Cedar Mesa Chronicles: Chapter 10 | Thursday – Sunday, November 23-26, 2023
This year for the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend I returned Below the Bears Ears to the canyons of Cedar Mesa like I typically do at this time of the year, so I could explore some new places and maybe revisit some old ones along the way. When I left home early on Thursday morning the weather forecast was not looking that great for Friday into Saturday with our first real winter storm on the way, but I wasn’t too concerned about it since I had plenty of backup hikes in mind that I could go on regardless of what the weather had in store. That turned out to be a good thing since the higher elevations of Cedar Mesas did end up getting some snow and I had to alter my original plans a bit so I could hike into canyons at lower elevations. While Diane would usually join me on this annual trip, this year she was scheduled to work part of the weekend and was unfortunately unable to come with, so I would be flying solo this time.
Final Trails in Natural Bridges National Monument
On Thursday morning I left home and headed straight to Natural Bridges National Monument so I could hike the full Natural Bridges Loop Trail through the park. Although I had hiked the entire loop down in the canyons in two smaller sections over a decade ago, I had never used the connecting trails across the top of the mesa and I wanted to finally complete all the trails in the park since I seem to be on a roll with that these past couple of weekends (Kodachrome Basin State Park & Dead Horse Point State Park). Of course, I could have just hiked the short trails across the top of the mesa and been done in less than an hour, but what fun is that? I wanted to hike the complete loop again through these beautiful canyons since I hadn’t been through parts of them in such a long time and I figured that the place would be pretty quiet on Thanksgiving. With all of the side trips along the way I ended up hiking around 17 miles and didn’t leave the park until just before sunset. It was a great place to spend my Thanksgiving outdoors!
Here’s a view over White Canyon from the Sipapu Trailhead as I started my descent into the canyon. With the incoming storm the sky was mostly overcast all day, but the sun did briefly make an appearance a couple of times.
Walking down the stairs on my way to Sipapu Bridge.
I took a short detour and hiked up Deer Canyon a little ways.
This was one of the few times I would see any blue in the sky all day, so I had to take a photo…
Along the way I stopped to visit a couple rock art and ruin sites, including this large alcove that is covered with handprints.
Shield Bearers Panel
Here’s just a small part of a wall covered with petroglyphs that are hard to see and photograph.
Side Canyon Ruin
Ruin & Stripes
Canyons of Cedar Mesa
Just as the weather forecast had predicted, it was snowing on the higher parts of Cedar Mesa early on Friday morning as I drove across it, so I continued on around the head of Grand Gulch and hiked down Cow Tank Canyon. Although it was raining and snowing all around, this area managed to get missed by the precipitation until later in the afternoon.
Walking down Cow Tank Canyon.
As I neared Grand Gulch the sun came out through a small hole in the clouds and then disappeared just as quickly.
Looking down to the pourover near the mouth of Cow Tank Canyon that prevents easy access into Grand Gulch.
It finally started to rain on me as I neared my Jeep at the end of the hike.
Since there was still plenty of snow on top of Cedar Mesa on Saturday morning I decided to spend the remainder of the weekend hiking and exploring parts of Mule Canyon that I hadn’t been through before, or in a long time.
First Light on The Comb
Cedar Mesa Sunrise
I just love it when warm sunlight strikes colorful sandstone below dark clouds.
Mule Canyon Morning
Exploring ledges of Cedar Mesa.
Looking up at my turnaround point on Saturday afternoon.
Can you spot the ruin below the spire?
Blue Mountain Clouds
A colorful slot and pourover in Mule Canyon.
Icy Island Pool
Here are some of the ruins and rock art that I passed along the way…