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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Chinle Wash through Comb Ridge, UT

298 10 2
Guide 10 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List UT > Southeast
5 of 5 by 3
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 25 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,228 feet
Elevation Gain 276 feet
Avg Time One Way 3 Days
Kokopelli Seeds 25.92
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Ruins, Historic, Seasonal Creek & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
6  2009-10-03
Monument Valley
49  2009-10-03 PaleoRob
41  2009-10-03 writelots
10  2009-10-03 oliverr99
30  2009-10-03 Randal_Schulhaus
53  2009-10-03 tibber
28  2009-05-31 PaleoRob
31  2008-06-01 PaleoRob
Page 1,  2
Author PaleoRob
author avatar Guides 137
Routes 111
Photos 5,253
Trips 942 map ( 2,097 miles )
Age 38 Male Gender
Location Grand Junction, CO
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Reservation Navajo Nation
Preferred   Apr, May, Sep, Oct → Early
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:02am - 6:24pm
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Culture Nearby
Long, beautiful canyon hike
by PaleoRob

Likely In-Season!
Chinle Wash is long and the hazards are manifold. Quicksand abounds throughout the Chinle Canyons through Comb Ridge. Access is spotty and difficult - once you're in the canyon, it is very hard to get back out if you have an emergency. Chinle Wash is often flowing, and is usually thigh deep or deeper and dozens of crossings of the Chinle are required to complete a full descent of the canyons. During times of spring runoff, the water coming down from the mountains can swell the stream and make it icy cold. During summer monsoons the creek can flood over its banks. Despite this, water is often scarce as the Chinle runs as muddy as the Paria River, and springs through the length of the canyons are rare. Rattlesnakes are common on the benches above the river. There is almost no shade. Despite these hazards and challenges, the rewards of hiking along the Chinle are numerous, unexpected, and worthwhile if you are up to the effort.

Chinle Wash forms from many tributaries flowing down out of the Chuska Mountains, passing through the twin canyons of Canyon del Muerto and Canyon de Chelly in Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The Chinle heads north towards the Utah border where it encounters Comb Ridge. Comb Ridge is a massive monocline that stretches from Kayenta, Arizona north across the San Juan River, and eventually ends on Elk Ridge west of Blanding. David Roberts has described Comb Ridge as one of the wildest stretches of country in the southwest, without a single mile of established trail.

The Chinle was also a prime area for living for the Anasazi, from Basketmaker times through the abandonment around 1300. All along the canyon walls outside of the wash bottom ruins abound, and rock art dot the cliff faces and boulders. Some of the sites along the Chinle are simple granaries while others are enormous - the largest cliff dwelling in Utah lays somewhere along the length of the Chinle in the Comb Ridge canyons.

Most hikes along the Chinle start and end at the mouth of the Chinle. Multi-day rafting trips make the Chinle a stop, and usually lead quick hikes up the mouth of the Chinle to several small to medium Anasazi sites. This is probably the best way for anyone not experienced or comfortable to get a taste of the Chinle. The guides are experienced with the area and can lead you up the wash without serious risk.

With a private rafting trip you can perform a similar trip and hike further up the canyon. The only other serious access into the Chinle is along Navajo Route 6440, along the eastern flank of Comb Ridge. This allows you to get into the southern end of the Chinle canyons through Comb Ridge. In either case, you will be required to cross the Chinle dozens of times and bushwack through willow and tamarisk thickets along the banks to make serious progress, and the going is slow. Heading downcanyon from 6440 it is often possible to stay on benches above the willow flats and the wash. This provides slightly faster going, and you can cut off stream meanders, saving stream crossings. The benches are also a good place to see most of the Anasazi ruins and rock art. During Anasazi times the Chinle flowed on a floodplain above its current level. This ancient floodplain is where the Anasazi raised their crops, and is still represented by the mud banks above the current floodplain.

Eventually though the ancient flood plain will meet the wall, and you will need to descend back down to the stream level and make another crossing. In some places there is no place to leave the creek bed, and multiple crossings of the Chinle, interspersed with thicket bushwacking are unavoidable. It is in these places where quicksand is most commonly found. Quicksand is not a real danger in terms of death, but that sticky mud can add a lot of weight to your boots and clothes. Quicksand can be very frightening, however, especially if you have never encountered it before. The first step to avoid being stuck is to keep moving, especially on damp, springy mud. If you have to slow down and begin to get stuck, don't panic and struggle. Movement only makes you sink further. The key to extricating yourself is to lay flat on your stomach and crawl your way to solid ground. Doing this takes your body weight and distributes it over a greater surface area. This prevents the breaking of the surface tension of the quicksand, in the same way that a water-skate bug can walk over water without sinking.

Traveling down the Chinle, be mindful of the current residents of the area, the Navajo. Several homesteads dot the benchlands surrounding the Chinle on either side of Comb Ridge, and their cattle roam at will across the Chinle Canyons. It is essential to respect their private property and not harass the livestock. Several areas around the reservation have been closed to hikers due to people disrespecting Navajo livestock and property, disturbing ruins and hiking without a permit. Make sure you have one of those too before embarking on this trip.

Logistically this hike requires some forethought. If you are hiking downstream from near NR6440, you will either need to hike out of the wash to a prepositioned vehicle on one of the roads leading towards Comb Ridge from US191, or arrange a meeting at the San Juan River with either a commercial or private raft trip. Hiking upstream from the San Juan provides another similar problem. The raft still has to be taken out of the river, and a vehicle prepositioned off of NR6440 where you're planning to come out of the wash.

This hike is demanding and should not be done by less than two people. In addition to standard hiking gear a good rope would be highly recommended, not necessarily for reaching Anasazi ruins but also to help any hiking partners that may not be used to quicksand, ferrying gear across the wash if it is high, and lowering packs when getting down from some of the benches above the wash. This hike is very rewarding, but proper preparation, gear, and knowledge are important. Recommended reading for anyone attempting this hike includes Sandstone Spine, but David Roberts, and House of Rain, by Craig Childs.

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2008-04-06 PaleoRob
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Chinle Wash through Comb Ridge
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Wow, what to say. And since much has already been said so eloquently by others :worthy: ... Nonetheless, and as you know, I am never at a loss for words, ha!

    Friday, we (oliverr99-Anne & writelots-Wendy) left Phx around 3:45 and arrived to set up camp at Navajo Nat'l Monument Campground around 10ish. Very chilly Friday nite......burrrr. It was funny though, I kept expecting someone to turn out the light but it was the moon acting as our nightlight :) . Saturday's hiking adventure more than made up for the cold temps of the night before.

