Wildcat Trail Walkabout, Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Park, AZ/UT

Distance: ~3.5 Loop

Elevation change: ~380 ft first section down /last section up

Difficulty: Easy for fit folks, others may struggle with the sandy terrain and the short climb at the end. Also, it’s 100% exposed so avoid when hot, and bring your hats, sunscreen & H20.

The sandy, mostly flat, Wildcat trail loops around West Mitten Butte and provides views of East Mitten Butte, Merrick Butte, and the wider cliffs of Sentinel Mesa along the way. As you enjoy the iconic Southwestern walkabout, you may get lucky as I did with an appearance of local equines. Film buffs will recognize this scenery as the backdrop for many Westerns.

I was super lucky to see a storm here. The golden light was ethereal–it appeared that the magnificent landscape was floating!

Entry Fee: $20/car for up to 4 people, and $6/additional person. No dogs allowed.

Getting there: From Mexican Hat, UT, drive south on HWY 163. You may notice the famous “Forest Gump Hill” where Forest Gump stopped running and decided to return home to Alabama and his love, Jenny. At mile 20, make a left onto Monument Valley Rd and follow it for another 3.3 miles to the Park Entry. The trailhead and sign in are at the far end of the Visitor Center parking lot towards the camping area.

If you’d prefer a car photo safari, there’s a 17-mile, scenic, dirt-road drive through the valley that you can take.  Speed limit is 15 MPH.

Happy Trails!

Hats off to Hank, but keep ‘em on for the Honaker Trail, Goosenecks State Park, Mexican Hat, UT

Distance: ~5 Miles RT, Out & Back (Down and Up)

Elevation gain: ~1,800

Difficulty: Somewhat strenuous due to consistent descent and ascent, some slippery footing and scrambling—minimal “exposure” as far as danger level, but 100% sun exposure. Not for the weak of knees or heart. Poles recommended.

Named after its creator, Henry Honaker, this rugged route dates back to the 1890s and the heyday of Utah’s Wild West gold rush. Thank him for this scenic, cliff-hugging trail that originated as a supply route from the San Juan River to the rim ledges. While the gold rush here was short-lived, the trail has been a long-lived attraction for scientists, geologists, recreational hikers, and rafters. The dramatic geological formations date back 300 million years and are a source of fascination for all.

As you descend the trail, you may note how the rock colors and their composition change. As you pause to take in the panoramic views, catch your breath, and gulp some water, keep your eyes open for fossils (including crinoids, brachiopods, and various trace fossils). In the dry and sometimes unforgiving desert, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when all of this was underwater.

The yellow numbers that you’ll see painted on the cliffs are remnants from a 1952 field symposium on the rocks of the Honaker and Paradox Formations, not a tabulation of the numerous switchbacks though they may seem so.

While it’s always a reward to jump in a lake or a river on a hike, the silty San Juan River may refresh you but likely won’t dazzle you with her mud-colored water.

The Honaker Trail is a great, off-the-beaten-track adventure hike and a must-do for geology buffs. We only encountered a couple of rafters exploring the bottom reaches of the trail.

Notes: Of course, you must drive into Goosenecks State Park itself to enjoy the main panoramic viewpoint while you’re there. The feature photo is from that viewpoint as are these next two.

On a clear day, you can see Monument Valley in the distance. Bring an excess of water & Gatorade—what you think is too much will be just right. This trail is completely exposed, so get an early start if you’re going in the summer and be equipped with sunscreen, a hat, and EXTRA water. (Yes, I know I mentioned that already.)

Getting there: There are no signs for this trailhead. It’s marked only by a huge cairn pyramid at the start of the trail and at the bottom. At Goosenecks State Park, take the dirt road at mile marker 3 (before the entry gate) and stay left when it forks. A 2WD car can make it to the first unmarked “parking area,” and it’s just  .25+ to the trailhead from there. Otherwise, a 4 WD, high-clearance vehicle can take you to a “parking area” closer to the trailhead.

It’s a scenic drive as well.

Oh, and here’s a pic of Mexican Hat along the way. Beauty everywhere you look.

Happy Trails!

Summiting Magnificent Mount Timpanogos: Waterfalls, Wildflowers, Wildlife, & Wild Views—Oh my!

Elevation gain:5,384ft

Mileage: ~15 Miles RT

Summit: 11,752ft, the 2nd highest mountain in Utah

Difficulty: Hard, strenuous – due to altitude, elevation gain, and ~1.5 miles ea way of an unstable, tortuous, talus field

Happened to be in the area and made the spontaneous decision to hike Mount Timpanogos. So glad I did. By far, Mount Timp (as the locals call it) is my new, all-time favorite hike / peak. And I’ve done a ton of hiking across the country and around the world. I couldn’t stop smiling all the way to the 11,752-foot summit and back. Ok, maybe my smile was a bit of a grimace through the 1.5 miles back and forth across the treacherous talus strewn avalanche field.  Rest assured, the grimace quickly reverted to ear to ear, exuberant glee once I reached the summit and then again as I descended back down to the lake.

