The whole reason we embarked on this road trip was the Green River Rock and Mineral Festival, an event thrown in conjunction with many talented individuals including Cari’s friend Alison Jean Cole and Epicenter, a local non profit operating in town, looking to revitalize, create positive change within the community through design in order to accentuate Green River’s rural pride and pioneering spirit. Their slogan is “Rural and Proud” and it’s something that impressed me beyond words. In fact, as I’m writing this, I hope I do their efforts justice. Change through design is something that has worked in the past and Green River’s unique geographical location is prime for this experimentation. Before we jump into more, I’ll say that Green River is making mountain bike trails and I can’t wait to help out in any way I can.
We left the Great Gallery, via a long, winding, bright red dirt road, which emptied out into the streets of Green River. Now, Cari has had a longrunning admiration of this little town. She worked on a project with High Desert Test Sites a few years back, which is where she met Allison and the great people at Epicenter. She worked on a collaboration between HDTS and Epicenter, which included designing and painting signs. Returning to this place, together, is something I’ve been looking forward to, since first pouring my morning coffee in Cari’s Green River, Utah coffee mug.
So, there we were, moving through town, en route to the campsites that are sprinkled alongside the riverbanks. All I wanted to do was take a swim. It’d been over a week since water had touched my skin and since I love ice-cold water, I was ready to jump in. Then I saw the river, which looked to have an incredibly high CFS – cubic foot per second flow rate. Well, it didn’t work out so well for me, but Max had a hell of a time swimming. Lucky dog!
Our plan was to meet Cari’s friend Christina at the campsite, cook dinner and wake up bright and early for the festival. Christina has this sick Tundra with a pop-top camper, a variation of this is our pipedream at some point, so seeing it in person did nothing but solidify my belief that you can have one of these and not be so limited by the vehicle’s accessibility to 4×4 trails. Like I said, it’s a pipedream!
The Green River Rock and Mineral Festival
The agenda for the day included meeting up at the local museum, where we’d be able to visit various vendors, talk to the people at Epicenter and figure out where we’d be spending the afternoon. We got bad news; Alison had to leave unexpectedly, due to a family emergency, but her partner Lisa was there, so we weren’t completely bummed out. Meeting these people has been something I’ve looked forward to for some time. They’re wonderfully talented and some of the brightest souls I’ve met in some time. The warm feelings didn’t stop there…
We left in a vehicle caravan and headed out to the Crystal Geyser; a naturally-occurring, cold water, Co2-powered geyser, that’s had a rough life. First, the city of Green River once attempted to “tap” the geyser-like a keg, with a valve and everything, in hopes of attracting tourists there, to only release the geyser’s power at the rotating of the cutoff valve. Well, like everytime man tries to control nature. It didn’t work out so well. Then, fracking came to the area and now the geyser looks awfully sad and barely erupts. On top of that, locals have shot the pipe with guns, leaving it perforated. While the geyser is left in shambles, the travertine formations it rests on are one of the most beautiful examples of this mineral I’ve witnessed. The stepped pattern created a beautiful array of geometric perfection as it cascaded into the river.
From here, the rest of the day was spent at a rockhounding spot and visiting dinosaur footprint sites, both of which neighbored OHV areas and one, which we’ll revisit here in detail later, a mountain bike trail network. The first stop was Klondike Bluff, a dense trail network nestled amidst rolling hills and rocky outcroppings. Ideal for singletrack, yet even more ideal for rock hounding blood agate and Jasper of various colors. I spent hours out there, scouring the ground for Jasper, and at the end of the afternoon, I had compiled some unique examples. The funny thing to me is, people knew I was a mountain biker and commented on how it must have been difficult to be hanging out at the trails without my bike. Truthfully, I was having so much fun rockhounding that I didn’t even notice. Ok, maybe I noticed a little bit, but I had big plans for this zone in the future…
Shortly after, the group met up with a paleontologist who works for the National Parks Department. She walked us through the findings in the area; including an allosaur’s tracks with a gimp leg and a large Sauropoda who decided to make an abrupt right turn, avoiding a rocky outcropping. We were standing in these animal’s tracks, imagining the landscape these lumbering beasts occupied way back when. From there, we went to another site and soon, the day’s agenda was finished, officially. Then Kirstin, one of the volunteers at the event, showed us her super secret hounding zone, filled with blood agate, aka pigeon blood, a red and white transparent stone. We sat out there for hours, as the sun set over the surrounding hills, filling hip bags with rocks we took a liking to.
Here’s where I should point out that rockhounding is allowed by the BLM, as long as you follow the rules; do not take artifacts or fossils and if you find significant examples of either, report them to a field office.
the San Rafael Swell
The San Rafael Swell, or simply called the Swell, ’round these parts, is a massive, sprawling 2,000 square miles of public land, known for its petroglyphs, natural Navajo sandstone formations, deep river canyons, and 360 panoramic views. Scattered around this zone are enough attractions to merit a year-long excursion. Even if you hit one attraction a day, I’d imagine it’d take a few years to fully record this area. It’s wild and is constituted of a few, key attractions.
