Backpacking in the “Behind the Rocks” Area near Moab

Nearly every year for the past 7 or 8 my wife (and I) has given me a birthday present of having me go on a solo trip to some remote, beautiful place. The plan is always to see pretty things I maybe haven’t seen before and to spend some time alone thinking about life. Needless to say, I look forward to it every year.

For the past three or so years I’ve ended up somewhere near Moab, Utah. This year I decided to hike into a remote area called Behind the Rocks. It is a BLM Wilderness Study Area, currently protected because of its unspoiled nature and some Native American rock art and ruins. The outside edges of the area are popular technical 4WD areas. But nothing motorized, and frankly, almost nothing on 2 feet, gets into the middle of it. So I decided to backpack in, camp and wander around a bit.

I thought it would resemble one of my favorite places, the Fiery Furnace in Arches, N. P. So I figured I’d find a good place to camp, some easy but interesting places to hike and beautiful views. The weather and my mistaken sense of scale sort of put the kibosh on that.

I parked a few miles south of Moab at the Hidden Valley Trailhead and backpacked up the 2 mile trail. It’s a beautiful trail through a high, moderately sloping valley that puts you at the edge of the Behind the Rocks (BtR) area. At the top of the trail is a notch, over which the trail leads downhill into BtR. I left my pack at the notch and followed a trail to the right which winds uphill (North) to the base of the high cliffs overlooking the ravine where the trail is located. Along the base of the cliffs are some pretty good petroglyph panels with a well worn trail along them.

At the end of the cliff you could bushwhack down into the ravine and the trail. I walked back to the notch, strapped on the backpack and followed the trail for maybe another 1/4 to 1/2 mile before going off trail further down the ravine as it followed the outside of the remote part of BtR. The bushwhacking wasn’t that fun. The area has a lot more vegetation than I was expecting so staying in the “dry” stream beds to avoid plants and cryptobiotic soil adds some mileage.

I say “dry” because it never really stopped drizzling and I’m no fan of rain. Still, I was bent on getting back there so I soldiered on. There are not many options for penetrating into the area from the North. I followed a route sometimes called the Behind the Rocks Dog Route. It worked and I was able to zig zag down some fins into the veritable ocean of large fins and canyons. Turns out it’s not much like the Fiery Furnace. Yes, there are fins and canyons between them. But the fins are huge and so are the canyons. There aren’t really slots with interesting climbing and exploring.

In the northern section of BtR there is a relatively open area filled mostly with sand and brush. There’s a nice little mesa that rises up about 20 -50 feet above the rest of the area and the view is great. I think this is about another 2.5 miles from the end of the Hidden Valley trail, but I added some mileage to that looking for a decent campsite.

I tracked up some side canyons to the East to find some shelter. That didn’t work. So I set up my tent anyway and then the rained started pouring. I sat there staring at the deluge for a few minutes and finally figured I’d at least try to save my final day so I packed up and hiked out the way I came.

Another 5 miles later and just about 30 minutes from nightfall I arrived at my car, drove to a commercial campsite that had a camping cabin and finally called it a day. I figured the next day I’d explore the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park. That’s never let me down.

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Gearing Up to Camp “Behind the Rocks” Near Moab

I’ve finally made it to Moab for my annual solo trip – my favorite birthday gift from my wife each year.

The Monarch Butterfly Backpacking Chair

I left home around noon but with a side trip to REI (to pick up a sweet backpacking chair) and traffic I didn’t get here until around 6. Rough. I checked in to my $35/night camping cabin / tough shed and promptly inflated my sleeping pad after trying out the fabric-wrapped collection of springs masquerading as a mattress in there. I locked my room, with provided padlock, and am now enjoying some trout and mashed potatoes at Smitty’s.

Enjoying dinner and some reading at Smitty's Golden Steak Restaurant

I’m excited for tomorrow. I’ll be backpacking into the Behind the Rocks region on the southwest mesa above Moab. I’ll camp there Friday night. Hopefully I won’t get soaked. Maybe I’ll let you know how it goes.

Behind the Rocks Topo Map - near Moab

If I’m not back in Pleasant Grove by Saturday night, someone tell Gisele there’s a topo map on the fridge with my planned route. My emaciated (but certainly smiling) frame should be huddled somewhere near one of the hand drawn lines running between two of a few dozen sandstone fins.

Update:

Here’s my post about backpacking into the Behind the Rocks area via the Hidden Valley Trail.