Continued from Part 3
Part 4: North Cottonwood Road; Gooseberry Road; Elk Ridge Road; The Notch; Horse Pasture Trail; Cottonwood Road
Don't forget you can click on any photo to see a larger version.
Friday, June 7th (continued)
One of the (many) confusions of nomenclature I'd had with this whole area was there being a Cottonwood Canyon/Road/Creek on both sides of the mountain. I thought for a while this could be explained as both canyons met at a saddle near this junction, but they don't actually, though both roads do almost meet here. Unrelated to this trip, but on the subject of duplicate place names - there's a Butler Wash between Beef Basin and Canyonlands, and a Butler Wash east of Comb Ridge near Bluff - sigh. (I've rewritten the paragraph several times as my understanding continues to evolve. Let me know if you think I've still got it wrong.)
North Cottonwood Road goes all the way through to Bridger Jack Road with that junction being only about 5 miles south of the highway to Canyonlands Needles District, UT-211. I did not plan to go the whole way, but wanted to get an idea of what it was like. I kept my eyes peeled for possible camping spots and found an interesting one not far from a small, nameless pond about two miles north of Causeway Road. It looked pretty good, but I wanted to look around a bit more before settling in for the evening.
|A little pond and interesting sandstone formations.|
|Looking down the side road, FR-97, that leads to the northern Mormon Pasture|
Spherical Panorama above FR-0097 (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:
The road dropped out of the Ponderosa zone quickly, passing a spur leading to the north Mormon Pasture and another to the South Mormon Pasture and an airstrip. Then the road wound along the east rim of Stevens Canyon with steep rock walls. I stopped for photos. The road was narrow and there were no dispersed campsites in the portion of the canyon area I drove.
|Standing on the rim of Stevens Canyon looking back at those sandstone formations.|
|Looking the other direction.|
|Last view looking north along Stevens Canyon.|
I turned around and headed back up. I set up camp in the spot I found earlier. It turned out to be even prettier than I'd initially thought as there was a lovely view north, across the meadow, with some interesting sandstone formations in the distance and a number of old Ponderosa pines with character. The evening was very mild, so I sat in my chair relaxing with the view. And although the wind had abated somewhat, my camp was nicely sheltered by evergreens.
|My campsite with a very pleasant view.|
Saturday, June 8
My plan for the day would be to drive west to Gooseberry Road, then south. I wanted to revisit The Notch that so impressed us when my friend Dan and I had drive through the year before. (That blog post). I wanted to get aerial views. The sky was clear and wind light, so I wanted to get there before those conditions changed. I thought I'd also visit the Little Notch; the lady at the ranger station mentioned the Hammond Canyon Trail might be a good hike for me. Then I'd return north, perhaps exploring Deadman Point and the Horse Pasture Trail. If I found a better campsite I'd grab it, otherwise I'd return to my nice spot off North Cottonwood Road as it was only a couple of miles from Cottonwood Road where I planned to descend toward civilization the next day.
First thing, I had to figure out what bird that was vocalizing almost constantly around my campsite. I knew I'd heard the song before, but couldn't place it. Some kind of vireo? I spent way too much time trying to get a glimpse and capture a diagnostic photo. Finally. Not a great photo by any means, but clearing showing the field marks of a Plumbeous Vireo. Yeah! I also got photos of bugs and flowers this beautiful morning.
|There's the little guy - singing his heart out.|
|Looking back at my campsite. Can you see it? Look just to the right of the big pine.|
|A field full of Dandelions.|
|Time for an eye exam? At first I thought these were eggs some exotic critter had laid on the rock.|
On the drive back to Causeway Road, which some maps call Lime Creek Road along here, I spotted folks camped about a mile from me, up a small hill. Those were the only other campers I saw all weekend and far enough away from my camp I never heard them.
I turned south on Gooseberry Road which was not in bad condition generally, but did have a number of shallow washouts and mud holes. Most of the side roads off Gooseberry were very muddy and seemingly impassible. I wondered about this, then after seeing those areas where sheets of rock were exposed, I realized the soil was not deep and the rock likely prevented water from percolating down and away.
|Duck Lake features actual water this year!|
Duck Lake certainly had more water in it than last time I'd seen it.
