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Navajo Mountain is an unusually tall, isolated mountain near the AZ/UT border with more than 4,000ft of prominence. It is visible from a great distance as one drives east across Northern Arizona from Lake Powell or the Grand Canyon. Looming high on the northern horizon as one heads east on SR98, it does not look like the standard standstone sculptures normally associated with the high plateaus of this region. I saw none of this as I had driven in the dark the night before, noting only the slow, red light strobes on one of the summit towers that act as a warning for aircraft. When I awoke at 5a to start the day it was still quite dark out and I began the hike with headlamp ablaze to light my way on the moonless morning. I found odd trinkets in the roadway - a roll of electrical tape, bags of bolts, instructions for assembling antennae equipment. It seemed as if stuff had bounced out of a technician's truck as he made his way to the summit over the rough road. An hour later the predawn sky to the east was beginning to light the new day and I put the headlamp away. I kept my fleece on for the first several hours until the sun had had a chance to warm the chilly air.
It was the furthest I had yet driven from my home in San Jose for a single peak, eclipsing the long 17hr drive to Pecacho del Diablo in Mexico a few years earlier. Navajo was my last peak from the DPS list and today's list finish would be a solo affair. The route to the summit could hardly be more straightforward, following the rough dirt road to the top for 7.5 miles and something like 4,000ft of gain. Though surrounded by desert, the higher elevations sport a healthy pine forest and by the time sunrise came around 6:40a, I was already amongst the trees. Periodically there are views to the south of the desert floor and the mesas and canyons in the vicinity of Lake Powell. Higher up I encountered aspen forest, though oddly all the trees were devoid of leaves. Most other places I've seen where aspens grow are still sporting the bright yellow colors of fall at this time in October.
I reached the summit around 7:45a. Just to the east of the summit towers were some rocks that marked the highest point. A benchmark was found amongst these, but no register that I could find. The views were almost non-existent from ground level, blocked by forest on all sides. Luckily there were several climbable towers nearby to choose from. I selected one with a platform about 20ft above the ground, climbed the steel rung ladder to reach it, and took a short break for a snack and to take in the views. Lake Powell could be seen to the west, though in most other directions it was flat, open desert without much in the way of interesting terrain. After about 15 minutes I climbed down and went back down the road. Two hours later I was back at the van, the descent made faster with some jogging of the downhill sections.
Because I had driven out the night before and seen nothing of the landscape, the drive back towards Zion was fresh and interesting. I stopped to take photos of the AZ/UT border along Indian Rd 16, found a free-range horse grazing alongside the same road, paused at an overlook along SR98 where a Navajo woman was selling jewelry, and marveled at the impressive feature known as Square Butte on the south side of SR98 on my way back to Lake Powell. I stopped for half an hour to walk the bridge overlooking the Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River far below. When I returned to Kanab and US89, I continued north past Zion, seeking out the Kane CoHP not far off Utah's SR14 north of Zion. I had found in my online perusal the previous afternoon that there were two fairly close CoHPs in the area, so decided to pay them a visit.
I knew going in that the Kane CoHP was a liner on the SE side of Gooseberry Point, but I didn't know just how lame it would actually be. When I turned off US89 onto SR14 there was a highway sign indicating the road was closed past Duck Creek. I didn't want to check my road map for fear that Duck Creek would be well before my turnoff for the highpoint, so I kept my fingers crossed and drove west up the road. Some miles later I passed by Duck Creek Village, nervous but happy to find I could keep driving up the road higher yet. At the 9,500-foot level I found the Deer Valley Rd junction I was looking for. The dirt road led southwest and west along the north side of the long ridgeline reaching to Gooseberry Point. With the coordinate for the HP loaded in my GPS I watched the heading as I drove along the road, stopping when the compass indicated I was as close as I could get, about 8/10 of a mile. Side roads headed higher and closer, but they were muddy from melting snow and would have presented a challenge to my 2WD van. I parked and started up, watching the GPS to guide me in the right direction.
