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Smoky Mountain Pits via Kelly's Grade, UT

Guide 4 Triplogs  0 Topics
  3.5 of 5 
no permit
51 4 0
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Difficulty 1 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 0.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,414 feet
Elevation Gain 30 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1 hour
Kokopelli Seeds 0.65
Interest Off-Trail Hiking
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
28  2018-05-07
Traverse of the Kaiparowits Plateau
24  2014-06-02 Stoic
11  2009-11-15 PaleoRob
16  2009-07-03 PaleoRob
Author PaleoRob
author avatar Guides 168
Routes 225
Photos 5,981
Trips 1,093 map ( 2,433 miles )
Age 40 Male Gender
Location Grand Junction, CO
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Oct, May, Mar → Early
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  5:27am - 7:37pm
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It's not the destination, its the trip
by PaleoRob

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Smoky Mountain, on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, gets its name from coal fires that are burning under the mesa. They were likely ignited by lightning several thousand years ago, and have kept burning ever since. At some places the coal heat and smoke escapes via small pits in the surface of the mesa. In other cases there are large fissures. In places where the coal has completely burned, you will see large areas of collapsed ground, almost like sinkholes.

The drive to the "trailhead" though is really the highlight. The road leaves Bigwater, Utah, and traverses a moonlike landscape of eroding Tropic Shale badlands. The Tropic was deposited during the Cretaceous period at the bottom of the inland sea, and numerous marine reptiles have been found within it.

After passing the Warm Creek turnoff, the road heads towards a line of cliffs. At first the way is not obvious, but then you begin to see the road - it rises precipitously up the slope and cliffs to the east. Driving up the narrow, winding, one-lane road offers amazing views across the lower end of Lake Powell. You are climbing up through the rocks as well, going from the Tropic to the Calico to the John Henry and finally the Wahweap Formations. There is a handy place at the top of Kelly's Grade to take pictures off the road and the basins below.

After driving across the top of the mesa and taking the views, you eventually come to a series of cracks in the ground. This is where the active fires are located. Pull off the side of the road and begin hiking around. There isn't really a trail, just free-form exploration of the pits. You can tell the active ones when there is some smoke (occasionally) or the bad smell rising from the earth. Some places there are large mounds of rock on top of some of the fissures, where locals attempted to fill in the cracks and stop the fires. They were concerned the fires would eliminate all the coal deposits and they wouldn't be able to mine it. Fortunately, the entire area was made a National Monument by President Clinton, eliminating that prospect. From the pits, enjoy views south towards Navajo Mountain, east towards the Kaparowitz, and north towards the Aquarius Plateau. Once you have wandered at your leisure, return via the same route.

As a warning, the road crosses three washes (Wahweap, Crosby, and Warm Creek) that can wash out during thunderstorms, leaving the unprepared motorist stranded. Take caution if storms are in the area, and do not attempt to cross a flowing wash.

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2009-07-05 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.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    High Clearance possible when dry

    To hike
    From Page, drive north on US89. Several miles after crossing into Utah, turn right on Aaron Burr Road in Bigwater (right next to the Escalante Corner Mart). Follow Aaron Burr until reaching a sign noting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area/scenic byway to the right. Turn right and continue on this road. After about 13 miles you will pass the Warm Creek turnoff. Stay left there, and stay left at the turnoff for Alstrom Point. The road begins climbing Kelly's Grade soon after the Alstrom turnoff. After reaching the top of Kelly's Grade, continue across the top of the mesa for about a mile. Make a right onto BLM road 322 and follow this road to an area where fissures begin to cross the road, and piles of broken-up rock appear on the side of the road. This is the start of the Smoke Pits area. Find a spot to pull off and begin your hike!
    page created by PaleoRob on Jul 05 2009 7:40 am
    90+° 8am - 6pm kills
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