3 May 2012

The bright sun gave us beautiful warm light as we headed down the north side of Murphy Hogback. All of Soda Springs Basin lay before us with Candlestick Tower watching as we began our day.

Jeep on the Murphy Hogback Descent

Jeep on the Murphy Hogback Descent


The biking was easy — maybe a bit too easy. By the time I got to Turks Head overlook, I’d realized I’d passed by the Black Crack. Backtracking being not on the agenda, I spent a couple of extra moments soaking in the wonderful bend in the Green at Turks Head.
Turks Head and Green River

Turks Head and Green River


We’d done a good number of slot canyons in Utah, so Holeman Slot came as a familiar and interesting change of pace. Getting in could’ve hardly been easier, and the section we explored had that curving sculptural sandstone found in the best slots. We turned around at the first dry fall, the biking gear didn’t lend itself to scrambling and we had plenty of miles left in the day.


During Powell’s first Grand Canyon expedition at this point on the river, the men spotted two buttes that when lined-up resemble a fallen cross. And even now, the Buttes of the Cross remain aptly named.
Buttes of the Cross

Buttes of the Cross


Just before Potato Bottom as the road bends to the northwest, the White Rim Sandstone dives beneath the landscape — not to be seen again. And it really was a little sad to say farewell to the formation that we’d biked on for the last couple of days.
White Rim Sandstone and Steer Mesa

White Rim Sandstone and Steer Mesa


We stopped at Potato Bottom for lunch. The “bottoms” are the sandy parts of the river and this was the first time we stood on the same level as the river — this one was the Green. A huge cottonwood provided sweet shade while we ate lunch and lingered in the empty campsite.

Having the river as a companion took some getting used to. In previous days on the east side the Colorado was inaccessible beyond the cliffs, glimpsed only occasionally and usually only with effort. In contrast after the White Rim sandstone goes under, the Green is usually just right there. Maybe behind the tamarisk, maybe down the hill — but ever accessible.


We walked the bikes up Hardscrabble Hill, which was a bit easier since we were unencumbered by any pride. At the top of the hill we found the trail to Fort Bottom. Ancestral Puebloan Indians build a structure atop the mesa above the river, hence the name ‘Fort Bottom.’ And cattle ranchers added a cabin in the late 1890s by the edge of the river. So as deserted and remote as this country seems, people have always been a part of it. As this is a bit of a gooseneck, the Green river almost completely wraps around the land here. The trail goes over the thinnest part of the neck then heads up to the ruins.
Narrow Path on Fort Bottom Trail

Narrow Path on Fort Bottom Trail


After a bit of scrambling you get to see not only the ruined tower but a near 360 degree view of the Green. The final push for the day was down the north side of Hardscrabble Hill. It’s much easier than the uphill by far, but the road had enough sand in it to keep the descent from being carefree. And we shortly rolled into Hardscrabble Campground. Although this lacked the “on top of the world” feeling of the previous nights view from Murphy, it’s situation was not without its charms. The camp is nestled by the river as it takes a hard turn in Labyrinth Canyon, and on both sides the Wingate cliffs loom above you.

Whereas our other two campsites on the White Rim Road of Canyonlands NP, Gooseberry and Murphy, were all about the rock, Hardscrabble is riverside living. Both campsites A & B are right on the Green River, B being the more secluded of the two. Tamarisk abounds, there’s a small cottonwood for a bit of shade, and the bats put on quite a show at dusk. B is also up against the north side of Bighorn Mesa, so you can get good light on the cliffs towering right above you.
Bighorn Mesa from Hardscrabble B Campsite

Bighorn Mesa from Hardscrabble B Campsite

4 May 2012

Our last day was going to be a short one, so we took our time breaking camp to savor the morning sun on the walls of Labyrinth Canyon.

Walls of Labyrinth Canyon from Hardscrabble B Campsite

Walls of Labyrinth Canyon from Hardscrabble B Campsite

Years ago we hiked to Upheaval Dome in the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. It’s the eroded remains of an ancient (millions of years ago) meteor impact. It’s a grand sight — circular with almost vertically tipping rocks amid a linear landscape. After the meteor hit, sediments piled up, then sediments wore down. And the present day path of this erosion ends up in Upheaval Bottom — where the sand that used to be in Upheaval Dome takes a break before continuing into the Green river. The road goes right through this deep sand. Did I mention the sand was deep? I’d like to think we soaked in more of the views as we pushed our bikes, but we didn’t. We wrangled our bikes, looked down at the sand, and muttered discouraging words.

The rest of the morning’s ride followed the turns of the flat Green river.


Ever since the easy cruise down the Shafer Switchbacks, we knew we had to repay that temporary elevation credit. And as we gazed up past Felony Tower to the Switchbacks of Horsethief Trail, we saw that the time had come. We tried to keep up on two wheels, but soon enough we were on our feet pushing.

As we rose the views of the Green River and Labyrinth Canyon got better & better.


After the final switchback we turned our backs on the canyon below us and coasted towards the parking lot and the awaiting jeep. This was the end of our ride, leaving the hot and windy Mineral Bottom Road to those hardier souls to pedal back to the Visitors Center. Horsethief Trail, or Mineral Bottom Road, is just a dirt road on top of a mesa with nothing to see but sagebrush, so not all that appealing for me. The bright lights of Moab — okay, maybe not so much. But we were overdue for a hot shower and a cold beer, and Moab had both.

  • Day 1: Visitors Center to Gooseberry (29 miles)
  • Day 2: Gooseberry to Murphy Hogback (19 miles)
  • Day 3: Murphy Hogback to Hardscrabble (25 miles)
  • Day 4: Hardscrabble to Horsethief Trail (9 miles)
  • Total milage: 81 miles