Kevin's Utah and Arizona trip, 2011
Thursday - Coyote Buttes
previous: Wednesday

When you rent a car in Vegas, you don't get a snow brush with it. It had snowed a little more since I arrived, so I had to warm up the car to get the snow off the windows.

I drove down to House Rock Road. This is the main dirt road that runs south out of the middle of Grand Staircase-Escalante N.M. It goes through the Paria Canyon - Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. And some other BLM land. Their was a some rain in the area, and I was told the south end of the road is in better shape than the north end. I came in from the south.

House Rock road starts out straight and flat, and runs alongside some of the Vermillion Cliffs. It's a deep-red cliff wall that starts along the Colorado River near the Navajo Bridge, heads southwest, then west, and turns north here, near House Rock Road. The wide flat valley is cattle land. I was a little surprised to see a "wayside" with an outhouse and picnic table, and a little shelter. In all the vast open space of GS-E, I had only seen such facilities in one place - The Devil's Garden. And there were no interesting features here, but the cliffs. I pulled over to see, and it turned out to be a California condor viewing spot. No condors were to be seen, of course. The road then got a bit hillier, and eventually I found my turnoff.

I wasn't sure what to expect on my backcountry-type treks. I didn't know how easy it would be to get lost. The first such place was in GS-E, down Hole-in-the-Rock Road. I wasn't too worried about it, and it turned out to be more well-traveled than I expected. That gave me a little more confidence about this day's trip. The main thing is to have food and water to last a day or two, in case I get lost or stuck. I did have such. And I had my compass. But that's about it.

I had gotten maps and directions from the contact station when I got my backcountry permit. All of these kinds of areas said "high-clearance four-wheel-drive only", so the ranger had asked if I had four-wheel-drive. I didn't say yes, I said I had a Jeep Grand Cherokee. The ranger indicated I'd be just fine. *shrug* Such an SUV (a Jeep, no less) seems like a 4x4, but it doesn't really have high clearance - it's about nine inches to the plastic "skidplate". And it's not exactly four-wheel-drive - it's "on-demand all-wheel-drive".

I had my little map, and some of the roads were marked, so I was able to find my way, for the most part. As I went on, the road got sandier and rockier. The rock was bedrock. Ridged sandstone. Very rough. The "road" usually went wide around this stuff. And the sand was fairly deep. I could hear the bottom of the Jeep scraping quite often. You just have to keep the wheels turning. Give her the gas.

After a while I came to the abandoned ranch and oil well at Poverty Flat.

Oil well.

Note the road coming over the side of that rock, toward the foreground on the left.

Chicken coop. Or something.

After driving a while longer, I came to a wide spot in the road. It looked kinda like a parking area, but I wasn't sure if it was, or if it was the place I was looking for. The map said I was looking for the Cottonwood Cove trailhead. There was no sign. Nor were there cottonwoods, much less a cove. I decided to drive on a bit and see what was up ahead. I got back in the Jeep and started down the hill. When I started, I was a little zoned, and it took me a moment to process that the hill had some deep sand. I had gone down it a little way, when I realized there were no tracks on it. FUCK. Stop. There were tire tracks on the roads that I had been following, even in the sand. The hill was kinda steep. Okay, very steep, considering how deep the sand was. Okay, now what? I do not want to have to let the air out of these tires, and drive 200 miles to fill them up again. Or sit here and wait until someone shows up and hope they have a tow strap. Only one thing to do - try to back up the hill. Give her some gas. Not too much, because you don't want to dig in. (Keeping your foot on the gas only works when you're already moving.) Go, go, go... damn. Move forward a little bit to let the sand fill in the ruts. Go, go, go... damn. Forward a little. I did this about four times, and made it out. Whew. I parked and got out to look around. I bet those buttes right there are where I need to go. Oh look, a trail. Funny how it looks right when you've decided that it *is* right.

Off I went, toward the buttes. I was a bit unhappy because it was cloudy. Not a good day for photos. It was also windy and chilly, but that was secondary. I went up a little canyon among the buttes. I was pretty impressed by the scenery. And there were more of them. Conical hills of yellow sandstone. Intricately layered, in both color and texture. There were good views of the surrounding canyons and hills too.

With the exception of the ones I desaturated for effect, I tried to keep
the colors as natural as possible. Yes, the rock really was bright yellow.


Someone please explain to me how the layers of color
can go in a different direction than the layers of rock.

And then I got to a point where I could see down into the canyon directly below me. oh, there's more here than I thought. And it's getting better! As I went down into the canyon the sun came out! Things were looking up. And when I got down there, the rock got even more impressive. More colors and more intricate layering, with cross-bedding and other interesting features.

Crazy tie-dye!

I kept taking pictures of this area, over and over, trying to get a good shot.

I climbed around the area for a while. The canyon led to a ledge that looked out into an open area. I could see more interesting sandstone in the distance, and assumed it was North Coyote Buttes, with The Wave in it somewhere (it was).

This makes me think of a cross between a battleship and an ice cream cone.

Instead of going back up the canyon the way I came, I decided to be adventurous, and climb a steep hill on the east side of the canyon. On top of this ridge were some of the most interesting formations in the area. There were quite a few little rock formations, where the layers were all twisted and turned over. Amazing. And in an open area in the middle of it all, was a smallish pillar of cross-bedded rock fins. Delicate and twisted. Bizarre.

This whole trip, I had seen so many amazing sights. Almost every time I looked up, I would see something that made me say "wow." By the time I got here, instead of "wow," I was laughing. I have a tendency to laugh at the absurd, whether it's humorous or not. Not only were some of these places simply absurd, it was absurd that there was so much of it. It was like a running joke with myself - look, there's another one!

There were a couple of other sites in the area that I wanted to see, but at this point I didn't really feel like driving to them. I just went back out the way I came. I was happy that I didn't run into anyone coming my way, since there wasn't often room for someone to get by. I got back down to the main road. I really wanted to go north to see the Paria Town Site, but there was a lot of rain in the direction. I decided to go to the Grand Canyon. I drove back to Jacob Lake, and went south.

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next: Thursday, pt. 2
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