I had planned to see the sunrise from the road, but instead I saw the sun coming up from the Maverik. So I got away late. No surprise there - no one has ever called me punctual. So I head towards the rising sun, visor down to shield my eyes. I am keeping my eyes open for snow, trying to gauge the conditions up on Cedar Mesa before I get there, scouting for next weekend's trip. Things get snowy past Kaibeto and continue that way until Shonto. Roads look muddy, if not downright blocked, but this isn't Cedar Mesa, so I hold out hope.
Down through Kayenta, up through Monument Valley, and then across the San Juan the snow is confined to patches in the shade. Things are looking up until I turn on to 261. The pale flank of Cedar Mesa is exposed and I see sheets of snow draped from the rim down to the talus in places. It does not bode well for what is on top, but I proceed anyway. Up the snow-free Moki Dugway and then back onto the pavement. I make a quick left to case the road to Muley Point. It starts off dry but rutted, but quickly turned muddy and rutted, and finally snowed over. I made it through to a dry spot, turned around, and made my way cautiously back to 261.
Several miles further up the road, I come across the road out to Government. It looks even nastier than the Muley Point road. I drive down maybe a half mile until turning around at a cattle guard, where I can get traction for sure. It is more muddy and rutted than the Muley Point road. Again I find my way heading back to 261. When I get to the junction, there's a pickup with a camper on the back. I get out and we talk. He's from Pagosa Springs and was looking to get into Slickhorn. Not happening today, that's for sure. We jaw for a while, and I mention my situation - scouting for a big group coming from far away the next weekend for a Government-Collins trip. He thinks that won't go either. I say I'm going to talk to the rangers at KGRS and he thinks they'll probably laugh at the idea of doing that trip. I think he's probably right. We part ways, and I follow him down 261 until KGRS, where I pull over and he continues on his way.
He was right. I walked into the ranger station and said "Surprise!" It turns out I am the second visitor this season. After a bit of chatting, it also turns out that the volunteers are HAZites! We discuss the weather. One fellow, who's been working there since 1993, says that it is the worst snow that he's seen in his time, 10 times worse than the previously worst snowstorm. "Yeah," he says, "We've never had to plow the parking area here before." I guess there's a first time for everything!
It also turns out that they've just opened on the 1st and no one yet has been down into the canyons. One lady had tried to cross country ski down Kane Gulch and failed. I mention wanting to check out Collins and get some good news. The road to the trailhead is clear and dry. Apparently it is even dusty! They haven't been down into the canyon though, so they're not sure about the water situation at the bottom. I get the permit changed to a Collins entry and exit and hit the road again.
Driving down 95 and then 262 the snow thins noticeably. By the time I hit the Collins turn-off things are looking more March-ish. The road into Collins is in good shape, though the slickrock sections are questionable for a passenger car. I know I wouldn't take my passenger car down this road. I reach the trailhead after 6 miles and chow down on lunch. After eating I load up my pack and hit the trail.
The canyon is beautiful, and the trail down is simple. It is two miles in and they fly by. When I get to the junction I take a deep breath. I am probably the first person to enter Grand Gulch in 2010. I am certainly the only living person in all of Grand Gulch. What a feeling! A feeling of solitude and great promise. Wonderful! Wonderful.
My time was up. I hiked out of the canyon. I had a plan for the next weekend and knew it could be done. I guess my wash-out day didn't end up too bad in the end.