Tag Archives: Glen Canyon

Natural Bridges Part 1: The San Rafael Swell and Glen Canyon Roadtrip

When doing the big Southern Utah loop through the National Parks I realized half a day in Natural Bridges was not enough and vowed to go back. The added benefit is I could plan a roadtrip down through San Rafael Swell, Upper Glen Canyon, and leave past Comb Ridge, Canyonlands, and Moab.

Open field
Golden waves of grain

Although the goal was to hike Natural Bridges, getting there is half the fun. Plus some big beautiful storm clouds were chasing me out of Northern Utah. I checked weather.gov beforehand and the storm hitting the north wouldn’t impact me in the south.

Mile marker 68.99 instead of 69.
I guess the alternative was getting stolen too often.

It took me a few second to figure out why they wouldn’t be able to post mile marker 69??…
Oh!  Now I get it!

Barren Landscape in San Rafael
Barren Landscape

It was slightly longer to take I-70 to the monument but I wanted to drive through San Rafael Swell to scout for a future trip. After descending through pine mountains you come out on the barren desert plateau.

San Rafael Swell
Looking over the San Rafael Swell

The San Rafael Swell is currently BLM land very popular with ATV and slot canyon explorers. So far oil and gas interests haven’t been encroaching, but if any unprotected place in Utah is befitting a being elevated to National Park status it’s this place. If you like any of the Utah Mighty 5 parks, you’ll love San Rafael Swell.

Long Straight Road
The Long Straight Road

After I-70 breaks through the broken edge of the Swell it’s a long straight ride across the desert plains that separate the Swell from Canyonlands and the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Slickrock dunes
Slickrock dunes

After a last chance for gas in Hanksville more southward travel changes from desert plains as you start to cut down through the slickrock towards the canyons of the Colorado River. This area is prime slot canyon territory.

Glen Canyon Monuments
Glen Canyon Monuments

The Colorado River sliced through the sedimentary rock carving complex canyons into the desert named Glen Canyon. Covering much of the southern portion of Utah.

The north end of Lake Powell
The north end of Lake Powell

In 1966 Glen Canyon dam was completed 185 river miles away creating Lake Powell. It’s difficult to define where the river ends and the lake begins but Hite crossing is generally considered the north end of Lake Powell. The Lake used to cover the surrounding floodplains but recent drought has left the marina high and dry.

Hite Bridge
Hite Bridge crosses the Colorado

Even though it slices through nearly a quarter of the state the Colorado River only has 3 drive-able river crossings in Utah. Hite and nearby Dirty Devil Bridges were considered “The world’s most beautiful bridges” when completed in 1966. I don’t know about that but the setting could definitely sway the vote.

 Red Rock Plateau
Straight to Red Rock Plateau

After the flat desert plain it’s easy to see why this area of Utah is known as Canyon Country.

Milky Way Galaxy and ISS
The International Space Station crosses the Milky Way

Natural Bridges was the worlds first “International Dark Sky Park.” There are few places with as low of light pollution as this. And in summer the core of the Milky Way is in full view, occasionally the International Space Station and the odd satellite make an appearance as well.

 

Here’s the full roadtrip and all the pictures from the trip:

14 National Parks and Monuments in one summer

Utah National Park Maps
All of the maps to Utah’s National Parks

This summer I decided to try to visit every National Park or monument in the state of Utah in one single season.  At the time I had already made it to 3 of the “Mighty 5” National Parks in the state so it seemed like an easy job.  However I’d find out that some of America’s greatest treasures are pretty remote and difficult to access.  But a couple weekends ago I finished the job making a road trip to Golden Spike National Historic Site in the face of a huge incoming storm.

In the early days of the National Park system they would give you a large badge to affix to your car to to prove you had paid for access to the park.  Adventurous people would try to collect all them and proudly display that they had visited of the United States greatest treasures.

These days they give away free park maps with info about the park.  They’re not as easy to show off on your car but still just as proud carry.

Utah has 5 National Parks, known locally as The Mighty 5:
Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion (don’t pronounce it “Zions” unless you want to look ignorant)

There are 7 National Monuments:
Cedar Breaks, Dinosaur, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge, and Timpanogos Cave

1 National Historic Site:
Golden Spike

And 1 National Recreation Site:
Glen Canyon

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is run by the BLM so their map doesn’t fit the same style as the rest (somebody should get on that).  But it’s still a required part of the set.  And Flaming Gorge used to be a National Recreation site but it has been given over to the National Forest Service.

I took pictures in each park in the hopes of getting a great shot to go along with each map (although the weather didn’t always cooperate).  I’m still trying to think of some fun way of displaying all the maps and pictures I took in them.  I also plan on making a quick write-up of each park as I process the pictures I took so anybody else in the area can get a basic overview of the Park, along with scans of the front and backs of the maps given out (because I had a hell of a time finding some of them online).

Now I need to know what goal to set for next year.
Every State Park?
Every National Forest? (I actually did this this year but not deliberately)
Maybe just focus on one park?
Maybe find non-park areas that are just as amazing?