April 30, 2013

Desert Blooms

A desert flower is a treasure, and all the more beautiful for its rarity.  In the third week of April, Capitol Reef had these treasures on display:
Claret Cup Cactus

Indian Paintbrush
Utah Penstemon
Fremont's Mahonia
Utah Serviceberry
tasty bunch grass
We also saw remnants of treasures past in several sections of fossilized tree trunk:

April 29, 2013

Through the Narrows

Within the Muley Twist, the sandstone cliffs form narrow, winding sections, enough to "twist a mule", they say.  The horses weren't too stressed, though.  They did get a little excited when we came upon a hiker, but only until they figured out he was just a puny human wearing a backpack.  Not an alien after all. 
In such narrow confines, the main danger would be a flash flood.  A rain storm as much as 50 miles away could result in a tremendous rush of water through this canyon. 
Here, you can see the high water mark, shown by debris around a cottonwood tree trunk.  It's higher than the top of Steve's hat.  We checked the weather report before leaving home, and no rain was in the forecast. 
Notice the position of Boss's muzzle.  He's resting it on Steve's arm.  That seems like a very sweet gesture on Boss's part.  But maybe he's just hoping he'll get a treat! (BTW, that's a homemade GPS holder on Steve's hip, not a gun holster!)
Where the canyon spread out, we found plenty of bunch grass.  In spite of the good grazing, no deer or antelope signs were apparent.  Maybe there's not enough water to support them.
We found a few "waterpocket" pools.  The horses were pleased at the discovery because the day was warm. 
In the middle of the above photo, you can see one of the many alcoves in the canyon.  No doubt they would be fun to explore.
Next post, I'll show you some of the wildflowers we found thriving in this desert ecosystem.

April 28, 2013

Lower Muley Twist

We trekked down to Capitol Reef National Park last week, horses in tow.  Above is a view of the Henry Mountains from the Notom Road / Burr Trail heading south from Hanksville, Utah.
We drove along the eastern border of the Park, with the Henry Mountains to the east and Capitol Reef's Waterpocket Fold to the west.   
The Waterpocket Fold is a nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth's crust. The rock layers on the west side of the Fold have been lifted more than 7000 feet (2100 m) higher than the layers on the east. The Fold was formed between 50 and 70 million years ago when a fault beneath the area moved.  Overlying rock layers were pushed up and formed a monocline.
More recent uplift of the entire Colorado Plateau and the resulting erosion has exposed this fold at the surface. Shallow basins are formed in the sandstone layers as they are eroded by water.  These basins are common throughout this Fold formation, capturing water from snowmelt and rain.  Because of these eroded "waterpockets", the Fold earned its name.
Our trail began at "The Post".  Originally, the Post was an old cottonwood tree to which cowboys hitched their horses while traveling the Burr Trail.  The tree is long gone.  Now there's just a trailhead parking area and an old corral.  The corral was built by local ranchers in 1950 and used for spring and fall cattle drives. Although still usable in part, most of the corral is now in disrepair. 
Poor Daisy had to stay at the trailhead (dogs not allowed on national park trails), but she was happy enough in the shade with a bucket of water.
Steve and I saddled up and rode south on a sandy path parallel to the Waterpocket Fold.  No vehicles or bikes are allowed here.  We saw only three hikers over 45 miles and 2 days of riding, so it's a great area for solitude and communing with the desert environment. 
We rode over red sand formed by erosion of the Carmel formation 

with no shortage of interesting sandstone cliffs to admire.
These are the Muley Tanks, examples of waterpockets in the Waterpocket Fold. Note the two pools, a beautiful sight in this dry land, showing the sandstone pour-off above.  We saw tadpoles and bugs in the water and a toad plopping into the lower pool. 
Steve climbed above the pools to get this photo.  I'm holding Boss below.  Coco is getting antsy.  "Come back, Coco!  We're not ready to go yet."
Four miles down the Post trail, we reach the entrance to Lower Muley Twist Canyon.  From 1881 to 1884, the canyon served as a wagon route for Mormon pioneers traveling from northern Utah toward San Juan County in the southernmost part of the state. The canyon was said to be narrow enough to "twist a mule", the origin of the unusual name.
As we are swallowed up by the deep shadows of the looming sandstone cliffs, we feel like we're entering a worm hole to alternate universe.  Cowboys and Aliens, here we come.
To be continued...

April 21, 2013

The River Wild

There's always plenty of wildlife on the Green River. 
Flying Osprey
Osprey on the lookout for his next meal
Common Mergansers

Franklin Gulls

River Otter
This pair of otters loved frolicking in the water.

Steve and his brown trout are both pretty wild,
as are the rest of the maniacal fisherpersons,
Of course, Daisy is the wildest of them all.

April 19, 2013

Angler's Trout-Pointing Pal

'Twas a cool but beautiful day on the Green River, below Flaming Gorge Dam and above Little Hole. 
Snow on the boardwalk never stops a fisherman determined to take advantage of the spring Baetis hatch. 
Prepared with a #20 blue quill, about 1 size larger than the naturals, Steve and Daisy cast to a riser.
Fish on!  "I'll bring it in," Daisy volunteers, her tense body pointing at the trout.  "Just let me at it."
"I'm swimming as fast as I can! Which way did it go?"
"Ah, there it is.  Can I touch it?  Please?  I'm sure it wants to play with me."
"It's so interesting and squirmy!  I want it!"
Unfortunately for Daisy, no one kept the brown trout.  Steve let it go to be caught another day.  Unharmed from its brief time on the line, the trout immediately darted off into deep water.

April 9, 2013

Enchantment in the Hinterlands

Reaching our favorite San Rafael Desert trailheads involves driving over an hour on dirt roads, but the scenery along the way makes up for slow travel.  Above is a stitched photo of the Henry Mountains as seen across the vast San Rafael Desert.
Here's a close-up of the red rock formation on the right hand side of the first photo.  Does it remind you of anything?
Steve thinks the one on the left looks like a locomotive.
Highway 24 is the nearest paved road.  I always look for this landmark as we near the turnoff.  What does it look like to you?
I think of an enchanted castle.  Certainly, it marks the turnoff to a most enchanting part of Utah.

April 8, 2013

Trail Spring

Riding cross country to Trail Spring proved more challenging than one would think, considering it was only a round trip distance of 3 miles from our Brush Corral trailhead. 
The first part was an easy trek along an abandoned two-track. 
Then the going got steep and rocky. 
And even more so.

Finally, we gave the horses a break and continued on foot. 
Steve went all the way down to the pools of water.  Unfortunately, he didn't have the camera and provided no photos.  But he did say there's no way he'd bring a horse down there, for fear someone, horse or person, would get killed.  Although we've heard tell of horsemen riding to the spring, we won't be among them. 
Here are some pics from our hike back up:
  The light wasn't great for detail, but maybe you can see the indentation and scraped rock indicating decades, perhaps centuries, of travel along this steep trail.  The burros are almost certainly using it, and perhaps some cattle make it down to the spring.  Deer and antelope could get down easily enough.  Smaller creatures, such as a coyote we saw in the area, must be watering there, too. 
That wasn't the only steep section. 
We had been in Trail Spring Canyon just the day before and could have approached the spring itself that way, which would have been a lot easier. 
No doubt the horses were glad to skip the whole spring thing.  After all, why bother?  They had plenty of water back at the trailer. 


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