    Driving through Monument Valley was surely impressive; especially as we circled around the north side onto the dirt roads to a place unknown to us and most others. When you first start the hike, you can't see your destination until you cross down into and out of the wash, across a creek and up onto a plain and then over a little hill. Finding the place to get down into the wash from 25 foot or higher was our first challenge. Everyone did their best to find the best spot to cross. I think we ultimately decided to just go for it. Rob found a neat dirt gully to slip-slide down; it was great fun... wish it had been longer, ha!.

    Someone knew we needed to get over toward a cottonwood tree to get to the other side of the wash. We managed that by following a bit of a cow trail through the 7-10 ft willows, salt cedar, etc... wondering, would there be water at the main cut of Chinle Creek or not??? Nope, dry as a bone. We were relieved.

    From the petroglphyed boulder, Rob kept pointing to a bunch of rocks sitting in the distance on the cliff's side and said, those are part of the ruins. Hmmmmm. Okay. Our second maze of 7-10 foot salt cedar, willows and some skin-cutting bear grass came as we left the petroglyphed boulder to get to the ruins. Randy and others went one way but I decided to follow the guy that's been there a few times... Rob, who would surely know the easiest path. He says we want to get closer to the side of the cliff... made sense to me. We ended up going back to the cow path :D and finally found our way out to below the ruins with the rest of the group.

    I never imagined that I would actually get to be this close to such ruins let alone climb up into them... and what a view too. There was so much to take in, the glyphs, the large and varied pottery sherds, the cobs, the yucca, the wood part of the structures, the pottery sherds used as part of a wall's creation, the different rooms, the walls themselves-- Gosh. Oh yes, and the horseshoe bend of the creek that would have irrigated the crop land below. One would have to suspect that the creek may have been diverted in a horseshoe form just for that purpose.

    Wendy happened to look up at just the right time to see a green colored strip and additional petroglphys. She made her way up to the next level while others of us skirted around the side and on up. This is an area where we saw some more of the structures origins and some more sherds, petroglyphs, and wood beams/posts. If she hadn't looked up at that precise time, we may have missed this part of the ruins... probably the third story.

    We finally climbed down from the euphoria of the ruins and spectacular views to watch as Rob and Mike climbed to the middle ruins. After they had climbed up, Randy too arrived at the bottom of the cliff below this section of the ruins. He was able to help guide them as the steps that were moulded into the cliff's side were a little more precarious coming down.

    It was decided that accessing the third set of ruins at the east side of this slight semi-circle of ruins was not doable. We headed back but not before checking out the spring area around the corner. From there we walked down to and around the bottom of the dry bed of Chinle Creek. We got to walk on this really neat dry-cracked mud; it made such a cool sound. Plus there were these little round mud balls for a short ways; very wierd. We stayed in the dry creek bed which was a lot easier than working our way through the maze. We were out near the boulders before you knew it. I don't know how they did that as once again I was at the tail, but I sure liked this much better. :)

    We made our way back to the cottonwood tree, through the maze and back to the early morning dilema, how to get out of the wash with the least amount of climbing the 25 foot embankments. We decided to go up the first gully (at the south side) with the branched fence. I presume the fence was to keep the cattle from using that gully. So through the fence and up the dirt hill with minimal spinning out :D we went. We stopped for a slight rest. The sun was slowly coming down and so the colors of our surrounds were saturating beautifully. The rest of the way was uneventful and I actually didn't come in last.... but then again, I didn't take as many pics as I might have been tempted to do.

    I would like to also say thanks to Randy. Your beers are always the finest and you are always gracious to share them with all of us. Now we know why you're always the first person back to the trailhead ;) . It was fun to pull out the camp chairs & pull down the tailgates to just sit for 15 minutes or so and reflect on the day before loading up to head off to Goulding's.

    And of course, the perfect hike should always have a surreal or magical moment. Ours was the sun setting behind Monument Valley with some slight cloud cover and a dust storm rolling across the plain below the monuments. We weren't done yet as the full moon also shown brightly as were going in to celebrate our day with a fine dinner of Navajo tacos and for some, prickly pear iced-tea.

    Thank you Rob. What a great trip! Thanks for sharing this special place with us. It was nice to meet up with Randy, Anne & Wendy and to meet Rob, Meghan and Mike.
    Chinle Wash through Comb Ridge
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Poncho House Ruins - October 2009

    "It was along this stretch that we came across the single most astounding site we would find on the Comb, a ruin that we would spend parts of two days exploring. On a ledge a hundred feet above the Chinle, all along a sharp inward bend of the stream, beneath a severely overhanging wall that soars 200 feet to the cliff top, the Anasazi had built a village facing southwest, comprising at least seventy to seventy-five rooms. In its defensive grandeur, the place is solid Pueblo III in date. It is, in fact, the largest cliff dwelling in Utah." pp85-86 of SANDSTONE SPINE by David Roberts

    I had a chance last year to explore some of Comb Ridge north of the San Juan River. When PageRob talked of organizing a trek viewtopic.php?f=4&t=4067 to explore a section of Comb Ridge south of the San Juan River, I was quick to commit...

    With a last minute cancelation by Capstone Luncheon physician, Mike Mattes and I were able to escape work early on Friday. We piled our gear into Mike's Jeep and were on the road a few minutes after 12 noon. A mid-afternoon lunch at the Beaver Street Brewery with Hannah in Flagstaff and a side trek to the Tuba City Dinosaur Tracks before arriving at our Hampton Inn "base camp" in Kayenta.

    Saturday morning rendezvous at the Kayenta McDonald's where Mike and I met up with Angela (aka Tibber), Anne (aka Oliverr99), Wendy (aka Writealot), Rob (aka PageRob), and Megan (aka ???). A quick ride to the Permit Office at the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park to pick up our $5 day permits and we were bouncing our way along San Juan County Road 425 towards our trail head somewhere off SJCR 491 in the vicinity of Moses Rock.

    Once on the "trail", predictably enough, Rob was finding projectile points and pottery sherds every couple of steps. The cross-country trek to the edge of Chinle Wash was easy enough. Finding a passage down the +25 foot shear walls into the wash was the challenge! After a couple of false starts, Rob found a gentle cut down into the wash via a side tributary. The wash itself is a tangle of cowpaths, salt cedar, and skin-cutting bear grass. Following an eastward bearing we soon came to the main channel cut of Chinle Creek. Rob's dire warnings of quicksand and knee-deep, swift-flowing, creek crossings were fore naught on this day - everything was dry to the bone, reminiscent of Grand Gulch...

