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Smoky Mountain Pits via Kelly's Grade - 2 members in 4 triplogs have rated this an average 3.5 ( 1 to 5 best )
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May 07 2018
AZWanderingBea
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 Guides 27
 Routes 62
 Photos 2,620
 Triplogs 700

63 male
 Joined Jan 23 2008
 Phoenix, AZ
Traverse of the Kaiparowits PlateauSouthwest, UT
Southwest, UT
4x4 Trip avatar May 07 2018
AZWanderingBear
4x4 Trip78.00 Miles
4x4 Trip78.00 Miles
 no routes
1st trip
Partners partners
AZBeaver
Steph_and_Blake
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
Jun 02 2014
Stoic
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 Routes 208
 Photos 4,775
 Triplogs 403

43 male
 Joined Dec 30 2007
 Avondale,Az
Smoky Mountain Pits via Kelly's GradeSouthwest, UT
Southwest, UT
4x4 Trip avatar Jun 02 2014
Stoic
4x4 Trip46.90 Miles 2,691 AEG
4x4 Trip46.90 Miles   13 Hrs   35 Mns   3.45 mph
2,691 ft AEG
 
1st trip
Linked linked
Partners none no partners
Day 1 of 7
Hiking partner; My sister from North Carolina

Horseshoe Bend
Canyon X Antelope Canyon Tour
Glen Canyon Damn Overlook
Paria Toadstools
Kelley Grade Overlook
Coal Steam Fires
Alstrom Point


Still having plenty of daylight, we drove up to Kelley Grade Overlook then to Coal Steam Fires. The road was in great condition. You do have to pass through one creak, shortly after leaving Big Water. The views are amazing. We couldn't see any of the steam from the fires, but we could smell it. We then drove to Alstrom Point to camp. The last 2 miles are rough. There really isnt any road. 4x4 recommended to travel on the point. Plenty of places to camp. We where lucky to have the whole place to ourselves. After the sunset, a few of the boats on Lake Powell where setting off fireworks. It was a nice unexpected touch. We got to see the sunset and a sunrise from this location. When we drove to page the night before, we had clear skies. It was a little disappointing to have clouds come in. We really didnt get to see the stars like the night before. I wanted to practice taking night shots with my camera.
_____________________
Nov 11 2009
PaleoRob
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 Guides 137
 Routes 111
 Photos 5,253
 Triplogs 942

38 male
 Joined Apr 03 2006
 Grand Junction,
Smoky Mountain Pits via Kelly's GradeSouthwest, UT
Southwest, UT
Hiking avatar Nov 11 2009
PaleoRob
Hiking0.50 Miles 30 AEG
Hiking0.50 Miles   3 Hrs      0.17 mph
30 ft AEG
 no routes
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Poked around looking for fossils in the Tropic Shale and Morrison Formation before heading up Kelly's Grade to see the pits. Smoke was showing pretty good out of the pits off the main road, and stinking it up decently too. Don't know if maybe the cooler weather makes the smoke show up better (higher steam content?). Camera batteries died when we got to the pits, so no pictures up there, but I did take a few when we were prospecting and even got a couple pics of the bighorn we saw just outside of Bigwater! Trees in the washes are probably at their peak, but they're pretty much all tammys, so the color isn't super spectacular. Pretty, but don't drive out to Wahweap Creek just for the changing leaves... :?
foliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observation
Autumn Foliage Observation Moderate
_____________________
"The only thing we did was wrong was staying in the wilderness to long...the only thing we did was right was the day we started to fight..."
-Old Spiritual
My book, The Marauders on Lulu and Amazon
Jul 03 2009
PaleoRob
avatar

 Guides 137
 Routes 111
 Photos 5,253
 Triplogs 942

38 male
 Joined Apr 03 2006
 Grand Junction,
Smoky Mountain Pits via Kelly's GradeSouthwest, UT
Southwest, UT
Hiking avatar Jul 03 2009
PaleoRob
Hiking1.50 Miles 60 AEG
Hiking1.50 Miles   3 Hrs      0.50 mph
60 ft AEG
 no routes
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Checked out the pits, which were kinda neat. The views were incredible though, and the Kelly's Grade road was a pretty neat trip too. Also did some prospecting for fossils in the Wahweap Formation, so some of the pictures aren't from the Smoke Pits.
Geology
Geology
Petrified Wood Tafoni
Named place
Named place
Navajo Mountain
_____________________
"The only thing we did was wrong was staying in the wilderness to long...the only thing we did was right was the day we started to fight..."
-Old Spiritual
My book, The Marauders on Lulu and Amazon
average hiking speed 0.5 mph

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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