Three days of winter in the desert

Joan started a new schedule that allows us to take many three-day weekends. We get to spend not just one night, but two nights, outside and in the wild places.

These weekend hikes mean a lot to us and our quality of life. It is why we changed careers or working a variety of jobs in my case.

We need our outdoor time. And not just our long hikes. Though the long walks over the years enriched our lives in many ways, being able to live in a place with ready access to backpacking, hiking, skiing, etc. adds immeasurable wealth to our lives.

For us, regular backpacking is not something we enjoy; it is something we need in many ways.

And this past weekend ended up being such a trip.

The weekend we enjoyed is perhaps the quintessential Colorado Plateau backpacking trip for us: Following canyons, scrambling out, walking the rim, and then descending back to the canyon bottom.

We followed a mix of abandoned roads, current jeep tracks, washes, and ancient travel paths in and out of the canyons.

Old dwellings, Rock Images, and other artifacts show how others passed this way before, even in the so-called trail-less areas. The land dictates travel; other people followed these logical travel corridors.

We started our hike later in the afternoon and found a spot at the mouth of the canyon on BLM land. More open and exposed than we usually prefer, but the sunset and the pristine night sky made up for the frost we found in the morning on our shelter.

The following morning we followed a jeep road that is nothing more than the wash a bit improved.  On a winter day, we saw no one on the track.


We crossed over into the park boundary. Though technically a jeep track beyond the gate, the terrain seemed to speak of the scant amount of use this part of the canyon received in recent months or even perhaps years.

With some careful observation, we spotted more signs that this wilderness area once had a thriving community within its canyon walls.

Continuing to follow the jeep road that is more of a wash, we spotted the distinctive arch found in the canyon.

Not far away from the arch, we noticed a promising alcove. Something reached with a little scrambling.

And tucked into the alcove, we found the Ancestral Pueblo dwellings listed in plain sight on the USGS maps.

We enjoyed the solitude and history of this area and then headed back from the arch.

Not far away, we made camp for the evening.  In our shelter that evening, we looked over our map, and some other info we had about a side canyon. If there are loop hikes, and lollipop hikes (a stick and a loop), we’d be making a Tootsie Roll hike – A candy with twisty wrappers on either end. 🙂

We walked through the mouth of the side canyon, collectively took a hunch that there would be cairns on this route to get out of this canyon, and make our way up to an abandoned jeep track on the canyon rim.

The canyon walking started easy enough. An unmarked Ancestral Pueblo dwelling stood out on a south-facing alcove; continued signs of people passing the way where Joan and I walked.

Though faint with age, the artistry of the Rock Images still impresses.

Not long after, we reached the semi-technical route. An occasional cairn leads to the ledges above the canyon.  Joan continues to amaze me with her willingness to better her scrambling skills. And, as I like to remind her, she’s taller than me and will ultimately find the scrambling easier in many cases. 🙂

Each scramble became progressively easier; the topo lines on the map showed less steep terrain ahead. Some deer trails we found only confirmed on the ground what we found stated on the map.

And then, we reached the canyon rim. We could see where we came from earlier in the day.

And we could see where we spent the previous weekend.

Joan is feeling exuberant that we reached the canyon rim.

The abandoned jeep track we found followed a ridge between two canyons from our recent time spent here.

And, as usual, the old jeep track followed a path used for centuries.

We made our way down more efficiently. The abandoned jeep track eventually turning into an old mining road on BLM land, and that road turning into a more recently used road use by climbers with the appropriate vehicle.

The miles went by quickly as we reached the other end of the Tootsie Roll wrapper.

Not far from our waiting vehicle, we enjoyed one last view of that striking winter light on the red rock of the Colorado Plateau.

We reached our car with smiles on our faces.  Our muscles would soon stiffen up a bit, and dinner could not come quickly enough, but we enjoyed another weekend journey in our backyard.

And we would not have it any other way.

BONUS:  Joan demonstrates her interpretive dance technique for drying out a shelter in the winter sun.

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4 years ago

Hey Paul,

Thank you for these gorgeous images! I’m very envious of your life out there.

I’m heading to Taos with some friends in late March – do you have a recommendation (or two!) for day hikes from the area that could please both seasoned hikers (part of our group) and more basic people? Or even good day hikes (say 6-8mi) that we can ditch the basics and just do as seasoned hikers? Never been in the area, so I assume we’d be carrying water, etc.

Cheers – Jake

4 years ago

Thanks Paul! I guessed that it will be snowy (even late March, right?) but hoping to get in *some* of that desert beauty.. I live in the NE 🙂

Cheers – Jake