    Once out of Chinle Wash and up onto a bench area, Rob pointed out a rock fall area with some promising looking boulders with flat surfaces and black desert varnish - promising looking rock art sites...

    With the group breaking into their packed lunches near the "newspaper" rock, I combed through the boulders looking for additional sites. Found nothing of note except the occasional small lizard.

    From the bench we continued on our east bearing towards the alcoves hosting Poncho House Ruins. Back into the meandering bends of Chinle Wash and a mega-tangle of salt cedar. In retrospect, our exit route following the dry wash was a much preferred path. Anyways, when I popped out of the salt cedar tangle into a clearing and looked up, there they were - Poncho House Ruins!

    We encountered a group of school teachers from Mexican Hat wrapping up their early morning visit to the ruins. That was our last human encounter of the day until we reached Goulding's!

    Rob's images
    Wendy's images
    Ann's images

    Excellent trip planning Rob - you are our Anasazi Master! Great company as well. Next time - Rainbow Bridge???

    BTW - now have photos exactly the same as Greg Child provided for David Robert's SANDSTONE SPINE
    Chinle Wash through Comb Ridge
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    My friend Megan and I rolled into Kayenta around 8:10, which was pretty much on-time for me, to find Wendy's white truck and Mike's jeep parked in the McDonald's parking lot already. We went inside to find the group sipping coffee and talking. I met Wendy (writelots) and Angela (tibber) for the first time; Randy, Mike, and Anne were all veterans of my Grand Gulch sand slog earlier in the year.
    After a detour to Well's Fargo (for Megan to get cash) and TrueValue (for Anne to become a pirate), we were on the road, wheels spinning northward. We made the turn at Monument Valley and drove up to the entrance station in our purposeful-looking caravan. Instead of stopping to pay the admission fee, we turned into the administration parking lot. The sign on the door said closed Saturday and Sunday, but I tried the door anyway. Locked. Just as we were about to head back and see if the fee station personnel could help us after all, the door opened up. "Can I help you guys?"
    We walked inside. The head of the permitting process recognized me from prior trips. "Chinle Wash again."
    "You got it."
    "Going in by raft?"
    "No. Been checking the flows, river's supposed to be real low."
    "Yeah, it looks like you could walk across if you wanted to!"
    I laughed at that. Fording the San Juan was not part of the game plan for us that day. "We'll just be hiking in."
    After running out to the truck to check my new license plate, we had the form filled and cash paid. "Have fun!" our permitter said, as we headed again for the door.
    We left the cool, red parking lot and headed around the backside of Monument Valley, along paved, gravel, and sandy roads, turning right and left until we found ourselves paralleling Comb Ridge. We pulled into my old parking area to find two Navajo fellows filling their water drums. We chat for a bit, and then get a tip that there's a better spot to park on up the road. We follow the lead, but it doesn't pan out to much, so we park on some hardpan and hit the "trail."
    The weather is perfect,even a little cool, as we cross the sandy flats towards Chinle Wash. We find sherds and flakes and even two partial points. To the south, we spy a glint of sunlight off of metal and glass - two trucks parked by a lonely tree I know well. Across the was we spot another group hiking towards our goal. Busy day out by the Chinle. Never before have I seen another hiker in this canyon.
    We slide down a sand slope into an arroyo and then hit the flats by Chinle Wash. The willows and tamarisk whipped us as we bushwacked towards the wash itself. What a disappointment, however, as the wash was totally dry. Here we'd been anticipating crossing a foot deep stream. So dry that the possibility of quicksand seems dim. None the less we forge across the wash and rise on the other side. After gaining another bench above the wash, we can see our goal for the hike - Utah's largest cliff dwelling. On a slope on the south of the wash, we can see the mysterious other hikers lounging in the shade. We press on, and after a stop at a rock art boulder, we drop back down into the willows. Randy finds a path that leads away from the ruins but appears to be obstacle-free. Remembering our last foray into the Chinle the previous spring, and our travails with quicksand, I opt for a bushwack towards the cliff. Angela follows my lead, thinking I know what I am doing, while the others progress along with Randy. A wise choice, as the willows are thick and end up getting us nowhere. Disheartened, we beat our way through the bush to find the trail again. Not long after getting back on it, we encounter the rest of the gang, sans Randy. Around the bend the ruin appears in its alcove, framed by willows. Picture time. We could see the other folks poking about up in the ruins, and as we approached the base of the arroyo escarpment, we found that Randy was already on top, and talking to one of their party. Turns out they're from Mexican Hat and work at the school there. We didn't catch everyone's name or job title, save for the principal, an overweight man who leaned on the ruins and managed to knock a section of wall down while scaling part of the cliff. We were all quite irked by this.
    On up into the ruins while the other group begins to disperse. Megan, Randy, and myself set about finding a way to the westernmost section of the ruin without touching the structure. It is kind of like yoga, but we end up twisting, turning, passing cameras, and stretching our way to the last granary out on the edge of the alcove ledge. Gorgeous gorgeous views back over the entire site, the 2nd largest cliff dwelling in the US. We find some neat things, like a walled-in window, and prehistoric beam holes.
    On the way back towards the rock-fall section of the ruin, we walk back by awesome pottery sherds and a prehistoric broom. We were then into the heart of the boulder, and into the heart of awesome finds. Crazy rock art on the cliff face and ghost walls stretching to three and four stories. Burnt beams as big around as my waist. Squash stem. Pottery sherds in the walls. Almost all the walls were round. Very interesting things to consider as we explore.
    We'd set our goals on accessing the middle alcove ruins, seemingly inaccessible. Some demurred, but Mike and I proceeded on a precarious ledge towards the ruins while Randy scouts out alternate routes. There are Moki steps leading up, but the face is nearly vertical. Do we dare?
    I lead off. Sketchy at points, but short, and I get up with few issues (though coming down may be a different issue. I watch Mike come up and we explore the alcove.
    Its hot, and there isn't much too it, but what there is is awesome. Great fractures at the northern edge of the alcove. One building still has about a quarter of the roof intact. Most of the buildings were jacal construction, with strange white rock art on the back wall. The apron is steep, but we explore for a bit until Randy shows up on the ledge beneath the steps. He decides that the view is good enough from there, and spots us on our interesting downclimb.
    Back on the flats and it is hot. We head upcanyon for a bit and found a seep that is barely flowing. It supplies a shallow pool with maybe a liter in it. We bushwack a bit and then pick up a cattle trail to the dry wash. The going is easier than the willows on the way in, and we make good time. Crossing the flats, we stop and do a Wendy, and finally get back to the trucks with a bit of time before sunset. After a refreshing beverage we're back on the roads, with a pit stop for a Monument Valley sunset. At Gouldings we snap pics of the moonrise over Monument Valley and Navajo Tacos. Yet another great trip out to the middle of nowhere.
    Chinle Wash through Comb Ridge
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    I was introduced to an alternate view of Monument Valley from the extreme eastern end via San Juan County Road 425 that heads in a southerly direction off US163 as you loop north and then east from the Visitor Center. We had picked up our $5 permits from Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and were off on our trek to Chinle Wash/Comb Ridge to explore Poncho House viewtopic.php?f=4&t=4067 near our SJ County Road 491.

