Sharing the Wonders of North Hatch Canyon
Mother's Day was fast approaching. What should I get for Mom this year? Flowers? Flowers are always nice, but they have been done to death. Chocolates? The same. How about a day of jeeping on one of my favorite trails? It may not work for everyone, but for my Mother (and Father), a trip to southeastern Utah for a little spring 'wheeling was just the ticket. With the parental units retired and RVing full-time, making sure a suitable weekend was available was the first challenge. No one is busier than an actively retired person. After a phone call to Mom, their schedule was modified to allow a meeting at the Hite Marina on Lake Powell. The Mother's Day trip was on!
I owe my passion for Jeeps and backcountry roads to my parents. Growing up on the farm in Nebraska, our annual family vacation usually meant packing the kids up and heading for the mountains of Colorado. My mother worked at a resort in the Rockies during her college years. A weekly trip she hosted for guests had introduced her to the idea of roads less traveled. A subsequent marriage and family didn't diminish the call of high-country back roads. In those early years, our family explored the back roads of Colorado in whatever four-door sedan we had in service at the time. Yes, my four-wheeling bug actually started in a '62 Impala! We eventually made the move to a CJ in the mid-1970s. Mom and Dad have been 'wheeling an '89 Cherokee since it was purchased new and had long since expanded their trail repertoire to include every terrain found in the western U.S.
With this family history, it wasn't so unusual to propose a Mother's Day spent prowling the back roads of Utah. The trip needed to follow a few simple rules. The trip couldn't be too taxing, as my parent's days of enjoying 4WD challenge is in the rear-view mirror. The route also needed to be completed in a single day, so they could return to the comforts of their RV in the evening. Their love of roughing it on the trails doesn't extend beyond nightfall (although, we did talk them into camping on Mt. Blanca and the Hole-in-the-Rock trail on past trips). With these parameters in mind, I confidently made the selection. This trip has remained one of my personal favorites for many years. My Mother's Day gift would be the long and beautiful loop from Hite Marina on Lake Powell through the Wingate sandstone wonderland of North Hatch Canyon.
Hite Marina is located where Highway 95 crosses both the Colorado and Dirty Devil Rivers at the north end of Lake Powell. With the current lake far below full-pool level, there isn't a lot of boating activity at Hite (the permanent boat ramp has been high and dry for years). But it is still a great place to use as a base of operations in southeast Utah. Surrounded by some of the most spectacular red rock terrain in the whole state, Hite offers gas 24 hours a day and has plentiful campsites exposed by the low lake level. We parked the RVs, enjoyed the sunset on the surrounding rocks, and headed to bed early in preparation for the long loop the following day.
The first leg of the loop heads north from Hite toward the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. The turn off the pavement is between the two bridges on Highway 95. This road is in much better shape than the first time I traveled it almost 25 years ago. Although it sees a grader much more often than it used to, it is still a slow trip due to stretches of solid sandstone roadbed and its meandering path as it skirts numerous side canyons of the Colorado. Speed isn't desirable anyway as the towering rock formations and distant views to the Lasal Mountains elicit numerous photo stops.
The view to the west is framed by The Block. Just as the name implies, The Block is a huge chunk of eroded sandstone that stretches nearly 10 miles. Composed of the typical and various sedimentary layers that make up this portion of the Colorado Plateau, this wall of rock is dominated by towering vertical sandstone faces of Wingate sandstone. Along with the accompanying Kayenta and Navajo sandstone, these almost sheer walls can reach 1,500 feet in places. The Sewing Machine is the whimsical but aptly named formation dominating the south end of this high wall of towering Wingate sandstone.