Hiking Where The Guidebooks Do Not Go – A Mountaineer Adventure In Southern Utah

Water in the desert is a rare treat. This crystal pool, in a remote canyon in Natural Bridges National Monument, will be gone in a few weeks. Photo Courtesy Bill Priedhorsky

Los Alamos Mountaineers

The Los Alamos Mountaineers have the motto “Outdoor adventure for everyone.” So what is adventure? According to the McMillan dictionary blog (https://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/adventure), “adventure is an exciting, unusual, and sometimes dangerous experience… To have an adventure, a person must be able to … have confidence in their ability to navigate the unfamiliar, and be open to experiencing joy and excitement in a variety of unexpected places.” 

Also,  “according to some researchers, people who like adventure have some common characteristics:

• They understand the importance of following their dreams.

• They are not afraid to embrace the present moment.

• They don’t typically give in to fear or anxiety…

• They are open to meeting new people.

• They understand that failures teach lessons…

• They are curious about new places and people.”

That is exactly what the Mountaineers are about. Few of their activities are particularly dangerous, given modern equipment, techniques, and emergency communications. The majority of their outings are on more or less level ground, rather than cliffs or summits. But the adventure comes from seeing what hasn’t been seen before, and knowing that the route may not be easy, and that the rewards are not guaranteed. A hike might be a slog through the mud, or take in vistas beyond compare – or both.

The Mountaineers’ recent outing to southern Utah counts as an adventure. In part, it was perfectly comfortable – the 12 participants stayed in town, in rental condos, slept in beds with sheets, and shared nice dinners. But they hiked off the map every day, without a guidebook. They studied maps to find interesting-looking places, but if the route was recommended in a book, they went elsewhere. 

From their base in Blanding, a small town in southeastern Utah, the Mountaineers explored the area around Utah highway 95 (120 miles from Blanding to Hanksville with zero services), and the back country of Natural Bridges National Monument. They hiked the side canyons on the periphery of the Monument, forsaking the trails designed and marked out by the Park Service. Those trails are lovely, but hold fewer surprises.

Weather is not guaranteed when you are on an adventure.  There are many chilly and wet days in the back country, but in spring 2023, we won the weather lottery. The spring had been wet, but the weather cleared, leaving behind little streams and pools in places that are desiccated most of the year.

The photos below tell some of the story of this latest Mountaineers adventure. To learn more about the Mountaineers, join them at a meeting, either virtually, or (far better) in person at the Nature Center. The next meeting, at 6:45 PM on Tuesday May 23, will feature a talk on the history of the Mountaineers by Norbert Ensslin. The program announcement and registration link can be found at https://lamountaineers.org, along with opportunities for future trips.

Remote canyons hold surprises. The Mountaineer hikers came across this ancestral wall, in a seldom-travelled corner of Natural Bridges National Monument. It has been cataloged by the Park Service but can be found in no guidebook.

Beauty can be found not far from the highway. Mountaineer Ken Mahren spent his trip photographing along the backroads of Canyonlands and Arches National parks.

A Mountaineer looks a long way down. This section of upper Fish Creek, just a few miles from the state highway, cuts 600 feet deep into the Cedar Mesa plateau.