Sunday, April 23rd, 2023, 0640-1800
Round Valley Draw \ Hackberry Canyon confluence to Lower Hackberry Trailhead \ Yellow Rock alt.
21 miles, elevation 4690′
I was pretty excited to wake and pack this morning because I was seeking redemption for the failed Round Valley Draw adventure the day before. We’d decided to do an out and back up the canyon, adding 5 miles total to our day. No big deal and the canyon was very much worth it. We left our packs under the cover of the junipers, as the ravens were already soaring above, looking for an opportunity. It was typically cold (30s) and felt even colder deep in the canyon. RVD is a classic slot canyon, very popular with tourists and locals alike. The problem is, it’s somewhat technical to get into, even more so now that floods have scoured away some of the sand and log assists. We had the harder but more certain task of climbing all the obstacles as we went. If we came to something we couldn’t get up, then we’d just turn around.
Lucky for us, we were able to climb all the obstacles right up to the second to last drop at the head of the canyon. This was the drop that had looked the most daunting from the top but from below didn’t look as bad. I still wouldn’t have liked to try it with my pack. I think this was the one that used to have a log to step on, making the distance to the bottom much less. There was actually a worse boulder jam 0.2 miles down that we initially didn’t think we could climb. We ended up crawling on hands and knees into a cave created by all the boulders, then up through a crevasse. It was very fun but would have been a pain with our packs. I did more acrobatics in the first 2 hours of the day than I did this whole trip, so far.
Artemis was a pro at working out the puzzles, demonstrating her bouldering skills. She was fun to watch, so effortlessly twisting and using her body and appendages to go up the rocks. I tried my best to emulate her, learning how to work up and down using compression and chimney-ing techniques. I’ve never really practiced rock climbing, so today was a good intro.
It was fun seeing this amazing canyon, not once but twice! It looked slightly different from both directions. The walls were so close at times that it was quite dark. There was even snow in places. What a magical realm. But it was cold enough that I didn’t want to linger. We were back at our packs by 9 am, ready to go in search of some sun. Quickly the grand walls of Hackberry rose above us, reminding me of the granite domes of Yosemite. There were more huge conifers (ponderosas and junipers) that gave it the feel of the Sierra. We passed the several side canyons that we’d been hoping went down the day before. All of them appeared to exit with huge cliffs, so we’d made a really good call to abandon the idea after the first failed attempt. But we did see the side canyon on the right side of RVD that allowed access… if only we’d studied the beta on the canyon beforehand.
I’d heard terrible things about Hackberry Canyon, from my friend Plants and other blogs. So I couldn’t get over how beautiful it actually was. The wash was perfectly flat and the sand nicely compacted by all the flooding. It was bliss walking down such a magnificent canyon, being able to look around as I moved. How could anyone dislike this canyon, I wondered? Then we got to around mile 11 where the water began to flow and the character changed drastically. There were trees and tamarisk, all looking very trashed from the recent flooding. Debris clung to the very tops of the tallest trees…flood waters had been 40 or 50 feet at some point!
But far worse, this was where all the poop and torn-up sand began, the sad remnants of cows…so. many. cows. This was what Plants had warmed me about. He’s a dedicated vegan and even worked for organizations that advocate for animal rights. I mirrored his stance on cows, mostly for environmental reasons. Seeing the destruction they cause on public lands, especially in the SW, is why I stopped eating beef altogether. And Hackberry Canyon is definitely one of the most cow-destroyed riparian ecosystems I’ve ever seen. It was very disheartening to witness such a beautiful canyon being so fouled.
To really sink home the theme, we came across not one but 3 dead cows, 2 of which were directly in the pretty little stream. And then we had to walk miles in that same water, knowing the distress it was subjected to. When we finally came across live cows, one walked in the stream a bit ahead of us, dropping fat juicy turds into the water as it went, as if to just say FU! These cows all looked extremely emaciated and sickly. I was so disgusted by all of this. Why do we allow stock animals into a delicate riparian environment that can’t support them and is so easily destroyed by them? The BLM and ranchers should be ashamed by such practices. Compare this canyon, equally spectacular in its geologic formations as Coyote Gulch, which had no cows and is vastly a more intact riparian environment. I don’t know why Hackberry couldn’t be equally treated. Sell permits to the hikers, not ranchers, to protect and preserve Hackberry Canyon!
I could go on about this, probably already ranted enough. But man was I both sad and mad. I also found a dead bat in the stream, but hopefully it at least died from natural causes. Or maybe everything had Ebola, hard to say. Near the end, the canyon got really tight and twisty again, just so heartbreakingly beautiful. We saw several groups of backpackers, all heading up a few miles for a peaceful night alongside the creek, blissfully oblivious to the rotting carcasses just upstream. We didn’t have the heart to tell them, just said to make sure to filter the water. I could barely bring myself to wash my face with it, many miles downstream. Thank goodness we’d collected water from a side stream coming from Stone Donkey canyon, which was also probably fouled by cattle. It was the best we could do and we carried it for miles as we walked in the stream.
We excited the canyon at the end of the day, talking to a few folks in the parking lot and signing the register. I left some notes about the cows of course. WHY BLM? The sky had been growing dark for a bit and the forecast called for rain, so we decided to call it early. We wanted to take an alt route to yellow rock, but it was too late in the day to start up, especially if it was going to storm. So we found a spot under some cottonwoods in the floodplain, all fouled by cows, of course. We kicked aside the poop and made the best of it. The rain started just as we got our tents up but didn’t last long. Just enough to wet the ground. I expected more overnight but the sun came out again for a bit, reflecting on the hills. It was a beautiful day of canyons.