We’re used to social distancing here in San Juan County, Utah. With an area of 7,933 sq. miles (larger than Rhode Island, Delaware, or Connecticut) San Juan County is nearly the size of the state of New Jersey! But while New Jersey has a population of around 9 million, here in San Juan County we have to round up to claim 15,000 residents! That’s less than 2 people/square mile! As my coworker says, ‘San Juan County isn’t rural, it’s frontier!’
While living in such a rural place can be inconvenient at times, (it’s 5 hrs to the nearest major airport, overnight shipping isn’t an option here, the nearest Costco is 4 hrs north in Spanish Fork, etc.) access to outdoor recreational opportunities is a huge draw that brings and keeps many of us here. And when a worldwide pandemic like COVID-19 hits, I think most residents will agree that there’s no other place we’d rather be.
Back in March and April when COVID-19 first hit and people were being asked to stay home and to recreate near their homes, we felt extremely fortunate to live in an area with so much public land for us to safely enjoy without having to leave our county. There is just so much to do here, that anyone who knows this area well will tell you that you’ll never be able to do it all, and it’s true. My husband and I have lived here for over 11 years now, and although we feel like we’ve done and seen a lot in San Juan County, there’s always more. When COVID-19 hit and we were staying closer to home, we were exploring new areas almost every single weekend and I kept saying to my husband, ‘This place is awesome! Why haven’t we been here before!?’
This is exactly how I felt when we spent several weekends in a row exploring different parts of White Canyon. I’ve always loved White Canyon- it’s the canyon that passes through Natural Bridges National Monument, and it actually has special meaning to us because my husband proposed to me in the bottom of the canyon while we were doing the loop hike at Natural Bridges not long after we moved here! But there’s a lot more of White Canyon beyond the boundaries of the monument, and we’ve always had it on our list to explore, we just hadn’t got to it yet.
With social distancing on our minds, we decided that we’d stay away from designated hiking trails since there was a higher chance that there would be other people on the trail, and we decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to explore some different parts of White Canyon.
There are several good access points along Hwy 95 between Natural Bridges National Monument and Hite, and we started with the access point at Ducket Crossing, which is 30 miles (35 min) past the turn for Natural Bridges. There is a decent sized pull-out on the south/west side of the road, and then you walk under 95 through a cement underpass to access White Canyon, which is on the north/east side of the road. We were interested in checking out this area because there were several points of interest within a mile from where you park; Ducket Arch, Big Arrowhead Arch, and something called, ‘The Grotto’.
As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a designated trail of any sort- it’s just a walk/hike along the bottom of White Canyon, which is perfect when you’re trying to social distance. It’s also nice because, since it isn’t an actual hiking trail, dogs can be off-leash.
Ducket Arch is the first of the 3 points of interest that you come to, and is about .5 miles from the trailhead. Looking back I realized that I didn’t even take a picture of this arch- I don’t remember it being very easy to capture in a photo, (if you can’t get sky behind an arch, they usually just look like a bunch of rocks) so I think that’s why I skipped it. Big Arrowhead Arch however, was extremely easy to photograph, so we took way too many pictures of it! (Approximately .3 miles past Ducket Arch)
The Grotto is located just a few hundred feet past Big Arrowhead Arch. I really wasn’t sure what ‘The Grotto’ was going to be or how we would know when we came to it, but you will definitely know! It’s an area where the canyon wall have all kinds of cool holes and caves. We spent some time climbing around checking them out, which was fun. My husband was definitely more adventurous and climbed up into several while my son and I explored on the floor of the canyon.
There are countless canyons in this area (San Juan County IS Utah’s Canyon Country after all!) but I’ve always felt that White Canyon is an especially beautiful canyon. I’m not sure what it is… maybe the colors and patterns on the rock walls? I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that makes it stand out from the others, but it does. And I find that any time we’re hiking in any canyon, it’s very hard to stop and turn around. I always wonder if there’s something cool around the next turn that I’m going to miss if I don’t at least peek around the bend. And then when you get to the bend, you see that it’s not too far to the next bend. You can imagine how this could go on and on and suddenly you’ve hiked much farther than you planned, and you still need to turn around and hike out!
Since it was such a short distance to The Grotto, (only .8 miles) we kept walking down the canyon just to check it out. It was early April when we went, so the weather was finally warming up and my son was begging the whole time for us to take a break so he could play in the sand. Up the canyon a few minutes from The Grotto, we finally got to a sandy area that not only looked perfect for my son to play in, but there was a nice, steep canyon wall right beside it, which means shade for the rest of us. Perfect!
One thing that always amazes me in any canyon we’re in, is to see sticks and logs and debris that have been deposited up much higher than you’d ever expect the water level could reach. Even in a wide canyon like White Canyon, as you can see in the photo above, the sticks are on top of a boulder that’s got to be at least 12 or 13 feet high. It’s always a good reminder that flash floods are a reality out here in the desert, and of how dangerous it can be to be in these areas if there is rain in the forecast. We definitely don’t ever go out without checking the forecast first.
One of our favorite parts of the hike was actually an area between Ducket Arch and Big Arrowhead Arch with really cool patterns in the slickrock and lots of holes you could climb around on. We stopped there both on the way in, and on the way out just to climb around and take some pictures. Even my 7 year old son wanted to take some pictures and took the picture (above) of my husband and I with our dog… Pretty good framing- I didn’t have to crop it or anything!
All through our hike and definitely after we returned to our truck, the conversation of, ‘Why haven’t we been here before?!’ came up repeatedly! It’s such an easily accessible, short hike with non-stop cool scenery along the way, and it’s perfect for kids, dogs, and social distancing. If you’re driving along Hwy 95 between Natural Bridges National Monument and Hite, I highly recommend taking some time to explore this area.
For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386
Or e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
COVID-19 Travel Updates and Alerts for San Juan County, UT can be found HERE