, recognizes that “it’s more expensive to live here, but also more sustainable. Tourism has brought a lot of job opportunities that would not be here otherwise. It’s built the economy, and allowed people to live in the middle of nowhere.” Her business is representative of coexistence and cooperation with Moab’s new direction, exclusively selling the work of over 75 local artists.

She, like many other Moab locals, have come to accept the inevitable, and “rather than using our energy to fight it,” she says, “we should spend our energy on handling it wisely and gracefully.”

Moab’s growing tourist dimension seems to be elapsing other, less sustainable uses for the better, as the Bureau of Land Management has just last month declared 451,000 acres protected and non-leasable, preventing surface disturbance like mining or oil drilling in scenic areas such as the Moab Rim Trail, Corona Arch, and Indian Creek.

Although John Williams has observed the severe impact as a result of increased recreational activity, he feels that many tourists “just don’t know what the dos and don’ts are — they wouldn’t do it if they knew better.” Cherishing, rather than exploiting, Moab’s natural resources for monetary gain may be the key to conserving the region as it progresses into the future, as long as the land is treated responsibly and consciously.

Whether this encroaching Aspen-ization of southeastern Utah’s luminescent desert oasis is the area’s conservational salvation or a mechanism for displacement and gentrification is uncertain, but “the future is upon us,” Williams says, “and we have to embrace and deal with it the best we can.” Only time will tell if Moab’s small-town infrastructure and delicate natural environment can cope with the demands of its emerging epoch. This seasoned local warns, “there’s a certain limit to what we can carry here, and we’re getting pretty close now. We are going to have to adjust.”

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Discover a Warm and Groovy Place for a Soak in Monroe

One thing to know about me: I hate being cold. I absolutely loathe it. If I could be wrapped in a heated blanket all through winter I wouldn’t object. Unfortunately, this is not an option, so instead of becoming a hermit all winter long I’ve found that visiting one of the many hot springs in Utah is a much better way to stay warm and have fun.

When I moved here from Pennsylvania five years ago I was determined to take advantage of as many hot springs as I could. One of my favorite springs in Utah, and one that I love returning to, is Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe.

The first thing that sets Mystic apart from other hot springs is its accommodations. Along with tent camping spots and cabins, the resort has some very funky, and very cool, vintage converted buses to spend the night in. Each bus is different; some are set up with bunks to be party buses, and others are cozy for two.

My boyfriend and I stayed in the Ripple bus and spent most of the day soaking, napping, and eating. Mystic is a well-kept secret. It’s never ridiculously crowded and there are so many different pools you never have to wait around to get a tub all to yourself.

The heart of this small town feels like a bubble of calm. There are no loud noises or lights to intrude on the tranquility of the campsite. There’s nothing better than getting into a hot pool at 12 a.m. after relaxing by the fire after dinner. Above, the stars shine brightly due to the lack of light pollution.

It’s not a typical resort with fresh towels and room service, but for what it lacks in modern amenities, it makes up for in atmosphere. The resort has been around for a long time, and when “Mystic Mike” Ginsburg purchased the place back in 1996, he was able to keep the 70’s charm of the resort despite new cabin builds and renovations.

Mystic Hot Springs attracts a diverse group of outdoorsmen and women. It’s a place that invites musicians, artists, story-tellers, hippies, and soul searchers to come and relax. The owners leave personal touches such as chocolate mints, incense, and handwritten welcome letters for each new guest. It’s little things like this that make visiting Mystic worth the drive every time.

 

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

Photos by Esther Aboussou

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Weekend escape: Bridger Bowl, MT

For the last six years, I’ve had a low-priority objective of trying out new ski areas in Montana. After people filled my ear with good things about Bridger Bowl just north of Bozeman, I figured it was time to explore a new hill.

Bridger is only a 20 minute drive from Bozeman. The mellow paved road is a plus for those of us without four-wheel drive vehicles, or with a minivan like yours truly. Bridger Bowl is often overlooked by the larger Big Sky Ski Resort further southwest, but the short drive and cheap price beat out Big Sky in my mind. The key is the little ski area vibe. While little resort gems dot Montana, Bridger Bowl offers that same feeling, plus big slopes. As expected, there are rarely lift lines, but it has a few resort-like amenities with reasonably fast lifts and nice day lodges for eating and resting.

The big terrain I was told about did not let down, and it’s immediately obvious why Bridger is known for its ridge terrain. Booting up just a little from the top of the lifts gives access to almost always untracked snow in steep cliff areas, trees, and couloirs. This ridge terrain is technically backcountry, but it’s easily accessible. An entire lift at Bridger requires that skiers wear a beacon because of increased avalanche danger.

