Vermilion Cliffs Sand Hills Loop, Bad As Wanna Be
The land on this “hike” is under the jurisdiction of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Please do not spoil or collect here. I see “Tom” was in the Eastern Sand Hills crevasse on New Years Day 1932. He left his mark. Then it was not a National Park. DO NOT LEAVE TRACE. At first I left “hike” in parentheses. Michael Kelsey calls this area a hiking area. It’s an independent trail-finding fight from start to finish here. It’s sick, brutal, twisted, unpleasant (and rewarding). Love it. You can do it? You’ll know in no time.
Okee Dokee, Michael Kelsey is the only one writing about this hike so go ahead and buy his book so you know which mile marker on Hwy. 89A on the Arizona Strip to detour. Now throw the book in the trunk and read this.
Kelsey is almost 70 years old and apparently still walks at a pace of seven miles per hour on vertical slopes. Congratulations Michael, I see that you are as dangerous as ever. I bought your new fifth. Edition of “Hiking and exploration of the Paria river” and the images are in color! But you are still dangerous. While children won’t need inner tubes in it, they will need a respirator. So not only is this hike as bad as you want to be, but MK is also as lousy as you want to be. Again, the great thing about this guy is that he goes where no one else goes (and he can sometimes get you on the trail, but not on this hike).
Oh I mean I’m almost 60 years old and this is my second time doing the Eastern to Northern Cracks Loop. I am in excellent condition. It takes me twice as long to do things as Kelsey.
Most 30-year-olds can’t follow me.
The walk: 6 hours, and we walked almost non-stop, ten minutes for lunch. Route n. Where it turns north at the 89A exit is n. 1396. The parking lot at Jacob’s Pool is 2 miles north on this sandy road. The Jeep reached 1/8 of a mile from Jacob’s, where the last ravine was washed away. Get out of your car! Look north on Vermilion Cliffs. No, not northwest on a wide sand slide. There is a narrower sand slide to the north. Yes, it is not scalable. That’s slang for “you can’t climb”. Now just east of this thin sand slide is a HILL of sand. It is scalable. Aim for the eastern end of this sandy hill. You will not be able to reorient yourself until you are in it. Let’s cycle counterclockwise. You will see why. It is brutality but the easiest. Michael is full of blah blah but never mind Rachel Lee’s old stone house. There are about 50 ancient ruins and they don’t have signs. So from Jacob’s walk, the old road east along the fence. You are right that it vanishes when you turn north. You are looking for the main spring as he says. Cattails! That is what you are looking for! There is only one place with many cattails! Now he talks about an “emerging hikers trail.” What does that mean? Emerging from your chest like the “Alien”? I once had an album called “Emerge the Litter”. Does it have something to do with the group “La Camada”? No, it’s not wet like he says. Approximately 6 people a year do this hike and they are all “tough”. Probably none of the 6 will emerge here exactly when you are here. We don’t need stinky badges. From the cattails head northeast. The hike is brutal here and it doesn’t get any easier. Go home if you can’t cut the sand and ball bearings anymore. Start early in the morning and you can see the northeast by the sun. Finally, about an hour from where you parked (at Jacob’s) you will arrive at the sand hill. Remember you want the east end. There is an intermittent trail here and there on the sand hill and maybe a cairn somewhere. At 1 1/4 hours the trail you should be on crosses a wash on a huge black rock on the right. Now, in a few minutes, the trail disappears. Look, this is an autonomous expedition. The correct path may be to climb the wash “ladder steps”, but we opted to climb as we were going to have to climb.
If you want to follow me take the alluvial fan facing the clay directly to the left. Do you want to go home now? The “East Rift” is now obvious to the northeast and heading that way as well. Directly for me. You are on the right track if you see the lizard petroglyph crawling up the wall to your left. This was at 1 hour and 50 minutes. Michael counts 6-7 petroglyph panels. There is more to that. The second panel (also left 2 hours) are 6 pretty Bighorns. At 2 1/4 hours you will see what looks like a dam (there are also a lot of dead juniper trees) as you continue straight up. You can do it. I am 60 years old. This dam-like thing is what Kelsey calls a “built cattle trail.” Climb up the wall and turn left on the trail for about 5 feet where it ends. Now straight to the top (many more great pets). 2 1/2 hours to the top. Of course Kelsey gets in and gets back to her car so fast. What nonsense for most mortals! Anyway, leave a huge cairn on the edge when you come out (that’s that word again) from the crevasse, in case you get lost and have to go back to descend.
Whats Next? Go west along the edge. What is known as an easy and flat walk in “Hiking and Exploring the Paria River” is the opposite. I’m not Jack Kennedy, but I’m pretty sure I can easily walk over the edge. This edge walk is through loose sand, over and under rock formations, through dark routes, blah blah. Anyway, hit an unused two-track track (Bingo, MK is right at this landmark) in 1 to 1 1/2 hours from Eastern Crack. It took us 1 1/4 with our 10 minute lunch. On both lanes, look over the edge to the west. That is where you will descend. Let me explain something to you. The hike would have been easier about 1/4 mile inland from the edge, but we wanted to stay oriented to our Jeep and Jacob because we have learned NOT TO TRUST MICHAEL KELSEY. If you haven’t reached both slopes in 1 1/2 hours, head back to your massive cairn and descend Eastern Crack.
Follow the track away from the edge (north) for 5-10 minutes. When you are heading directly north, away from the edge, you are heading directly south. It is a bit disorienting when you get to the slide down. The standard three-legged trapezoidal petroglyph tells you you’re in the right place. Now, reluctantly, I’ll give THE AUTHOR credit. He correctly marks the Northern Crack rock art, which will keep you from thinking you’re lost. The walk up the Northern Crack took us 1 1/2 hours! You will be able to “rush” 3 or 4 times, but you will avoid them. The Ancients did it, I did it, and you will. Safety every time is on the left. You’ll make it because you don’t want to go back up Northern Crack, I’m thinking. I never said “disgusting” as often as when I went down this slide, but you will still understand that counterclockwise was the right choice for this hike. Lazy, dangerous and demanding. Don’t lose focus here, tired or not. Focus on work.
We finally land on the bottom. Each hiker had a gallon of water to start. It should have gone. Now the first break occurs in the entire hike after 5 1/2 hours. Walk south into the relaxing flat wash. When you get to the fence line, exit the wash on the left. Go through a hole in the fence and walk across the country to your vehicle. 1/2 hour after reaching the wash at the bottom of Northern Crack, you are sipping ice water in your vehicle.
MK did this cycle in less than 4 hours. Give me a break. I have been a fan of hiking for 20 years. Guy is crazy … and writes hiking books. Maybe I am amazed at the way it knocks me down. I will turn a corner. No, he’s crazy.
Oh never try a hike Kelsey says took her 7 hours. You have been warned. DON’T BLAME HIM, IT’S JUST “YOU AUUTHORR”.