    This is certainly a seldom seen view of Monument Valley and no guide required (ok, so PageRob was really our guide... :sl: ). Caught some interesting views as the sun was setting and a full gale produced a sandstorm to create an ephemeral sight...

    Things have certainly changed since my last visit to Monument Valley. The approach road has been resurfaced, entrance fee booths are now located well in advance of the visitor center, a new permit center is located near the entrance fee booths, and of course, the new hotel - The View has been built...

    Things change, guess this is progress. One very notable positive - there's been a conscious effort to pick up the trash that blotted the road sides!
    Chinle Wash through Comb Ridge
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Ely and I have been planning a return to the lower end of Chinle Wash ever since our last trip up the canyon last year. It was only for a couple hours then, and we saw so much and wanted to explore more, but we didn't have the time. We were running the river, and had to make Lime Creek by dusk, so we turned around at the world famous Baseball Man pictograph with longing glances at high alcoves perched in the distant salmon cliffs. "Next year," we said, "we'll get up there."
    When we got our San Juan River permits this year, I knew we were in luck. We began plotting and planning while I poured over a map. I wanted to get to those high alcoves hanging along the western face of Comb Ridge. The river was to be our highway. A layover at the Chinle delta was in order, and a full day allotted to exploring the lower Chinle.
    The trip itself was slow in coming together, as friends and relations agreed and then backed out. Our passenger list firmed up only in the last week or so; Cubbie, a friend from college working as a geologist in Phoenix. Sarah, a teacher from St. George. Brandi, another St. George teacher whom we had never met, but who Sarah thought highly of. We gathered in the afternoon in Page and caravaned up to Bluff and the Recapture Lodge on Friday. I was giving a talk that evening about the condor reintroduction here in the southwest, which turned out to be a larger success than I had imagined. Dinner was at the Cottonwood Steakhouse, though we were driven indoors halfway through our stay due to a dust storm. These afternoon storms would come to mark our stay along the San Juan, blowing in around 3 and blowing out by 5, just in time to light the campfire for the evening. When we arrived back at the Recapture, it was discovered that our right rear tire on the Explorer had gone flat, and we spent a few minutes changing it out before retiring for the evening.
    The next morning was launch day, and we were up and around early. We loaded our bags and headed to Sand Island in the AM. Wild Rivers was just finishing up rigging their boats for a day trip, but we were the first private group on the ramp. The solitude didn't last long, however, as trailer after trailer of rafts, cats, kayaks, and canoes began piling up along the shoreline. The river had come up significantly since leaving Page, and was running around 4900 cfs when we put in. We pulled away from the shore before anyone else, save the WRE daytrip, and floated blissfully down the calm stretch of the San Juan, taking in the sights at Butler Wash and River House. I hauled on the oars at the base of Lime Ridge and nosed The Black Mongoose's orange rubber nose onto the sand above Chinle Wash around 2pm. This beach would be our basecamp for the next two nights.

