Road Trip, 9/1 to 10/4/13. Part 3, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico


A Walmart truck passes close by the Virgin River

A Walmart truck passes close by the Virgin River. The Supai Sandstone is seen in the foreground.

In the face of the government shutdown, which had, that day, supposedly closed the National Parks and other federal lands, we nevertheless left California in the direction of  southern Utah. Just after nightfall, we were relieved to find that the BLM-managed Virgin River Gorge Recreation Area campground was still available for our use. Good going BLM! The Virgin is the same river as runs through Zion NP and joins the Colorado River downstream of the Grand Canyon. The walls of the gorge are made up of wildly tilted Grand Canyon rock formations, such as the Kaibab Limestone, and the Supai Sandstone is seen in the vicinity of the campground. Interstate 15 traverses the narrow defile, which is located in extreme northwestern Arizona, part of the so-called Arizona Strip. Because the area had received considerable rain throughout September, new grass and desert flowers were now in evidence. Here is the link to the Virgin River Gorge Flickr set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenrichardmiller/sets/72157636336221356/

It was another story at Zion. Although ordered not to stop or “recreate”, most folks did so anyway.

Notice handed to us at the Zion Entrance Gate

Notice handed to us at the Zion Entrance Gate

At the mouth of the canyon

At the mouth of the canyon

Here is the link to the Zion Flickr set, of a few photos that I took as we drove along: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenrichardmiller/sets/72157636337993824/

Where to go next? Not to Bryce NP or Cedar Breaks NM, or the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, or Paria Canyon/Buckskin Gulch/Coyote Buttes (although we probably could have sneaked-in).

Sign at the north end of the House Rock Valley road

Sign at the north end of the House Rock Valley road, off of Rt. 89

Or Lees Ferry, where the road was barricaded at the turn-off from Rt. 89A. There, Grand Canyon river trip permittees were protesting the loss of their launches, and hanging out in case the government quickly re-opened – which it didn’t.

Grand Staircase/Escalante roadside scenic area sign

Grand Staircase/Escalante roadside scenic area sign

Then, shortly after passing the BLM ranger station on Rt. 89, we came across this pull-out (above), and took the short hike. Here is the link to the Toadstool Flickr set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenrichardmiller/sets/72157636339028196/

The entrance roads to Wahweap Marina, at Lake Powell, were barricaded. You couldn’t even get down to take a swim! The Visitor Center at the dam was closed, and on we went. We passed the Navajo concession at Antelope Canyon, which was, as always, doing land office business, and then noticed a new concession just up the road, offering “adventurous” Antelope Canyon trips. But we didn’t stop. The sign below made us stop, however.

Sign west of Kaibeto, on the Navajo Reservation

Sign west of Kaibeto, on the Navajo Reservation

Then, our thoughts turned to the question of where we would sleeping that night. Navajo NM was out, and we decided for Monument Valley. Mistake! The only entry road to the Tribal Park took you to a new monstrosity – a large hotel called “The View”. It stood at John Ford Point, which looks across at the Mittens. That’s it. You can no longer drive into or camp in the Park. Nor were we thrilled with the ghetto-like campsite at Goulding’s, so it was on to Mexican Hat, on the banks of the San Juan River. I guessed that we could camp at the boat launch there, and indeed we could.

Yellow Evening Primrose alongside the San Juan river at Mexican Hat

Yellow Evening Primrose alongside the San Juan river at Mexican Hat

And what better a place for breakfast than Goosenecks State Park, just a few miles up the road.

Goosenecks State Park, Utah

Kathy prepares breakfast at Goosenecks State Park, Utah

Here’s the link to the Goosenecks Flickr set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenrichardmiller/sets/72157636340262603/

We knew where we were going from there – to go fishing at the San Juan River below Navajo Dam, back home in New Mexico. We would drive east and upstream along the very same river we were looking down at, as we ate breakfast. The San Juan – another river we have run repeatedly – is a tributary of the Colorado River. It has suffered the same fate as Cataract Canyon – to have Lake Powell back up into its canyon. But, with Lake Powell now less than half-full, the lower end of the San Juan canyon, well downstream of the Goosenecks,  is clogged with the silt that was deposited by the river into the upper reaches of the reservoir. It’s a drag.

As we traveled east things got greener and greener, with large expanses of yellow flowers, due to the prodigious amounts of rain that had fallen over the area while we were away. We arrived at Navajo Dam State Park in mid-afternoon, and set up camp at Cottonwood CG. Then, we pulled on our waders and drove the 2 miles to Simon Canyon, where we found no other wade fishermen. It was a warm and beautiful evening. We caught some fish, but they were all small, and probably had been stocked into the river this year. Kathy had good luck with a Midge Cluster in a midge-collecting eddy.

San Juan River at Simon Canyon

San Juan River at Simon Canyon

The next day we fished at Frustration Point, where we found too many other fishermen, but bigger fish. One foursome of two middle-aged couples was outfitted with expensive clothing and waders that appeared to never have been worn before. One of the men, with his non-fishing wife at his side, stood in the very same position for a number of hours, drifting his flies, time and time again, through a piece of water close below his knees. Maybe he was trying to catch “shuffled” fish. Who knows?

Aside: Meanwhile, the Dep’t. of Game and Fish continues its program of improvements, intended both to create more habitat and (as I was told) to make the river easier to access. Evidence of the latter is the newly bulldozed path to Frustration Point. According to my source, the increasing number of older fishermen don’t want to be made to work too hard to get to the water. I’ve spoken out before about how the river is being turned into an over-engineered and increasingly artificial-looking amusement park, and got a lot of grief for doing so. Well, at the risk of getting more grief, I’m doing so again. I want to see the river retain a natural look and feel, as it was when I first got to know it (sometime in the late 1970s). It’s was (and is, still, in places) a wonderful nature reserve, with beaver, muskrats, songbirds, great blue herons, eagles, ospreys, wild turkey, deer, gulls, coyotes, Canada geese, ducks, swallows, killdeer, garter snakes and other animals. A significant part of the pleasure I have derived from visits to the San Juan has had nothing to do with how many fish I catch. It’s all the rest of it, and that should not be jeopardized by continued development. My idea of parks is that they are places where nature rules, and very little changes, from one visit to the next. Everywhere else, outside the parks, development and change rules, and it is usually change for the worse. The San Juan River should remain a habitat for more than rainbow trout (and over-dressed duffers).

I moved upstream past the stationary fisherman and wife to Baetis Bend, and would you believe it … a Baetis hatch began. Soon the fish were  feeding actively on the surface and, while not pushovers, I managed to fool a few. Because of the low water conditions, I could see the trout come up and go down. I could see the trout when they appeared to take my fly, but weren’t there when I lifted my rod. It was a real show, and what one looks very much forward to when contemplating fishing the San Juan. Then the hatch ended, and we left. The last piece of good luck we encountered on our trip was that a Subway had opened in Chama.

About believesteve

I am a photographer and have published a book of photography and accompanying text on running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The first (print) edition is out of print, but a second edition is available as an iBook (eBook) through the iTunes bookstore. All Grand Canyon, river and nature lovers will enjoy my book: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-grand/id672492447?ls=1
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