Spring Fling in Utah

Spring Fling in Utah

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I made a pilgrimage. No, not a holy one, but an inspirational one for sure. While the snows of the north cover the mountains of Utah, I traveled south to Canyon Country to enjoy the warm Spring temperatures. The scenic land features canyons, plateaus, buttes, and mesas. This land pops with red and white sandstone rock. The Colorado Plateau is a unique, special place. The warm temperatures and the longer days, offer a perfect time to romp in the desert. 

My family and I traveled in my Land Cruiser 200 Series south on Highway 6. We intersected Interstate 70 and headed west for a short time before continuing south on Highway 24. We paralleled the San Rafael Reef. A massive 70+ mile sandstone reef that was pushed up and toward the sky millions of years ago. A reef, not at the bottom of an ocean but, rather, towering above red rock country in the desert of central Utah. We turned off the highway, aired down, and followed a dirt road around the southern end of the reef. 

“Are we on Mars?” asked my daughter, Lilly. 

“Ahhh, I think you might be right.” My wife, Louise, responded. I wasn’t going to argue. The rock, colors, and landscape appeared stark and void of plant life. It was gorgeous in a strange, eerie way! The land beckoned the traveler to explore and discover the secrets of this arid, desert landscape, and we were doing just that. 

I shifted into 4-low to drive through a rutted, rough spot. In the distance, Louise spotted an old homestead on the bank of the Muddy Creek—the first sign of water for miles. The ranch house was two-stories tall with an enormous fireplace. Abandonment and weathering had taken their toll on the structure, but it stood as a sign of the fortitude and determination of the homesteaders many years ago. We wandered the homestead and noticed that the land was free of debris and absent of relics of the past. Flash floods wash over this and clear the land, which likely forced these ranchers to depart this land for better pastures. 

Land Cruiser Spring Fling in Utah
Crossing the Muddy Creek was uneventful this time.

We crossed the Muddy Creek and continued south until we found ourselves on the eastern slope of Factory Butte. Louise prepared dinner while Lilly and I tried to savor the beauty of this desert land. We climbed into our 23 Zero rooftop tent for a good night’s sleep. 

Factory Butte Spring Fling in Utah - Toyota Land cruiser
Factory Butte at sunset.

The next morning, we ate and then headed east on Highway 24 to meet some friends.  Like many roads in Utah, the meeting spot was ill defined—a small pull off next to the tarmac.  Our friends, Abby, George, and their two children, Cal and Scarlett, were excited to “play” in this red rock landscape. They had brought dirt bikes and four wheelers to drive.  We shifted the Land Cruiser into drive and led them on their dirt bikes and four wheelers down the dirt two-track to Mars. 

In the desert landscape outside of Hanksville, a Mars research station exists. The research station is privately funded to train and educate would-be astronauts. During our first visit, we were greeted by ATVs driven by astronauts in full, white suits. However, on this day, we noticed no one. Abby, Louise, and I hiked through the sandstone and clay towers while the rest of the gang explored the area surrounding the Mars Research Station on two and four wheels. As we hiked, we surveyed the ground for anything unusual.

Mars research station Spring Fling in Utah - Toyota Land cruiser
Mars Research Station from above.

I was on lookout for flint chips. Flint, a natural mineral, was used for making arrowheads, spear heads, and sharp tools. The flint would be hit by a harder rock, such as granite, and flake off on impact. The mistakes or flakes can be found across the southwest. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on our side:  we found nothing. We all returned to the starting point, loaded the bikes and four wheels on the trailer, and continued south. 

The Notom-Bullfrog parallels the reef of Capital Reef National Park. Similar to the San Rafael Reef to the north, this reef extends north-south for some 60 miles. The dirt road was fairly easy to navigate because I aired down my tires using the ARB LINX system to improve the ride and traction. The afternoon sun backlit the sandstone canyons as rooster tails of dust followed us south. We stopped our vehicles at the bottom of the Burr-Trail Switchbacks. This dirt and gravel road ascends the cliff face via switchbacks carved and created by man. The Burr-Trail is an old cattle trail that was used to move cattle to and from different grazing grounds depending on the season. Today, it’s a relatively smooth gravel road that allows the traveler to access the southern portion of the Capital Reef. We drove slowly upward. The road was in great shape, and we made quick work of the seven switchbacks to the top. 

We stopped to enjoy the views of the Henry Mountains and the reef. The Colorado Plateau is a gorgeous land worthy of exploration, whether by vehicle or on foot. The plateau comprises all of southern Utah, parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Our plan for the following day was to explore this majestic land on foot. Entering the small town of Escalante, we felt tired but excited about our next adventure. 

“Where are we hiking today, Mike? Scarlett asked. “How long will the hike be?” 

“There’s a slot canyon which is super picturesque and so fun. But, it’s narrow,” I responded.  With a little apprehension and nervousness, we packed our gear and started our hike to the Red Breaks slot canyon. Slot canyons are synonymous with the Colorado Plateau. Rushing water carves these tight sandstone slots. Flash floods roar down these narrow canyons; water carrying rock and sand acts as a sandpaper to the canyon walls which results in the walls being carved and the canyon deepening—each and every time. They are a hoot to hike in but inclement weather should be a deterrent. Lucky for us, the weather was ideal.  

Spring Fling in Utah - Toyota Land cruiser

slot canyons Spring Fling in Utah - Toyota Land cruiser

We entered the canyon at a wide opening and hiked upward. As we did, the walls began to constrict.  The blue skies faded, becoming more difficult to see. We were in the belly of the beast:  Earth! Cal, Scarlett, and Lilly loved the opportunity to climb and stem the canyon walls.  It truly was a kids’ playground. The adults, on the other hand, remained mindful of the twists and turns of the canyon so we could safely hike our way through. The final stretch was the tightest, and we had to turn our bodies sideways to move through. 

When the canyon opened, we were rewarded with daylight and the warmth of the sun’s rays.  We enjoyed the gorgeous scenery on our hike back to our vehicles. The kids found a large concentration of Moki marbles. For thirty minutes, they tried to find the largest one. Moki marbles are created when iron inside the sandstone rock appears as the softer sandstone is weathered away. The iron gets hammered by the elements over thousands of years and, if lucky, turns into an iron ball. The Moki marbles are protected; so, we looked, played, and left them there for others to enjoy. 

moki marbles Spring Fling in Utah - Toyota Land cruiser
Moki Marbles are a special and unique find in the deserts of Utah.

Louise, Lilly, and I jumped in the Land Cruiser and headed back to payment. Our friends followed us in their own vehicle as “Golden Hour” was hitting the sandstone rock. A warmish glow of yellows, oranges, and reds shined magically all over the landscape. It was a beautiful drive back to Escalante. 

Spring Fling in Utah - Toyota Land cruiser
Golden Hour over the Escalante desert after a long day out on the trail.

Spring is here. Embrace the changing landscape and weather wherever you might travel. Wear shorts and a short sleeve and embrace the warm temperatures. Jump into your Toyota and explore! It can lead you to many wonderful, awe-inspiring places and activities. Enjoy the discoveries! Enjoy the drive. 

Travel Tips

  • Supplies and gas are limited in south-central Utah. Towns such as Hanksville, Boulder, and Escalante offer basic necessities and gas. Go prepared.   
  • Cell phone coverage is spotty.
  • Be mindful of where camping is legal. Bureau of Land Management land abounds and offers numerous places to disperse camp. National Park’s mandate that campers stay in designated campgrounds. 


Spring Fling in Utah - Toyota Land cruiser


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