The wide swath of terrain to explore and frequent good snow, or “Cold Smoke” as they call it there, will keep me coming back for more to explore. If you’re ever in the area, ski Bridger Bowl for a relatively cheap $57 (compared to SLC resorts around $80).

Going to a new ski area for the first time is a fun mini adventure in itself. It’s always enjoyable to explore a new place and try to discover little moments of gold in between runs. The views of the Absaroka Range towards Yellowstone National Park and the Crazy Mountains towards Central Montana were amazing. At the end of the day, skiing Bridger Bowl marked skiing eight of the 16 bigger ski areas in Montana, a nice halfway point for an objective I hope to finish some day.

c.hammock@wasatchmag.com

Photos by Chris Hammock

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The Real Reason Locals Don’t Swim in the Salt Lake

The Great Salt Lake: the largest lake in the Great Basin, the namesake of Salt Lake City, and the body of water everyone ignores just northwest of town. In the summer, the lake reeks of rotting brine shrimp carcasses. In the winter it just sits there, frigid, while everyone is preoccupied with the more enticing skiing nearby. Sketchy chemical plants and refineries appear to drain into the reservoir. Plus, it’s really salty — five times saltier than the ocean.

Perfect conditions for a swim.

It seems like very few people from Utah have swum in the Salt Lake and/or have no desire to. I embarked on a personal quest for answers as to why this is the case. I approached some friends and asked if they had been in the lake before, receiving looks of confusion in return. Swimming in the lake was heresy to them; the in-staters had never even considered it. When I asked if they wanted to join me in my baptismal dip to find out what we could be missing, I was greeted with a more alarmed reaction of repulsion: “You’re going to swim in the Salt Lake?! That cesspool? Ew!” These responses only ignited my fire to give it a try. After this investigation, the only real option that remained to understand why it seems nobody swims in the Salt Lake was to jump in it myself. The only never-before-swam-in-the-Salt-Lake Utahn willing to come along was Wasatch editor Carolyn Webber. We headed out to Great Salt Lake State Park in the afternoon on a Thursday after class.

Arriving at the beach, we were initially discouraged by the sand reeking of a sulfuric scent and the refinery smokestack towering above acting as a likely suspect. But we pushed on, and the lake itself wasn’t too smelly. The only possible gross deterrents were the expected foam and a few live brine shrimp.

Finally on the shore, it was the moment of truth. We tested the water for temperature (not bad!) and went for it, sprinting in and going all the way under. The first words from Webber were, “Don’t open your eyes! It’s salty!” That about summed up the experience: salty. The novel fact that you can float without any effort because of the salt content held true. The water tasted significantly more salty than the ocean. The salt burned a scrape of mine as the online guides said it would. After getting out and drying off with a towel, a layer of salt remained behind.

However, this saltiness was secondary to the tranquillity of the lake. There were no waves and the flat lake extended for miles. This unique beauty was easier to appreciate while  actually soaking in the water, altogether surprisingly close to an ocean-swimming experience.

So,  swimming in the Salt Lake: pass or fail? We rate it as a pass. Just make sure you bring some lotion.

c.hammock@dailyutahchronicle.com

Photo by Chris Hammock

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Birding on Utah’s Salty Shores

Despite its seemingly dead appearance at first glance, the Great Salt Lake is a fascinating ecosystem rich with life. It happens to be one of the most important bird migration stops in western North America. Thanks to the mostly arid Utah climate, birds congregate around bodies of water, making the vast lake home to millions of shore birds, water birds, songbirds, and birds of prey, such as bald eagles and falcons. Birding enthusiasts and conservationists flock to the lake from all over to experience its diverse and colorful bird life. In late summer, watch in awe as giant flocks of red necked phalaropes create their signature whirlpools in the salty waters, stirring up brine shrimp and other invertebrates to feast on before their long journey to South America. In the winter, spot a majestic barn owl on the hunt catch a rabbit in its powerful talons.

One of the hotspots for bird watchers is Antelope Island. This 28,800 acre state park is open year round and hosts antelope, bison, and bighorn sheep. Don’t let the dropping temperatures fool you, now is prime time to bring your binocs and watch the show. Some birds to look for in the winter months include grebes, tundra swans, horned larks, and chukars.You’ll find tundra swans aren’t hard to miss with their symphony of honks, while horned larks are a bit more subtle with soft calls, sometimes seen singing with their yellow colored faces and white underbellies visible while perched on rocks or signs.

