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Johnson Canyon & Johnson Arch

We have an embarrassment of hiking riches here in St. George. It really is ridiculous, the things you can see and visit in a very short time. Today was a perfect example of this. After picking up my eldest daughter from school, we swung by the Johnson Canyon trail. This short (1.85 miles round trip) trail is perfect for kids or when pressed for time, and today it was just the right thing for our family.

Just outside of Snow Canyon State Park (and the fee area), the trail heads east through a substantial lava flow. The trail winds through the black outcrops of rock and sagebrush with little elevation gain. It eventually passes by a deep wash lined with Cottonwood and Willow before winding around the western toe of the canyon.

One nice surprise of this trail is the spring that trickles down at the bottom of the wash. In a notoriously dry area, it is delightful to hear and see (barely) running water. That might be the one thing I really miss (besides friends and family) about the Northwest: the sound and sight of flowing water. Sure, there is the Virgin river and there are some nice streams up in the mountains, but nothing on the scale of the rivers I am used to.

After entering the small canyon, Johnson Arch is reached after a quarter mile or so. A big, hulking arch with a 200′ span, it is almost a shock to see one that big — and it is in city limits too! How many towns can boast about that? Not many.

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The trail continues on for a few hundred more yards and terminates in a glorious box canyon with sheer, 300′ walls. This is actually my favorite part of the canyon. Its a great place to test out your echo skills. I find it very peaceful in there, and could just sit and meditate there for a long, long time.

We headed back to the car, stopping at a big rock to practice our bouldering skills and talk to a nice older couple we had seen on the trail. The whole hike, car to car, took less than an hour, and was a perfect way to top off a full day.

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St George, Utah: World Class Outdoor Venue

I have been very blessed to live where I have throughout my life: The Santa Cruz area in California, Southern Oregon, Bellingham, Washington, Ogden in Northern Utah and now St. George in SW Utah. Each of those places had amazing outdoor opportunities and spectacular scenery, and each has a special place in my heart. But I have to say, after just a couple of months living in this far corner of Utah, that St. George takes the top spot for outdoor recreation opportunities. And that isn’t meant to detract from the other places, but here in the desert the combination of diverse terrain, massive volume of developed trails, rock climbing areas, wilderness and near-perfect weather makes my new home truly epic and indeed, world-class for outdoor enthusiasts.

Let’s take a look at why this place is so special.

1. Hiking

When I first came to Southern Utah back in 2011, I was immediately impressed by the sheer volume of trails I saw on the way to Zion. Before we moved here, I did a lot of research on places to explore, and knew that I was moving into territory that was unparalleled in hiking opportunities. Here are a few examples of why St. George is a hiker’s paradise:

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve: This 62,000 acre reserve was set aside primarily to help protect the endangered Mojave Desert Tortoise, but is also a hugely popular outdoor recreation area, with not only miles of hiking trails, but also mountain biking trails, rock climbing areas, Native American archaeological sites and even dinosaur tracks!

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Snow Canyon State Park: There is a saying that if it wasn’t for St. George’s proximity to Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon National Parks, this park would probably be a national park. Instead, it is “just” a state park, but what a beauty it is: Sandstone cliffs close to one thousand feet high, a pallet of colors that dazzle the eyes, miles of hiking trails, caves, rock climbing, canyons and more. I am particularly fortunate to live less no more than a quarter mile from its eastern border.

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Pine Valley Mountains: St. George is not all desert, either. About ten miles north of town, the Pine Valley mountains rise up to 10,000 feet and provide a cool refuge from the desert heat. With a completely different environment than the red rocks and mesas below, there are large grassy meadows, forests of pine and fir and beautiful little mountain streams in this large wilderness area (one of the largest in Utah.) The trails up here are a stark contrast to what you will find in the lowlands below.

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Zion National Park: A short 45 minute drive from town, this national park, one of the crown jewels of the national park system, also provides an amazing, vast playground for hikers (not to mention climbers and canyoneers.) Probably my very favorite spot in this world. There are trails that run from serious and slightly scary (Angel’s Landing) to long and adventurous (West Rim trail) to easy (The Narrows.) There is something for everyone here.

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These are just some of the general areas in and around town. There are also numerous trails that aren’t part of the wilderness, state or national parks system. I have been speculating that there are so many trails here that you could hike every day for a year and not have to drive more than 20 miles without repeating a single hike.

2. Rock Climbing:

According to Mountain Project.com, there are at least 26 distinct areas with 637 routes in the area right around St. George (Zion not included.) These areas provide a wide range of climbing options from trad (traditional) climbing, sport climbing and bouldering. You can climb on sandstone, limestone and basalt here. The routes vary from short bouldering problems to multi-pitch trad routes. With so much to choose from, most places (except perhaps Chuckwalla and Black Rocks) are crowd-free and pristine.

