What is it about the San Rafael Swell that keeps me away? For one thing, most of the time I drive right on by while venturing to the more well-known national parks of southeastern Utah. And, "Tom's Canyoneering Guide" describes The Swell as: "Rugged, desolate, dry, hot, wild. This is the kind of area that has little appeal to those who are not charmed by the desert. Oases of human-friendly environments are few and far between. One of those corners of the world lost to civilization…"
|The endless canyons of the San Rafael Swell. |
The ribbon of white at the bottom of the canyon is the iced-over
San Rafael River.
It's true that much of the area is either steep-walled canyon or open, inhospitable desert. And summer can be brutally hot or buggy. January, however, proved an ideal month to hike this arid environment.
On an unseasonably warm winter morning Tim, our dog Annie and I arrive at the Wedge Overlook in the San Rafael Swell to hike the rim trail. The trail is 17 miles long and open only to mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders. On this cloudless day our view from the canyon's rim stretches from horizon to horizon. When Annie ventures onto the rocks at rim's edge I call her back from the 1000 foot drop-off.
|It may not look like it, but there's a 1000 foot drop-off|
several feet behind us!
|The rim trail veers away from the river canyon.|
Tim and Annie pose along one of the side canyons to the San Rafael River.
After hiking a couple of miles we turn to retrace our steps on this out-and-back trail. We've enjoyed solitude on today's trek, but halfway back to the trailhead Annie goes on alert. Something has her attention. We hear voices and try to call our dog back but she rushes off and returns, leading fellow hikers who turn out to be friends from our hiking club—The Castle Country Canyoneers. Pete and Kathryn have also brought their dog—and Annie's best friend—Lucinda, along. We laugh at the coincidence of this unplanned meeting, literally in the middle of nowhere, and extend our hike another mile or so, giving the dogs plenty of time to frolic in patches of snow dotting the trailside.
After the hike we drive to a secluded spot on the rim for our picnic lunch. Fourteen years ago, on our first trip to The Wedge, we camped along the overlook drive. The rim is now closed to camping due to human-caused damage; a designated campground is situated in the pinions and junipers, about a half mile from the rim.
|Many areas of the San Rafael Swell have been abused by illegal use|
of off-road vehicles. This large Pinion Pine—in an area closed to
motorized use—is evidence of a healthy desert environment.
|Lunch on the edge. Tim relaxes with a sandwich on a|
blue-sky January day.
This corner of the world that's been "lost to civilization" is 20 miles from where I now make my home. And after this successful January trek in the San Rafael Swell, I'll try to remember not to overlook the 1,280,000 acres of public land in my backyard.
To learn more about Utah's San Rafael Desert, visit this website: http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/price/recreation/SanRafaelDesert.html
You may read of four more adventures in The San Rafael Swell by visiting these previous blog posts:
Llama trekking in the San Rafael Swell
Annie's First Desert Hike
Wildflowers of Horsethief Canyon
Little Wildhorse Canyon
Little Wildhorse Canyon is located just inside the boundary of the San Rafael Swell Desert, near Goblin Valley State Park. For a fantastic experience, combine this hike with a stay at the park.
|Map of the San Rafael Swell Desert,|
courtesy of Weber State University and Emery Maps.