After hiking Cottonwood Narrows, I drove south on the dusty road and stopped at Hackberry Canyon, which Michael Kelsey describes in his excellent book, Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau. I parked in a small dirt lot with several other cars, and poked around a bit before finding a way down into the streambed through thick willows. I began by walking west, upstream, through 1-3” of water in a wide, sandy channel through a nice narrows section dotted with cottonwood and box elder over other vegetation that was very lush in most places. Very cool and enjoyable, and just the sort of canyon I always hope to find. The water left a repeating pattern of tiny ripples in the sand across the width of the canyon.
After about 1.5 miles of comfortable hiking through a nice, narrow canyon, the canyon opened up quite a bit and turned north. The riparian area thinned considerably, and was flanked by dry upland benches of sagebrush and cactus. The light-colored sandstone of the narrows was replaced by dun-colored, crumbly rock in the larger canyon beyond. I passed through a barbed-wire fence, and significant cattle impacts were immediately noticeable in the form of increased bare ground, eroded channel, heavily-browsed willows and increased sage brush cover. Cow shit lay everywhere, including a disturbing amount in the stream itself, and deep hoofprints created mucky mires on the banks of the stream. I don't mind cattle grazing where the land is naturally suited to large ungulates, such as on the high plains, but I question whether the benefit of grazing fragile canyon soils is worth the ecological harm it causes. The ranchers undoubtedly see it differently, but nobody could hike this creek and honestly brush aside the obvious negative impacts of domestic livestock grazing.
I continued on north through the wide canyon. Huge canyon walls on both sides hemmed in a jungle of crumbling clay ridges, sandy benches and forests of cottonwood. I kept an eye out for the cabin and arch that Kelsey's book describes, but I did not see either, perhaps because I did not hike far enough upstream. After 3 miles and deteriorating scenery, I turned back. It was getting warm and the mercury showed 79-degrees. Even though there were lots of cottonwoods around, none of them seemed to shade the stream very well, which is where I was walking. This portion of the trail would be much more enjoyable in the early morning or late evening. Overland travel through the cottonwoods was much slower, so I stuck to the wet trail, enjoying the coolness of the water on my legs and feet. Swarms of gnats followed me the entire time, but I didn't encounter any mosquitoes. I enjoyed much of the scenery, but I must admit that the constant aroma of cow pies tended to taint my reverie.
Reaching the narrow section again , I took it slower and enjoyed the shaded eden within the sandstone walls, sitting for a long time on a large rock and watching the shimmer of evening sunlight on the shallow water sliding over the sand rills with a barely audible whisper. I encountered a couple backpacking upstream, and a family of 3 hiking downstream, but otherwise it was empty. What a shocking contrast to the canyons in Zion. Great place. Interestingly, by the time I reached the trailhead at 6:30, the stream that was 1-3” deep when I began was completely dry.
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Page created 12-12-09