ilanarama: profile of me backpacking.  Woo. (hiking)
[personal profile] ilanarama
Thursday night was the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, so Britt and I had plans to drive out to Cedar Mesa in Utah, figuring it would be warm enough there to sleep out and look at the sky, as well as clear (rain was predicted for Durango) and dark (the nearest town being Mexican Hat, population 88). And it didn't really make sense to drive out around 3 hours just to spend one night and drive back in the morning, so at the last minute we decided to bring our gear and go backpacking on the Fish Creek/Owl Creek loop, a highly-rated hike that goes through scenic canyons with arches and ruins, with quite a bit of rock scrambling and route-finding required. Most people, of course, do this in the spring or fall, when it's not brain-scorchingly HOT. On the other hand, it had rained across the entire region the previous week, so the intermittent streams would be running and the pools would be full, and with predicted temperatures in the upper 80s to lower 90s it was still on the cool side. (For the desert. In August.) Best of all, we would have it to ourselves - because nobody else would be nuts enough to be there.

We drove out after work on Thursday and ended up camping in the Valley of the Gods, a sort of mini-Monument Valley sandwiched between the south side of Cedar Mesa and the San Juan River. It turned out to be a perfect spot to watch the Perseids, and we slept out on tarps spread next to our camper van, watching the sky. (We even set an alarm for 1 am to catch the supposed peak - it was all pretty good, with 1-3 meteors per minute, and 12 or 15 really good ones over the course of the night.)

In the morning we drove up the Moki Dugway - a ridiculously steep and curvy road cut into the south cliff of Cedar Mesa - and north to the trailhead. According to the register we were the first people through in three days, and the others were BLM rangers or dayhikers. We got our gear together, signed the register and started across the mesa toward the rim of Fish Canyon. This is the opposite direction most people do this loop - according to the sign at the trailhead and one of our guidebooks, it's recommended to go down Owl and up Fish - but our other guidebook recommended the opposite direction, and that's what Britt had done on his previous trip through (with a friend, not me - I must have been out of town).

rim of Fish Creek

Once at the rim, it was time to head down. This was easier said than done, and one of the reasons the opposite direction is recommended, as downclimbing is harder than ascending, and the descent begins with a 15-foot crack. It actually wasn't that bad - almost like stair steps - but I did have to remove my pack and hand it down to Britt, who had gone first. Then it was a matter of following the cairns (when they were present) or discerning the easiest-looking route (when they were not) across shelves, down slickrock, around boulders, and sometimes even along segments of actual trail, until we reached the bottom of the canyon.

The hike did not become appreciably easier at this point, despite the more gentle descent. The earlier rains had caused flash floods which had wiped out much of the trail, knocking over cairns and flattening plants across the pathways. It wasn't always clear where we needed to stay high to skirt an obstacle, and where it was best to stick close to the creek, and where we had to fight through the thickets of vegetation (which at least were usually flattened in the direction we were going). It was easiest when the creek ran over bedrock sandstone; then it was like a paved sidewalk.

And set in the sidewalk were wonderful pools! We broke our hike several times to swim and cool off, and made camp in the evening at a particularly beautiful pool where we first filtered water for drinking and cooking, then took a swim. With the sun behind the rim the temperature was exceptionally pleasant. We slept out in the open again, and although the visible sky was reduced by the canyon walls we still saw a few meteors.


canyon pool

reflecting pool

Fish Creek pool

We woke fairly early the next morning so as to get some hiking in before it got too hot. We continued down Fish Creek, keeping a sharp eye on the stream, which by now was intermittent, occasionally flowing and occasionally underground. About a mile from the confluence with Owl Creek, the water had dwindled to small sporadic pools, so we stopped to filter water to top off our supply and then dunk ourselves to cool off. It would be a long and hot hike to the next water source, four miles or so up Owl Creek.

And it was, hot and dry and tiring. The usual advice is to hole up during the hottest part of the afternoon and resume hiking after 5pm or so, but there wasn't anywhere nice and shady to hole up, so we kept going. We did rest in the shade every time we found some, and at least the scenery was distracting - pillars and monuments and eventually, the beautiful and dramatic Nevills Arch.

Owl Creek pillars

incipient arch

Nevills Arch

Britt had remembered a beautiful big pool under a pourover (dry waterfall) and so we pushed on in order to camp there. It was amazing! The near shore was sandy dirt, but by squeezing through a crevice between two boulders, we accessed a tiny shelf of sandstone, just big enough for us to lay out our tarp and sleeping bags and set our chairs and stove for a camp. We cooled off with a swim, and then ate dinner and watched half a dozen bats swooping erratically back and forth across the pool, catching their own dinner of bugs.

reflecting pool, camp 2

reflecting pool, camp 2

We swam again in the morning, then packed up and headed out - and up. To bypass the pour-over, the route makes a few tough climbs and obscure detours, and we probably didn't find the optimal way, but we found some way, and followed it up to the next slickrock level. Then it was bushwhacking again, back and forth between overgrown stream banks and rock jumbles, until we emerged onto a sandstone slope marked with cairns that led to an alcove, under which were four pre-Puebloan structures and some pictographs. We took a break there, poking around the ruins, and then tried and failed to find a marked route out - so we climbed up a crack at the edge of the alcove and scrambled out onto another rock slope. This one led us up to a wash at the top of the canyon, and suddenly - hey, was that the white roof of our camper van? We were back at the trailhead!

trail, what trail?


climbing out

up a slab

All 26 photos (these plus more) as a Flickr set

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 12:56 am (UTC)
melusina: (Any watersword exploration)
From: [personal profile] melusina
As always, I enjoy living vicariously through your incredible pics! This looks like great fun. . .

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 01:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Pretty cool campsite!

The Perseid shower made me want to be on a boat far, far away from lights. I suppose Cedar Mesa, Utah would suffice too. *g*

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 02:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hehehe, I was anchored off of Norman Island, BVI that very night! Great stargazing.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 01:38 am (UTC)
mergatrude: a hermit crab peering from it's shell with the text "lurker" (Default)
From: [personal profile] mergatrude
I just love reading about your adventures.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 03:43 am (UTC)
sara: S (Default)
From: [personal profile] sara

When I was a kid my grandparents lived in Tucson, so we spent a LOT of Augusts in redrock country. And yeah, it's hot, but, well, enh. Looks like you had water, too, so that's not so bad.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 02:15 pm (UTC)
starfishchick: (Default)
From: [personal profile] starfishchick
Looks amazing!!! Such gorgeous scenery.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 02:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Another great adventure. Thanks for sharing!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 05:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Great pictures as usual ilana! That's what sucks about living in the city, all the streetlights obliterate any meteorites and sometimes the stars

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-19 04:12 am (UTC)
mrkinch: Sean taking a picture (camera)
From: [personal profile] mrkinch
Oh, my goodness! What amazing country and what fantastic campsites!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-19 12:25 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] whatistigerbalm
I love that cliff with what looks like a blind arch carved into it (I can see it's natural, but don't know how better to describe it).


ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)

April 2019

14 151617181920

My running PRs:

5K: 21:03 (downhill) 21:43 (loop)
10K: 43:06 (downhill)
10M: 1:12:59
13.1M: 1:35:55
26.2M: 3:23:31

You can reach me by email at heyheyilana @


Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags