It may be Spring, but much of the backcountry in the Rockies is still covered in a deep coating of snow. So where do we go when we need a long stroll? The Utah desert. Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are just 2.5 to 3 hours away, but this last weekend we opted for the less frequented Cedar Mesa area near Blanding.
The Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch Plateau is a big empty spot on the map, but zoom in, explore it on foot, and you’ll find countless Ancestral Puebloan ruins and rock art drawings along with enough hiking and backpacking to last a lifetime. My boyfriend and I set out to hike the sixteen-mile Fish and Owl Canyons loop near the Kane Gulch Ranger Station.
We followed the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, descending into Owl Canyon down a long path over slickrock and past deep pools of clean, crisp water. After a couple of hours, we both began developing blisters under the balls of our feet, so I was very happy to have some eNZees in my first-aid kit! The Owl Canyon trail is relatively easy to follow, with frequent cairns and a defined path, we reached our campsite at the confluence with Fish Canyon long before dark.
The hike up Fish Canyon is another story. Like Owl, the route follows the creek up the canyon, but flash floods, erosion, and the industrious work of beavers made the going the tough. At last, we scrambled up 500 ft. to the rim of the canyon and climbed up a 20ft. crack to reach the plateau.
This is no doubt a strenuous hike, but the two natural arches and glimpses of Ancient Puebloan ruins are well worth the effort. Be sure to check in at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station for reports on water conditions and to purchase your $8 permit. The BLM only allows 20 people on the trail per day, so you may want to book ahead of time.