There was one long mud puddle before descending into The Notch. I dropped into 4WD just in case. It was a little squirmy, but not bad. I got there around noon and the weather was mostly cooperating. The Notch is a saddle along Gooseberry Road, or perhaps this section is now Elk Ridge Road (it's hard to keep track as signs are few and maps inconsistent.) On the east side is Notch Canyon, below Notch Peak, with a view toward Abajo Peak. On the west side is an arm of Dark Canyon.
|The Notch. Notch Canyon with the Blues in the distance.|
Spherical Panorama of The Notch and Dark Canyon (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:
|As the road climbed south from The Notch I stopped for this photo of Dark Canyon.|
I proceeded south to the Little Notch, which is really a part of the road that overlooks Hammond Canyon with the Abajo Peaks in the background. I took some aerial photos to see the portions of the canyon which are hidden by trees near the road.
|Aerial view of the Little Notch, Hammond Canyon, and the Abajos.|
Spherical Panorama from above the Little Notch showing the Hammond Canyon complex (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:
The road to the Hammond Canyon Trail is less than a mile north of the Little Notch. The trailhead is only a hundred yards or so east of the main road. I also discovered that there was evidence of people camping at the trailhead, but if you follow the road about 50 feet farther there is a great campsite. This site has a view of Hammond Canyon and the Abajos through the trees. I'll come back here another time.
I parked near the trailhead, gathered my lunch, and set off down the trail. The first section of the trail is a gentle downslope through the trees. It looks like an easy route down into the canyon through a wooded side canyon, no telling how technical it gets farther down. It was a lovely day.
Unfortunately, I didn't get very far before experiencing tachycardia - a symptom of my paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. Mine is not serious, or life threatening, and I am under a doctor's care and taking the appropriate meds. However, it probably is not wise to undertake a vigorous hike during an episode. Fortunately, I was at the part of the trail still on the ridge before it drops into the canyon, and there was a very convenient log in the shade overlooking the canyon and mountain peaks. Excellent.
|The gorgeous view from my picnic spot.|
I sat myself down to enjoy the spectacular view. Don't remember why I pulled my phone out, but found I had a strong cell connection with LTE data, too. So I thought I'd give my best friend in Austin a call. He happened to be at home with no pressing duties and we had a great chat. During the call my heart returned to normal and I was able to enjoy lunch, the view, and ambled back to my truck.
The Notch Reprise
I turned back north on Gooseberry or Elk Ridge Road, I guess. I stopped again at The Notch to try to capture the scene with light later in the day - the weather was still cooperating. I also stopped a bit farther north where there is a better view of Dark Canyon, but the sun was too far west for that to be ideal.
|Aerial View of Notch Canyon|
|Dark Canyon as seen from Gooseberry Road|
Deadman Point and Horse Pasture Trail
I wanted to look at the Horse Pasture trail I'd learned about at the ranger station, so turned at the sign pointing to Deadman Point. Oh, boy! Lots of mud puddles, some pretty soft, so I stayed in 4WD. After a while I came upon the trailhead and parked. It looked like the trail stayed along the rim for a ways, so thought I'd give it a try (remembering to bring my satellite communicator.) The trail did indeed stay on the rim for about three quarters of a mile crossing small meadows and through Aspen and Ponderosa. I'd been monitoring my heart rate via the hiking app on my watch and all was normal and fine. It was a very nice little hike.
I realize now, that although I was carrying my camera gear, I didn't take any photos along the trail. In part because I kept thinking the trees would thin and I'd get a photo of Dark Canyon, but they never did. I thought I saw a cougar print in the mud; I was going to take a picture on my way back, but couldn't find it again. Oh, well, you will just have to use your imagination. For those interested, the trail dropped into the canyon through a wooded side canyon and at least the first section didn't look technical.
On returning to the truck I decided not to try the road farther out to the point, as poor condition as it had been coming this far. On the way back to Gooseberry I thought I'd try an alternate road back that looked higher and drier. That was almost a very bad decision. Yes, for the most part it was drier, but there was one section about 50' long that was extremely muddy - no puddles, just thick, sloppy mud. I should have stopped and gone back the other way, but instead charged ahead. I made it through, but it was a near thing. I got back to the "main" road and headed back to my campsite of the night before.
North Cottonwood Road
Spherical Panorama from above my campsite (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:
And again a beautiful evening at the head of North Cottonwood Road. I was happy and content with my trip despite (or because of) the change in my original plans. I drank a toast to this beautiful land, and gave a nod to my friend Dan in California - we'd shared a celebratory whiskey on the last night of our joint trip after several great days in Bears Ears NM last year. [Dan, I bought a small silicone ice tray since our trip. Gotta tell you Jack on the rocks is much more civilized than the lukewarm water we had available ;-) ]
|A toast to my lovely campsite.|
Sunday, June 9
I broke camp with alacrity. It was very chilly and windy this morning. A cold front had blown in strongly from the north overnight and I had no interest in lingering.