3. Mountaineering

There aren’t a lot of really big, alpine mountains around here, but the Pine Valley Mountains do have a nice selection of hiking peaks such as Gardner Mountain and Signal Peak (the apex of the Pine Valleys at 10,365′.) There is also West Peak in the Beaver Dam mountains, Scrub Peak, Moapa Peak (in Nevada) and Mt. Bangs (in Arizona.) It is also only half a day’s drive to bigger mountains in Utah, Nevada and California.

4. Canyoneering

Utah is world-renowned for its canyoneering, and rightly so. There are numerous slot canyons in the immediate area, ranging from easy family hikes to epic, super-technical horror-shows. I haven’t had an opportunity yet to do more technical routes, but have explored a few of the easier slots in the area, such as the Narrows (the local Narrows, not the Zion Narrows) and the Red Reef slot.

5. Mountain Biking

I’m not a mountain biker (yet), but St. George is truly one of the epicenters of the mountain biking world. There are so many dedicated mountain biking trails that it deserves an article of its own. Places like Gooseberry Mesa, the Jem trail, the Zen trail are well known in the MB community, and committed cyclists come from far and wide to test themselves on these trails. The Red Bull Rampage, one of the most extreme and mind-blowing competitions on the professional circuit, is held in the nearby town of Virgin.

6. Other assorted outdoor adventures

The swimming is great here. We have gone to both Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs (both Utah state parks) and while Quail Creek has incredibly warm water, myself and my family really prefer Sand Hollow. The water is much more clear and there are lots of interesting spots to explore, like an island within easy swimming distance and a cliff with deep water for thrill seekers.

St. George also has a vibrant skim boarding community. The Virgin river is particularly suited for this sport, since it runs flat and wide.

One of the places I am most eager to explore is the Bloomington Cave. The largest tectonic cave in Utah, this spelunkers delight has six levels, a labyrinth of rooms and passages and is almost a mile and a half in length.

Despite being the warmest spot in Utah, there is also excellent winter skiing available at Brian Head Ski Resort, an hour and a half drive from St. George. Brian Head is the highest elevation ski resort in Utah and has a wide selection of runs to choose from.

There is also whitewater opportunities in the Virgin river, but generally this will only happen after a modest rainfall.

As an outdoor adventurer I am completely under the spell of this magical area. So much to choose from, and with weather that is sunny for over three hundred days per year (and with a year-round average high temperature of 70 degrees), the opportunities to get outside and explore are almost limitless. I have been here less than three months and have already climbed and hiked more than in the previous two years (of course this has more to do with being a full time college student than anything else.)

I am eagerly looking forward to more.

A New Life (in the Desert)

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On August 5, my family and I departed our longtime home of Roseburg, Oregon, and headed south in our RV (piloted by yours truly) and small Honda (with Brook and our two youngest kids.) Over the next couple of days, we drove over 1000 miles and arrived at our new home in St. George, Utah in the afternoon of August 7. Our first month here was a stressful one. It had cost us significantly more in gas to get here than we were anticipating, and we had come here with a tight budget that allowed no room for miscalculation, so we didn’t have enough for a month of rent at the KOA when we got here. We quickly found jobs, but had to depend on the kindness of friends to avoid having to spend time living in the parking lot of a Walmart. Eventually we found a spot to park our RV at the home of a guy named Terry, and that is where we are now.

Both Brook and I have jobs we really like, in fact, I have three jobs right now: working as a baker at Paradise Cafe & Bakery, a hiking guide with Desert Cliffs Fitness and as a free lance photographer. Brook works as a teacher’s aide at the Dixie Montessori charter school, and our two youngest kids attend this same school. It is so refreshing to come from a town with pretty bad unemployment to a city where the job market is booming.

Since arriving in St. George, I have gotten into the outdoors well over 30 times. I have gone rock climbing, mountaineering and hiking (not to mention swimming) more than I have in the past two years. And I have barely touched all the amazing hikes within and surrounding St. George. This place is truly a world-class outdoor adventure arena. There are hundreds, if not thousands of rock routes within 30 miles, trails branch out everywhere and the terrain is incredibly diverse. For rock climbing there are areas composed of sandstone, basalt, limestone and even granite. There are flat trails, steep death scrambles and everything in between for hiking. There are multiple large arches in the immediate vicinity of town. I haven’t even mentioned that this place is one of the absolute best places in the United States to mountain bike (since I haven’t gone mountain biking — yet.) The world-famous Red Bull Rampage is held yearly in nearby Virgin, Utah. Oh, and this is also a great place to go skim boarding. The Virgin river is ideal for the sport since it tends to run wide, flat and shallow.

There really is an seemingly endless amount of outdoor recreational opportunities here. You could go to a different place every day for a year and still not have to drive further than 20 miles from the city center. Epic.

