I’m pretty sure that in the future anytime anyone mentions the year 2020, we’re all going to instantly think of COVID-19, social distancing, quarantining, face masks, Zoom meetings and calls with our families, altered or canceled travel plans, etc. While I will definitely think of all of these things first, I hope it will be quickly followed with the memory of the year that my family stayed close to home and really, really dug in deep and explored San Juan County, UT.
My husband and I are closing in on 12 years since we moved to Monticello, and during that time we’ve definitely done more than our fair share of exploring this area, the rest of Utah, and the Four Corners region. But this year with COVID we’ve spent the past 9 months seeing some parts of San Juan County that we’ve never seen before. We took a houseboat out on Lake Powell for the first time- something I’ve always wanted to do but felt that it was too expensive. Funny how your perspective changes when worldwide travel has all but shut down!
In the spring, with social distancing on our minds, we did several new hikes we’d never done before in White Canyon. (You can read about our hike to Big Arrowhead Arch and The Grotto HERE) At the end of October we went on our last camping trip of the year out near Hite and did maybe my favorite section of White Canyon we’ve done so far- Lower White Canyon. One thing I want to note is that none of the ‘hikes’ in White Canyon that I’m mentioning are designated hiking trails, they’re basically just walking up or down the canyon, so the chances of encountering other people are much lower than if we had headed to a designated hiking trail, which is perfect for COVID-era outings!
After nearly a year without seeing my in-laws who live in Flagstaff, we decided that this would be a good opportunity for a socially distant camping weekend together. We met up with them at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station and caravanned out to the area my husband had his eye on for dispersed camping, and found a great spot with awesome views and plenty of space for both of our set-ups. It was a different kind of camping experience than normal- we made all our food separately, rode in separate vehicles, didn’t enter each other’s campers, etc., but I’m glad we were able to find a way to meet up in a safe way that we were all comfortable with.
The next morning we headed out for our hike in Lower White Canyon. Our destination for the day was to hike up the canyon until we reached the bridge on Hwy 95 that crosses the canyon, which was about a 5 mile round trip hike. We started hiking and were immediately greeted by a huge Great Basin Gopher Snake! I wish I had put something next to it for size reference, but just know that this snake was huge!
The walls of White Canyon can be pretty steep, but we found an easy access point and climbed down into the canyon with no problem. As soon as we got down there, we found some really cool little ‘rooms’ to explore in the cliff walls. I don’t care how old you are, when you’re exploring canyons and you come across things like this, you revert right back to childhood and are completely in awe of how amazing nature is!
I mentioned in my last post about White Canyon, what a beautiful canyon it is, and this section did not disappoint! We entered the canyon at a shallower part, so the walls got higher and higher as we walked up the canyon toward the bridge. I always feel like time goes by fast on canyon hikes- I think part of it is the ever changing width of the canyon, height of the canyon walls, and the variety of obstacles to maneuver around on the canyon floor.
One of my favorite sections of the canyon was somewhere in the middle of the hike where the floor of the canyon turned into kind of a maze of sandstone with lots of rounded holes and channels worn away by water, sand, and rocks. I know this hike can have sections of water with wading and even short swims, but it was about as dry as it probably ever gets when we were there, which I’m sure made it a faster hike for us than it would be if there was water to maneuver through.
There was just one section that was a little tricky to get past. There were quite a few big boulders in the middle of the canyon, which had logs jams and other debris around them. This spot required a little bit of climbing and scrambling, but it wouldn’t have been bad at all if we hadn’t had our dog with us. It took us a little bit of extra time to find a route that she would be able to do, which we found on the way up the canyon toward the bridge, but on the way back we missed it and ended up having to pick her up and lift her over a huge log jam, (In the photo above) which she didn’t love, but it was fine.
Having looked down over the edge as we’ve driven over the bridge many times in the past, I knew the canyon was really deep and narrow under the bridge, so as we continued to walk up the canyon, I could tell when we were getting close. We heard it before we saw it- the sound of tires driving over the place where the bridge and the road meet- and although I knew we were close, it still surprised me. It’s kind of jarring sometimes to feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere, and then to suddenly see or hear signs of civilization!
(When I backpacked with my dad as a kid, I was always worried that something would happen to him and then I’d be stuck out there unable to help him, so I LOVED signs of civilization! I never would have described them as ‘jarring’, more like ‘comforting’! It’s so funny to think about how my perspective has changed over the years!)
We stopped for a snack break once we made it to the bridge, then turned around and headed back out. I don’t know if it’s because the position of the sun really affects the lighting in narrow canyons so the look of the canyon changes a lot from one time of the day to another, but even though we had just hiked in, it almost didn’t seem like it was the same canyon on the hike out, which made the second half of the hike go by much faster than I was expecting.
My son did great on this hike, I think partially because ‘Nana’ and grandpa were there and he’s always on his best behavior in front of grandparents, and really anyone except his parents! Aside from the Gopher Snake we saw just after we left our vehicles, we didn’t see anyone else on this hike or on the road after we turned off of Hwy 95, so it’s a perfect place to go if you’re looking for an easily accessible, dog-friendly hike away from the crowds that you will often find at more well-known places like the national parks and monuments.
And just like with the last White Canyon hike that I posted on, my husband and I kept asking each other why we hadn’t done this hike before?! (I can actually answer this… there is just THAT much to do here that there’s no way you can do everything!)
If you’re driving along Hwy 95 between Natural Bridges National Monument and Hite, I highly recommend taking some time to explore White Canyon, I promise you’ll be glad you did!
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 Restrictions, Updates, and Alerts for San Juan County, Utah can be found HERE