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Playing it Safe | Other Side #3

Having spent a bit of time dealing with the rear e-locker, we were running about two hours "behind schedule" as we barreled west along UT-163 towards Monument Valley. In reality, I'd somehow significantly underestimated the number of miles between Comb Ridge and the Muddy Mountains where we planned to setup camp for the night, so we were running more like five hours later than planned.

That meant we'd need to alter our itinerary a bit - eating dinner rather than lunch in St. George, as well as finding a nearby spot to camp so we could complete our final hike in the morning before heading into Las Vegas - but at least we weren't going to be driving the Tacoma back to Washington. Still, none of this meant that we couldn't take a few minutes to marvel at Monument Valley and chuckle at the throngs of people sitting, laying, and otherwise hamming it up for the 'gram at Forrest Gump Point.

The typical view.

A little more focus on the monuments.

The route from Mexican Hat to St. George is anything but efficient. Following a series of highways through nowheresville Utah and outheretown Arizona, we seemed to spend as much time going north and south as we did going west. Eventually - just before 4:30pm - we reached Kanab, the jumping off point for the first of our detours on the way back.

The Great Chamber

Located at Cutler Point, the Great Chamber is a sandstone alcove with its own personal sand dune. I forget how I learned of its existence, but this place - like Forrest Gump Point - is obviously instafabulous, and all the vanlifers and hipstalanders seem to have strikingly similar guides on how to get there (with the requisite warnings about sand and heat), what to eat when you're in the area, where to stay, and of course, how to use your drone to take the most outrageous selfie that will result in a lifechanging number of likes and follows.

We didn't have time for all that nonsense, but we were happy to follow the "beware of 17 miles of deep sand" route that they provided in order to reach the parking lot.

There was certainly some sand, but a bit of throttle - even as we were fully aired up - and we had no trouble in 4WD.

Even from a distance, we could see the chamber for much of the approach.

Either we arrived too late in the day for the best lighting, or we got lucky.

It'd taken us 40 minutes to get from Kanab to the trailhead, and as we headed up the sandy trail towards the chamber, I was sure we'd snap a couple quick photos and be back on our way. Naturally, that plan went out the door - even before we reached the main opening - as colorfully striped sandstone glowed warmly in perfectly reflected light.

Off we go!


As we arrived at the chamber, we both realized that this was going to be both an incredible and nearly intolerable experience at the same time. On the one hand, the visuals of this place are sensational. On the other, the 25 mph winds that have created a 30-foot tall dune in the middle of the chamber are relentless, and we each consumed several ounces of sand as we were sand-blasted for much of the time we were there. Eating sand; always a pleasure.

Still, even as our teeth and electronic devices were bombarded, we couldn't help but to keep calling to each other to "come check this out." Here's a bit of what we found...

Texture and light.

Particle accelerator.

Sand scales.

Chamber view.

The dune.

Grand Chamber sunstar.

I wasn't the only one taking photos as we wandered around in the warm light trying to find the perfect angle to capture the contrast between sand, rock, and sky. @mrs.turbodb was also pointing her lens here and there, and got a couple photos of me that really help to show the scale of this place!

Need. Wider. Lens.


Eventually - having spent what turned out to be nearly 40 minutes in the cave, but felt like only five - we tore ourselves away from taking the same pictures over and over and headed back down the sandy trail toward the truck. There, with our inner ears feeling like sandpaper and our teeth full of grit, it was a relief to rinse out our mouths and empty our socks before speeding our way back toward pavement and a meal - now dinner - we'd both been looking forward to in St. George.

Golden glow.

The last time we'd been through St. George, @mrs.turbodb had found a place - Tacos Plaza - where we both enjoyed tasty burritos on our way back from the Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route. Thing was, as we'd been savoring every bite, we'd noticed another customer who'd ordered the nachos. Stacked high with chips and toppings, she'd only been able to eat a quarter of the mountain of food before packing the rest up to take home. And that's when we realized what we wanted to eat next time.

We never thought that next time would be so soon. Next time was now!

Yes, please.

Turns out that two hungry hikers are - barely - able to finish a single order of nachos. The chips were thick and crispy, the toppings were tasty, and the ratio of chips to toppings was spot on. Our bellies full, we rolled ourselves back into the Tacoma and by 9:00pm, we found ourselves in a private little slice of BLM land a few miles outside of town.

The Da Vinci Panel

With our flight leaving Las Vegas at 11:30am, we were up just before the sun for the two-hour hike and two-hour drive we had on the docket for the morning.

St. George sunrise.

While most of the hikes we find ourselves on require a bit of meandering on dirt roads in order to get to the trailhead, this one demanded nothing more than pulling to the side of I-15 as it wound its way through the Virgin River Gorge. Not only that, but we were lucky. Heading south on I-15 we'd have a more direct route to the rock art; if we'd been heading north, we'd have been forced to ford the Virgin River - an exercise that might be "refreshing" in the fall, but seemed to be more "folly" at this time of year!

Right away, the mesas rising up behind the Yellow Knolls were captivating.

