After weather sent us scurrying from the San Rafael Swell, we headed to the Book Cliffs. Although I-70 passes along their base from US-6 east to Grand Junction, they’re a relatively unvisited area. Our adventures in the Book Cliffs started in the (ghost?) town of Thompson. The remaining residents have put up a sign with a map detailing the recreational activities available from their little town:
We camped out for the night as it was getting dark and headed to the petroglyph (rock art carvings) AND pictograph (rock art painting) panels in Sego Canyon. Most of my experience with rock art in the Southwest has been with petroglyphs so I was really excited to see the pictographs:
After we checked out the rock art (and waited for the sun to peak over the canyon walls), we headed up Thompson Canyon to the end of the road then returned to head up Sego Canyon and the ghost town of Sego. Sego was a coal mining town that appears to have operated off and on from the 1890s through 1948.
The road goes about 15 miles up into the Book Cliffs and dead ends at the Ute Indian Reservation. We were able to drive almost all the way up (about 13 miles) and walked the rest of the way. The views were incredible!
I even spotted bear tracks in the sand near the end of the road:
We headed down the canyon and turned onto Book Cliffs Road (clearly marked as a 4×4 road…). It was quite an adventure, as the road dropped into a deep, narrow canyon and climbing back out wasn’t the easiest thing to do but Forrest and the van managed just fine (I tried to manage the chaos in the van and Sprocket slept…).
Eventually, we cut back south to I-70 and skipped east to Book Cliffs Over The Top Road. According to the map it was possible to make a loop up one canyon, over the top of the plateau, and then dropping down another canyon.
As we suspected, the top of the plateau was still pretty muddy and we had to skip our plans for making a loop. Despite the fact our plans had changed, it was awesome to be that high and have views out in every direction. I’m sure we’ll be back with the jeep in a more hospitable season to explore some more!
A day off in the middle of the week is sort of odd. It felt like it should be a weekend and yet we only had that one day! We decided to seize that day off and make an adventure out of it anyway. When I got off work on Tuesday, I came home, packed up our camping stuff and we all jumped into the jeep. The skies were looking a little stormy but I pretty much refused to believe it was going to rain on us.
As we set out towards Cooper Pass it seemed like we were leaving the weather mostly behind us. We cruised right to the top of the pass (Pass #1 for the trip at 5,791′) where there was still a decent foot or so of snow that we made it over fairly easily but we certainly hoped that there wouldn’t be any more on the other side! The drive down to Thompson Falls went quickly as we wound our way off the mountaintop.
We didn’t hesitate long in Thompson Falls, just stopping long enough to fill up the gas tank before heading up Graves Creek Road into the mountains. Hardly 3 miles into the woods, I saw a small bear run up into the woods. It was (we think!) a yearling grizzly! It’s big round light brown butt reminded me of Winnie-the-Pooh—less cuddly of course. After the bear headed off into the woods, it was back to the campsite finding mission. We were hoping to find a place to camp where we would be sort of sheltered from the wind and the high elevation chill that would be setting in soon. There was a severe lack of spur roads where we could camp so we just kept driving higher and higher. Next thing we knew we were at Vermillion Pass (6,026′, pass #2 for the trip).
As pretty as it was there in the shadow of Vermillion Peak, we knew we had to lose elevation fast if we were to have a hope of spending a decently comfortable night. (I’m still functioning with a 45 degree sleeping bag I bought in high school!) As we headed down into the Vermillion River valley, we came around a corner saw a nice big black bear in the road. We decided to spend the night where Happy Creek emptied into the Vermillion River.
Forrest started up a fire while I took Sprocket for a short walk. We cooked hot dogs for dinner (and were only a wee bit nervous about having seen a couple of bears…) before piling into the tent. I wasn’t too thrilled with leaving Sprocket in the jeep alone and I was also more than a little afraid of being cold into the tent he came. That makes one 6′ man, a 5’10” woman, and an 85-pound labrador…in a two man tent. He was a great cuddler and kept me nice and warm!!