I mentioned earlier my confusion between the two Cottonwood Roads/Canyons. (In fact I used to believe that what I now know is actually Elk Mountain Road was Cottonwood Road.) Anyhow after talking with the local I'd met on the Causeway Road on Friday, I hoped I was straightened out. I told him the lady at the ranger station didn't like Cottonwood Road. He was puzzled by that as he said it was "the best maintained road" on the mountain. He said it was the road the county used to bring equipment up to maintain all the other county roads in the area. "The county grades all the roads once a year," he said. This year, however, "it snowed twice after they graded Cottonwood Road" and "the bear hunters tore it all up." I was to see that for myself soon.
He also said "Cottonwood Road has 18 water crossings. Yes, I counted." "One time I drove all the way down, but the last crossing was too deep, so had to drive back up and take another road off the mountain." He embellished that story by recounting a Tundra 4x4 had come through before him and the driver said the water came up to his windshield, but he made it. Tall tale? Maybe, but gave me pause.
So, I started down Cottonwood Canyon with some trepidation. The first several miles were unexceptional Ponderosa forest which gave way to piñon then cottonwood as it descended. Miles and miles of the middle section was the "torn up" part. There were deep trenches (tire ruts) running down the middle of the road. The clay had dried and baked into concrete. It took constant attention to drive between the ruts. As deep as the ruts were, putting a wheel in the trench at any speed could well break a wheel or axle. I should have taken a photo, but didn't think of it at the time. I also should have taken a photo of at least one of the water crossings, but was too focused on crossing, not sightseeing. Sorry.
And yes, I started counting the water crossings. The water wasn't deep and the stream bottoms were gravel. After crossing several and noting the water wasn't getting appreciably deeper, I was feeling better. Much of the middle section of the road crosses Mountain Ute tribal lands and is posted "Keep Out." There wasn't much in the way of a view the whole way down - perhaps this is what the lady at the ranger station was referring to. Once I got lower down I tried to find a view looking back the way I'd come.
|Looking back up Cottonwood Canyon|
|Wildflowers along the road.|
I came to what by my count was water crossing number 17 and OMG! It was many times wider than all the others. They'd been 3 or 4' wide; this was easily 20 feet or so. It looked deep. Perhaps I should have stopped taken off my boots and checked just how deep, but I guess I thought "what the hell", dropped into 4WD and went for it. There was a moment of "Did I just make a big mistake?" in the middle. (Did you ever see that movie Dante's Peak? Remember the scene where our hero volcanologist and the beautiful town mayor have to drive across the river to try and rescue her kids from the erupting volcano? There was an underwater camera showing the the tires trying to get traction in the rocks on the river bottom. This wasn't that deep, but I heard that same sound of river rocks shifting under my tires.) All I could do at that point was to keep my foot down and power on through. My trusty Tacoma made it!
|Nearing the southern end of Cottonwood Road.|
Soon after that Cottonwood Road joined Elk Mountain Road, which is wide and gravel. There was one more water crossing (number 18) before meeting up with the highway west of Blanding.
|Looking to the northwest from Elk Mountain Road|
I drove into Bluff to have lunch at Twin Rocks Cafe at the east edge of town. I had "Bluff's Best Breakfast Burrito." It was huge and delicious. There must have been at least four large scrambled eggs inside, plus all the goodies such as onions and peppers with green chile sauce on top. I had to box up the last half to bring home.
For those following along, I found the last leg of the route that would allow me to by-pass Shiprock, Farmington, Bloomfield, and all the awful traffic between. I'd previously established the route that by-passes half of Farmington and Bloomfield. This new section of road is BIA-36 which runs from US-491 south of Shiprock to NM-391 south of Farmington. It is a good quality asphalt highway passing through the Navajo Reservation. There are no services along here, so if you need gas or want a large Slurpee, then stay on US-64. There were native vendors on 371 between 36 and the rest of the by-pass. I almost drove by, but when I saw the hand-painted sign "Roasted Corn" I pulled over. It was sweet and yummy!
As I mentioned previously, to complete the by-pass, go south on NM-371 to NM-302, a.k.a., County 7100, then at the stop sign turn left on 7010 which goes all the way to US-550. It sounds more complicated than it is. If you're contemplating the route to miss all that miserable traffic on 64, check a map to get yourself oriented.
Thanks for reading along. I hope you enjoyed the trip.