Stumbling Into Greatness (August Travels Part 2 – Utah)

I spent the second half of August meandering around central Utah, and found myself luckily stumbling into greatness on and near the San Rafael Swell.

Map of Travels

Stumbling Into Greatness

Stumbling Into Greatness

I was traveling west along I-70, just minding my own business, intending to go over to a National Forest further down the road. I saw an area to the north of the interstate that looked interesting. There was a nice plain of grass, and off in the distance, some striking canyon walls lit up in glorious warm oranges and reds.

A great thing about Utah is that almost all of the state is federal land. And you can go almost everywhere. When you see a place that looks good, you can go explore it without having to wonder if you’re allowed to.

Stumbling Into Greatness

I took the next exit and pointed Ranger towards that cool-looking area. I thought I’d go in a few miles and camp for a few days. But, “ahead” just kept looking better and better, so I kept going.

First spot – on the Bluff

Eventually I got up on a bluff, and saw a fun-looking seldom-used side road. There seemed to be a good chance of it going over to the edge of the hill, and having the kind of nice views I like, so I headed down it.

After a few miles, I came to the first established campsite. It was indeed at the edge, with a nice view, but it was occupied. Very occupied. There was an old trailer – beat up, but kept up – and still obviously in use. The resident had, probably over years, build a bunch of very nice rock benches around a fire pit. And there was something going on with cowboy boots, but I can’t remember exactly what. I couldn’t tell if anyone was home. It looked like the kind of camper that is left here year-round.  I headed on down the road to look for my own spot.

A couple miles later, with not a single established spot on the way, I got to the end of the road, and at the last possible place, there was one.  It was out at the narrow tip of the bluff. I parked by one edge and had a good view, but when I wanted a different view, I’d walk the 50 yards over to the opposite edge.

Stumbling Into Greatness

Stumbling Into Greatness

This campsite contained an uncommon improvement – a clock. Someone had built a 15 foot diameter sun dial. And it was accurate. It was off by an hour. Who knows when it was last adjusted for whatever the daylight savings status was at the time. But it needed it now,  so I moved the labeled rocks around by one spot each, and had myself a nice clock

It seems good practice to make a big sun dial, but ironic to build one so far from any place a person needs to know the exact time.

Stumbling Into Greatness

Off a bit in another direction was a curious arrangement of rocks. It made me wonder if there is a body buried underneath. Not like a murder victim that a person needed to get rid of,  but an intentional, planned burial. It probably wasn’t, but who knows. It’d be a pretty good place to be buried. No pictures of that one.

Stumbling Into Greatness

I didn’t see a single sign of another person for the three days I camped here.  No people, no cars. Well – the one thing I could see was some kind of tower that I could spot with binoculars, maybe 50 miles away. There was a road on the other side of the river, but never any traffic. Days later, I tried riding my bike down that road and found out why – it’s really sandy.

I had no internet up here, and I was pretty productive. I think I did a lot of photo editing.


Stumbling Into Greatness





I drove back out to the road and went on an exploratory bike ride continuing further in the direction I was heading to get out here. It crossed the river a few miles later, and traveled through a wonderful canyon (not the one that contains the river). I passed many places to camp along the road in the canyon. So, I headed down there with the van.


In the canyon:

Heading off:

There are a bunch of nice campsites. I stayed in a couple and made my way through the canyon over 4 days.

The river. Indians lived in this area, either over a long period of time, or at a couple different times long apart. They made a LONG panel of rock art on a wall a few miles from this river. If I recall correctly, some of the art is from about two thousand years ago, and some of it is from about one thousand years ago.

The van looks like a tiny little speck out near the center of this picture

I finally actually tried turning my passenger seat around. I’d decided long ago that it wouldn’t work because the bolt pattern is not square. But one day out here I decided to turn it around anyway and see.

It works. Sort of. I have two of the four bolts in. It’s not totally secure. I had to remove the armrest in order to close the door – and that was a good deal of work. Those arm rests are NOT meant to be removed. Many of the bolts were welded in place after assembly. So I had to take out a lot. Even without the armrest, the seatback is in the way of operating the window crank, and rolling the window up or down requires opening the door first.

But, hey, see how cool I look?

I went on a couple bike ride through this canyon – it’s 8 miles like this – all beautiful sandstone walls and glorious green plants. The indian rock-art panel is a third of the way through. How about that – a museum stop on a bike ride out in the middle of nowhere! I didn’t take a picture of the rock art. There are some decent ones here.

This canyon is a perfect place for a bike ride. The road is smooth. The views are spectacular. I had one of the best rides of my life here.




While I was down in here, I recognized a van as it rambled by. It was someone I follow on Instagram. So, while on a bike ride, I saw where they were parked and stopped for a chat. I asked about nearby place – the “little grand canyon” and they confirmed it’s a good place to camp.

I was about out of food and water, so I headed into the nearby small town about 20 miles away, and then went up to the canyon edge.


Little Grand Canyon

And – it was another home run. I’m on a roll!

Stumbling Into Greatness

I like this better than the, uh, big Grand Canyon. You can camp right on the edge. And you can see the river. And there aren’t a bunch of loud people.

Stumbling Into Greatness


Stumbling Into Greatness

There’s good hiking along the edge of the canyon. It appeared pretty easy to walk down to the river, but I didn’t do so.

Stumbling Into Greatness


Stumbling Into Greatness

There was a strong Verizon signal up here. I even watched that one big boxing match. Live!