Some of the places I have hiked and climbed these past 10 weeks:

Hiked the Padre Canyon trail three times (twice with clients) in Snow Canyon State Park

Explored Pioneer Park on numerous occasions

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Scrambled through the narrows (at Pioneer Park) several times

Rock climbed at Soul Asylum, Prophesy Wall, Kelly’s Rock (at the Woodbury Road crags), and Snow Canyon.

Hiked part of the Red Reef trail

Hiked up Shinobe Kibe, a mesa and sacred site

Hiked most of the way up the Gunsight route on Red Mountain

Hiked the larger, northern cinder cone (twice) of the Santa Clara volcano

Walked a large (10 mile) loop combining the Gardner Peak, Canal, Forsyth, and Whipple trails

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Climbed the sub-summit of Gardner Peak

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Hiked up to 9,200 feet on the Oak Grove trail

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Hiked a part of the Gila trail

Hiked a large (14 mile) loop combining the Chuckawalla, Beck Hill, Scout Cave, Johnson Canyon and Paradise Rim trails. Oh, and saw this desert tortoise:

photo courtesy of John Kemp

photo courtesy of John Kemp

Explored the undesignated recreation area behind our home numerous times

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Swam in Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs

Went to Zion National Park

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There is a lot to do here in St. George and I am not even writing about all the other amazing things to do and see in this fabulous city that aren’t outdoor centered. We love it here. It was hard at first but now that we have some stability this town and area has really become home. The people are really nice, the weather is fabulous (St. George and the vicinity averages about 300+ days of sunshine per year), and it is a great place to raise kids.

In the days to come, I will start writing about individual adventures in more detail.

 

 

 

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Alpinedon (and family) having a fundraiser

Hello dear readers. As some of you may know, we are moving to St. George, Utah in about 12 days. Unfortunately, due to complications with our RV and our car, we are a little short of the funding necessary to get there fully prepared, so we decided to do a short term GoFundMe campaign to try and make up the difference. We are trying to raise about $600 to cover that gap. Should any of you be in the position to help a beautiful family get to where they need to be, please follow the link below and help us achieve our dream. Thanks so much, Don, Brook, Zoe, Ryan and Julia.

The Link: http://www.gofundme.com/bw5t48

The North Bank Habitat: The East Ridge Loop

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I have written often about the North Bank Habitat Management Area before, but considering the limited time I have left in Oregon, I would like to write at least one more post about this under-appreciated jewel of a park. I have had a love affair with this place since I first came here, although it took a couple of hikes before I really came to realize how amazing a spot it is.

A brief history: Several decades ago, the Columbia White Tailed Deer was nearly extinct. As far as anyone knew (in the 1970’s), there was only a tiny isolated population found on an island in the Columbia river. But then it was discovered that there was also still a small population living in Douglas County near Roseburg. This habitat (the NBHMA) was at that time privately owned, and in 1994 the Bureau of Land Management acquired the area in a land exchange. The deer have since rebounded and were taken off the Douglas County endangered list in 2013. The park itself is over six thousand acres in size, or approximately ten square miles.

Personally I have hiked all over this place, but what I enjoy most are the really long ridge hikes that can easily exceed ten miles in length. The views on these particular hikes are superlative, with Mt. Scott looming to the northeast and the North Umpqua river winding its way to the south. It is also quite incredible how few people come here to hike. I don’t think I have ever seen more than five people in a single hike. Most times it seems as though it is completely empty.

My favorite of all the hikes I have completed so far is the East Ridge Loop (my name for it.) It is a combination of the Thistle Ridge-Middle Ridge to the Northgate junction, then east along the North Boundary Road/Ridge trail to the East Boundary Ridge trail in a massive, 13.5 mile loop (according to my GPS.) You gain about 1500 feet of elevation along the way and completely circumambulate a large valley. Along the way there are massive madrones, a nice rocky crag that is supposed to be a den for rattlesnakes, a weather station, endless hills and a Purple Martin sanctuary.

Recently I put together a video of the hike for a school project, and I am pleased to present it to you now. Rather than wax rhapsodic about the hike, I will just stop and let you watch the video. Enjoy!

I shall return

Well, it is getting time to clean off the cobwebs and dust off the ol’ Alpinedon blog. It really has been far too long. For the last 2.5 years I have been attending school at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. In a little over a week I will graduate with my Associate’s Degree. I have worked so hard to get to this point, and I am really looking forward to taking a year off from school and getting back to enjoying the outdoors like I used to. Only this time I will be bringing the perspective of a moderately-trained journalist and videographer instead of an untrained writer. Hopefully this will add to the quality of the website.

So, while I don’t have a lot of time over the next week and a half, after that we should start seeing some more blogs about outdoor recreation, particularly climbing. On top of that, my family and I will be soon relocating to beautiful, sunny St. George, Utah, an outdoor rec Mecca if there ever was one. So that too will provide me with some new epic adventures.

I apologize for being so slack on my blogging duties, but for those of you who are still checking in, there should be some cool new posts coming up soon. Thanks and see you soon. Don.