    The following morning we lazed around in camp more than I would have liked. While I was up at the crack of light, before the sun crested Comb Ridge, other members of our group didn't emerge from the tent until almost 9am. Several other groups came down the river while we sat around, twiddling our thumbs and eating breakfast. A two cataraft group landed, hiked up the Chinle, and was returning to their boats just as we were cleaning up our plates. I'm not sure how well I hid my impatience, bustling around the campsite like a nervous mosquito. I'd been waiting a year to get back on that stretch of trail, and every minute we lagged behind in camp was time we wouldn't be exploring the Chinle through Comb Ridge.
    Finally everyone was dressed and had their packs loaded to their satisfaction. We hit the trail at 10am, climbing easily up the sandy trail off the beach and onto the gravel bench. The trail wound its way through shaley badlands littered with cobblestones the size of mellons before giving way to Navajo Sandstone cliffs as the beds of Comb Ridge leveled out. We passed a midden with no dwelling nearby - likely eroded away by a nearby arroyo. The trail continued into a willow thicket and then down to the gently flowing Chinle Creek. We crossed on shallow bedrock and continued upcanyon on a bench by large, shady cottonwoods. A brief stop at Baseball Man stretched as we lazed in the shade, hiding from the sun. We talked, joked, and eventually scouted a route up to the bench on the far canyon wall. Time to make good on it. We slip and slide down to the Chinle, flowing only ankle deep across a bed of quickmud. Nasty going. Whacking through willows on the far bank, and then a relatively easy scramble up a bare rock ledge. I see the remnants of an old wall crossing the ledge, and beyond it the remains of a slightly more recent barbed-wire fence.
    Soon afterwards, we'd reached the bench, dotted with sagebrush and yucca. The alcoves hung in the cliff above like black stars in a red sky. A wrinkle appears in our plans as we head across the sandy bench, however. Below the enormous alcove is a pourover, apparently impassible. We find several pools of water under the pourover. We thought it might be a good place to tank up, but then Cubbie noted several dead frogs and a dead lizard in the pools. Very odd. He suggests that the water may be toxic. Perhaps. But why the tadpoles and tadpole shrimp thriving in them? I've got plenty of water in either case, but it seems to me that it should be drinkable. I've got other worries on my mind, such as is the alcove reachable, and can we get back down if we get up? I've spotted some Moki steps halfway up to the ruin, but its a question of how to get up to them, and then where to go when the steps run out. There's a series of exfoliation fractures that might take up to the steps ledge, so I try them out alone. I'm the guinea pig.
    It's kind of an interesting ascent, but I reach a shallow ledge (about three inches across) and am (barely) able to hoist myself up onto the Moki Steps. They are "keyed", meaning you have to start off on the right foot or you'd get stuck half-way up. I get it right though and scale the cliff to a small ledge. There are ancient trail marks leading towards the lip of the pourover, and from there it should be an easy scramble to the dwelling. Unfortunately the trail has lost a section to a boulder fall sometime since 1300, and as I step around a ridge I find my foot suspended over 70 feet of air. Mmm. Carefully hugging the cliff, I turn around and make my way back to the top of the Moki Steps. "This is a no-go," I shout to my companions. Sarah, Ely, and Cubbie are climbing a crack that looks a hell of a lot easier than my Moki step approach. They see another crack that might go all the way to the level of the alcove, but they want me to test it out first, since I'm already halfway up. Sure. I'm game. I gingerly make my way along the ledge (portions of which are also missing) to the crack. It is almost easy compared to the earlier sections, so I quickly gain the next ledge. I see immediately that the route to the upper alcove is impossible - a vertical wall becoming overhanging, with only a pencil thin crack leading upwards. With technical gear? Probably. But not today. I cautiously work my way towards the large alcove, and find that despite some last-minute narrow parts, the route goes! I rush back to the top of the crack, whooping. Sarah begins her cautious upclimb, from a section I cannot see. It looks from the top like she is overcoming an overhanging wall. Once she gets into the part I climbed, it goes faster, but she boogies past my sitting position near the end to get back on flat ground. Ely follows, even more cautiously, but she makes it as well. I am sweating bullets seeing her climb, but I breathe a big sigh of relief as she makes it past me. Gathering back together at the crack's end. We had a big round of smiles and then walked along over to the alcove.
    We dropped our packs at the mouth of the alcove, by some bedrock petroglyphs, and began exploring. The back of the alcove was a work of art in itself, a monument to groundwater sapping. Rays of concentric fractures radiated out up to the ceiling, and a line of seepage allowed for almost of jungle of wild berry plants. Two set of buildings line either side of the alcove, which is not nearly as large as it first appeared, with a sunken depression between them. On the outside of the depression stands a chimney-like structure; the remains of a ventilator shaft for a kiva. Potsherds, flakes, bones, and wooden implements litter the ground. Bottlebrush plants are in bloom, and the view from the alcove is astonishing, taking in the potholes far below, the gash of the Chinle Wash canyon, and Lime Ridge in the distance, with a green line demarking the San Juan River. What a place! I head north along a thin ledge to another adjacent alcove, noting a historic inscription I can't read next to some ancient rock art. There is the remains of a storage structure, standing alone, with just its slab foundations, but I can read the tumbled-down rocks. There used to be a fronting wall, and a couple more buildings. Whether they have eroded due to natural causes or the hand of man is unknown; all I can say is that they're no longer standing.
    I find an obsidian flake in the shelter of a Sacred Datura. I wonder where they brought it in from. Several more sharp flakes litter the edge of the nearby midden. I head towards the lip of the ledge. Sarah says, "Be careful, Rob." I'm a little bit irked (I've been in places like this a lot more than she has), but more grateful that someone is watching my back. If she's looking out for me, and I for her, etc., maybe we can avoid making a stupid and potentially lethal mistake in the future. I acknowledge her advice, and make my way across the lower ledge, back towards the entrance to the alcove, passing more plants, pot sherds, and a few other things that have special resonance in such a place.
    Once again, on the way out, we pass by post holes on the upper ledge, where no doubt the original inhabitants had erected a wall to prevent unwanted entrants, forcing all comers through the treacherous lower passage. I downclimb the crack first, the others unsure if it is doable. I'm certain it is, and am right, though it takes a while to find the right foot placement lower in the crack, as it narrows and becomes vertical. We regroup with the Brandi and Cubbie at the pools, and sink into what shade we can find to eat our lunch.
    Our hike back to camp is not a direct path, as we scout the edge of the bench for ruins and routes to Duck Head. Eventually we give up, finding lots of neat sherds but no way down. After backtracking to the original slickrock ramp we reach the panel. Strange bird-headed humans appear to be engaged in some sort of combat while a recumbent Kokopelli plays his flute near an enormous quail. And other such oddities. We ohh and ahh and stare for a while, and come to the conclusion that a beer and a dip in a cold river would be just the thing. We recross Chinle Wash by the beaver dam and trek cross country again, through a leafy, shady Cottonwood grove. Then it is back across the Chinle, this time at a bedrock crossing, and then into the blazing desert. Over ancient gravel bars and past the exposed midden, passing Panda-faced donkeys who gaze at us as though we are specters in this arid landscape, we begin our final descent along the sandy trail into camp. A Great Blue Heron is rousted from his (her?) nest and flaps languidly away from us - even it is feeling the heat. Down to camp, where we strip off shoes and packs. I grab some bottles from the cooler and Cubbie and I climb into the frigid water. I can't think of a better way to end the day; sipping an ice-cold Oak Creek in the wilderness while clouds and the river roll by, each in their own direction. We've gotta get back in there again...
    Chinle Wash through Comb Ridge
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Got up and packed up camp early - wanted to get up Chinle Wash before it got too hot, the sun too broiling. Loaded the raft up with everything except the water jug - our kitchen sink, and began walking.
    The people and cows had blazed a trail through the cottonwood groves and up onto the gravel benches where the river had flowed thousands of years ago. Enormous stone cobbles, worn and washed down from the San Juan Mountains were mounded up all around the mouth of the Chinle. ON a grassy plain nearby several cows and panda-faced donkeys stared at our passage.
    Not long after visiting the livestock we came across a midden. Potsherds and stone flakes scattered across a slope near an arroyo. A good bet that perhaps a dwelling had existed where the arroyo now had cut, taking all the building stones on down to the river, to be ground into dust, leaving only the trash. Great time was had by all searching through the pile. I ended up finding the nicest piece, two sherds that fit together to form a palm-sized Sosi Black-on-White sherd, but Beth found some Uranium ore, which was unique in its own right.
    Moving along. Down the trail. This section of the Chinle is well visited by rafters on day trips, but they don't generally stray past the first mile or two.
    On the left we came across a petroglyph panel; San Juan Anthropomorphic figures, strange spirals and other figures. Down to the wash, which was mostly dry. Cliff swallow nests up under ledges, sometimes sharing the space with painted handprints and upside-down figures, other times simply suspended in space above the fluted canyon floor.
    Onward upcanyon. Skirting the wash bottom, rock hopping around pools. Raccoon, raven, egret, deer mouse tracks all crossing the shiny, slimy mud. More desert varnish on the walls - and more images. Reclining flute player. Spiral leading into a wavy line leading into the foot of a figure with enormous hands, held high. Here I am! Dueling figures with ducks for heads, each pierced by an atlatl.
    Beaver dam upcanyon, with a sizable lake behind it. A shallow clear trickle issuing forth from the bottom. No sign of those industrious little fellows save for their building and footprints. Recrossing the canyon after spotting a high granary with a difficult (impossible?) approach. The sun had been up for a little while now, and the rocks were really starting to radiate that heat back out. No real shade below the high ruin, which revealed and then concealed itself to us as we approached. The shelf above seemed to preserve the ruins perfectly, and we couldn't see a way up without serious climbing aides. Oh well. The rock art below the ruin made things interesting. A walking star-shield, similar to some Pueblo IV 'glyphs from New Mexico paraded across the cliff. Some Basketmaker figures. And Baseball Man. I knew the figure would be around, somewhere up the Chinle from the San Juan, but where? I hadn't a clear idea. Despite that, there he was above a slab of fallen stone; white with the red "baseball" overlaid across him. What did it mean? What did any of it mean? We'll never know. The sun beat down. The rock heated up. We turned around and headed back for the shelter of the river.
    Chinle Wash through Comb Ridge
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    We'd already been hiking for some time by the time we came to the wash. Dry arroyo more like it, incised drainage cut into the hardened mud of the floodplain, where water hadn't flowed in a long time. Days certainly. Weeks probably. Chinle mud; from the formation named for the town through which the creek of the same name flows. The same creek we were angling towards, hoping to cross. Coming full circle.

