Return to the San Rafael Swell…Day 1

My brother Vince, our friend Larry, and I like to get together every couple of years or so to do a “boys” trip to the Utah desert country for a camping/hiking trip. Having just moved to Carbondale, Colorado from the Denver area, I was excited by the prospect of heading out to the desert country with a drive that’s three hours shorter than from my previous residence.

I met Larry in Carbondale the night before, and we headed out the next day to begin our journey to the San Rafael Swell. As we were getting ready to hit the road, I noticed a large wood screw sticking out of my front left tire; this was not good. Although it did not appear that I was losing air, the screw could come loose or pop out while driving on 4WD roads in the Swell and I could find myself with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere.  So, I stopped at the Big O tire store in Glenwood Springs to see if they could yank out the screw and repair the hole. Unfortunately, the guy said my tires were too worn and they wouldn’t do a repair. So, I took a chance and left the screw in the tire. I checked the air in Grand Junction, and again in Green River, and both times it appeared the tire wasn’t losing any air (yet). Just to be safe, I picked up a can of Flat Fix spray at a truck stop in Green River. We met Vince , had a nice lunch at the counter of the Westwind Restaurant, and hit the road for the Swell.

Along the way to our intended camping area, we wanted to make a stop at Black Dragon Canyon to take a look at some well-preserved pictograms. The turn-off is on an indistinct dirt road that starts right along the westbound lanes of Interstate 70. Unfortunately, I went speeding right past the turn-off. We were using the directions in Steve Allen’s “Canyoneering” book, which states the road starts 0.2 miles west of Mile marker 145; it actually starts about 50 feet west of Mile marker 147! This is one of several directional mistakes that we discovered in Allen’s book. The book may be understandably out-of-date on some things, but the mileage on roads that have not changed in decades should not be one of them. Anyway, we quickly realized our error, but in order to get back to the Black Canyon Road again, we would have had to go about 10 miles west to the next off ramp, go back about 13 miles east to another off-ramp, then head west again to catch the road; We decided this was not worth the hassle, so we just continued on down the highway.

Vince Looking at the Lone Warrior Pictogram

Vince Looking at the Lone Warrior Pictogram

We exited the highway on to Temple Mountain Road and headed south. Along the way, we discovered a pictogram panel marked on the map called the Lone Warrior. We followed the map as closely as possible, and finally found the ancient rock art panel. Very unusual design,  like a little devil. The BLM had placed a buck and pole fence around the area in front of the panel to prevent people from driving right to it. I guess this somehow reduces the risk of vandalism.

By this time, it was around 4:00 and we needed to start looking for a place to camp. We headed south past the turn off to the Swasey Cabin to a 4WD road heading east. We followed the road to the top of a mesa where we discovered a site with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. At 7,200 feet elevation in late October, it’s going to be a chilly night. But with a roaring fire, it should still be an enjoyable evening of camping.

Keeping Warm by the Campfire

Keeping Warm by the Campfire

Watch a short video of our hike in San Rafael Swell here.

About Mike

I have a passion for adventure travel that began in 1989 with my first overseas trip: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Having never been to a foreign country, Africa felt like being on another planet; I knew then and there I was hooked on travel. Since that time, I have visited all seven continents and dozens of countries. I’m using the experience I’ve gained in planning my own trips to help my clients plan their own adventures through my adventure travel company ( After working as a firefighter for the US Forest Service in California and Wyoming for three years, I moved to Durango, Colorado where I graduated from Fort Lewis College with a degree in accounting. After graduation I moved to the Denver area where I worked in a Big Eight accounting firm to obtain my CPA license; soon afterward I began a career as an auditor with the Colorado Department of Education. My background in accounting helped me develop detailed-oriented skills that have been extremely useful in researching and planning my own travel over the years. I think this provides a unique asset to my clients in putting together their adventure travel plans. I currently live in Golden, Colorado with my wife Valerie, who shares my love of adventure travel. I’m an active member of the Colorado Mountain Club where I lead trips for club members and have taught ski lessons in their Telemark Ski School. I enjoy skiing, mountain hiking, trail running, photography, and astronomy. I take any opportunity I can get to explore new places, whether it’s on the other side of the world or just down the road.
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1 Response to Return to the San Rafael Swell…Day 1

  1. Pingback: Return to the San Rafael Swell…VIDEO | Off Trail Travel

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