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Hondu Country: Upper Muddy Creek Gorge

Tomsich Butte to Poor Canyon, Road Hollow to Fix-It Pass & Slipper Arch
Friday & Saturday, May 1-2, 2020

I was originally supposed to be in the San Rafael Swell this weekend for an event that was cancelled due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, but since most of Utah, including Emery County, was open to camping again I decided to still head into the Swell so I could spend Saturday hiking and exploring more of the Muddy Creek Wilderness. I’ve gone on a couple of great trips along the Muddy Creek over the past few years and have been looking forward to getting back there again. This time I planned to hike into the Upper Gorge of Muddy Creek from Tomsich Butte and then continue into Poor Canyon as far as I could go. I was hoping that Poor Canyon would share some of the same amazing features that the forks of Chimney Canyon do, and I wasn’t disappointed!

It looked like there was rain in the distance as I drove down from The Big Ridge into Hondu Country.

Rain in the Distance

I left right after work on Friday afternoon and headed west to the San Rafael Swell, driving through some pretty strong winds that are common this time of the year on the Colorado Plateau. As soon as I got off the interstate at the Temple Mountain Road exit I noticed that there were a lot of campsites located along the roads in this area, but thankfully they seemed to thin out the further away I got. I drove over The Big Ridge and then descended into Hondu Country near Tomsich Butte where I found a campsite for the night across from The Hondu. It was actually very close to the spot I camped last year with my friend Chris the night before we floated through the Chute of Muddy Creek. There were a number of groups already camped in the area since it’s usually a pretty popular place, but everyone was pretty well spread out and kept their distance from each other. The evening light and clouds were looking nice when I arrived, so I went for an evening hike along Muddy Creek to take a few photos before sunset.

I liked the different layers of light and stone in this shot of Tomsich Butte from camp.

Tomsich Butte Layers

An evening stroll along Muddy Creek.

Muddy Creek Evening

I climbed up to the top of this little mesa for a higher vantage point of the surrounding area.

An Evening Along Muddy Creek

There was a nice view over Muddy Creek from the other end of the mesa.

Above Muddy Creek

Swell Layers

Swell Layers

I returned back to camp shortly before sunset to get ready for an early start on Saturday morning.

An Evening in Hondu Country

Here’s one last view of The Hondu before it got dark out and I tried to get to sleep.

The Hondu


Upper Muddy Creek Gorge & Poor Canyon

I didn’t sleep very well overnight. The temperature out was pretty warm for much of the night and there were quite a few strong gusts of wind that kept me up. It kind of reminded me of last year when we camped here and the wind had picked up during the middle of the night and didn’t let up until morning. I got up early on Saturday morning so I could get started hiking before sunrise and beat the heat later in the day. I drove a short distance over to the trailhead and started hiking up Muddy Creek towards Poor Canyon about a half hour before sunrise. The first part of the hike follows an old mining road, so I made good time.

Sunrise was looking promising as I was hiking along the old mining track, so I climbed up to the top of a small ridge to watch it. Of course, by the time I reached the top many of the clouds had quickly disappeared.

Morning Ridge

There were a few clouds left in the sky looking the opposite direction, though.

Morning View

I waited around on the ridge for a little while, but the sunrise turned out to be a bust, so I continued hiking deeper into the gorge.

Canyon Point

The sun finally made an appearance as I followed faint animal trails along the bank of Muddy Creek.

Muddy Creek Morning

Morning along Muddy Creek

Walking Along Muddy Creek

The Morning Muddy

I found this old inscription along the creek. C. Ivie 94

C. Ivie 94

Soon I found myself at the mouth of Poor Canyon and left Muddy Creek to start hiking up this large tributary. This big wall of tafoni caught my attention.

Holy Wall

Initially, I wasn’t that impressed with Poor Canyon as I first started hiking up it, but after a few short bends I turned a corner and came across this scene. I just stopped in my tracks and said WOW! This is what I came looking for! I was pretty much in awe for the remainder of the hike in the canyon.