    One minor rub. No idea what the Chinle will be like. I've read a bit about it through this stretch where it slices back and forth across Comb Ridge, and have found two different observations; bone dry or thigh-deep. No way of telling what it'll be like here and now. No rain in some time, but certainly there's melting snow up in the highlands where the Chinle is sourced. Big mystery, and the only way to find out is to descend to the wash itself and find out.

    So down we go through this arid tributary, winding back and forth beneath the prow of a spire of rock, a spur of Comb Ridge itself. 10, 25, 50 feet the arroyo walls rise above us, and bottom remaining narrow until that last final turn. Suddenly we were out in the open, the Chinle floodplain. Tamarisk and willow stands stretch from bank to bank, the only feasible way across through old cattle trails. The bank rises on the other side, and beyond that the burnt-red rock cliffs of Comb Ridge. First things first - Chinle Wash.

    We meander, like the wash, across the plain following leads to cattle trails, bushwacking where we can't. A gurgle reaches my ears, and halfway through another ordinary stand of willows we come across the 7 foot steep bank, and the muddy Chinle.

    Chinle, Chinle, running brown red with sediment from its namesake rock formation, carried across the plains and valleys between here and Ganado, with 20-some miles to go before dumping its load into the San Juan River. Looks like we'll be wading after all. Ely is skeptical we can get down to the wash itself. I disagree. Scampering down the soggy bank, I measure the flow with my hiking pole. Swift and about thigh deep. An obstacle, but certainly not insurmountable. I climb back up the bank and we head a few yards upstream to a better crossing.

    Beth and Ben apparently gave little heed to my warning of having to possibly wade the stream, so they've brought nothing but their boots. They'll go barefoot across the stream, if indeed we can cross it. Ely and I remove out boots as well, but in their stead sling on sandals. I'm the scout and possible sacrificial lamb, not only because this whole thing was my idea, but I'm the only one with a hiking pole. Out into the current.

    It's chilly and swift, nothing I didn't already know, but knowing and experiencing are often different things. The bank drops straight down from the edge, going thigh-deep without any preamble. The good news though is that it doesn't deepen. The bottom appears to be unerringly flat. Fine for our purposes. "Is it cold?" asks a member of the group.

    "Not really," I reply, and am immediately called a liar as Ben steps into the flow.

    "This is cold!" comes the shout, followed by like words from Ely and Beth. Come on people, it's not that cold. I'm standing midstream, guiding them on, and you don't see me complaining, do you?

    Cold or not we all make it safely across. My hiking pants seem sodden with extra water. Others were smarter than me, they all rolled up their pants, though perhaps not high enough. Everyone still has wet feet and wet legs either way. No getting around that.

    Up the far bank, a challenge that looked more difficult than it was. Ely and I stay in our sandals, giving our feet time to dry out, but Beth and Ben reshoe themselves. More bushwacking through the willow and taramisks. Tougher going, since we have to find a cattle trail before we can follow it. Run into the Chinle again, much to my surprise; are we on an island? No, its just a meander. Breaking free of the green grasp of the trees we mount the bank and we're back up to the level of the old floodplain.

    Up a redrock draw, and we're on the Moenkopi Plain, dotted with Chinle hills. Sand blows across our backs, pushing us along. Beth and Ben forge ahead, while I hang back with Ely, who's feeling pretty hungry. We'll eat after the ruin, we agree, as it looms closer and closer on the cliff face. Or so I think. Ely tells me she doesn't think its getting any closer. Of course it is - we're walking towards it, aren't we?

    One advantage to taking a slower pace is that we can see stuff that the others can't. As Ben and Beth begin to descend another draw to bring them back to the Chinle floodplain, and skirt a boulder fall, I cry out. "Holy cr@p!" I shout, pointing at a fallen boulder. "Those are some big freaking petroglyphs." That does it; Beth and Ben come trotting back while Ely and I veer off the cattle trail towards the boulder.

    Awesome. Its a Basketmaker panel, with some life-sized San Juan Anthropomorphic figures near the top. Male, with the position of the boulder they seem to be ascending into the sky. Below them myriad other designs speckle the rock. Other humans, bighorns, yucca, abstract designs. Some of them are more recent, Pueblo III, while others are older but repecked. In the lower right-hand corner there's another San Juan Anthropomorphic figure, with no head and a human inside it's torso. Strange strange. What does it all mean? We speculate briefly, but it can only be that: speculation.

    The boulder break provides us with a perfect opportunity to snack up, though. We won't have to take a break after the ruin unless we want to. I don't own a watch, but Ben's got his, and we're doing good on time. Loading our packs back where they belong, we hit the trail again.

    The going gets rough soon after the boulder. We're faced with two options; descending to the Chinle flats and traversing along there to the ruins, or sticking to the bench, hoping to avoid bushwacking again, and crossing to the ruins that way. Of course there's no guarantee that this bench in fact goes all the way to the ruin. We can't see around a big boulder fall between us and the site.