Before you embark on your birding adventure, you’re going to need some essentials.

Binoculars: These will transform tiny flying specks into colorful and detailed patterns and feathers. A pair can range from $30 to upwards of $500. With a bit of research you can find the best pair for your needs.

A field guide: Specifically a field guide with pictures, so you know what you’re looking at. You can get a reputable and relatively low cost guide for under $10 from National Geographic or the National Audubon Society. You can also find guides regional to Utah for under $5 at most bookstores.

A camera: One with a telephoto lens if possible. Short-range portrait lenses don’t capture detail from a distance, much like your naked eye.

If you are interested in going full-on bird-nerd and learning more about the Great Salt Lake and its feathered friends, the Salt Lake Audubon Society is hosting their biennial Friends of The Great Salt Lake Birds n’ Bites: Highlights of the 2016 Great Salt Lake Issues Forum on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7:00 p.m., at the Tracy Aviary Education Building.

You can also check out the Great Salt Lake Audubon official website for a calendar of events, including a number of guided field trips with bird watching experts.

a.winter@dailyutahchronicle.com

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Hidden Beauty in the Concrete Jungle: Salt Lake’s Jordan River Parkway

Concealed from the public eye by manifold columns of industrial developments, lies a preserved slice of the Salt Lake Valley wasteland: strange, beautiful and ripe for exploration. I stumbled upon this sublime place while cycling to see the Jordan River Parkway to its endpoint, though found myself halted and mesmerized by the fervent vitality of this hidden oddity.

According to postings scattered around the area, this isolated landscape was initially purchased by Salt Lake County in the early 1970s in deplorable condition, having previously been used as agricultural grazing land. After its cooperative community restoration in 2008, the area was cleared of invasive plant species and revitalized, thereafter dubbed the Redwood Nature Area. Encompassing 63 acres of restored natural wetlands, the Redwood Nature Area now serves as an asylum for many species of wildlife and is a habitual stop for migratory birds. More incredible still is that this flourishing arboreal landscape is merely a single pit stop along an extensive network of riverside wetlands, all connected by the winding Jordan River Parkway.

Constantly meandering parallel to the Jordan River, the Parkway spans over 50 miles of paved asphalt and cuts through Utah, Davis and Salt Lake counties. By bike, the extensive trail provides unmitigated access to major settlements between Utah Lake and, in its connection to the Legacy Parkway Trail, the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

For the Salt Lake Valley’s burgeoning cycling culture, the Jordan River Parkway is a safe and beautiful alternative to navigating the perilous urban landscape within our growing inner-city communities.

Adventurous cyclists exploring the Redwood Nature Area must be conscious of the goat heads: sharp, multi-pointed clusters that grow along invasive puncture vines adapted to dry climates. Due to its close proximity to the river, the Parkway is riddled with these tube-deflating monstrosities. Since avoidance is difficult, if not impossible, I recommend bringing along a hand-pump and patching kit in preparation for the likely misfortune of a flat tire, particularly if you are anticipating a longer journey.

jordan-river-parkway
d.rees@dailyutahchronical.com

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Solitude in Fields of Stone

Veiled in obscurity and far off the beaten path, the City of Rocks National Reserve — named by emigrants of centuries past “the Silent City” — is a peerless backcountry landscape of towering granite spires, alien geological forms, and burgeoning plant and animal life. This anomalous location encompasses an isolated stretch of protected southern Idaho desert, and at a mere three-hour drive from Salt Lake City, is a sublime place of solitude for your Fall Break escape.

The reserve’s ubiquitous granite monoliths have amassed considerable recognition within the climbing community, and for good reason. This relatively compact expanse contains over 600 established routes, varying dramatically in height and technicality with routes ranging from 30 to 600 ft., the City of Rocks accommodates any level of climbing experience, offering climbs rated at a casual 5.6 to extreme 5.14s for the intrepid madman. A few of the most popular routes are the Theater of Shadows on Steinfell’s Dome, Columbian Crack on Elephant Rock, and Bloody Fingers on Breadloaves. For curious adventurers seeking to engage in the sport for the first time, the reserve’s visitor center offers introductory climbing lessons, equipment included.

Nearly 22 miles of winding hiking trails traverse this otherworldly expanse, enabling access to omniscient overlooks, geological anomalies, and secluded backcountry. Trails vary from the brief and casual Window Arch Trail, Bath Rock Trail, and Creekside Towers Trail, to the longer, strenuous Geological Interpretive Trail, Flaming Rock Trail, and North Fork Circle Creek for more challenging excursions. You may even wander off the beaten path to parts unknown, though ensure that you’re conscious and considerate of your surroundings and the delicate ecosystem in your exploration.

