Thanksgiving weekend and beef. Not the usual combination, normally it’s turkey or tossing the pig skin (some sort of sports reference I’m sure). But Thanksgiving weekend 2009 was tied with Beef Basin.
We departed Salt Lake at 7:30 on Friday morning with the goal of making our camp by 3:00 that afternoon. Our caravan linked up along I-15 as we headed towards Spanish Fork canyon. Kurt and I in his Tacoma were quickly joined by Greg and his son Oakley in his awesome HZJ-75, Sully and Erica in their Tacoma and Cody caught up after hitting some Black Friday sales in his Grand Cherokee.
We made some excellent time on our way down to Moab, reaching our lunch stop at Smitty’s Golden Steak before noon. After indulging in the deliciousness of that greasy spoon we hit the road again.
After another hour or so on pavement we hit dirt on the turn off for Beef Basin. We stopped for a few minutes to air down.
The road out to Beef Basin was a typical BLM graded road, quite smooth and lended itself nicely to some high speeds. We hit some shady areas that still had a fair amount of snow from the last storm.
As we descended down towards Beef Basin we were greeted with the spectacular vista so common in South Eastern Utah. No matter how many times I’ve been there I don’t think I will ever tire of these scenes.
We hit camp up Beef Basin Wash around our target time of 3:00pm. As usual everyone spent the next little while finding that perfect spot to pitch your tent or park your vehicle. Greg and Kurt had the luxury of rooftop tents, Sully and Eric were smart enough to hole up in the shelled bed of their truck while Cody and I camped like real men in our tents.
Our campsite was nicely situated about halfway up the wash and right below the ruin of a cliff dwelling which we intended to hike up to the next morning.
The weather for Friday night was quite agreeable as well, clear, fairly warm for late November in southern Utah and not much wind. Contrary to most trips we had camp set before dark and had time to make dinner with plenty of light.
After a relaxing Friday night around the campfire Saturday dawned clear with a slight breeze but definitely a bit more of a chill in the air. Much to Kurt’s chagrin, our start to the day was a bit later than we had anticipated with most of us rolling out of our sleeping bags sometime after 9:00am.
The first order of the day was to cook up some breakfast, which Kurt and Cody did with gusto in Greg’s enviable camp kitchen setup.
Once we had eaten heartily (well aside from me and my oatmeal) we began our hike up to the cliff dwelling. One can quickly see why the Anasazi chose this location. There was no way to approach the dwelling without being seen from it. And once you got to it, there was only a narrow path to get to the entrance.
The ruin was remarkable. Still had some of the wood that formed the second floor and the stairs, the mortar holding the stone was still there and the view was incredible.
We hiked back down from the cliff dwelling, finished breaking camp and headed out. Our next destination was an area called Ruin Canyon. As the name suggests, there were several ruins up the canyon.
The most spectacular being about a quarter mile from an overgrown portion of the trail. We attempted to hack our way through, but decided it was just as easy to walk.
The ruin was a couple hundred feet up from the canyon floor on a fairly narrow shelf. We hiked up and poked around it for a bit. Its amazing that even though the elements have washed away all the mortar that held the stones in place it still stands.
As we looked around this ruin we found one up above us.
It is in remarkably good condition. Cody managed to climb up to it and found that it was very small, probably just a grainery. But the condition was just incredible.
We hiked back to our vehicles for lunch and pondered the rest of the day. The plan was to head out into an area called Ruin Park. We knew that there was the potential of a storm that afternoon, so high on our list was also finding a good camp spot as well.
We exited Ruin Canyon and got back onto the Beef Basin loop road. Now, since the area is called Beef Basin, there are a number of corrals. These can make for some fun pictures.
After our impromptu photo shoot, we headed into Ruin Park and found what is probably one of the coolest ruins I have ever seen. It is called Tower Ruin, and it’s awesome. A two story ruin that has a near perfect right angle. Very neat. There is some speculation that there may have been a number of these towers to be used for signaling each other and perhaps the inhabitants of the previous ruins we visited.
Greg and Oakley decided that they would head out and try to make it back to Salt Lake that night, so we parted ways with them. The rest of us could see the storm coming in and split up to find a good, concealed camp spot. Ultimately we found one up Butler Wash and we hurriedly began setting up before the pending rain…
…Which didn’t come. No the storm split right over us and aside from a strong breeze, we didn’t get anything. So we sat around the campfire to stay warm and argued the merits of cast iron versus aluminum for camp cooking. The final verdict being that cast iron is the only way to go.
Sunday dawned windy, cold and with a slight dusting of snow. I woke up early and hiked out a ways from our camp to a beautiful overlook of Needles. Unfortunately I only brought my medium format camera and have no pictures to share. I will tell you that it was spectacular in the crisp morning air.
As everyone else woke we stoked up the fire and made some breakfast sandwiches and indulged in Sully’s delicious peach/pineapple cobbler from the night before. With breakfast complete and camp broke, we headed out. Our route took us down Bobby’s Hole and into the Needles District.
Cody decided to take a quick detour and run Impossible Hill.
We headed towards Needles on a narrow two track and were greeted by spectacular view over every hill.
Through what remains of SOB Hill.
We finally made it to Elephant Hill. It’s been years since I was last on Elephant Hill, but it is much easier to make those tight switchbacks in a Samurai than it is in a Tacoma! But up we went.
And then back down.
And that was it. We had made it to the parking lot of Elephant Hill and pavement. We jetted out to the Needles Outpost for some fuel (fortunately without incident this time!) and then made a quick stop at Newspaper Rock.
The day ended with Kurt, Cody and I stopping at The Moab Brewery for Beer Cheese Soup and a cold one before trekking north and home. Aside from the cold, and even that wasn’t that bad, it was a great trip.
All pictures courtesy of Stephen Nielson and Kurt Williams