Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Beef Basin

Picking up where I left off at Trail Canyon, there is much more to explore north of Dark Canyon Plateau. The area is referred to with the colorful name of Beef Basin, which derives from the historic use of the valley as winter grazing range for the legendary Somerville and Scorup Cattle Company. This rugged but stunningly beautiful country is comprised of sandy valleys and colorful buttes and mesas between the plateau and Canyonlands National Park.

Getting there can be a challenge year-round. Only two access roads lead to the basin, one of which passes over the famous Elephant Hill 4x4 trail in the National Park. The other route leads over the northwestern flanks of the Abajo (Blue) Mountains on a dirt road which is closed for much of the winter, and becomes impassable when wet in the summer.
I have yet to travel the road in from the Park side, mostly because the route provides significant obstacles to anyone not using a modified off-road vehicle. Elephant Hill is only one of these challenges; Bobby's Hole is another that is sometimes impossible even for the most hard core four wheeler.

Coming in from the south or east using a combination of County and Forest Service roads, the route drops down into the basin from above, while providing sweeping views across the landscape.Given that much of the region is public land with Canyonlands to the north administered by the Park Service, Dark Canyon to the south managed by the Forest Service, and Beef Basin being part of the BLM, it's no surprise that the area offers multiple opportunities for recreation.
Camping, offroading, hiking and exploration of many ancestral puebloan sites are big attractions for the traveler. Just experiencing the absolute solitude while immersed in outstanding natural scenery is reason enough to visit.

After several miles of moderately rough dirt road you reach the valley floor where the route comes to an intersection, with the north branch heading for Ruin Park and Canyonlands (and the aforementioned 4x4 challenges). The other direction leads to a loop road traversing the basin. Many prehistoric dwellings can be found along the loop, some near the road and others accessed by short hiking trails. This area could be explored for several days at a stretch, using many dispersed camping opportunities along the way.

The country is wide open, with isolated forests of pinyon, juniper and sagebrush clustered around islands of sandstone rock.

Spring and fall provide the most pleasant weather conditions for an extended visit, as long as late or early season snowfall keeps at bay. Summer may be too warm for some folks, and there is also the dreaded southwestern Cedar Gnat to contend with - these minute bloodsucking pests leave an itchy welt after feeding, and clouds of them hovering around the head can drive a person to distraction.

As this was my first visit, I can assure you there will be more trips here in the future to further investigate the surroundings. Besides, I want to poke around into Canyonlands from the south, and perhaps even try my skills/luck at some of the four wheeling to be found in the area. As the well known line from the "The Terminator" goes: "I'll be back"

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