The City of Rocks, as well as the neighboring Castle Rocks State Park, has designated multiple encompassing paths exclusively for mountain biking, including the road from Circle Creek Overlook to the base of the monumental Stripe Rock, and many other landmark access routes that are restricted to motorized vehicles. Rangers at the adjacent state park urge cyclists to explore the five-mile Castle Rocks Trail, which encircles the entire area, providing unmitigated access to many beautiful and abstract forms.

The City of Rocks cannot be fully experienced in a single day — camping is a must. Fortunately for penury-stricken college students, transient residence under the juniper trees, granite spires, and starlit sky can be obtained cheaply. For designated camping plots, which in many areas are nestled among overarching boulders and flourishing arboreal growths, the nightly fee is $12.72. A free, designated backcountry camping area is located within Indian Grove. A signed permit is required and can be obtained at the ranger station or online. Camping at the neighboring Castle Rocks State Park is priced at $23.32 per night but includes additional accomodations like fresh water pumps, 30-amp electrical hook-ups, and paved parking spots.

For a spell of momentary respite in seclusion and access to world-class scrambles along ancient granite monoliths, consider an excursion to the City of Rocks for your Fall Break meditation.

Photo by Dalton Rees

Photo by Dalton Rees

DIY TRIP:

DAY 1: Leave early to catch a camping spot and stop by the visitor center to pick up a trail guide. Familiarize yourself with the Silent City, stopping by the remarkable Window Arch, Bath Rock, and Creekside Towers. Bring your camera, this photogenic oddity demands it.

DAY 2: Take on the Geological Interpretive Trail or the 6.3 mile North Fork Circle Creek Trail. Neighboring Castle Rocks State Park yields access to sublime natural features along the Backyard Boulders Trail and Castle Rocks Trail. If you’ve developed an incurable itch for technical climbing, take on some of the classic trad routes.

DAY 3:  Grab a mountain bike and explore some of the encompassing sightseeing routes like Elephant Rock to the Nematode, and beyond to the Bread Loaves along the Tea Kettle Trail. Otherwise, finish your day on a climb or a hike and return home.

d.rees@dailyutahchronicle.com

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140 Ways to Climb Maple Canyon

Maple Canyon is one of the most unique climbing destinations in Utah. The texture of the cobblestone rock is like no other place in the state. Just two hours south of Salt Lake, it’s the perfect destination for a weekend stay. With a variety of climbs and numerous locations to explore throughout the canyon, it is a great place to test your ability as a climber.

Climbers can camp near the crags in the huge canyon, but campsites need to be reserved in advance before the end of the season in October. This is the perfect spot for large groups, and amenities like single-family sites, walk-in tent sites, and picnic tables with fire pits make it easy to plan last minute. Ephraim is about 15 minutes south of the canyon, and is great place to stock up on food and supplies before spending time at the crag.

The main attraction of Maple Canyon is the 140 climbing routes ranging from 5.4 up to 5.14. The best places to start would be on Pipeline or Orangutan Wall. Pipeline has a great selection of short but steep routes while Orangutan has a variety of longer climbs. The best time of the year to go is during the summer months and the beginning of the fall. In October and November, it can get cold at night, but this is one of the best times of the year to be outside in Utah as the leaves begin to change and the days aren’t unbearably hot. The majority of the climbs offered in the canyon are single pitch sport routes, but there are a couple of multi-pitch routes. If you don’t get there before the snow comes, don’t sweat it. Maple Canyon also has a variety of ice climbing routes. The best times of the year for ice climbing range from December to the beginning of March. Keep in mind that you will have to skin up or hike to the climbing route as the campsites are closed down during the winter months. The majority of the ice climbs are single pitch, but there are a couple of multi-pitch climbs as well.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Daniels

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Daniels

If you’re not big into climbing, Maple Canyon itself is stunning enough to go camping for a couple nights to experience its cobblestone cliffs. There are campfire rings, wildlife viewing areas, biking, horseback riding, as well as a couple hikes to explore throughout the canyon. There are three hikes to choose from that range from three to five mile loops branching out from the center of the canyon that feature small caves and waterfalls through the Box Canyon hiking trail. The Maple Canyon Loop trail will be great during the fall season to see the leaves changing because the trail takes you through and out above the canyon and overlooks the valley below.

