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Traverse of the Kaiparowits Plateau - 1 member in 1 triplog has rated this an average 3 ( 1 to 5 best )
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May 07 2018

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65 male
 Joined Jan 23 2008
 Phoenix, AZ
Traverse of the Kaiparowits PlateauSouthwest, UT
Southwest, UT
4x4 Trip avatar May 07 2018
4x4 Trip78.00 Miles
4x4 Trip78.00 Miles
 no routes
1st trip
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When offered a chance to explore a place which everyone else seems a bit afraid of visiting I get nervously excited. I'd never given much thought to the area bounded by Lake Powell on the south, Escalante to the north, Hole In The Rock Road to the east and Cottonwood Canyon Road to the west. The area, Kaiparowits Plateau, was something you drove around.

Steph (of Steph and Blake) was keen to see what was up there. She is great at research, burrows into the internet like a mole, as undeterrably ruthless as a badger when confronting anyone she thinks might have a nugget of information about someplace she in which she is interested. There isn't much to know about Kaiparowits Plateau (KP) but she tried mightily. My role was mapping and logistical planning. Blake was to provide doses of sanity, if such can exist in Quixotic expeditions such as ours.

We all rendezvoused in Escalante and spent a few days camping, hiking and enjoying that area before attempting our traverse of Kaiparowitz. I can highly recommend both the tasty breakfast offerings and pizza for dinner at Escalante Outfitters. Their showers are nice too.

Our little group got a leisurely start on Day 1. The drive out of Escalante has a one sign mostly meant to scare people from proceeding. It had information on the massive number and variety of bees on the Plateau (I did see one on Day 2) and an ancient photo of many people trying to push a vehicle out of the mud in a wash. The tone and tenor were decidedly neither warm nor welcoming. Personally that just goaded me on.

KP's sandstone is densely dotted with arches and bridges. We stopped after a few miles for a gentle hike to up Calf Canyon to Serenity Bridge, a handsome span 41 feet wide and 27 feet high. Calf Canyon would make a nice hike, but we needed to make some miles. The land alternated between large areas of low scrub and pinion/juniper forests with sandstone buttes thrown in. A lunch stop on a small rise with a 360 view was a nice break.

Somewhere near Right Hand Collett Canyon we encountered some cows. One young calf was having a nice lunch under mom in the middle of the road and really didn't want to stop and mom wasn't mooving (see what I did there) until junior was happy and full. We tried to be patient, but milk on the hoof is portable and we cleared the roadblock. The Plateau is dotted with old corrals, but most seemed abandoned. These would be the only bovines we'd encounter.

Smoky Mountain Road drops into Alvey Wash for a while and was a bit bumpy, just small rock ledges to bounce over. The climb out of Alvey wasn't much better, but not technical in any way. I'd spotted what might be decent campsites in the vicinity of the corrals and line shack in the Big Sage area just north of Collett Top. None were all that great but we found a decent one with some shade.

The next morning was a drive and hike to the Collett Top granary and arch. There really isn't a trail, so you just try to stay off the cryptobiotic soil and find your way. The granary is decent sized and still largely intact. Found some lithic scatter nearby from tool and arrowhead making, but no pottery sherds and no signs of any other dwellings. We followed up that hike with another to Circle Spring, a rare riparian area on the KP. The National Wild Turkey Federation had put a pipe and tank at the spring. It was producing about a liter a minute of really good cold water. Lots of game trails down into the canyon and to the tank.

The day was warm, so an exploratory drive seemed in order for the afternoon. We went south on BLM 340 to try to find the "fire holes", fissures that vent coal seams that are burning below ground. There are some others over on Smoky Mountain and these were in the Burning Hills area. The drive was easy, lots of scenery and big country. We found the coal seams and I accidentally parked across a very small one. There was a lot of heat coming up from them. Sulfur smells filled the air and yellow deposits of the stuff was all around. One of the peaks was smoking pretty well from its large vent. This was an odd place, like nothing any of us had seen before. We didn't stay too long, too hot, too smelly.

Back in camp there was a discussion of the heat (80s, but the sun was killer)and the bugs (of which there were not many but those few were aggressive and bit regularly and viciously). A consensus arose to reduce the population of KP by 4 the next morning.

The drive out was easy, just a few bumpy spots on Smoky Mountain Road. A quick stop at some small roadside graineries and a short discussion with a two vehicle convoy was all that slowed us until we neared the Smoky Mountain overlook. We did pass a guy on a bicycle heading north on Smoky Mountain Road. That was unexpected to say the least. We pulled off to visit the coal seam fires on Smoky (hot, sulfur and tar smelling, and equally as eerie as Burning Hills) and then the magnificent views from the overlook down towards Lake Powell and the moonscape of the geology to its north.

Going down the Kelly Grade was probably the highlight of the trip. It is steep and lots of hairpin switchbacks but amazing views that reminded us all of portions of Death Valley. Blake and Steph were leading and spotted a good number of mountain sheep just off the road which showed little fear of us allowing some opportunities for photos. The drive out to Big Water was easy on smooth roads with little wash boarding. For the first time in 3 days I slipped out of 4WD and onto pavement. Our little band made goodbyes over tacos in Page.

KP is a unique place, vast, stark, largely dry, uninviting, no permanent human inhabitants. People for millennia have come up it, hung around a bit and left, leaving very little to mark their passing. Being there seems to make a person uneasy, a bit unsettled, for no apparent reason. For that reason alone I am glad it exists.

All you have is your fire...
And the place you need to reach
6 archives

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.

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