McCloyd, Owl and Fish Canyons 2009
Déjà vu all over again
Standing on the lip of the so-called South Fork of McCloyd canyon, watching our two scouts scramble around the slickrock, seeming like colorful ants looking for their way into a new anthill, I was thankful to the weather gods that it was a cool and cloudy day. We eight watched Ron and Andy, about 500 feet below us, searching for ways to get through a boulder choke that appeared to be the crux of getting to the floor of the main fork of McCloyd. Although the linear distance was at most 400 meters between us, the rustle of the wind prevented any sort of communication. Soon, they turned around and headed back toward the only seam that would get them back to the canyon rim, but we still did not know what they had learned from their reconnoitering. When they got within shouting distance, one of us on the rim shouted down: "Does it go??" Ron, in answer, made a throat slicing motion of his arm across his neck. I knew it was going to be another long day in canyon country ……..
I am not sure we have run out of backpack-able canyons in Southern Utah, but it has been sure feeling that way. When Will suggested we investigate McCloyd Canyon to start a trip, ending up in either Owl or Fish canyons (a place seven of us had been before), I figured anything that might lend a sense of novelty was a good thing, especially since three of us on this outing had been on the first group canyon trip 29 years ago.
After studying Michael Kelsey's Fifth Edition report on McCloyd, and talking with a ranger from the BLM, it sounded as though the most challenging part of the trip would be getting our vehicles down Snow Flat Road. So the plan developed as this: we would backpack down into McCloyd Canyon, spend a layover day looking at all the ruins, of which Moonhouse is the biggest and most famous. On Day 3, we would hopefully find the bypass route around the pouroffs a mile plus downstream of Moonhouse and descend easily to the floor of McCloyd, walking to its mouth with Fish, turning upstream and camping for two nights near water, exploring the Main Fork of Fish on that layover day. Day 5 would involve a hike up Owl, to the confluence of its north and south forks, with another layover day permitting exploring for ruins in its south fork. The final day would involve a climb out of Owl. That was The Plan. But as the line goes in the old Hertz RentaCar commercials: "Ah …… not exactly."
As is becoming increasingly the case, we all came from different directions at different times. Our good friend Barbara decided to spend an extended time period in Southern Utah, and so left Knoxville on the previous Wednesday, driving to Blanding via Chaco Canyon. What I called the Knoxville 5 (Kim, Will, John, Ron and Terri) left Knoxville Friday morning, via three different flight itineraries, headed for Albuquerque. Susie and I left via Toyota Highlander about the same time, headed for Salt Lake and points south. Finally, Sue and Andy left the Austin, TX area on Saturday morning, since they would spend time following the backpack at their new home in Pagosa Springs, CO.
In a "déjà vu all over again" scenario, Susie and I awoke Friday morning, April 24th, to seven inches of fresh snow on our deck and more falling. (Last year, it had snowed the day before we left and we encountered heavy snow near the Continental Divide in SW Montana.) This time there was no question we would be driving through heavy snow as we pulled out of our driveway at 6:25 am. It snowed heavily (near white-out conditions) until we got north of Ennis. Snow tapered off while climbing to the Continental Divide at Raynolds Pass. Back down off the plateau north of Ashton, ID, we descended back into spring. We spent some time kicking off several hundred pounds of frozen slush off the Highlander. Uneventful the remainder of the way, we made it to the REI Coop in Salt Lake by about 2:15 pm. Some more shopping and a bit of wine drinking until about 4:30 pm, at which time we headed north from our motel in Sandy to the Red Iguana on West North Temple in Salt Lake. Susie had been talking about the fish tacos made with Ahi tuna that they serve there for about a month. If you go on a Friday, go very early: the place was packed when we arrived at 5:09. We were seated in about 15 minutes though.
Our original plan had been to get up early Saturday morning, take a nice walk along the Jordan River Greenway, have a leisurely breakfast and then head south for Blanding, where we would meet folks late in the afternoon. When we awoke, it was pouring rain, so we opted to shift to Plan B (NOT the post-coital oral contraceptive). We would have an early breakfast, head south to Moab (on our route) and take an "exercise hike" to a place that had just become known to us because of a new hiking guide I picked up at REI, Corona Arch. Excellent decision. The round trip hike to Corona Arch (not protected, but nevertheless very spectacular) is about 3 miles and worth all the effort it takes, which is not very much. Of course, on a weekend, you will do it with a few dozen of your closest friends……
Leaving Moab, we noticed the wind and storm clouds really picking up, and Susie noted that the forecast had been for periods of high winds. Boy, I'll say. Wind and some rain and dust storms plagued us all the way south to Blanding. We would subsequently learn that both Andy and Sue, and the Knoxville 5 (who had encountered each other in Farmington, NM) had it much worse, with ground blizzards of sand. It really slowed their progress across northeastern AZ. We arrived in Blanding's Gateway Motel at 3:30 pm, greeting Ray (of many many backpacking trips, but not this one: he was just out in the SW, camping and having a good time) and Barbara, who were already there. We unpacked our vehicle, chatted with Barbara and sipped wine, waiting for our friends to show up.
Which they did, about 6 pm. That extended the "social hour," with more wine and beer consumed. It was good to see everyone again. Too long for these good friends. Sometime about 7:30, we decided to head across the street for dinner (poor Ray was starving). The Homestead Steakhouse is where we have eaten the last few times we've been in Blanding. It's food. The service is always a problem, simply because they are not equipped for handling 11 people in a single party, especially when the restaurant is otherwise full, as it was on this Saturday evening.. And of course, there is no beer or anything like it. But like I said, it is food, and it is convenient. We came back about 9 pm or and finished packing and figuring out what time we should leave. I figured it would be a fairly long day tomorrow, and there was no point hanging around Blanding when there were canyons to be hiked, so we decided on 8:30 am.
To view supplemental photos of this trip, go to our TwoHikers SmugMug gallery.
© Roger A. Jenkins, Suzanne A. McDonald,2009, 2016; Photo of dinner © William H. Skelton, 2009