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2011-10-06 Hole in the Rock Trail aka Mormon Trail, Utah

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Did anyone get any pictures of the actual Hole in the Rock from the other side? I would love to seem them.


end of the 4x4 trail is still a ways from it...




G hiked a little bit of the foot trail, but not all the way to the lake.

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Did anyone get any pictures of the actual Hole in the Rock from the other side? I would love to seem them.


end of the 4x4 trail is still a ways from it...




G hiked a little bit of the foot trail, but not all the way to the lake.

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Within twenty-four hours of posting the trip to Hole-in-the-Rock Trail on the Offroad Passport forum, eleven rigs were signed up to go. No trip had ever filled so quickly! As we were researching the trail, there didn’t look to be a lot of places to camp, so we limited the number of rigs to ten and created a Stand-by list. Then as things go, people cancelled, standers-by got moved to attending, and then some of them cancelled, so by departure day we were down to only five rigs. That was a lot like last years trip to the Maze, and so was the cold rainy weather! We started our journey under wet conditions, and I can’t lie; I had visions of the muddy Maze on the way to flagstaff.




On this trip were theksmith in his WJ, dzJeepchic & Number 7 in Clifford, Maddog in his LJ with trailer, Gearhead in his YJ and stockjeep Wayne in his TJ. We rendezvoused in Flagstaff Thursday morning and took off for what promised to be an epic adventure to as yet unexplored territory in southern Utah.


We were headed to the ‘other’ half of The Hole-in-the-Rock Trail we’d never done before. This is part of the emigrant trail from Escalante, to Bluff, UT that produced the Hole-in-the-Rock; a feature on the western wall of Glenn Canyon on Lake Powell chiseled by the Mormon Mission expedition relocating to Southeast Utah to settle the territory. They had to chip a huge opening through a canyon wall so they could plunge 80 wagons down the rocky crevice to the Colorado River and then float them across. We did the easy northwestern part of the trail, called Hole-in-the-Rock Road, in August of 2009 [Escalante Recon Mission], and hiked two-thirds of the way down the Hole-in-the-Rock. Now we were on our way to the more difficult half - east of the Missionary’s [then] Colorado River crossing.


Our first night’s destination was Hall’s Crossing Marina at Lake Powell. When almost there we stopped at an historical marker where the Missionaries camped during their journey while building the trail down a 1,000 foot elevation change. A little further up the road we stopped at ‘Castle Ruins’, which were hard to find unless you were really looking, which probably accounts for their remarkably good condition given that they were so close to the road. We reached Hall’s Crossing Marina after 5:00PM Utah time; the store was closed. Luckily, everything we needed was self-serve: Visitor Pass Kiosk takes credit cards, campground takes cash. We found a group-site that cost $18, we split between 5 rigs.








Campsite at Hall's:




Friday morning we left camp ready for the trail. Our first day agenda was to take the original emigrant trail into Lake Canyon until we came to ‘The Washout’. The trail was said to be closed, but a couple of websites we visited were somewhat vague as to whether the original road went through or not. Weird, even though we filled up with gas at Hall’s Crossing, Clifford was reading ¾ as we got going. We were going to the trailhead right next to Cal Black Memorial Airport, so we went in and bought a little more gas.


Airing down:




The trail starts out across wavy rock slabs and soon turns to sand or a mix of both. After making a left at the fork (which connects to the main road we’ll take later), the terrain changed to rolling hills among sandstone humps. We saw tracks which looked something like tractor tires. Our first stop was at a fortress ruin overlooking a beautiful tree lined canyon. We detoured into the east fork of the canyon just to see what’s there, but soon the trail was too narrow for our rigs. So we went back past the fortress, crossed a mucky stream and headed for the washout.























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We came to some obstacles as the trail went up and down sandstone ledges and domes. One steep step seemed like a great photo op, but the pictures look flat. Then we went across our first narrow uneven fin followed by a drive down an off-camber boulder. We wound our way down the canyon until we got to Graffiti Camp, which by the way, would be a great place to camp. There is a smooth multi-colored cliff wall leaning out over the canyon floor where we parked and ate lunch. We walked to The Washout from there; less than a ¼ I think, following the odd tire tracks while wondering out loud what made them. One popular guess was some sort of equipment sent to check the road for debris and stranded motorists after the downpour the day before.














We discovered that The Washout is definitely not bi-passable. Amazingly, the canyon floor you’re walking on simply drops away, all the way across; you come to what looks like about a 100 foot cliff. We didn’t go near the edge because you could see cracks in the soil there; it will give away sometime soon. There is absolutely no way around it, and there is range-fencing which prevents even exploring for one.



