Bears Ears and Water in the Desert

Bears Ears and Water in the Desert

By day four we had reached plan C, amendment B, addendum E. What seemed to be a surefire plan on paper was quickly scrapped due to deep snow and mud. Beef Basin and the Needles would have to wait as we turned ourselves around and contemplated what to do next.

Indian Creek was full of water

About that Snow…

Originally our itinerary was to drive through Indian Creek, up Beef Basin and spend a few nights in Ruin Park and Beef Basin before traveling through the Needles and out via Elephant Hill. The drive in showed us the first signs of trouble: white-capped peaks of the Abajo Mountains and fields of flowers across the desert floor. The desert was alive thanks to over 150% annual precipitation this winter. Surely the access road to Beef Basin is clear, it is Easter Weekend after all.

Kim and I brought along our friend Jason, who is exploring these areas for the first time. Once it became clear we weren’t getting into Beef Basin, we started to come up with alternative plans as we set up camp, discussed our options, and enjoyed the views.

Onward! We elected to explore some areas around Cottonwood Wash which we hadn’t seen before.

It dawned on me we were near some really interesting ruins that I hadn’t been to in years, so we changed direction, headed uphill and explored.

This evening we declared the day a success: despite not having any plans we still discovered some new ruins and rock art and had a spectacular day. We set up camp at what was possibly one of the best locations we have seen in the Bears Ears and watched the moonrise over White Mesa and Bluff.

Our next day would see more mud and snow as we were once again deterred from our plans as there was too much snow on Elk Ridge. Plan C! Head down to Cedar Mesa and show Jason a few favorite spots.

The sheer amount of water in the area was amazing. Roads were soggy, creeks were running, and flowers were everywhere.

We decided to descend and explore one of my new favorite ruins that I failed to get a solid photo of on our previous trip.

Again we found a stellar campsite and explored our opportunities for the next day. At this point it was clear we needed to stay low and I wanted to show Jason parts of Grand Gulch. Little did we know that Grand Gulch would be full of water and make for one of the most interesting hikes Kim and I have had in Cedar Mesa. With the gulch flowing, we could either avoid the water at our own peril (tall cutbanks and other obstacles all over) or commit to enjoying the cool water and follow downstream.

We elected to enjoy the adversity and spent the day in the water, exploring the side canyons, and exiting via Bullet Canyon. It was clear that people were limited in travel as very few ventured up and down the main segment of Grand Gulch, which was flowing nicely.

What a day.

We spent our final night on the mesa, sitting around the fire and watching the stars move by. Despite the change of plans, everything ended up working out well. We only had to use the winch three times, saw Grand Gulch in a state of desert euphoria that we have never seen before, and laughed the entire way. What a way to end the trip.