The side road I followed led to something called the Marathon Trail (a mountain biking route from Brian Head to Navajo Lake, I found later) and more side roads that got me within about a quarter mile of the highpoint before striking off cross-country. The initial part of this was through a scraggly aspen grove that wasn't too bad, then easier terrain on pine-forested slopes that surround the highpoint. Though I traversed back and forth as well as up and down looking for it, I could find no sign of Andy Martin's cairn that he described on the SummitPost page. I went to the southern edge of the broad ridgeline to get a semblance of a view in that direction, the only one to be had. I considered hiking up the ridgeline to the summit of Gooseberry Point but it was almost two miles away and the terrain did not seem promising for an easy walk.
I returned to the car and continued on SR14 heading towards the pass further west, thinking I would climb Gooseberry Point from the shorter distance at the pass, about half a mile. But in driving along and seeing the profile of the surrounding terrain, it occurred to me that Gooseberry had very little prominence and was overshadowed by another higher point to the north, Blowhard Mtn. Not only was it higher by several hundred feet and turned out to be the third highest summit in Iron County, but there is a well-graded dirt road heading to the summit off SR148. The summit has been bulldozed flat, upon which sits a collection of communications towers. I wandered around the largest of these at the highpoint, noting a view of Cedar Breaks National Monument off to the north.
My next destination was Brian Head, the Iron County Highpoint about eight miles further north, but along the way I drove through the nearby national monument. Cedar Breaks is an exposed western flank of Markagunt Plateau, marked by colorful sandstone formations, similar to those found in Zion and Bryce Canyon. There are several overlooks along SR148 by which one can get spectacular views from above. Lingering snow from a few weeks prior added contrast to some of the north-facing slopes in the canyons. A short time later I found Brian Head, and the dirt road leading to it, completely free of snow and a simple drive up. A stone shelter was constructed in 1935 at the 11,307-foot summit which has more than 3,700ft of prominence. The small ski area could be seen below on the western flanks, the views extending across Southern Utah into Nevada to the west and Arizona to the south.
It was around 4:30p and I figured I had maybe another hour before sunset. My GPS showed Sidney Peaks to be a few miles to the northeast (and what later I found to be the county's second highest summit). Though a simple hike mostly along trail, it turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the whole day, better than two county highpoints, better than a DPS list finish on Navajo. The air was chilly but comfortable for hiking, surprisingly mild considering it was late October at 11,000ft. The trails had some lingering snow and were muddy in places, but the golden brown meadows through which they passed were idyllic with the sun low on the horizon. I found the highest point to be at the northeast end of the ridgeline, not far off the trail that bypasses the summit to the south. There was a large cairn at the highpoint, but no register. It was in jogging back down the western slope of Sidney Peaks, across the autumn-colored meadows that it occurred to me this was the best part of the day. I returned to the van parked back near Brian Head just as the sun was setting over Nevada's deserts to the west. It had been a good day.
I would spend many more hours driving that evening, getting a head start on my return to California. I followed SR148 out to Interstate 15, then driving southwest through Arizona, Nevada and finally into California. I pulled over at Mountain Pass about 45 miles east of Baker to spend the night. The elevation at 4,000ft provided cool enough temperatures (low 60s) to sleep comfortably in the back of the van. My plan was to spend part of the next day climbing a few peaks in the Mojave desert, but as yet I didn't know which of these it might be. I would leave that until morning, favoring sleep at this point, now close to 11p.
Notes on Navajo Mtn: The road off SR98 is signed 'Navajo Mtn Rd' at the highway, though it is labeled Indian Road 16 on most of the maps. Not long after passing the AZ/UT border there is a truck tire marking the dirt road leading to the summit. The DPS guide says one 'might' get a permit for climbing the mountain from the Navajo government office closer to SR98. The CoHP folks had more comments about this being more than just optional. It would seem they'd like to collect a $5 hiking fee and an additional one for camping. I saw a handful of cars on Indian Rd 16, probably folks living along the road at various points. No one bothered me the day I was there, not all that surprising for such an isolated area.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Navajo Mountain - Kane County HP - Brian Head
This page last updated: Wed Feb 12 11:20:33 2014
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