Sunday, December  9, 2018
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Halls Creek Narrows Day 3
Capitol Reef NP - April 3
It had been warm and still when we headed off to bed the night before, and we wondered if perhaps the change in weather wouldn't come or maybe wouldn't be all that much of an event.

I woke up in the middle of the night to tighten up my sleeping bag, though, for it had indeed gotten cooler. The tent was also flapping about with the wind, which had definitely kicked up, occasionally delivering an especially big gust. Whenever those gusts happened, I could feel a faint, soft feathery feeling on my face. In the morning I discovered that those little delicate touches were from fine clouds of sand, blown about and shaken off of the tent mesh by strong gusts and down onto us and our stuff. Everything was coated in a fine sand. Most unpleasant.
Starting Early
The cold front had now passed. The high clouds and wind had cleared away as the sun rose, and the air was clear and cool - although not as cold as we had expected. The colors of Grand Gulch and the fold "popped" (as we say in photography parlance) in these beautiful lighting conditions.

After our breakfast came a period of cleaning, where we spent some time shaking the sand out of everything, and then the pack-up in preparation for our hike out. Today was the last day of our backpack, and our simple objective was to walk back up the center of Grand Gulch for about 8 miles, then climb 800 feet up to the Halls Creek Overlook.
Crisp, Beautiful Morning
Grand Gulch and Slickrock
Crossing and re-crossing
We were fairly bundled up as we hiked out of camp shortly after 8am. With the low angle of the sun and the high wall of Big Thompson to our right, we were in the shade for the initial bit of walking. Soon, though, the sun rose high enough to shine its strong April light on us, and the clothes started to come off. The good footpath, flat grade and the slow scroll of the Gulch on either side of us lulled us into a bit of a trance-like march, and the minutes and hours clicked off as we progressed northwards.
courtesy JInnes
The "Airplane Route"
Leopard Lizard
More Crumbly Hoodoos
About half way back from our campsite to Halls Creek Overlook, we looked up to our east, at a steep gully that breached the western wall of Big Thompson Mesa. I had heard of a shorter route, known as the "airplane route" due to its proximity to an old airfield on the mesa top above. This was a trail-less, class 3+ scramble route, and it looked a bit knarly from this angle. I wasn't even sure this was the correct gully, as there are a few such gullies along this stretch of cliff. I spotted the tiny dots of some hikers, though, and that meant that this was probably indeed the route. Definitely careful routefinding required if you want to avoid any technical terrain. Still, this variant cuts off many miles into and out of the Halls Creek Narrows area, should one be interested.
courtesy JInnes
More Crumbly Hoodoos
Easy Hiking
Dry Wash
We encountered a few other hikers coming down south as we made our way back towards the trailhead - more than the entire number of people we had seen in the first two days combined. Let me be clear, though: this area is still very secluded (we're talking about six or seven people at most).

About four hours after starting out from camp, we were nearing the a position directly below Halls Creek Overlook. Sure enough, high above on a slight prominence along the eastern wall of The Gulch, the colored sportswear of a few fellow visitors were visible.
Overlook from below
Halls Creek Overlook-ers
Final Creek Crossing
Soon afterward came the final crossing of Halls Creek and the beginning of the Halls Creek Overlook Trail, which would bring us back up to the rim. We stopped for a final snack break, then shouldered up for the only physically demanding part of the entire backpack, the 800-foot climb up to the Overlook. In comparison to many of the other canyon treks in the southwest, this wasn't really all that much. Accordingly, it didn't really feel all that difficult - simply a beautiful hike up to a beautiful overlook, where our little white Kia was waiting.
Ascending Overlook Trail
Ascending Overlook Trail
Mid-trail overlook
A particularly nice traverse
Backpack complete
Again the easy terrain and trail conditions meant we had completed our journey in short order, arriving shortly before 2pm - five and a half hours from start to finish.

In all, this had been a great backpack for two reasons: one, the narrows of Halls Creek are indeed one of the great, beautiful canyon narrows of the desert southwest, and two, it's a wonderfully secluded area. And on top of that, if you are looking for easy... well, this is an easy outing.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Halls Creek Narrows Day 3 - click map to view

Halls Creek Narrows Day 3 - Hike Data
Start Time:
8:18AM
Start Elevation:
3772ft (1150m) *
End Time:
1:46PM
Max Elevation:
5256ft (1602m) *
Duration:
5h28m
Min Elevation:
3772ft (1150m) *
Distance:
14.4 km (8.95 mi)
End Elevation:
5256ft (1602m) *
Average Speed:
2.6 km/hr (1.6 mph)
* : +/- 75 feet
After a couple of days of backcountry camping, we decided that it might be nice to have an actual picnic table and an outhouse (we don't ask for much). The only place that fit that bill within a reasonable distance of where we were was the first-come, first-serve primitive campground known as Cedar Mesa. It was situated along the Notom-Bullfrog road about thirty minutes north of us. It was also within fairly close driving distance of our next hiking destination.

As the Notom-Bullfrog road runs along the eastern edge of Capitol Reef National Park, it is at times within the boundaries and at other times outside. During one of the outside portions, we did a bit of drone practice, sending the little Mavic Air up and over some of the badlands below the southern tip of beautiful Swap Mesa. We also did a bit of follow-the-car footage. Pretty amazing what this little thing can do.
courtesy JInnes
courtesy JInnes
Notom-Bullfrog Maintenance
Drone practice
Notom-Bullfrog from Air
We put the drone away as we crossed back into Capitol Reef National Park, enjoying the scenic drive north through the low but jagged spine of the Oyster Shell Reef. Presently we arrived at the Cedar-dotted bench that contains the Cedar Mesa Campground.

We had cut it pretty close - we snagged the very last spot in the campground, and there was another car that came by soon after us looking for a spot as well. Although the campground is remote, it only has six sites, and it doesn't take much to fill it up. For reference, we arrived around 3pm on a weekday.
courtesy JInnes
Oyster Shell Reef
Cedar Mesa Campground
Relaxing at campsite
It was so, so relaxing to unpack and set up at Cedar Mesa. It's a quiet place, spacious and clean and dotted with friendly-looking cedar trees. The sun and the air were warm and still. A perfect chill-out place. And a picnic table is a very nice place upon which to spread out maps and plan the next outing.
courtesy JInnes
Cedar Mesa Walk
Before dinner, Brian elected to go for a nap, and Jenn and I decided to do a little walk up the trail that leads up from the back end of the campsite. It leads west, gently climbing up to and into Red Canyon - a drainage that cuts into the Waterpocket Fold in this area. We didn't go much farther than perhaps half a mile, but it was enough to get some nice views back east to the Henry Mountains and also an up-close look at a small drainage eroded into the soft and colorful Chinle Formation.
Interesting Chinle Outcrops
Big Sky, Big Mesa
The Soft Chinle
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