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