Monday, November 26, 2012

The Cockscomb and Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

We move only about 40 miles west along Highway 12 to a new campsite near Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah.  To the north, the Pink Cliffs dominate the skyline marking the most beautiful, in my opinion, national park in the state - Bryce Canyon.  We have been to Bryce a couple of times in the past, so we will focus on some hikes and sites down the Cottonwood Canyon Road.  It is a lot colder here at night because we are in a basin (as the state park name implies) and all of the cold air is funneled into this valley.  Bryce is over 9,000 and usually has snow by this time of year (it's been a warmer than usual fall this year), and the ridges surrounding us are also quite high.  It dips below freezing every night, but we are cozy inside with lots of blankets and our propane heater.  Grady has taken to sleeping under the covers with me; he doesn't emerge until just before sunrise.

Looking north up The Cockscomb
The 46-mile Cottonwood Canyon Road follows a geological feature called the "Cockscomb" and is encompassed in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  These strange rocks form a serrated ridge from north to south for many miles, rising about 70 to 100 feet on about a 45 degree angle.  The rock colour is mostly a golden brown.  To the west of the road, another ridge angles up along a fault line very similar to that in the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park.  Some of these rocks are at almost 90 degrees and are white, red, pink, purple and yellow representing different minerals, mostly iron oxide and manganese.  Park rangers call this area candyland because many spires are white with pink or red striping.  The canyon is stunning and we find it hard to drive and watch the scenery.  Cottonwood Creek runs alongside the dirt road (just regraded last week, thank goodness and it is a very good surface with very little washboard right now) providing a water haven for many birds and animals, not to mention the huge cottonwood trees for which this canyon is named.  It must be beautiful here when the leaves are changing colour; now the trees are naked.

Marilyn standing under an alcove in
Cottonwood Canyon Narrows
Along the drive, we stop at the Cottonwood Canyon Narrows and hike its 1.5 miles.  We start in the north where the canyon walls are only about 200 feet high, but at the southern end the walls have grown to almost 500 feet and are very impressive.  This canyon doesn't have the colours of others, nor extreme narrows as in slot canyons, but it is a pretty hike and we meet another couple from Flagstaff, Arizona with whom we share our slot canyon experiences.  Further south, we climb a 4x4 road to the top of the Cockscomb, and let me tell you, this is a frightening adventure indeed.  The road (remember, nothing is paved out here!) is very steep and winds up the hills at unbelievable grades.  (A typical highway grade through a mountain pass is usually 6% although we've seen 9%.  I don't doubt some of the grades on this little road are 15%!)  We stop along a narrow ridge half-way up to get some photos and Brad decides he wants to drive to the top.  I can't imagine where a road has been built looking up the cliffs, but up we go around some hairpin turns with steep dropoffs and boulders jutting up in our path.  I realize that I am gripping the door handle so tightly that my knuckles are white and every muscle in my arm is tense.  At a couple of turns I actually close my eyes just willing the drive to be over.  It's hard to put your life in someone else's hands.  Brad is having fun!  At the top and on the backside of this ridge (so no great view afterall!) there is a gate so we decide to turn around.  (The gate is probably to keep cattle on the other side and to prevent them from leaping over the cliff.)  Now we have to make the terrifying journey down, although it's actually better than going up for some reason (maybe because I don't worry about slipping backwards even though we're in four-wheel drive), and we survive although I am stress-eating peanuts all the way.  But it IS an amazing view of the Cockscomb.

We make a quick visit to Grosvenor Arch, a pretty, photogenic double arch.  Surprisingly, here there is a paved trail from the parking lot to the arch which is only a few hundred yards.
Grosvenor Arch at sunset

Marilyn in the Willis Creek Narrows
In the Willis Creek Narrows, a hike on the Skutumpah Road, we find water running in the creek, which is unusual in this dry climate.  Because we are actually hiking in the wash, we have to cross the creek numerous times along this 2 mile journey.  In a couple of spots, we throw rocks into the creek to make a stepping-stone bridge because it is fairly deep, and there is ice along the sides and where the water isn't flowing as quickly.  Cheers to hiking boots which keep our feet warm and dry.  These canyon walls also lack the colour of others, but the texture of the rock is interesting with ripples going in several different directions.  A group of cowboys on horses pass us as we eat lunch in the sun (canyons are cold because the rocks hold the low temperature and they're mostly always in the shade) - such a typical west scene.  As we hike back, we realize that the water level of the creek is several inches lower as the rocks we threw in are now almost entirely exposed.  We theorize that the creek source might freeze overnight, then melt in the morning sun releasing a heavier flow until midday.
Marilyn crossing our "rocky" bridge on the way in (deeper water)

Vehicle wedged in the Bull Valley Gorge - road is on top!
Two miles past Willis Creek, we find another canyon with a trail along the top edge of it.  This is Bull Valley Gorge and it is very deep and narrow.  The road crosses this gorge (a span of 15-20 feet) but not with a bridge - it looks like the construction crew just threw a bunch of big stuff into the gorge until it all wedged tight and then they put gravel and dirt on top.  We can see not only huge boulders, but a truck!!! wedged into the gorge about 30-40 feet under the roadway.  A truck!  We don't know if the truck fell in by accident of if it was tossed in on purpose but what a story it would be either way.  We walk only a short way along the trail as it's getting late in the afternoon and we don't know how far this trail is or if it descends into the gorge; we will save it for another day.

Yellow Rock and The Box hike we decide to access from the south end of Cottonwood Canyon Road, so we decide to move to Kanab which is almost on the Arizona border.  Hopefully, it will be warmer there too.

(... the next day...) Uh-oh - how quickly plans change.  Our drive to Kanab takes us through Bryce Canyon National Park (a definite favourite), and we can't resist its charms and beauty.  We stop here for a couple of days first.

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