Whether you are a seasoned climber who has traveled all over the world for climbing or someone who is just looking for a vacation from the Salt Lake Valley, Maple Canyon is definitely a location for your list. Its close proximity to Salt Lake will keep you coming back multiple times a year to experience all that the canyon has to offer.

DIY Trip

DAY 1: The first day is spent packing and getting to Ephraim, Utah, which is the nearest town to Maple Canyon. Pick up all the supplies you need for your stay and anything you might have left at home. You can leave later in the day since the drive only takes a couple hours. Next, make your way back towards the canyon and your campsite.

DAY 2: Today is spent climbing many of the crags the canyon has to offer. I recommend starting out at Orangutan Wall or going to Pipeline.

DAY 3: Today will be a break from climbing and a day spent exploring the rest of the canyon. I recommend hiking on the Maple Canyon Loop. This hike is 5 miles long, so be sure to take your time. There is no need to rush!

DAY 4: Today is spent rock climbing in Box Canyon. These climbs are longer but they offer a couple more challenging aspects such as large overhangs. Plus, the approach through Box Canyon is something you can’t pass up. Today can either be your last day in the canyon, or the next day. It depends on your stamina and how long you are able to keep climbing.

p.creveling@dailyutahchronicle.com

Photos courtesy of Lindsay Daniels

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Seeking Adventure in San Rafael Swell

A kaleidoscope of red rock, the San Rafael Swell in Southern Utah is a destination you have to see. Approximately three hours south of Salt Lake City near Cleveland, Utah sits a vast playground of hiking and mountain biking.

When approaching from Cleveland, you will drive through plains as far as the eye can see. Looking east, the plateau in the distance towers above the flat plains and ranch corrals. The dirt road to get to the Swell meanders through the country like a snake.

There is a turnoff to stop and see the Wedge Overlook, which I highly recommend seeing. Imagine a miniature Grand Canyon and there you have it, the aptly nick-named “Little Grand Canyon.” Standing at the top of a majestic overlook, see canyons weaving in and out. On your way to the campsite located 100 yards from the historic bridge crossing the San Rafael River, you’ll drive down Buckhorn Wash. As you descend deeper into the Swell, the canyon walls narrow in on you and grow in magnitude.  Stay on the Buckhorn Wash dirt road for approximately 27 miles until Swinging Bridge Campground. Watch for debris from flash floods on the road.

One of the best sites to stop and visit while driving to the campsite is the Indian Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel, approximately 4.1 miles from the campground.  The pictographs are over 2,000 years old and you can make out a few animal shapes resembling a sheep or a horse (or whatever your imagination conjures up).

San Rafael Swell Camping Trip, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

San Rafael Swell Camping Trip, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Continuing on your journey to the campsite just past the San Rafael River, you will cross one of the only suspension bridges in Utah, now a registered historic place.

There are endless places to hike and bike in the San Rafael Swell. The Mountain bike trail to Mexican Mountain parallels the San Rafael River and is very popular. On the southernmost part of the Swell, you have two of the most popular destinations: Little Wild Horse Canyon and Goblin Valley eighty miles south on Buckhorn Draw Road and I-70. Little Wild Horse Canyon, an eight-mile loop with approximately 800 feet of elevation change, will entice you. There are some passages that are so narrow you will have to hold your pack above your head to pass through. The wind is chilly when you are walking through the deep crevasse, but when you are in the open spots, it is essential to have plenty of water and sun protection.

Near the campsite,  there are a few fun canyons to explore. Each has its own special beauty with natural bridges, forming arches, and desert life. The most popular canyons are Calf, Pine, and Cow canyon. After an hour of hiking up Calf Canyon, you will reach the ‘Double Caves.’  There are cacti, jack rabbits, lizards, desert toads, scorpions, and more.  At night see the entire galaxy light up the sky and shooting stars visible after the moon sets. The Milky Way will be prominently located across the horizon.  You will never want to leave because of how beautiful it is.

DAY 1: Drive South to the Wedge Overlook and proceed to Swinging Bridge Campground. Stop to see the Indian Pictographs.

DAY 2: Drive back up Buckhorn Draw Road to Calf Canyon and hike to see “Double Caves.” Head back to the campground to enjoy burgers and relax.

DAY 3: Drive south to get to Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon. The hike will take approximately five hours depending on how hot it is outside. Camp at Goblin Valley for your last night to enjoy the Goblins at night.

DAY 4: Drive back home to Salt Lake City from I-70 to I-15.

Camping in the San Rafael Swell, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Camping in the San Rafael Swell, Photo by Kiffer Creveling

k.creveling@dailyutahchronicle.com

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