Working our way around a barbed wire fence, we were quickly distracted by the wildflowers along the faintly-trailed route. Most impressive, initially, were the cholla. We've seen these in bloom before - usually with bright pink flowers - but here on the edge of the Beaver Dam Mountain Wilderness, we nearly missed the spring display.

Green flowers!

This cute little yucca was a fantastic find as well.

What have we here? This little bug-eyed, spiky-haired cactus was right along the side of the trail.

I thought these rocks looked a whole lot like a fine walnut, but I'm not sure they'd have machined well in the table saw.

Surprisingly, on the inside, they were some sort of crystalline formation.

Following the route up and over a ridge, we checked out a couple of small, abstract petroglyph sites before heading down the other side towards the rushing sound of the Virgin River.

Even when there wasn't a trail, it was easy to find a route that just "felt right."

We weren't sure exactly what this depicted, but it reminded me of the Falling Man in Gold Butte National Monument, which made sense given that this glyph, too, was at the top of the ridge.

Ranchers left their mark as well, as they moved livestock along the Virgin River.

The hike to the Da Vinci panel isn't long, but when you're easily distracted like the two of us, even short hikes can take more time than anticipated. Still, even with our constant stops to admire the world around us, we made it to the first major panel - a Newspaper Rock - 30 minutes after pulling off the highway. It was 6:31am Pacific Time.

With plenty of time to check out the rock art and still be back on the road around 7:30am, we slowed down a bit as we admired Newspaper Rock.

Newspaper Rock sunrise.

A popular place.

Not far away, I decided to show off my manly strength to @mrs.turbodb. For good reason, she wasn't even mildly impressed.

Having left the best for last, we eventually made our way closer to the river as we searched for the rock art panel that gives this site its name. We spotted it - from a distance - a ledge or two below us, and as I @mrs.turbodb pulled out her binoculars for a better look, I threw caution to the wind and started looking for a way down.

Naturally, my way wasn't as graceful as the one who spent a little more time evaluating the approach, but in the end, we both ended up in front of a towering slab of sandstone that @mrs.turbodb remarked, "looks a lot like a canvas."

The Da Vinci Panel.

The main attraction.

Even though the Da Vinci man was cool, I found myself drawn to the wavy-line double-spiral immediately above it.

Lichen growing over the bottom spiral.

And with that, we spent a few minutes looking down at the river before heading back the way we'd come. The return trip was - as always seems to be the case - faster than the first half of our hike, which meant that we'd have plenty of time to pick up a couple breakfast burritos before dropping the Tacoma off at the storage facility and hopping on a Spirit Airlines flight home.

And yeah, Spirit may not have the best reputation, but I can tell you this with confidence - it's a whole heck of a lot better than driving 27 hours to get home!



The Whole Story


    JOHN D MORAN June 9, 2024

    Another fine adventure, first I've seen of the Chamber or heard of it. Thanks again for sharing, the sand would keep us out on that one. Long time since I've been in Kanab but I've been hoping to visit the Belly of the Dragon near there. Plans for the spring have mostly collapsed as the blower motor on the truck seems to have died, no blower means no A/C so off to my mechanic tomorrow. Temps already hitting over 100 here so next trip may be the coast!

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 9, 2024

      Thanks as always John 😁. The Chamber was new to me about 6-9 months ago when I learned about it; a bit of a surprise, since I've been through Kanab my fair share of times! Was a cool spot to visit, with the sand being less of a factor than I thought it might have been given the descriptions I'd heard. Still, I'd say high-clearance 4wd, and a bit of experience driving in it were definitely necessary to make it a non-event. As always, airing down would always make it easier, and unlike the usual Utah mud, I bet the sand becomes easier to drive if it's rained a bit, or snowed.

      I'd not heard of Belly of the Dragon, but I'll add that to my list for a future "passing through Kanab" adventure, it's always fun to see anomalous places like that.

      Bummer about the blower motor - hopefully the blower is accessible and that's a reasonably easy repair so you can get back out to enjoying the scenery! 👍

  2. Lance Geis
    Lance Geis June 9, 2024

    I dont always comment here but I am always happy when one of your posts comes along. Top shelf photos and adventures!! I just spent 3 days camping in a stellar part of Utah that is one of the least visited. Do you know the Tables of the Sun/Red Canyon area? It was otherworldly.

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 9, 2024

      Thanks Lance - it's great to hear that you look forward to the stories, and always puts a smile on my face when a comment like this shows up. I've not been to Tables of the Sun/Red Canyon, but I've now added to my ever growing list of places to check out in Cedar Mesa, thanks!

  3. Joe Meyer
    Joe Meyer June 9, 2024

    Could that Yucca actually be a nolina? I recently learned about them on a trip up the Palm Springs Tram.

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 9, 2024

      Could it be? Yes, definitely; I am no botanist 🤣. From my quick internet-botany lesson however, I think it's a yucca. The flower seems to match a yucca more closely (vertical, individual flowers), where on a nolina, it's more like a "grassy flower" that bushes out more. But again... 😉

      Thanks for introducing me to Nolina - I'd never heard of them either!

  4. Tom Zinn
    Tom Zinn June 10, 2024

    Very nice images...looks like another great trip!

    • turbodb
      turbodb June 10, 2024

      Thanks Tom, we had a great time out there for sure!

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