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Crack Canyon
Tuesday, April 16
We awoke to a cloudy, somewhat cool morning. The general objective was to continue our journey southward towards the Escalante area, but first, I wanted to explore one of the San Rafael Reef's slot canyons, one that was only a short drive away from our campground.
courtesy JInnes
Breakfast at Temple Mountain
Canine Visitor
After the oatmeals and the noodles and the scrambled breakfast mixes were eaten, we packed up camp and trundled off in our two rental vehicles. We followed a scenic jeep road, one that followed the back edge of a long stretch of tilted strata (that tilted strata being known as the San Rafael Reef). The road is appropriately named "Behind the Reef Road", and can be challenging enough in spots to require a high-clearance 4wd vehicle to navigate.

Fortunately, the slot canyon I was wanting to explore was only a few kilometres south of the Temple Mountain Campground, and along this initial stretch, it is more than passable for 2wd vehicles like our rental Tahoe.
Behind-the-reef Road
Crack Canyon is one of the many little drainages time, rain, gravity and wind have carved through the barrier-like San Rafael Reef. Many of the strata that compose the reef are of materials that are condusive to the formation of narrow slot canyons.

Although myself, Jenn and Brian had visited many slot canyons in our times visiting the desert southwest, most of the rest of our group had not. Since it was so close to our path of travel and therefore easily accessible to us, I figured a quick visit to it would be a fun and excellent introduction.
Starting off towards Crack Canyon
Under solidly-grey skies, we started walking down an old side-track (that looked drivable, actually, at least for the Hatko's Jeep Wrangler), towards the tilted-back tan Navajo walls of the reef. About twenty or thirty minutes of following this old road, half in the wash and half-out, brought us to a point where it became clear where the wash was going to develop into Crack Canyon itself, where the water began to carve through the barrier of solid Navajo Sandstone. On either side, the line of the cliffs bent inward to meet our little drainage. Organic, intricate solution pockets lined the lower walls.
courtesy JInnes
Approaching the Reef
Narrowing Walls
Andrew and Kids
And then right around the next bend to the left, the canyon slotted up. Down near ground level, the water had cut through a slightly harder layer and was now working its way through some softer sandstone, the result being that a near tunnel-like section had formed. Very cool. It wasn't like the near perfectly-round tube shapes of The Subway in Zion, but it was still very nice.
Narrows around the corner
Narrowing and Overhanging
Almost a Tunnel
courtesy JInnes
Tunnel Section, Crack Canyon
Another Tunnel View
Exploring Further Downcanyon
Beyond the tunnel section, the canyon widened slightly but was still only about 20 feet wide at ground level. Then it was back to narrow - very narrow, perhaps only 2-3 feet wide, and with more vertical walls. There were also a few dryfall drops, often formed by big chockstones wedged into the bottom of the narrow passage. They were only about ten-ish feet high, and required a touch of scrambling skill.
Minor Scrambling
Sisters' First Slot
High and Low
We navigated through interesting tight narrows and some interspersed wider areas for about 40 minutes or so, before we made the call to turn around. All I had wanted for the morning was a nice intro to slot canyons, and we'd now had that. Furthermore, I wanted to ensure that we had enough time to comfortably drive the remaining distance to the Escalante area before the end of the day, so that we could start our next adventure in that location the following morning (the entire length of the narrows of Crack Canyon is about 3-ish kilometres, so we had explored perhaps half of that).
The [lower] High Route
A Helping Hand
Heading Back Out
Heading Back Out
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Crack Canyon - click map to view
Back at the cars by 11 a.m., we then drove east through the Reef along Temple Mountain Road, coming out onto the broad flats just north of Goblin Valley. Now back on pavement, our progress was swift, and soon we were heading south towards the small hamlet of Hanksville on Utah State Route 24. The weather continued to be grey and brooding and cool. Off in the distance to south, beyond Hanksville, the remote 11,000 foot+ Henry Mountains were extremely wintery looking, with lots of white on top and a fairly low snow-line (especially for mid April).

Driving down route 24, some roadside cowboys briefly caught our attention, followed by a stop at the underground gas station known as Hollow Mountain in Hanksville (with gas pumps that are still above ground, mind you).
Gen-you-ine Cowboys
Gloomy Henrys
Desert and Snow
Hollow Mountain pit stop
Highway 24 headed straight west from Hanksville, soon crossing through some continuously changing and very pretty desert scenery - the Blue Hills, the stark sentinal of Factory Butte, the grey walls of Caineville Mesa, and finally, the yellow Navajo domes of Capitol Reef. The highway crosses through Capitol Reef National Park here, and we decided to stop at the visitor center and campground area in order to stock up on our water reserves. As has been the case for the past few visits to this central part of Capitol Reef NP, it was a zoo - crowded and stifling. Capitol Reef has, I think, become too popular for its own good - at least in the area immediately near the visitor center.
Capitol Reef Pasture
Escaping the madness of Fruita (Capitol Reef's historic old center), we drove south along Utah 12, up and over a high shoulder of Boulder Mountain. The intensity of the recent cool weather (which seemed to be deteriorating, actually) was hammered home here, as elevation turned the occasional shower into flurries. Over the top, there were high snowbanks and a solid snowpack on either side of the road. Winter was not relinquishing its grip over the high country just yet.

The long descent into the Boulder area got us clear of the snow, although unfortunately it was now raining. There wasn't much to see as we followed the beautifully-paved highway along the hogsback ridge and down and across the Escalante River itself. The Kiva Koffeehouse was unfortunately closed on Tuesdays, so we weren't able to stop for a hipster mid-afternoon break. We soon glided into the little town of Escalante, still with an overcast sky above but at least no rain (for the moment).
The Prospector
We planned to start one of our multi-night backpacking outings the next day, and there were a few odds and ends to pick up, so we stopped at the rustic old grocery store in downtown Escalante for a few minutes.

Next up... where were we going to spend the night? We had generally planned to camp out for at least three or four nights before looking for a motel (and shower).... however, the weather, and indeed the forecast, were not very inviting. A cold drizzle had started again, and the temperature was drifting down into the single digits above freezing. Drifting down along with the temperature was our group's desire to camp outside, either boondocking or at one of the local campgrounds, and when our discussion touched on the topic of staying at a motel, well... the votes for that quickly piled up. We ended up booking rooms at an old stalwart, the Prospector Inn. A big red square block of a building it is, very utilitarian, but reasonably-priced, spacious rooms, and a nice hot shower. Sold.
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