On the eastern edge of the Swell is the San Rafael Reef. Due to an anticline – a huge subterranean dome – these horizontal layers of earth were lifted vertically, abruptly protruding from the ground. Evidence of this anticline has been made apparent by extensive erosion, exposing rugged, upturned Navajo sandstone and cut ravines. Inside this zone is a myriad of trails, ideal for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, all of which are accessed by a system of roads, interconnecting the San Rafael Reef to the rest of the Swell.
The Wedge and the Little Grand Canyon are two large attractions within the Swell. You can drive right up to them and soak it all in. As a photographer, it’s hard to document these vistas, at least to give them any justice. The Wedge overlooks the San Rafael River and the Little Grand Canyon. There is even a network of trails, open to mountain bikes, that rides around, through and down into this massive formation.
Christina, Cari, and I were interested in visiting both of these places, but wanted to do so at our own rate. The festival was planning on spending the second day driving in a caravan out, while adding on a few other attractions like the dinosaur quarry. Meanwhile, I had done a little bit of research and wanted to drive a scenic 4×4 trail called Devil’s Racetrack. From there, we could connect with roads that would take us to the Wedge, the Little Grand Canyon, and Buckhorn Wash, a petroglyph site.
Wheelin’ has become an integral part of my explorative process. Chances are, at the end of that 4×4 trail is going to be a killer hiking trail, or even more impressive vista, or perhaps, a unique mine or relic. Cari and I have explored the Mojave extensively, thanks in part to the capabilities of our rig. So when I go somewhere new and have a series of attractions to visit, I often look for the lesser-traversed and ideally, challenging, routes. Devil’s Racetrack would prove to be both of those and then some, but first, we had a petroglyph to visit.
The Head of Sinbad is one of the most detailed petroglyph sites we visited on our trip. To get there, sandy, off-camber and often times washed out double track awaits. The ‘Cruiser swayed and flexed out, even bottoming out a few times. I did not expect these roads to be in such deteriorating conditions. At multiple moments, the road disappeared into a drainage ditch, clearly eaten away by basin erosion from the winter storms. Bypasses were embedded in the sagebrush and upon arrival to the spot, we spent time soaking in the native art. While it’s not as impressive as the Great Gallery, the figures depicted here looked to tell a different tale.
From there, we went up, rather quickly before hitting the gate for Devil’s Racetrack. The entrance quickly set the tone for the day with a 3’ ledge. Already, the trail report I read called this a moderate trail, with no ledges bigger than 12″ tall. Well, we were here and while we could have turned back, now I really wanted to see what the trail had in store for us.
After a few miles of slow-moving, ledge climbing and descending, we hit a ridgeline rock garden that finally forced me out of the vehicle for a walk around to pick my line. Cari and Christina were excellent spotters, even in the high-stress environment. The truck was completely loaded down with all our camping stuff, extra fuel and water on the roof, alongside a 90-pound rooftop tent. Bottom line; the truck was top-heavy, something you want to avoid in a rock garden, on a ridge, with lots of exposure.
At one point, Cari came to me, visibly shaken by the experience and requested the satellite phone. “Why?” I asked, to which she told me to look at where the truck was, precariously positioned on sandstone steps with nothing but a sheer cliff a mere twenty feet behind me. It was a stressful moment, but I kept my cool and bumped it up the steps. We had made it through one of the hardest sections on the trail and I was fairly certain the rest was easy, but the anxiety didn’t leave until we were on the wash floor, 400′ below us.
Onward! We were relieved to be out of that mess but were running out of light, so we booked it to the Wedge and the Little Grand Canyon, still giving us ample time to really soak in the wonderous site of Buckhorn Wash. While the scale was similar to the Great Gallery, the figures were much more ornate and featured white dots in their chests. Scientists believe these figures were used as target practice. Perhaps these oddities represented the unknown beasts that haunted this canyons and the warriors used them as targets. Like all petroglyphs, no one knows for certain what these drawings illustrate, but that’s the running theory.
Out of the Swell and back into town for one last night. The next morning, I’d depart Green River for Fruita where I’d be linking up with my mountain bike friends and Cari would head back to Los Angeles with Christina. We ate dinner in town, slept soundly and decided to head back to the Green River Coffee Company for a refuel, and said our goodbyes.
Meeting up as the sun rose, provided the ideal light to document our friend Lisa‘s new Green River Welcoming sign. This would look great on a water bottle, as a souvernier for the mountain bike tourists the town is looking to attract with the inclusion of new trails in the area.
I had set up a meeting with Maria from Epicenter to figure out more about their MTB trail agenda. Epicenter just recently opened a trail just outside of town and were planning on opening more. We discussed the logistics of this, working with the BLM, and how perhaps MTB recreation could bring more money into this quant town. The people in Green River are Rural and Proud, so they don’t want to get “Moab’d” but I don’t think they’d turn away some thirsty and hungry riders. As we were discussing working on future projects, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of stoke, a desire to be a part of something like this. Now I just have to figure out how, why and when!
This area, as I’d come to find, has a whole lot more going on…