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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hike Devils Canyon and the San Rafael Knob

I enjoyed a fun hike last weekend, although it was more strenuous than expected and I'm still sore. It was great to get out into the desert, work the muscles and breath clean, crisp air.

We hiked up Devils Canyon and then tried to climb the San Rafael Knob (the highest point in the San Rafael Swell). Tried but failed because we were turned back by snow and ice.

It doesn't snow much in the Swell, and the little that falls is usually gone by the end of March, but this year has been cold and wet and there were still patches in shady spots. And patches of ice on the slickrock. To ascend the Knob you have to cross a narrow shelf half-way up the sandstone dome. There is nothing to hang onto and the mountain drops almost vertically below you.

It is a short stretch, usually no big deal, but we allowed the ice to scare us away. We probably could have made it. But "probably" made me uncomfortable. If we "almost certainly" could have made it we would have conquered the dome that day.

Going up is usually easy. Coming down, with gravity adding momentum to every step, it would have been dicey. We almost certainly could have made it up, and we probably could have made it down. But we choose caution and turned back.

Devils Canyon is a beautiful labyrinth just south of I-70, on the west side of the Swell. It contains several narrow sections that are fun to explore. You get into the canyon by taking Exit 114 (Moore cutoff), driving over Justensen Flats and then dropping down into the canyon.

The road into the canyon is extremely rough. If you have a 4X4 vehicle modified for off-road, you can drive to the bottom. In our stock four-wheel drive pickup, we parked halfway down the cliff and walked to the bottom.

You can go up or down the canyon and enjoy great narrows. Going up (east) the canyon swings around near the base of the Knob, so it is easy to combine the canyon and dome into a loop hike.

The Knob gives incredible views of the surrounding countryside. By hiking the slot canyon together with the slickrock dome, you get a good sense of what the San Rafael Swell has to offer. The scenery is comparable to that found in Utah's famous national parks.

The old jeep roads in this area have been opened to ATV riders, and they are becoming very popular. If you are good on an ATV you can ride almost to the base of the Knob. Reaching the top from there it would be a short but strenuous adventure hike.

We have more details and maps showing these areas:
Devils Canyon
San Rafael Knob


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