Crazy Utah Weather & Cliff Dwellings On The Trail Of the Ancients
We’ve made it back to “civilization” and once again have an internet signal….yeah! The past few days we’ve been boondocking deep in the Utah boonies and it may well have been the most weather crazy streak we’ve done to date. Wind, sandstorm, thunder, rain, snow(!), fog AND sun all in the space of a few days?? Oh yeah, it’s just a typical Utah spring -> a fickle, fickle time that can give near-perfect temps, wipe you out with wind or strand you in surprise winter storms. We knew this coming in and were keeping tight track of the weather forecast through our phone (the awesome WeatherBug App) and the Satellite TV (you’ve gotta stay ontop of these things in the boonies), but Mother Earth Utah managed to surprise us even then.
Late Sunday, after several days of T-shirt weather at the rim we were warned of big winds and decided to leave our exposed site at Goosenecks State Park for a much more protected spot around 60 miles north. We found a new boondocking site tucked behind a massive ridge in a cottonwood tree wash . The next few days were going to give us a show and we were nestled in the perfect spot to watch it without getting too badly hit. No phone or internet here, but we were prepared for the onslaught…mentally anyway.
The winds started almost as soon as we set down our jacks in our new site, whipping up a famous Utah red dust sandstorm from our previous location. We saw the dust-clouds rise like giant billows in the south and blanket the sky with a deep red. The super-fine dust is a notorious phenomenon in the SE of Utah. When it rises it does so suddenly and completely blackens out the sky, filtering through the cracks in your rig and into your pores. It’s worst in the open plains and may only last a few hours, but it will obscure everything and get into every single open slot (I tell you, you’ll have red dust coming out your a** by the time it’s over). Our previous boondocking spot would have been wiped out, but we passed the storm in relative protection in the valley, shook out as much dust as we could when it was over and enjoyed almost a full day of T-shirt warm sun and flowing clouds before the next act.
The weather started again with drizzle in the night and a few claps of thunder, all pretty mild stuff until temps dropped and the rain transformed into snow! By the time we got up in the morning our view was covered in light, flying tufts of snowflakes blanketing the valley. WOW! Temperatures had dropped to near-freezing and the sky was grey and thick. The morning continued grey, but several hours and many cloud-bursts later it suddenly cleared up again. Sunny, cold but completely open blue sky. The dark clouds had moved north and were dumping snow on the higher roads so we decided to wait out one more day for the weather to stabilize before moving on.
Could we have seen more weather in a few days? Thank goodness for the flexibility of boondocking!
Despite the fickle spring craziness we managed to explore. This area of Utah, bounded by the corners of Comb Ridge, Grand Gultch, Grand Flat and Cedar Mesa is called the Trail of the Ancients and has one of the largest concentrations of ancient pueblo dwellings in the US. Some are developed and have accessible trails, but many are hidden in the canyons and only discovered by back-country exploring. Even more lie completely undiscovered, hidden gems yet to meet the human eye. These dwellings date from the very first settlers, the Basketweavers (200-700AD) who lived mostly on the mesa tops to the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans (1060-1270) who built elaborate structures in the mesa cliffs. There are literally hundreds of these scattering throughout the area, and what’s even better is that they’re almost all on BLM land so you can camp and bring doggie along for the trek. What a gift!
We started our exploring with Butler Wash Ruins, a short ½ mile marked hike from Hwy 95. The overlook is accessed via slick-rock (looks slick, but it’s got a lot of grip) and a total of ~20 cliff rooms can be viewed. Cool little visit. Our next stop was House On Fire. This fabulous ruin can be accessed via a ~1 mile hike along South Mule Canyon, just past mile-marker 102 no Hwy 95. It can take a little to find it, but once you do you’re rewarded with an up-close and personal masterpiece dramatically framed by ridged rocks in “flames”. At just the right time of day (around noontime) the light bounces off the inner canyon and lights up the dwelling. Gorgeous! There are plenty of other ruins in this canyon if you can find them too. We ended the trip, right before the next round of weather hit with a short visit to the “Mule Canyon” ruins, a developed set of ruins just north of House On Fire. Totally worth the drives!
We may not have seen quite as much as we’d like, thanks to the crazy UT weather, but it’s been a fine drive and will keep us coming back for more. A wild, but totally fun coupla days. We’re already settled at our new site in Moab and will be catching up on the blogs with 2 boondocking site reviews…and the long-awaited “eeeeek” story.…Oh my!