Going back out the way we went in, ‘Maddogjeeper’ Dennis started hearing sounds from his transmission. We stayed right at the fork we’d passed earlier, and took the Nokai Dome shortcut, as it’s called. Along the way we passed an old truck cab, and that was when Dennis told everyone his transmission was seriously making some bad noises. George suggested he run it in 4-Low the rest of the way across the shortcut to see if it made a difference. When we got to the Half-track which sits at the intersection of Nokai Dome Road and the shortcut, Dennis opened his hood, checked transmission fluid, and discussed the sound he was hearing. He decided to at least get to camp with us and then decide what to do. We only went a couple more miles before he was convinced he should abort the trip. Now he said he was worried about even getting back to Halls Crossing. ‘Gearhead’ Mike, having discovered earlier that his front driveshaft was not 100%, bravely volunteered to escort Dennis back to Hall’s Crossing. The plan was for them to camp again at the marina, leave Dennis’ Jeep and trailer, and take Mike’s Jeep back to get Dennis’ truck and trailer. Dennis figured he’d be back at Hall’s Sunday night.







So it was with sad hearts we bid our 2 friends adieu, and the remaining 3 rigs set off to find a place to camp. Along Nokai Dome Road we came to a severe washout. As we pondered how to cross it I happened to notice tracks from the mystery vehicle going around it to the right, so we followed suit. It didn’t take long to realize that campsites were few and far between; we passed a great one at 3:30 or so, which is way too early to set up camp! We finally found a spot right next to the road as we made our way west on the ‘Connection’ road, between Nokai Dome Road and the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail. We built a fire, cooked some food, and sat around saying “Poor Maddog”, and “That was nice of Gearhead”, until bedtime.








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Bright and early Saturday morning we set off for the Hole-in-the-Rock under partly cloudy skies. As we made our way westerly, Hall’s Crossing came back into view. Kris tried to raise Dennis on the ham but there was no reply. A large group of ATV riders passed us. We came to the next fork in the road, the one where nobody knows where left goes, and went right. Immediately the trail goes up onto slick rock domes, shelves and ledges. There was one crazy descent off a ledge that felt like the Jeep was straight up and down. The trail became hard to follow. From the top of a huge dome we re-located the cairns and followed them down some very steep rocks.


Hall's Crossing in the distance:




The ATVs making their way down the rocks:




This shelf felt insane, but it looks completely tame on film:






Soon we arrived at the intersection with the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail. The ATV group was there, along with – a Unimog! That’s what was making those tracks! We could’ve gone right at the intersection to visit The Washout from the other side, but we pressed on toward the Hole-in-the-Rock, now trying to be off the trail Sunday night to help Maddog get his military trailer home.






We continued now in a southwestern direction as the trail descended from slick rock through a portion of difficult route-finding and then onto a well marked dirt trail that goes alongside a low rocky ridge for several miles. Then we encountered a technical rocky section as the trail goes between sandstone hills into a narrow canyon approaching Grey Mesa; our next point of interest and lunch stop. This is the place where the Missionary expedition came down from their crossing of Grey Mesa; it’s unbelievably steep and narrow and it’s closed to motorized travel. We climbed up and found many ‘wash tubs’ carved into the sandstone which contained piles of perfectly round rocks; in fact we found the smooth round rocks later, all along the way as we drove up Grey Mesa. George and Kris explored the Mormon trail on Grey Mesa and found wagon tracks and steps carved into the stone.















Looking down off Grey Mesa:


While I was eating lunch I could see the ATV group ahead of us on the trail as it goes up Grey Mesa. They were helping each other get their quads over dips and rises in the trail along the edge of a rock, and very often getting wheels up. Kris walked over there to check it out, and said it didn’t look too bad for our rigs, but there is a steep step we had to go down first. We took pictures of each other which make it look like nothing, but from my perspective in the passenger seat, it was really steep! Then we started up Grey Mesa, and the trail became super technical and in places it was dangerous.


K walking the next section of trail:







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The step down before the climb out:




Going up the 1st part:




After the initial rough section I’d seen the ATVs on, there was a series of flats followed by steep climbs up narrow rock fins. Near the top of the second such climb there was a bad washout on the outside edge of the track, exactly adjacent to a rock you had to put a tire on so your downside tire wouldn’t slide off a 50 foot cliff. Although there were plenty of challenges ahead, this turned out to be the scariest obstacle of the trip, and it was scary because if you did it wrong you could die.








