Twig Adventures

MRT Day 22: A Signature Day

Saturday Apr 30th, 2022, 0610-2030
Government Mesa/Horse Mountain Trail to near Charlie Moore Mountain, EABO mm 471.5, Segment 7 mm 56
18.5 miles.

I felt like this entire day was a reward for nearly finishing the MRT. I usually have at least one day or moment during a long trail that I recall as my most stunning experience, my Signature Day, and this day was definitely it for the MRT. It wasn’t the easiest hiking I guess (mostly entirely cross country down canyons), but so much fun that I barely noticed any effort all day.

It began with another big descent, officially our final from the “Rim”. We left the ponderosa, rejoining the juniper prairie and big round lava rocks that are so synonymous with the geology of the area. There were nice views ahead of the Blue River valley, which we’d rejoin in the afternoon, and to Maple Peak, the foothills of which was yet another climb to end our day. Quickly we came to the beginnings of a crack in the earth, Auger Canyon, which would turn into a series of other deeper canyons. There was one stagnant tinaja at the head of the canyon but we would come to many more pools and eventually flowing streams. We’d have water whenever we wanted it all day.

The beginnings of this canyon were very neat, with small bubbly sandstone walls and pour offs. It would keep getting better and better, too. We took our time, enjoying the pools and funky walking surfaces. Each pool deserved reflection and inspection, just as the tide pools along a rocky shore. One of the first had a very weird frog that appeared to have way too many legs. Finally I realized that it was 2 frogs, which then explained the billions of tadpoles we found in subsequent pools. I found another frog on the sandstone rock, which perfectly matched the color of its surroundings. I must have passed by nearly as many frogs as tadpoles, it’s just that I couldn’t see them disguised as rocks. Rock frogs.

We came to the first of 2 cow rustler cabins in the canyon, filled to the brim with interesting artifacts. Earlier I’d been a little concerned that I was running low on canister fuel. As hikers often say in a kind of don’t-worry-be-happy sort of mantra, I’d thrown it out to the universe that “the trail would provide.” And here was the answer to my hiker prayer: a small canister with enough fuel to get me down the trail a few more days. Bingo. There was also a logbook, with sign-ins from MRT hikers of years past. Once again, I was proud to register my name with the likes of one Buck30, a prolific hiker and journal writer that I’d followed for many years. He’d been the inspiration for many of my trails. The last time I’d seen his name in a log book was in a remote hut in New Zealand, dating back to 2011. Pretty awesome.

We diverged from the canyon at one point, following the faint traces of game trail and cairns across a desert landscape, only to avoid some hazardous pour-offs (waterfalls) in the canyon. Even this part, though very dry and getting quite hot, was very fun. I like navigating such open terrain, as it’s pretty easy to see where to go. At our rendezvous with the now bigger canyon, we came to another cabin that was even more rustic, with some bushcraft furniture. It also had a fun logbook to peruse, along with some cowboy magazines, and of course, the book of Mormon.

By this time, with so many distractions, we were aware that our mileage for this day was really suffering. But it only got worse. We entered Little Blue Creek, walking with jaws agape as the walls closed in around us and we waded through spectacular pools of water. This was the box or slot canyon part of our adventure and I just adore such stuff. I knew it was coming up, had even seen plenty of pictures, but you can never fully be prepared for experiencing it person. Nor could I ever do it justice in describing it. Everyone should go find a slot canyon to walk themselves, savoring the moment. It’s such a magical experience. This one was perhaps my favorite thus far, especially with the wonderful little pools chocked full of tadpoles. Splash splash splash….smile smile smile.

It got even better. We turned into a side canyon that held an even more magical realm, guarded by one large swimming pool and small pour off. We had to leave our packs behind here but devised a way to carry our lunches and phones to the source of a hot springs up the canyon. We swam through the pool and scrambled up the rocks, proceeding through some lesser pools and scrambles. Presently we found the hot springs, a humble pool above the creek, inviting even in the peak of the hot desert sun. The water was reported to come out at 133 degrees F and indeed, felt pretty hot. Fortunately there was a cold pool nearby for alternating soaks, making for a perfect combination.

I’ve been to a fair amount of hot springs around the world, and though I don’t consider myself an expert, I’d say this was one of my favorites of all time. Which is why I found it pretty funny to read reviews on AllTrails afterword, giving the hot springs an average rating of 1.5 stars and saying things like: “Far drive without the reward. Total bust, gnarly trek for a gross hole in the ground. NOT recommended on any level.” In the interest of keeping this little gem as such, I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t even know where the closest road access is or how to actually find the hot springs. I went the roundabout way of 500 some miles to arrive there…which was all horrible too. Dear readers, never, ever, go there. And don’t do the MRT either. It’s all terrible.

It took a long time to pull ourselves away from our desert Shangri la…I mean, mud hole. We were the only ones there on a Saturday. Alone with the wierwood sycamores, vermilion flycatchers, canyon wrens and desert bighorn. Bighorns! We heard some rocks falling only to look up and see these amazing sheep traversing a cliff. Add another new animal to my list. How awesome to see them…er, I mean awful. Thank god we still had time at the end of the day to leave the Blue River behind, climbing the faint Baseline trail 1500′. There were more terrible views of the sunset over the valley. It all made me want to puke. Blarch!

So long Blue River, you have my heart and perhaps my sole. Escaping its pull required a blood sacrifice, though.

We thought it might be fun to do some night hiking but the treacherous nature of the steep, rocky, overgrown trail thought otherwise. Luckily we came to a nice saddle just as we needed our headlamps. I’d recalled the amazing dark sky above sunflower mesa, just on the other side of Maple Peak, and got it in my mind that I’d cowboy camp this night. And that’s just what I did, nestled in the dry grass, looking up at the stars. What a perfect ending.

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