Scout Cave Trail, our effort today to tame one more time the desert wilderness of Southern Utah, is located in Snow Canyon. Named for a couple of early Mormon settlers, Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, prominent members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the canyon is well known for the red rock formations and the myriad of trails that appeal to all levels of desire and athletic aptitude.
We started this one mid-morning, probably a little later than we should have. As we were leaving the trailhead in Johnson Canyon for the trek to the caves, a well-intentioned lady said that we were going to enjoy the hike but to be aware of the rattlesnakes. As in other hikes, my entire being went into super-aware mode, every breath of wind scurrying around the sage and whistling over the rocks was ingrained in my awareness of the silence I actually felt as I listened for that ominous rattle or the sight of a snake with his tail poised to strike.
Such was my awareness at the beginning that I really didn’t take into account the trail we were on, a narrow one that intertwined with lava beds of eons ago and hard pack sand and desert sage. So add another element of vibe to my heightened state of anxiety that to misstep here would not end well.
Four and half miles in-and-out was the plan. As with almost every trail, the descriptions of the actual hike differ quite radically from reality. Moderate to Sir Edmund Hilary becomes difficult and strenuous to a more common-folk of hiker. Not backbreaking, but the changes in trail and often the lack of directional signs (cairns!) lead too often to course revisions which only add to duration of the hikes. Scout Cave was no different.
Hah! From the canyon rim trail you look down on Hackberry Wash to what appears to be another of those foot-numbing hikes slogging through inches of that red sand that never quite seems get washed away from your hiking boots and socks. And we had to get to it by descending down a lava cliff, a little daunting but which led to a pleasant hike through the creek bed amidst the Hackberry trees, which truthfully I have never heard of.
Pleasant hikes don’t last long in the desert of Southern Utah – they turn into interesting hikes, arduous hikes, oh-my-god hikes and almost always rewarding hikes. We came to a fork in the wash and turning left we started slowly climbing along the narrow trail that at times was kind of challenging and downright very challenging at others.
You have to understand that the perspective of this photo does not do justice to its real presence. This was a five foot wall with no discernible means of scaling it – I mean we’re talking crampons and a level one belay device. Not having these articles of adventure in our backpacks we somehow managed to skirt the obstacle by delving into rattlesnake territory off-piste and continued on.
Perspective is off here. That cave looks like it’s at the top of these calf-straining steps, which in turn are also out of perspective. Read on to see another angle. Huffing and puffing at the top of the steps we looked to the mouth for the cave which seemed to have disappeared. And no cairns! But there was a path.
Around that small obstacle we came onto a field, actually more like a mesa of tumbled rock and the cave beckoning against that gorgeous Utah blue sky. Trust me on that blue sky.
Mountain goats and Sir Edmund Hilary find this trail easy most likely, but it took some real scrambling on our part to get up that slope, and it was well worth it!
The view of the valley from the mouth of the cave.
As usual, hiking down was rather easier, mainly because we could see trails below us from our point of view and accessing them was a more simplistic effort. The trail went from oh-my-god to moderate just like that.
Looking down those steps – a different kind of burn. We hit that wash with the Hackberry trees, missed our trailhead back up the lava steppe and found this ambiguous trail sign…
As I mentioned in other posts, not only are the red rocks gorgeous scenery, but the wildlife and wildflowers also add elements of natural beauty to the canvas before you.
The datura – jimson weed – if indeed is what this is – is not a friend of mine. From the google search…
The Sacred Datura – Invitation to Disaster
All parts of all datura plants are poisonous and can be fatal if ingested. The white and lavender-tinted, trumpet-shaped bloom of the sacred datura promises a fairyland of delicate beauty, moths, butterflies, long-tongued bees, hummingbirds and magical moonlit nights…
…by contrast, the bristly fruit and stale-smelling leaves of the sacred datura speak to another, more sinister side of the plant, to a dark and fearsome netherworld of poison and potential emotional collapse, physical sickness and even death. It suggests visions of the brooding and frightening forests of the Brothers Grimm. These parts of the plant have given rise to alternative names such as devil’s trumpet, deadly nightshade, thorn apple, mad apple, Hairy jimson weed, stink weed, green dragon and locoweed.
Ok – sidewinder snakes and washes of red sands and the Sacred Datura. Give me the bears of the Tetons and a can of spray – that field of warfare seems a little more equitable.
Nestled in the cracks of the red rocks we came upon this little bunch of Desert Phlox – a stunning contrast to the rusty hues of the rocks – and that’s how nature works.
And let me close out this mini series (mercifully?) of our hikes in the south of Utah with our contribution to the wandering souls of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts – our very first and personal cairn – built out of a sense of frustration somewhere along an unidentifiable trail. May it serve as a beacon to others to not give up.
My brother Michael makes a mean Carbonara – a family favorite – always requested at any family gathering – and always delicious. It is Italian comfort food at its best, up there with the three other great Roman pastas found in Italy: Gricia, Cacio e Pepe, and Amatriciana. Risotto is a staple as well, comfort food made from Arborio rice and often infused with any number of herbs, fruits and spices. What a marriage to blend arborio rice with pancetta and a few other delicacies and create the ultimate comfort food. Enjoy this one!