Sunday, July 17, 2011

2011 - March 30th - Lipan Wash, North Fruita Desert & Sunset In Fruita

I was looking to explore somewhere a bit different. And in a related story, I love waterfalls. There is a waterfall that appears intermittently on maps along the Lipan Wash which cuts out of the Book Cliffs, north of the Grand Valley. Some maps have it, some do not. Most maps admit, however, that Lipan Wash is dry. This scenario fascinated me.

It was a Wednesday in late March and the last day of my weekend.  It was already late afternoon by the time I ventured out.  I planned on hiking "in" to the trail as opposed to finding a trail head as it seemed quite distant from the stretch of trail I wished to explore.  What I didn't realize is that it would take me a lot longer than I had planned to actually get there.

I drove to Fruita and then made my way north on 17.5 Road.  You'll find that the roads 'round these parts have strange names like F 1/4 and 25 3/8.  Once into the North Fruita Desert Special Recreation Management Area (Bureau Of Land Management Land), I spurred off onto Q.5 Road, which closely follows Lipan Wash across the desert to the Book Cliffs.  The road, however, is not for the tame at heart.  While most roads in the desert are graded and gravel, this road is comprised mainly of dried clays which seem to shape themselves like peculiarly globular "art".  This is not a road for a low-clearance vehicle.  Der Schploder seemed to handle the road fine, however, though I had to take it slow.

It took me a considerable amount of time to approach the Book Cliffs and still, I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to get down to the trail.  I passed cows and several gas wells and eventually got into the Piñon and Juniper scrub.  I found a campsite and realized that though I was closer to where I wanted to hike, it would be difficult to "hike in" to the trail.  So, I backtracked a bit and parked on the road where it seemed closest to the wash and with as few obstacles in the way as possible.

It was already 4:30PM by the time I stepped over the long-dormant electric fence and began to walk carefully, cross-country down toward the wash.  The ground was mostly covered in grass, cactus and cow patties.  I crested a hill and began to descend down into Lipan Wash.  The light was very nice for a moment, so I captured an image.

Lipan Wash
As I descended into the wash, I spooked five or six deer on the other side.  Their escape was quite loud and caused broken shale to slide down into the wash, making a further racket.

I was hoping to find water in the wash, but found it scarcely moist and mostly comprised of dried salts.  I followed the wash upstream as it meandered deeply through a much wider drainage.  Here and there, another wash would join it.

After a while, I noticed that a BLM trail actually met the wash; part of the original trail that I had wished to find.  It spent some time following the wash, but at times cut it off at several of the meanders.  It was mostly single-track trail and seemed to be lightly used by cyclists.  There seemed to be more tire tracks than foot prints.  
As I continued, I found many areas of exposed coal along the walls of the wash.  Occasionally, the vein would be quite thick and in several areas, an entire hillside of coal had eroded and slid into the wash itself.  The slightest vibration would set it rolling and sliding, making a soft noise that is hard to explain.  

As the was approached the Book Cliffs, the surroundings began to tighten.  Turning a tight corner, I came upon a small  arch hidden in the eroded bank, which I took a fancy to for a while, freshly off my arch-hunting adventures in Utah.

In all honesty, I wasn't too ambitious with this hike.  And as the wash tightened and I reached the very dry waterfall, I was a little bit disappointed.  Though there was a little bit of moisture seeping through the rock, the appearance of the area lead to the idea that it was hard to see a large amount of water move through the area at any time of the year, save for perhaps a flash flood.  
Lipan Wash "Waterfall"
What was interesting, however, was that there was a rope that lead up this dry waterfall.  Ignoring my waterfall mishap in No Thoroughfare Canyon a few weeks prior, I set my tripod down and saw about giving it a good climb.

I've never been one to consider myself adept at climbing and my technique was probably horrible, but I managed to climb up the dry waterfall with most of my gear attached without dying.  I still consider this an incredible feat.  
The view down...
Unfortunately, as I looked down, admiring my achievement, I realized I felt much less comfortable about the trip back down.   And by much less comfortable, I mean to say that I did not feel safe climbing down.  It was starting to get late and I didn't want to continue any farther, so I knew it was time to turn back.  I glanced around the area for a while and realized I might have a route if I were to follow the northern canyon wall.  So, I did this for a while and found a little gully that gave me a decent opportunity to descend without injury. 

 Looking back toward the "falls"

As I reached the bottom of the wash, I realized that I had left my tripod at the base of the dry waterfall, so I backtracked and picked it up, taking advantage of the lower light angle.  

It was time for me to return, so I continued back down the wash, taking a moment at the "arch" area to take a few photos. 

Interesting Erosive Features

Continuing on, I made good time, minus the fact that my shoes liked to fill up with the loose gravel from the wash.  
One of the many areas of exposed coal.

Another dry waterfall.

 Coal close-up

As I made it to an area that was a little more wide open, I noticed that the skies began to darken a bit.  

... but it was just a thick wave cloud that had set up.  Eventually and without further excitement, I reached my exit point from the wash and hiked back up to my vehicle.  The area afforded me a nice view to the west where distantly, someone was burning something.

I drove the long and treacherous road back to the nicer gravel road just as the light of sunset was beginning to peek through.  Wave clouds of various shapes and sizes were setup in the surrounding area.

I presumed that the colors of sunset were over, but as I made it back to civilization, the sky lit up.  I frantically drove around the west side of Fruita to find a good vantage and ended up in a truck stop parking lot, but sometimes you just have to drop what you're doing and shoot... and it was certainly worth it. 


Best sunset I've seen on the Western Slope.

Though a little disappointing, the hike was nice.  It's always good to get out and get some exercise, breathe some fresh air and explore some place new.  The sunset was certainly a bonus! 

I find it interesting that there are several waterfalls listed on maps out here that are quite dry (seemingly year-round) and several waterfalls that are quite wet (seemingly year-round) that aren't on maps.  I've made it a point to clarify all of the examples that I can.

Map of the hike: 


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