Poor Canyon

There was a lot of tafoni and salt stained walls in this part of the canyon which reminded me of Chimney Canyon, just as I had hoped.

Tafoni Canyon

Poor Canyon is rich in beauty.

Canyon Scenery

There was even a short section of short narrows to hike through.

Low Narrows

Canyon Walking

Up Canyon

After hiking through the narrows the canyon opened up and really reminded me of Chimney Canyon.

Poor Sunstar

Of course, once the canyon opened up the wash became much more sandy which wasn’t as fun to hike through, but the scenery made up for it.

Canyon Clouds

I climbed up to the saddle of a bend in the canyon for this view of upper Poor Canyon. This seemed like a good place to turn around since it looked like I wouldn’t be able to go much further anyway.

Upper Poor Canyon Overlook

Hiking back down Poor Canyon. It was starting to get a bit warmer out by this time.

Hiking back down Poor Canyon

Through the narrows on the way back.

Poor Canyon Narrows

Narrows View

I loved the clouds over this canyon wall covered in tafoni.

Tafoni Wall

Although I saw plenty of smaller holes among the tafoni in the canyon walls, this was probably the only one I saw that was large enough to be classified as an actual arch, if you can spot it in this photo…

Poor Canyon Arch

Before leaving Poor Canyon, I climbed up to a large alcove in the lower portion of the canyon that I had skipped on my way in.

Alcove Entrance

I stopped for a break in the shade of the alcove before heading back out into the heat.

Big Alcove

Poor Canyon Alcove

This is a view of the canyon from inside the alcove.

Alcove View

Canyon Corner

Canyon Corner

Leaving Poor Canyon and returning to the Muddy Creek Gorge.

Leaving Poor Canyon

Hiking through the Upper Muddy Creek Gorge on my way back to Tomsich Butte.

Upper Muddy Creek Gorge

A beautiful setting for this little old cabin.

Little Cabin


Road Hollow to Fix-It Pass & Slipper Arch

I returned to my Jeep by 11:30am and still had plenty of daylight left to explore more of the San Rafael Swell. Since it was pretty warm out by now I didn’t really feel like going on a hike, so I thought I’d do a little exploring with my Jeep for a change. These days it’s not that often that I head out just to drive trails in my Jeep anymore, so I thought that might be fun for a change of pace. Although I’ve driven many of the 4×4 roads in the Swell before, Fix-It Pass is one of them that had eluded me. Plus, I’d still never made it over to Slipper Arch in the North Fork of Coal Wash before, so I though that would make a good destination this afternoon. Instead of returning north the way I had come, I took the scenic route through Reds Canyon on the way back to I-70. Once I reached the Temple Mountain Road exit again, I crossed under the Interstate and followed Road Hollow to Oil Well Flat and then to Fix-It Pass.

Following the road through Road Hollow. Apparently, this was one of the first roads that crossed the San Rafael Swell from east to west.

Road Hollow

Passing below Round Knoll (6,254).

Round Knoll

Driving into an oncoming storm.

Driving Into The Storm

Dark storm clouds over Oil Well Flat.

Oil Well Flat

Devils Monument & Joe and His Dog came into view as I entered the upper reaches of Saddle Horse Canyon.

Devils Monument & Joe and His Dog

My Jeep at the top of Fix-It Pass.

Fix-It Pass

Coming down from Fix-It Pass. I believe this used to be the toughest section of the road in the past, but it was apparently repaired and improved last year sometime. When I got out of my Jeep to scout the road and take this photo, thunder erupted from the sky and echoed off the canyon walls. I quickly got back in my Jeep and finished the drive down from the pass before the storm was on top of me.

Coming Down Fix-It Pass

It started to rain pretty hard when I first arrived at Slipper Arch, so I waited out the storm and was finally able to get a shot of this massive arch when the rain stopped.

Slipper Arch

Leaving the North Fork of Coal Wash on my way back home. It had been a nice day in the Swell!

North Fork of Coal Wash

>> Upper Muddy Creek Gorge & Poor Canyon Photo Gallery

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