Friday, April 22, 2016

Yellow Rock, 5,524', and Lower Hackberry Canyon

Essence: Yellow Rock is a solitary dome comprised of Navajo Sandstone, the most prominent rock formation on the Colorado Plateau. Neo-acrylic splashes, swirls, and snakes of color surpass the normal confines of nature. Slickrock lovers will find an accessible dome free of extraneous rock and rising at a perfect climbing pitch. The short hike has one brief, steep segment before reaching never-ending stone. Lower Hackberry Canyon is peaceful and almost flat. This hike lies within the Paria-Hackberry WSA, a small section of the greater Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM).
Travel: The Lower Hackberry Trailhead is off unpaved Cottonwood Road. It is subject to washouts so check with the GSENM, Big Water Visitor Center before traveling. 4WD is recommended but ask about conditions for 2WD vehicles with good clearance. Cottonwood Road bears north from US 89 and goes past Kodachrome Basin State Park, terminating at Utah State Highway 12 in Cannonville, UT. The turn-off from US 89 is located between Page, AZ and Kanab, UT, three miles north of the Paria Contact Station at mile marker 17.8. Zero-out your trip meter as you make the turn. Pass the boundary for GSENM at 1.3 miles. Stay straight at 1.4 miles. This is open range so cattle are common; we were fortunate to see seven pronghorn. At 6.2 miles the road comes alongside the Paria River. Pass under powerlines at 10.3 miles. At 11.7 miles, avoid the left fork that goes to the Paria Box TH. The road leaves the Paria River and climbs to a small pass separating the Cottonwood Creek and Paria River valleys. Catch a glimpse of Yellow Rock from the pass. The valley is notable for its distinctive weathered sandstone fins. At 14.5 miles, a sign for the Lower Hackberry Trailhead guides you into a dirt lot on the west side of the road in a cottonwood grove. The upper dome is visible from the parking area. No facilities.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.2 miles RT for Yellow Rock with 800 feet of climbing. Hike as far up Lower Hackberry as you wish. We turned around at 1.8 miles after gaining about 100 feet. Our total was 6.8 miles with 900 feet of climbing.
Time: 3:00 to 4:00 for Yellow Rock; time in Hackberry will vary
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; no exposure; carry or treat water
Maps: Calico Peak, UT 7.5 Quad; Trails Illustrated No. 714, Grand Staircase, Paunsaugunt Plateau, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Date Hiked: April 22, 2016
Quote: Color is a power that directly influences the soul. Wassily Kandinsky

Yellow Rock is one big dome of sunny, colorful stone. Kandinsky the painter said, each color lives by its mysterious life. (THW, photo)

Route: Lower Hackberry TH 4,760' is located at the confluence of Cottonwood Creek and Hackberry Creek, three miles upstream of the greater union with the Paria River. Climb Yellow Rock first. Walk down Cottonwood Creek to the first tributary and turn west, down-canyon right. On a good trail, ascend a steep slope going northwest. The path continues to the base of Yellow Rock. The hike described traverses the length of the dome ascending the steeper west ridge. Upon returning to the confluence, walk up Hackberry Creek as far as you wish.

Yellow Rock, 5,524'
Walk southwest downstream in the watercourse or on either bank. Both are troubled with tamarisk thickets. At 0.3 mile, turn right/west into the first side canyon below the trailhead. Find the trail on the left side of the small, steep defile, a major asset in this inhospitable terrain. It soon crosses the dry wash and climbs steeply 200 feet northwest up a loose, rubbly slope, shown. (THW, photo)

At 5,040 feet, stand on a small, lateral divide that looks into Hackberry Canyon at 0.55 mile. The image below looks down on the access slope and the sandstone fins jutting up so weirdly in the Cottonwood Creek valley. (THW, photo)

A few more feet and Yellow Rock rises from the earth as the morning sun. The trail skirts the north side of a craggy reef of pinnacles heading west, shown. This wild protrusion is distinctive and may be seen from multiple points on Yellow Rock. If you decide to scamper all around as we did, use this feature as your landscape marker for finding the return trail. (THW, photo)

The path heads west on a contour along the south side of the dome. Cairns lead onto the rock and a direct route to the summit via the front face. This is the one place we did not explore so I can't describe the climb. On the spot, we decided to traverse the mountain, ascending the steeper west ridge and descending the gentler east ridge. For this route, leave the trail at one mile and cross a low, sandy rise, shown. This leads to a sandstone runout on the south side of the mountain at 1.1 mile.

Colors vary markedly with location on Yellow Rock. There truly are large volumes of Navajo Sandstone bleached a brilliant white. Variations in the type and proportions of precipitated iron oxides result in shades of vermilion, mustard, sunshine yellow, salmon, crimson, peachy cream, apricot, and a muted greyish tan that provides calming relief from the bedazzlement. (THW, photo)

The west face is just steep enough that sticky soles are helpful for the fun friction pitch. There are plenty of features to keep it from getting scary. As the dome rounds off, it is a more typical Navajo Sandstone buff with characteristic polygonal cracks. (THW, photo)

The broad summit features an expansive view of the Paria River dominion. East is Coyote Point and south is the length of The Cockscomb. Hackberry Canyon dominates to the immediate north and Castle Rock, Pt. 6,070', is decidedly alluring, shown. (THW, photo)

West is Molly's Nipple and Pilot Ridge which houses Starlight Arch.

Descend the east ridge close enough to the edge to look into Hackberry Canyon. From this vantage point, see a mighty tower and a massive wall arch you will soon be passing on your creek walk. No surprise, the walls rising up on the other side of the gorge replicate the orange and ocher hues found on Yellow Rock.

Smooth sweeps of rock are impregnated with elegant lines of color. Swarthy rust-colored sandstone transitions to feminine dusky rose, mauve, lilac, and pink. (THW, photo)

Continue down the ridge to a short but unmistakable tower at 2.2 miles. Cut south, taking aim at the reef of pinnacles. There are some exceptionally funky fins in this region.

Rejoin the trail at the reef at 2.6 miles and retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Lower Hackberry Canyon
As you approach the confluence of Cottonwood and Hackberry Creeks, there is a sign directing you left. All it does is cut the corner, saving a few steps but denying you the nexus. Why do it? Just be sure to choose the stream flowing in from the left/west. Wear shoes that can get wet because, try as you might, your feet are going to be submerged.
(THW, photo)

The canyon walls-up and thins. The floor is sandy and flat. The muted hues of immobile walls contrast with fluttering spring-green leaves of cottonwood and maple. Rock meets water in an intertwined performance of grace and might.

Walk under the wall arch seen from above. In another mile, pass by the tower that stands up straight for 150 feet.

The narrows behind us, we turned around in the maroon-red Kayenta Formation, not quite two miles up as the creek makes its bend to the north. Splashing our merry way downstream we reveled in the mysterious colors and powerful forms, blessed to climb the stone mountain and walk the watery way. (THW, photo)

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