Member Trip Report



Upper Ticaboo and Bluff Explorations in Utah

February 12-16, 2009

Author and Trip Leader: Bill Priedhorsky - Bio.

Photo Galleries: by Momo Vuyisich - click here, and Tom Claus - click here

Participants: Momo Vuyisich, Melanee Shurter Hand, David Hand, Mary Thompson, Tom Claus, Bill Priedhorsky, Mike Steinzig, Dara McKinney, Karl Buckendahl, Ginger Buckendahl, Larry Cox, Laura Cox, Paula Barclay, Brian Lally, Kathleen Gruetzmacher, Ross Lemons, Roy Michelotti, and Chris Michelotti.

As is our custom, the Los Alamos Mountaineers spent the President’s Day weekend of February, 2009, exploring the archeology and slickrock around Bluff, Utah. This trip has been an annual event since 2003. In past years we have had as many as 45 participants. This year we went with a comfortable party of 18, which nicely divided into two for day hikes, and fit nicely into the Far Out Bunkhouse for potluck dinners. The trip included an exploratory hike in the Ticaboo area on Friday the 13th, day hikes around Bluff on the 14th and 15th, and a scramble up a crack to the mesa top above Bluff on the morning of the 16th. Our hikes were day hikes, spending the evenings warm and comfortable in town; 12 of us stayed in the Recapture Lodge, and 6 in the Far Out Bunkhouse.

The objective of the Ticaboo exploratory hike was to find a route between the two peaks of the Little Rockies (Mount Holmes and Mount Ellsworth), at the southern end of the Henry Mountains, and make our way into the drainage of Ticaboo Canyon. Our hope was to find a route by which llamas could take us to the oasis in upper Ticaboo Canyon, about three miles upstream from Lake Powell, to make a base camp for our May trip. We found a cross-country route through the pass, then edged along the flats below Mt. Ellsworth to a viewpoint and lunch spot just above the north fork of Ticaboo. The route involved ups and down, some steep, over the drainages coming down from the peak, but appeared to be reasonably trafficable for llamas. Momo, Kathleen, and I hiked about 6 miles each way, reaching a slickrock flat that was about 3 miles upstream from our intended camp. We found no signs of human passage despite the obvious route through the pass, which formed a natural funnel for any traffic from the west into the Ticaboo and Four Mile Creek drainages. The country was wonderfully remote and empty. We felt that we were the only people for miles.

Trip leader Bill Priedhorsky in the foreground, with the convoluted slickrock
of the upper Ticaboo country behind. Photo courtesy Momo Vuyisich.

On the return, we cut about 1/4 mile north into Four Mile Creek, and hiked upstream to the pass, past chockstones that would block llama passage. We found permanent water in Four Mile Creek about 1 –1 1/2 miles east of the pass, including a campsite with some signs of past visitation. Despite the llama-suitable route, schedule complications precluded a llama trip this spring, so we will backpack into the oasis from Lake Powell, a 3-mile trip. Our return drive from the trailhead to Bluff took just 2 hours and 20 minutes, driving briskly.

The Bluff trip proper began at 8:30 AM on Saturday the 14th, when the 18 of us converged on the Bunkhouse to divide into day trips. Momo led a party of 12 up the Butler Wash road to two archeological features on Comb Ridge, the Processional Panel and Monarch Cave. These are well-known destinations that are called out in the guidebooks, but still very worth while, with stunning ruins and petroglyphs. The trip to Processional Panel took two tries, because it was easy to misinterpret the description in the guide, taking the party well out of the way and requiring a return almost to wash bottom to try again. But every part of Comb Ridge is an adventure, so the detour was hardly wasted.

A smaller party, including Karl, Ginger, Paula, and Brian, Kathleen, and myself, explored up a small canyon system just west of Cottonwood Wash. We started up the sand dune visible from the highway to take a look at the petroglyph panel. We found a couple of small panels of interesting petroglyphs, but found that evening that we had missed the main show. Our objective was a cowboy trail leading to the mesa top. We explored a long side canyon to the right, well past the point where it became clear that cowboys could not go, at least not with their horses. The canyon narrowed and became extremely brushy, so that we had to crawl under branches. Only two of us went through a wading pool that left us with wet boots for the rest of the day. From the point we could see a ancient Indian (Moki) way out, but a deep pool blocked our way, and we were not ready to wade up to our waist in mid-February. We backed out of the canyon, finding an ancient escape route up a crack and a defensible hiding place near the mouth. From the ledge at the top of the hiding place, we could see a trail on the west side of the canyon that seemed to indicate a way out. Once we started up that trail, we could see the cowboy trail switchbacking up the opposite (east) side. But we continued on our way, and found a Moki route with two sets of steps that took us to the mesa top. We explored a large expanse of slickrock up top, reaching a viewpoint overlooking the west end of Bluff, and returned to the cars via the cowboy route.

Moki stairs led to an slickrock expanse. We were impressed that such massive wildness could be found just three miles from Bluff town, and a mile from the Federal highway.

On our second hiking day, seven of us joined a professional tour of petroglyph art at a site below Cedar Mesa, led by Vaughn Hadenfeldt of Far Out Expeditions. He was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the rock art, and the participants saw much more than we usually discover on our own. For details and rates for Vaughn’s tours, see his web site, www.faroutexpeditions.com.

Elsewhere that same day, two couples went off on their own, one returned home early, and the remaining five hikers set up a hike to explore Saturday’s canyon complex and the lower part of Cottonwood Wash. Kathleen and I hiked one way, and Momo, Tom, and Mary the other, meeting just above the Moki steps out of a side canyon to Cottonwood Wash to trade car keys. Our personal radios were key to making the rendezvous possible. In the Cottonwood drainage, we found a beautiful two-room ruin and a spectacular granary cemented into a promontory point, but missed a great deal also, as Vaughn pointed out later. Once on the top, Kathleen and I found a rock art panel above the Cottonwood tributary, and descended the first day’s Moki steps, but not before hiking too far to the west before the backtracking to the correct drainage. On the way back to the car, we found the main sand dune petroglyph panels, just where they were supposed to be.

Granary cemented into a promontory point in a tributary of Cottonwood Wash.

For our last morning’s adventure, we followed Vaughn’s hint that an apparently vertical crack in the cliffs above Bluff gave passage to the mesa top. Eight of us were left for the last morning, and Tom, Mary, Kathleen, Momo, Dave, and I went up the crack, while Ross and Melanee satisfied themselves with a quick exploration, then hiked up Calf Canyon instead. The route was not trivial, requiring some rope help by the more experienced climbers to get the rest of us to the top. We chimneyed up a 15-foot vertical crack, then sidled sideways through a section narrower than a shoulder width. At the end of the narrow section, we found a 12-foot pile of chockstones blocking the way. The slot was too narrow to change our order of ascent, so Kathleen, at the head of our file, had to lead the move. She led us up the chockrocks with some help from Momo, who was next in line. Once up, the crack turned and shallowed for a straightforward path to the top. A traverse at the edge of the mesa top was a bit exposed, so Tom set up a handline to protect it. The mesa top was directly above “downtown” Bluff, and we enjoyed the view before returning the way we came. A late lunch at the Three Rivers Brew Pub in Farmington was the last official activity of the trip, and we reached home in Los Alamos expeditiously, spending a little under six hours on the road.

Kathleen in the skinny part of an apparently vertical crack in the cliffs
above Bluff town, which leads to the mesa top.

Send your trip reports, comments, updates, and suggestions about this site to
Jan Studebaker

Website Design by Jemez Web Factory