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Exploring the Cane Spring Desert & Ticaboo Mesa

Hiking Smith Fork and a South Fork of Ticaboo Creek
Friday – Sunday, November 18-20, 2022

Last week I was having some rare troubles deciding where to go this weekend. I was going back and forth between heading over to the San Rafael Swell or the Labyrinth Rims, but when I couldn’t make up my mind I decided it was time to go somewhere completely new to me and see what I could find. Although I have driven through the small community of Ticaboo only a handful of times, including once earlier this year, I have never actually stopped to hike or explore this area before and thought that this would be a great place to finally check out, especially since I’ve already been exploring the canyons of Trachyte Creek on the other side of the Little Rockies these past couple of years. After work on Friday I headed west into Utah with a quick stop for gas in Hanksville and then drove through the Henry Mountains and found a campsite in the Cane Spring Desert in the dark.

Although it was windy on and off overnight, I slept pretty well and woke up to a 360 degree view of the Henry Mountains, Navajo Mountain and Waterpocket Fold from my campsite when it started getting light out.

Mount Hillers Morning

Mount Ellsworth towers over the Cane Spring Desert.

Mount Ellsworth Morning

I watched the warm light strike nearby Danish Knoll.

Danish Knoll

Before heading over to the trailhead I planned to hike from this morning, I decided to go on a short walk to the summit of Danish Knoll.

Ridge to the Top

Walking along the edge of the summit.

From the Top

Next, I drove over to the trailhead that I planned to use to enter Smith Fork and hiked down into the wash at the bottom of the shallow canyon.

Smith Fork Wash

I hiked downstream as the canyon walls became taller.

Shallow Narrows

Following the rocky path…

Rocky Path

I was a little concerned that I might get stopped quickly by a rockfall in the canyon that I read might be tough to get by, but thankfully it wasn’t too difficult and I was able to hike through most of the good narrows until I finally reached a chockstone that I wasn’t going to climb down today by myself.

Canyon Passage

Even though it was breezy and cold up on top of the mesa, it was calm and comfortable in the canyon which made for excellent hiking.

Smith Fork Narrows I

I had a very enjoyable morning as I walked though the narrows of this lovely canyon and took a lot of photos along the way!

Canyon Lines

Smith Fork Sunstar

Dark Corridor

Canyon Wall Glow

Twisted Canyon

Sunstar Passage


Around The Bend

Smith Fork Narrows II

Smith Fork Narrows III

Smith Fork Narrows IV

Smith Fork Narrows V

Here’s a photo of the rockfall in the canyon when I returned to climb back up it.

Smith Fork Rockfall

Mud Cracks

Mud Cracks

Before returning to my Jeep I hiked out the east side of the canyon and wandered around on the slickrock bench for a while.

Sandstone Sunstar

Since the hike into Smith Fork was quicker than I had anticipated I decided to explore most of the roads of the Cane Spring Desert and then drove over to Bullfrog since I had never been there before. After my visit to Bullfrog I returned to Ticaboo Mesa to explore more backroads of the Ticaboo Mesa Loop until sunset.

Sandstone Fins & Mount Holmes

Fins & Mount Holmes

Lake Powell visible in the distance.

Lake Powell

Ticaboo Mesa Road

Ticaboo Mesa Road

I watched the sunset from the edge of Ticaboo Mesa and then found a campsite nearby afterwards.

Sandstone View II

Mancos Mesa and Uranium Point are on the other side of Glen Canyon.

Sandstone View

Ticaboo Mesa Overlook

Ticaboo Mesa Overlook

Ticaboo Mesa Sunset

Ticaboo Mesa Sunset

Even though it had been pretty windy on the mesa all day, the wind did finally die down after sunset this evening. I had another good night of sleep and was up early on Sunday morning so I could drive over to the Ticaboo Shelf Spring and watch the sunrise on the Little Rockies.

Mount Holmes Morning

Mount Holmes Morning

Mount Holmes Sunrise

Mount Holmes Sunrise

My Jeep parked near Ticaboo Shelf Spring below Mount Ellsworth.

Trailhead Jeep

From the spring I planned to hike down an old cattle trail into a South Fork of the South Fork of Ticaboo Creek. I’ll just refer to it as the South South Fork…

South South Fork

Following the cattle trail into the South South Fork. They really put some work into this one near the bottom!

Cattle Trail

Once I reached the bottom of the canyon I followed some mountain lion tracks downstream until I reached the first main junction and then returned to the upper end of the canyon and hiked as far as I could go.

This was a short little side canyon off the main one. There were a couple of these along the way.

Side Slot

The South South Fork got narrow and very scenic just before the end. The light was looking pretty good, too!

Boulder View

South South Fork Narrows

Upper South South Fork

Upper Fork Pothole

Canyon Twist

Carved Canyon

Golden Canyon Wall

Canyon Colors

After reaching the end I turned around and headed back out of the canyon via the cattle trail and then started my drive back home. It was an amazing weekend exploring this new-to-me area of the Cane Spring Desert and Ticaboo Mesa!

South South Fork Sunstar

>> Cane Spring Desert & Ticaboo Mesa Photo Gallery

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