    So off we go to the boulder fall. It seems passable. Rough, but passable. We scramble up through some, cross canted slabs, and drop back down through another series of scrambles. Back on the old floodplain, but we can go no further. Erosion has removed the compacted mud all the way to the canyon wall directly in front of us. Back down to the Chinle flats anyway.

    Another scramble through a tight eroded draw, and we're back among the willows and tamarisks. Cows have been here before us, and they've stuck close to the arroyo bank, bashing an easy path for us to follow upcanyon. At one point, though, we come to a place where the cows have deserted us. We step out onto the flats themselves, huge dessicated area with cracks the size of my arm encircling areas the size of my torso. Huge mud cracks. Slightly spongy as we walk across it, and I don't like that at all. "This feels like its about to become quicksand," I say. Prophetic words, but soon forgotten as we burst through another thicket. There, towering in an alcove above us, half-hidden in shade, is the ruin we've been seeking.

    It's impressive. A white shield looms on the cliff face over a partial three-story tower. Other structures dot the alcove, including a well-preserved two-story building with a T-shaped doorway, and many other buildings, both partial and complete are built on a rock fall. None of these structures were visible during our trek across the bench above, shielding under the north wall. Holy cow, what an awesome surprise.

    The old floodplain has eroded mostly out from around the ruin, but a small section remained. We saw that a small arroyo cut through the solidified mud, and we aimed for it. The climb back up to the old level was steep but short and studded with pottery sherds. What a sight greeted us when we got to the top of the bank.

    I stopped, holding the whole group up as we came through the crack at the top. It stood, directly above us, on a steep slickrock slope, angled down towards us severely. I moved a bit, allowing the rest of the group to catch up. Appreciative gasps, quasiheroic photographs, and we began making our way across the bottom of the midden, then up the slope between the midden and the slickrock, avoiding disturbing the archaeological deposits still buried deep within. Those slumbering graves not yet churned up by the archaeologist's trowel or pothunter's shovel.

    The slope was steep, but we made it up to the thin ledge where the slope me the cliff face. The steep angle the ancient architects had build their city on was even more obvious. Back in the direction we'd come in from, under the hanging brow of stone, stood the three story tower, the complete two story building, and several other well preserved structures. On the shelf where we arrived there was a small spring, a kiva, and the boulder fall buildings, each carefully masoned in place atop and in between various chunks of stone that had detached themselves from the cliff sometime in the distant past. Despite the care the Anasazi had put into the construction of this section of the city, it just hadn't held up. Being built on unstable boulders couldn't have helped, in the long run, and unlike the tower section, the cliff face was vertical, not overhanging, above the rockfall. Wind, rain, and snow had worked their dirty magic over the years.

    After poking around in a kiva, checking out a few Moki steps, and admiring some pottery on the close end of the rockfall, we headed for the shade of the tower section. The first building built away from the rock fall shows the difference in preservation. Although the cliff face wasn't overhanging, the remains of the two story building were well preserved with the lower floors intact, complete with doorways, and remains of the second floor walls were still present. Walking along the ledge behind the building, against the cliff, we were able to look down into the remains and wonder what it had been used for all those hundreds of years ago.

    Then we were in the heart of the tower district. Creeping along the base of the cliff, along a narrow alleyway, we saw bedrock metates and post holes, possibly supporting a veranda over the alley back when this was more than just a city of the dead. The alcove deepens as we step under the overhang, a pair of one room structures block our way, masoned back to back against the cliff face. A narrow passageway remains to their left, no doubt the only way to pass through on the ground level even when the city was occupied. On the other side of the passageway the tower reaches skyward. Although it looks tower-like now, it almost certainly was the interior wall of some long-eroded building back in the 1280's. The reason? The top floor has the remains of a T-shaped doorway. If it was a tower, why put a door up there? To trick people into killing themselves as they took that final plunge to the sloping apron of rock below.

    What a scene this lays out in the mind! How enormous this place must have been, and filled with people and activity. This doesn't have the ring of some ghostly sanctuary of priests and rulers like Chaco, or even Cliff Palace. Here we've seen very few kivas, and very little in the way of rock art. A lot of the buildings we've seen too show evidence of internal fires - cooking and heating fires. This was a place where people lived, by god. What a sight it must have been, stretching across this elbow in the Chinle canyon, from apex halfway out to the point. Three story buildings lining alleyways, carefully fitted buildings built on boulders, with children and adults climbing up and down the network of Moki steps to criss-cross the city. Another set of buildings by a huge dripping spring, and then another, higher up. This certainly was a bustling hub, even if it all wasn't occupied all at the same time (as many of the largest cliff dwellings seem to show evidence of). This was vital!

    That vitality, that strength, still show through today in the remains of the city along the Chinle. A little of that fear too, I suppose. They knew, the inhabitants of this nameless city, that their world was changing. They'd seen change before, change that had drove them to this bend in the canyon. Change would drive them further on, and they had to know it. Clinging to the rock face, leaving every square inch of indefensible land next to the Chinle for farming, not habitation. Then what?

    I stick my head inside the two story building, with a wonderful T-shaped doorway at its center. During this city's life, that doorway would have lead into the upper story of a lower building, built on the slope before it that now is just a pile of rubble and low walls. Such is the way of the world. I am startled to note, however, that the two story building isn't one large downstairs room and one large upstairs room. Instead an interior wall divides the buildings in half. The ceilings/floors are gone, so I can see all the way up to the alcove roof, covered in ancient soot. There are no doors through this interior wall that divides the building. Why? There is, however, a small section of broken wall next to the back of the alcove along the interior wall. Some unscrupulous pothunter or early archaeologist may have busted through here to gain access to the treasures that the other side may have once contained. I know I won't fit, or even try to fit through that crack, but I know that I can pass without problem through the masoned door I'm looking in through.

    Some may be shocked, recent ruin hunters who think that going anywhere near a ruin is sacralige, and that the only safe way to visit ruins and cliff dwellings is not at all. Perhaps they are right...for them. For if they've never actually visited a cliff dwelling, they have no idea how to behave around them; best to leave them below the midden staring up in wonder. This wasn't my first rodeo, though, so I eased myself though the door without touching a single bit of the building. Simple. In all the ruins I've visited, I've never displaced a single building stone or bit of mortar, and all the potsherds, corn cobs, and other items are always in the exact position I found them when I leave. Leaving no trace. If I find I can't get to someplace without doing damage, I don't go. Simple.

    It was dark, darker than I had expected inside the room. Above I could see the post holes in the walls, where the ancient floor had once been for the second story, and above that were wooden sticks masoned into the wall. To hang things on? Its possible, I suppose.