What’s make Mount Timpanogos so wonderful, you ask? Well, the title gave it way, but in case you missed it:

  • Abundant colorful, wildflowers of more varieties than I’ve ever seen
  • Dazzling waterfalls around nearly very switchback
  • Pristine alpine lake and snow field a couple miles from the summit
  • Muscular mountain goats guarding the upper slopes and frolicking by the lake
  • 5,384 ft elevation gain in altitude delivers a fitness challenge and solid workout
  • Sweeping views of Utah Valley from the saddle and spectacular panoramic views from the summit

This hike had it all—absolutely enchanting.

Started the trail in a steady rain, and walked up a verdant paved path for about a mile and a half or so before the pavement gave way to the elements.  Plentiful wildflowers and sparkling waterfalls distracted from the effort of the climb and the sun’s radiance soon highlighted all of the beauty, mist rising. The trail is easy to follow with plenty of switchbacks to help mitigate the elevation gain. It felt almost tropical at times.

The lovely Hidden Lake Basin and Emerald Lake are destinations for many, including the mountain goats.

Those who push on beyond the mile and ½ talus torture field and onward and upward still, are well rewarded at the summit.

Pay your respects to the kings of the mountain along the way. If you have good eyesight, you might spy the summit hut from thousands of feet below. It’s a bit daunting and exciting because it seems so far away, almost out of reach.

From the summit, you’ll take in dizzying 360 degree views of Utah Valley and Utah Lake to the west, Lone Peak and American Fork Twin Peaks to the north and expansive views everywhere in between.

Disclaimer: I experienced Mt. Timp in her July glory. I was told by locals that I wouldn’t recognize her in the Fall when the waterfalls are dry, the wildflowers have disappeared, and the green meadows have turned to yellow hay. Others report that Fall colors are nice here. Someday, perhaps I’ll be back to see for myself. In the meantime, if you’ve been in another season, let me know what it was like.

Notes: I’d say hiking shoes are a must to navigate the talus field. There were some hard core, ultra runners in trail runners. (I know – WOW!) Hiking poles are also a nice to have, given the elevation gain and loss. Layers are always smart at altitude. Be aware of weather changes and avalanche danger.

Getting there: I-15N to Pleasant Grove, exit 275. Follow N County Blvd and UT-92 E to the Aspen Grove trailhead.

Stay tuned: I’ll be posting the videos soon!

Happy trails!

Beautiful Bridal Veil Falls, Provo, UT

Too many wedding guests, but if you’re up for the scramble to the bride, you’ll lose the crowds.* Since this lovely 607-foot-tall, double cataract waterfall is just off US189 within close reach of a metropolis (SLC), it’s heavily trafficked (overrun). More of an attraction than an excursion, this 1.4 mile stroll is on a paved and dirt path. It is literally a walk in the park with the added scenic bonus of the Provo River running alongside the trail.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5CeQgqmavo

*Disclaimer: Scrambling can be hazardous—a man fell to his death hiking here not long after I visited. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/07/19/man-bridal-veil-falls-utah-falls-death-boy-left-alone/8018440002/

Apparently, there is nearby trail to an upper falls – aptly named “Upper Falls”, but it’s unmarked and difficult to find—maybe next time.

Getting there:  UT-52 E/W 800 N and US-189 N/E Provo Canyon Rd and follow the signs.

Nice stop to stretch the legs if you’re road tripping to Sundance or Park City.

Happy Trails!

Otherworldly Fantasy Canyon, a roadside geological wonderland

A small, relatively untraveled, roadside attraction, miniature Fantasy Canyon contains some of the most unusual geologic features in the world. Here, 3 types of rocks (mudstone, claystone, and sandstone) eroded at different paces, creating wild formations that rise from the barren badland topography like a sci-fi city.

A short 0.6-mile loop trail will transport you into a bizarre world. You’ll walk by dragons, intricate gates, and alcoves. It’s a stone Rorschach experience—a place to let your imagination run free.

Speaking of running free, if you’re lucky, you might see some of Utah’s wild horses and pronghorn frolicking around this remote area. It’s quite a treat!

(What’s not a treat, is seeing all the oil drilling on BLM land.)

Getting there:
From Vernal take UT 45 for 25 miles southeast, then go south on the oil company service road. Follow the signs for Fantasy Canyon.

Happy road tripping!