Stumbling Into Greatness




Here’s some of the Utah disappearing rain. It evaporates before it touches the ground. Seems to happen a LOT out here.




These camp plates are nice. I got them from Kelly Kettle. I like them because they function well as either plates or bowls. So, when I got them, I gave away my plates and bowls and just kept these. The plates are a little bit thin compared to other stainless steel plates/bowls I’ve used. They aren’t flimsy, but they aren’t the most sturdy either. That keeps them light for hiking and stuff I guess.

If you want to buy something from Kelly Kettle  you can get 15% off of anything they sell by using this coupon code I got for you: wild15. Awwww yeah.

They sent me one of their water filters – and I tested it out in Colorado. It works well, and was super handy up where there are lots of streams.

The timing of getting this filter from Sagan was nice. While in Utah, I was planning a trip deep into Escalante, including a 2+ day hike down into a river canyon that has some awesome natural bridges. I was talking to a guy at the info station in town, and I asked him how much water would be in the river. I was asking this to help me decide what type of footwear to bring. He responded “oh yeah, there will be some water in the river, so bring along your water filter and use it there”

I nodded as if that’s why I was asking, and made a mental note that I should probably get one. Then a couple weeks later, someone from Sagan emailed me asking if I wanted one of theirs. Niiice.

I like this thing. It’s small and easy to carry. The tube makes it comfortable to use – a lot more comfortable than some of the other survival water filters where you have to get your face right down by the water. It doesn’t take much  sucking to draw water through the filter and straw, so it’s really easy to use.

It filters out all kinds of nasty stuff – including arsenic, which some of the natural water sources in Utah contain (and if you drink from them without filtering it out, you’ll be in big trouble). As far as I can tell, this filter will make basically any source of water safe to drink.  It’ll be good knowing I have it in the van so that in a some case of dire emergency where I run entirely out of water, I’d have this to make it safe to drink whatever water I can find.  Plus I’ll take it along on some hikes along water sources instead of carrying a ton of water.


Ok – back to Utah

It was hot. It had been hot down in the canyon.  And it was still hot up on the canyon edge. So I searched for higher ground nearby, and found some 50 miles to the west.

Off I went.

And… it was another great place!

This was on the way up – going through the trees – it was getting nice and cool.

On my way up. Going through the trees. Getting nice and cool

And – starting to get up above the trees:

I messed up while moving files around and deleted most of the pictures I took up in this place, so you’ll just have to believe me that it is really nice up there.

I was up above 11,000 feet, and it was cool and crisp. Really hot weather can be draining in the van. Other than relocating, there’s no escaping it. The cool air up here felt super refreshing. Ohhhhhh man it felt good.

And, I had company. Sheep. And a sheep dog!

This dog had a vicious sounding bark from a distance, but then when he came up to me, he was more like “HAAAAYYYYY! What’s up buddy!?”

Sheep can sound odd in the distance. A big pack of them produce a lot of bleating, and it’s in a tone that can sound like people talking loudly.

They were fun to watch. It’s immediately obvious that they are very social animals. They talk to eachother a lot, The little kids call out to another and then run over to them. Groups of of family or friends hang out together. They share some similar body language with us humans.

I hung out up here with the sheep and the wind for 3 or 4 days. Then, I had a couple packages waiting for me to the south. I’d had them mailed to Springdale, the little down at the entrance to Zion, thinking I’d be down there around this time.


I drove straight down to Springdale in one day. And I got the packages. I’d made a huge mistake with one of the shipping addresses, sending a package to SpringVILLE Utah instead of SpringDALE. I had actually been up pretty close to Springville without knowing the package was there, and drove 200 miles south to Springville. The post office had it transferred along for me (which is something I think some/most post offices wouldn’t be willing to do), and it was there for me in Springdale the next morning.

And, it was HOT down there. SO HOT.  I searched around for higher altitude. There are some decent hills north of St George, so I was thinking about going there. But, there was a good deal of smoke rolling into the area. I checked and saw that there was a fire up north – actually also near where I had been. And a lot of smoke was making it down this way.

I didn’t want to sit down in the heat. And I didn’t want to go up higher and still have a bunch of smoke.

The next option was to carry on in my general direction – southwest. For this to work, I’d need to go all the way to the coast, because it’d be even hotter everywhere between Zion and L.A.

So, I pointed ranger southwest. And that was the end of August.


A question

If I made it so people could order prints of any picture on this website, do you think anybody would buy one? I’ve been doing a side project out here in California that I’d like to sell prints to people of. So I’m considering ways to do this, and one of them would be to do it through a different part of this website, but I could use the print-selling capability for the whole site. This blog doesn’t get a lot of traffic (and it’s hard to tell how much is real people vs. bots), so I’m doubting I’d sell any or many. (Other than maybe for the specific type of projects I’m doing, which would be totally different and separate from blog posts like this)








    Oh man your photos have me excited for my trip to Utah and Arizona next week. As for the prints you could look at using SHootProof for your images. The customers can view your galleries right there and then order prints directly, you don’t have to do any work. There is of course a monthly fee for the site but would be offset by print sales easily I would think

    I found your blog yesterday. Love the way you describe your adventures and the photos are amazing. I wish there is a way to subscribe (not sure if I missed that somewhere) so I can get notified when a new post is up.

    About prints. Don’t know if I would buy any. However I would buy a calendar if you offered one with your inspiring photos.

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