George spotting Kris through the washed out section:




Looking down from the washed out section:










After we worked out way through the obstacles to the top of Grey Mesa we found ourselves on rolling slick-rock with awesome views of canyons on Lake Powell, and soon we were out of 4-low on a graded dirt road! We passed the Great Bend of the San Juan River, and made our way to the other end of Grey Mesa. Just as the trail started to go down the other side of Grey Mesa we came to a weird optical illusion: the trail appeared to simply drop out of sight! It’s a little drop-off and then just a gradual downhill, but it was breathtaking from the top!




Looking back at the weird optical illusion:




We kept hearing a clunking coming from our passenger rear quarter, so George was out walking alongside when we arrived at ‘The Chute’, which is the one and only obstacle on this trail that gets any mention in the trip reports we read. So I was going to drive to the top of ‘The Chute’ and let him take it from there, but I came to this steep ledge first which really took me by surprise. It’s one of those where in order to see your spotter you have your head down even with the steering wheel, and at the bottom there’s a little bit of undercut so the Jeep slid a little bit just when I thought it was going to touch. Then George checked out ‘The Chute’ and said, “Diane, this is super easy, you’re driving it”. So I drove down ‘The Chute’, and he was right, it was super easy.


Ledge at the top of 'The Chute'




'The Chute'









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I let George take it from there, and I was glad I did. The last part of the trail after ‘The Chute’ is by far the most challenging. The trail follows narrow off-camber rock fins very often through this section. After one particularly narrow fin we came to a steep rocky hill climb with several steps that looked like they’d be easy to loose traction on. There was also one of the steepest drops I’m sure I’ve ever seen. I said words that are unrepeatable here at least ten times as these challenges would appear. And all the way along I’m thinking: “We have to come back over this on the way out”.










By now it was starting to get late in the afternoon and we were looking for places to camp in case the ATV guys were camped at the end of the trail. The clouds were starting to look mighty dark by now too, and I wondered if we were going to camp in the rain. It turned out that the ATV group was camping at “Cheese Camp”, a large flat area surrounded by huge boulders. It was only a couple more miles to the end of the trail, where Cottonwood Camp is located; we hoped it would be big enough for our rigs and nobody was there!


First glimpse of Hole-in-the-Rock:




All of a sudden Hole-in-the-Rock came into view. It’s a spectacular site from the eastern side, unlike the approach from the west. We drove on down to the end of the trail, nobody was there, and there was plenty of room for our 3 rigs. From this camp there is a hiking trail that follows the Mormon track all the way to the lake. George and Kris hiked part of the way and found evidence of the Mormon expedition: a cable used to pull the wagons up and wagon wheel tracks.

Cottonwood Camp




View of Hole-in-the-Rock from Cottonwood Camp:




Pictures from the hiking trail:












The weather was cold that night but it didn’t rain. In fact suddenly we noticed that the clouds were gone and the moon was almost full. The solid rock we camped on was perfect for a campfire after dinner. After a good nights sleep we left camp Sunday morning with a goal of making it back to Hall’s Crossing by nightfall. We weren’t sure we could do it, but we clipped right along, back through all the obstacles of the day before.










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We allowed time for a stop at the bottom of ‘The Chute’ so we could hike to ‘Old Settler Natural Bridge’ which we had seen pictures of while researching the trail. We walked into Ribbon Canyon in the direction of the bridge, but we came to a sharp drop off with no apparent way around. George tried walking over the mountain to see if he could find it to no avail. We did find a series of bathtubs in the rocks, many with water in them, some without. This is where we saw the Triops pictured earlier in this thread.






Back up 'The Chute'








On top of Grey Mesa:














We saw another couple rigs going in while we were on our way out, Kris stopped to chat:








We kept a steady pace throughout the day, stopping only for a quick lunch, and made it back to Hwy 276 way before dark. When we got to Hall’s Crossing we found Maddog with his Jeep on a trailer behind his truck; and the plan was for Kris to tow the military trailer with his WJ. George and I each took a free ‘solar’ shower which was cold but better than nothing. The drive home Monday was long and uneventful, which is good.

All in all it was an outstanding trip with the only downer being Dennis and Mike having to bail. The trail is scenic and fun not to mention there are several side trips we did not do this time, so we’ll probably go back again, and hopefully they can join us then.

Happy Trails!

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best trip report yet D!

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Great write up.

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