Canyons 2015: hidden gems

Yesterday was all about the big and grand. Grand vistas, big arches…both at the same time. Today we scaled it down a little and went for sights less seen. Or at least, that was the plan.

Breakfast, shared with a mix of ‘old’ and ‘new’ guests, was waffles with fruit, cream and syrup, so we needed a good hike. Andrew had never hiked Negro Bill Canyon and I hadn’t done it for 9 years so it seemed like a good idea. It was even colder this morning, just one degree when we were getting ready and so we really layered up, woolly hats at the ready. The trailhead is just 3 miles along the river road so it didn’t take long to get there. 

The hike at this time of year is, in essence, an autumnal walk along a stream, kicking through leaves, breathing earthy aromas. There are occasional reminders that you’re in the desert though, such as patches of cactus. Oh, and the towering canyon walls stained with desert varnish high above you. Along the way we passed from sunny sections, where the strength of the sun felt quite hot; and shaded areas where the sun simply couldn’t reach. These were really cold and the plants were frozen, as was the sandy ground.

 The notice at the trailhead did say that the route includes a few crossings of the stream. It turned out that ‘a few’ meant ‘nine times, plus a same side wade’. Each way. At first, they were simple affairs using stepping stones. Crossing number three started to up the difficulty, with the stones being just that bit too far apart to be comfortable, but close enough to have a go… We did OK up to crossing number six. At this point there were two possible options, both seemed well trodden. The first involved some bouldering to get past a large rock that blocked the path followed by an easier river crossing, the alternative was to cross the stream before the rock, but required balancing on the pinnacle of a long triangular rock, shaped like a toblerone box. I tried one way, Andrew the other but we still weren’t sure which was best. We took the bouldering option on the way back. 

At the end of the canyon is Morning Glory Arch. As we arrived a rope suddenly dropped down, followed by a person rappelling. The drop is 190 feet of mostly air in case you’re wondering. The pool of water is fed by a steam which emerged from a natural spring in the rock.

 After watching the group descending from the cliff top for a while we set off back. I don’t think I’ve mentioned my new sunglasses yet. I bought them in the UK and they are intended for high altitude hiking. They filter UV and the bluer light you get more of at altitude, as well as being polarised. They really sharpen things up, have a slight orange tinge which makes the red rocks look even better and cut out glare and reflections. In fact, they cut reflections out so well that at one river crossing I put my foot down on the pebble area at the water’s edge, only to discover there was actually several inches of water there. Ah well. The waterproofing on the boots seemed to work and the trousers will dry…

By the time we finished the hike it was gone 1pm. We decided to get lunch at the Peace Tree cafe and then do a shorter walk. This was Mill Creek, destination a waterfall after 1 mile. After just 5 minutes of walking however, the path took to the stream bed. This may be ok in the summer, but today the water was far too deep and it was clear the waterfall would have to wait. Wading through icy water was not on our plan for today. We gave up.

 Now 3pm we needed a nearby, short alternative. Arches park and the Park Avenue trail fitted the bill nicely, providing the ‘wild west’ feel for a brisk walk in chilly air. Towards the northern end of the trail there were numerous it holes still with water in them. I took the obligatory pothole reflection shots, of course.

The mountains still looked good as we returned to Moab. Back at the Inn we took a short plunge in the hot tub to relax our muscles despite air temperatures of around 6C. The worst bit was walking bare foot on freezing concrete to get back to the room!

 We then had dinner at Miguel’s Mexican restaurant with Kim and David. She is already looking better than the day we arrived, but we thought she should rest again after dinner, so instead of going in and hanging out, we went back to Arches for some star photography. It was cold (very) and just a bit creepy. We were the only ones there. Well, apart from a pack of dogs (wolves??) howling somewhere… I took a few photos and then we left before we lost all feeling in our fingers.

Now just warming up, having a drink and reviewing today’s photo results!

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