    I walked only on the bedrock floor, next to the back of the alcove, and made my way to the hole in the wall that some previous visitors had made. Sticking my head through, I could see the T-shaped doorway, almost next to the dividing wall. Footprints on the floor in the dust! I'm a small guy, I wouldn't think of putting more than my head through the hole - what were these people, whoever they were, thinking!? Sometimes it seems like all the work I take to be careful around ruins and rock art is for naught. Someone before me, or some later visitor seems almost to take pleasure in screwing it up.

    I don't let my thoughts slide, though. How could I? Here I am, in a 700 year old building, looking out on one of the most beautiful landscapes possible. The T-shaped doorway frames the Chinle, flowing innocently across its floodplain, and the thin sandstone ridge that the Chinle has left of Comb Ridge at this bend in the river. Turreted, minarets all fly from the slickrock rising from the arroyo. Too cool.

    I withdraw my head and walk back to the other side of the building, to the door I entered through. Its cool in here, cooler than outside. The rock walls do a great job of thermal insulation, but the smoke stains tell me it could get pretty cold in the winter.

    As always, I don't want to leave. It seems every time I go to someplace new and special and unknown (to me), I develop a love. A love of place. We always say, "Oh, next time," or "When we come back," but the truth is I/we rarely go back. There's too many other places we haven't been. I worry that I won't get to see them all before I kick the bucket. Stupid thought; I believe it to be impossible to See It All before you die, even if your goal is as modest as seeing Anasazi sites, not all 7 continents. Whatever. I extract myself from the old building, breaking the spell.

    Getting out of the building thrusts me clearly back into the present. The group is sitting around, admiring some of the best scenery this side of the Utah line. Its almost like Monument Valley with a stream running through it. The angle of the light on the cliffs and ruins speaks of time, though. As in time we don't have. I say, "You know, normally I'm the one urging us to stay and explore, but if you guys want to go, that's honestly all right by me." And it is. The spell was broken. We've got a long hike back to the truck, and there's still the stream to cross again. Ely doesn't believe me, but its true. I want to come back, to explore the rock fall and the spring complexes towards the apex of the bend, but its a simple fact; we don't have enough time. Taking one last look around us, as though we'll never see it again, we begin our trek out of the ruin.

    Base of the cliff, beyond the midden. We're making our way back towards the arroyo crack where we gained access when Ely lets out a shout! "Guys, you've gotta see this!" Indeed we do. Beth has discovered a nice potsherd, a huge bit of Tusayan Black-on-White the size of my hand. Wow! I'd been muttering to Ben just a moment before how I needed to stop looking at the ground and concentrate on hiking. What a happy regression though, certainly one of the nicer finds from any of our trips together.

    Down the arroyo bank to the new floodplain, bashing our way through the willows and tamarisks. Why did we ever leave that old dead city again? Back to the area of the mudcracks and bouncy ground. Again I warn. "This feels like quicksand. We've got to keep moving so we don't get stuck." Just then Ben, slowing down to move some willow branches, stops and turns.

    "What did you say?"

    That does it! Behind me, Ely goes into a wild panic while Beth, still on the margins of things, spins around and retreats for dry ground. Ben topples over, sparing himself the worst of getting stuck. I'm only in up to my soles, but I know if I move, I've screwed. Quicksand.

    "Help me out," yells Ely, directly behind me. I lean on my hiking pole, and it immediately sinks up to the handle. Crappy. I try to turn, grabbing onto a willow, as I begin to go down as well. Movement is your real enemy in quicksand. I hold out the hiking pole to her, coated in slimy Chinle mud. "You can try this if you want-" and she does, her hand slipping off immediately. That mud is slick! "-but how you get out of quicksand is to lay down. Crawl or wiggle your way to dry ground." I then demonstrate, flopping to my belly beside Ben. I hope its not all a crock - I'm just going off of several accounts of quicksand that I've read, I've never actually dealt with this quicksand before, not crotch deep quicksand like we're in.

    But it works. The surface tension of the quicksand holds, and we make our way to the solid banks. "Why did we ever go that way?" asks Beth. "Our tracks weren't there." Nobody likes a wise guy. Oh well. Now with only 50 extra pounds added to our lower limbs, we breeze along.

    Speaking of breeze, there's a stiff one blowing as we cross the plateau leading to the Chinle where we forded it earlier. Past the petroglyphs. It whips and whirls, sending up dust devils and plumes of sand. In our eyes, our teeth, our ears, our hair. Each others steps stir up that fine silty sand, the wind blowing it back in the trailing members' eyes. Mouths. The sun is sinking lower in the western sky.

    Finally we reach the wash, and I've still got about 100 pounds, or so it seems, of mud on my boots. Only Beth takes off her boots, probably because they're not coated with Chinle silt and grime. We wade the creek again, easier than last time, all wearing our boots hoping they'll wash clean. They don't, not really, and now in addition to our wet feet we've got soggy boots and socks to complete the hike in.

    No choice but to do it though, as we climb out the dry arroyo and trudge across the plain, racing the setting sun. I can see the truck, far off, when we crest a ridge here and there. The wind is worse, howling right at us. With our sloshy boots and muddy pants, its a long haul. Ely keeps saying, "It seems like its not getting any closer." Even when we're no further away from the truck than maybe 100 yards, I still hear the same line. "It looks like we're not getting any closer. I'm not going to make it."

    "Its fifty feet," I tell her. "We're almost there." We reach the truck just as the sun sets behind the ridge, blasting the hobgoblin spires, crenelations, and balanced rocks along the face of Comb Ridge with pure red light. Fantastic shapes and shadows, colors, and then fading. We load up and head towards dinner at Gouldings, looking like wandering desert rats with our sweaty visages and muddy clothes. We catch a gorgeous sunset over Monument Valley on our way back to the highway. Wheels rolling over the dirt roads, I couldn't ask for a better end than this.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Info is below 'Directions to trail'

    To canyon trip
    From Kayenta head north to Monument Valley. Stop at the entrance station to get a Navajo Nation backcountry and camping permit. From the visitor's center head north to Bluff, Utah, where you can get on board a commercial or private rafting trip to head downstream. If you are not taking the raft downstream to the mouth of the Chinle, take US163 north from the visitor's center to San Juan County Road 425. Drive down 425 until you reach Navajo Route 6440. Follow 6440 over Comb Ridge and park off the road. High clearance is often required and 4x4 recommended on 6440 and 425 as the road can often be sandy. Hike east until reaching Chinle Wash.
    $17 3L Hydration Bladder
    help comment issue

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