Cooper Discoverer-Overlanding through the Deserts of Utah and Arizona: In June?


Expedition Leader
The desert in June? Yeah, it is not the best time to travel to the deserts of Utah and Arizona but if your wife and daughter take off for two weeks. What to do? My wife and daughter leave to visit family in Florida every year. So, it is my chance to escape and explore. The last two or three summers, I have been lucky with weather. Cooler temperatures and at times, monsoonal moisture, etc. This year would be different. The temperatures would be warm. I would say 85-95 was the usual but a few days it approached 100. However, the beginning of June in the desert is special. The plants are the greenest they will be until next summer and rivers are their highest point with moisture coming off the high peaks. It's a good time for sure...Remember, it's a dry heat:)

Each year, I rally a group of friends and we make the best of it. I usually give a little direction to the trip, and we kind of fill the blanks in as we go along. The itinerary was loose but basically, we would start off in Moab, down to the Needles, Navajo Reservation, Grand Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, Grand Staircase, and the Boulder Mountains. A very large loop.

I left Park City and motored down to Moab where the gang would meet. A great group of travelers...Teachers, a professional photographer and a brewery owner. Just a fun, easy going group. The fun would begin in Moab:)

DSC_2164 (2).jpg

My friend, Sam, pointing the way to the fun. To the adventure...

DSC_2125 (1).jpg

Barb and Sam are teachers, while Dave is a brewery owner. All were a little stunned when they saw Park Avenue in Arches from a little different perspective. I never get sick of this view!


Dave hadn't been on rappel for many years. He seemed quite comfortable to me though. The route involved four rappels but this one got everyone's attention at about 100 feet in length.


The following morning we headed for the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. The one thing about June, the desert is quiet. We rarely saw people. The only travelers we did see were from Europe. Their expressions and astonishment were contagious. They were amped to see the goods of canyon country!


There were a few random rock houses we saw along the way. I am sure in the depths of the rock, the temperature was splendid. But, we stayed outside and enjoyed the heat:)

Now, we traveled into the Needles District of Canyonlands and stopped at the visitor center. There was a road we were aiming to explore. Horse Canyon...This road has been closed for a few years. It gets hammered by flash floods and rarely opens. The ranger warned us that we might die or get stranded or ALL the above. We listened and then aired down our tires and traveled into the unknown. None of us had been there before. The canyon was also home to many Anasazi ruins.


Just stunning...It was warm out but we just marveled at the structures. Speechless...


The day was spent hiking and exploring alcoves and canyons. We saw rock art and ruins galore. Now, if you have ever been to canyon country; then you have witnessed Magic Hour. It was starting as we exited the canyon.


Shane's Tundra loaded for the adventure and fun in canyon country. Shane is a professional photographer out of Flagstaff, Arizona. He shoots large format cameras. Each shot takes him 15 minutes to setup. So, he let me shoot my digital on the way out...


I drive a 99 TLC. Horse Canyon ended up to be pretty mellow. A few washouts and some sand driving, but it was fairly benign.


Well, that was until Shane got stuck in a sand pit and had to be winched out. We exited the canyon in darkness. I need to go back. The canyon is magical and holds many secrets. I just haven't found them yet...

More to come...
Last edited:


Expedition Leader
I had been to the Needles area just two months prior. And, the park was just different. There were people everywhere. On this trip, it seemed that the park was ours. Yes, there were a few souls braving the heat with us but for the most part, we had the park to ourselves.

Shane and I joined the group once again after our winch out in Horse Canyon. "The band was back together" again...For me the allure to the desert is the vast, open country and discovering treasures in that country. No, I am not talking gold or silver but rock art, ruins, and pottery. The Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloans lived in this land roughly 800 years ago. The area of Canyonlands was pretty much the furtherest north they went. Boxed in by the Green to the West and the Colorado to the North, they traveled from New Mexico and Arizona; looking for better lands. So, we were off to retrace their steps and find the signs of the past. Signs that make one ponder and think...


Off we went...The desert landscape is like no other I have witnessed. The Colorado Plateau is unique and special. The Land Cruiser leads the way. This entire area would be protected with the new Bears Ears National Monument.


We drove down a dirt track to a river that normally flows with a trickle but on this day, it was different. Sam enjoying the "trickle" of water...


You see it, right? The ruin...We found this beautiful structure and marveled at the workmanship. We also got frustrated because we couldn't get close to it. How did the Anasazi? We pondered...


More treasures...More goods...The handprints were awesome! I marveled at the paint they used. Would our Home Depot brands last 800+ years? Ahhh...I think not.


Off we went...In the search of more...


Dave's LC is built for fun and adventure. And, we were having all of it. We spent a little time in the vehicles and then got out and hiked and explored...This was repeated over and over. Our mission was to find the "goods" of canyon country.


The "goods" were found. Shane was in awe of this site. This beautiful ruin sits on BLM land. In a few months, it could be protected under the Monument. But, what will that look like? The monument is close to 2 million acres and some of the most remote land in the US. How will they protect such a site? Big questions...without any immediate answers. We ALL need to be stewards of the land. Monument or not...


Dave holding a nice sized pottery sherd. Mind boggling to think this 800+ years old...


Shane packed up and ready to roll. Onward...To where? How about a quick cool off? The weather was not bad but it was warm. So, we decided to have a beer and swim break after our discovery and hike. Shane enjoying his homemade drawers.


Barb wondering where to go next...Who cares? We were cooling off and relaxing. Our minds tried to make sense of what saw on this day. The Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans were an amazing people. Where did they go? And, why? Would we find answers tomorrow or just more questions?

More to come...
Last edited:


Expedition Leader
Our route would continue to lead us south. We visited the Cedar Mesa area of southeastern Utah. It's a magical area full of ruins and rock art. No matter which canyon you wander will find something. It's also the center of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. We spent a few days on "the Mesa" and didn't see a soul.


Sam was on the Mesa for the first time. He was mesmerized by what he saw. It's hard to put into words the power of seeing something 800+ years old just out in the desert. Your mind fills with questions.


I always enjoy seeing Bear Paw petroglyphs. There are a few in the Moab area too. I imagined the joy a bear kill brought the Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloans.


Being out for a while, one eventually hits their "groove"...Shane was hitting his...


Shane and I wandered around the corner while the others headed back to the vehicles. We turned and saw these...Amazing shape along with the doors. It appeared that the ruins were waiting for their makers to return home. We took a few pictures and retraced our steps up and out of the canyon.


We called it a day at Muley Point. The view was nothing short of amazing. And, there was no wind. Luck was on our side this day.


The next morning we rallied down the Moki Dugway and headed to Bluff. Shane has arranged a Navajo guide to take us out on the reservation. Being out on the reservation is legal if one attains a hiker's permit. However, we hired a guide to show us "some goods".


Shane marveling at this find on the reservation. We were speechless for hours. There was so much to see and witness. Ruins, rock art, and pottery...It seemed like the Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloans had just left.


What do you see? Pottery? Corn cobs? The remnants were just incredible!

But, our day was winding down and we had to head further south and then west. Our destination was Lee's Ferry.



We filled our tanks and headed through Monument Valley. We had a boat to catch the following day.

More to come...
Last edited:


Expedition Leader
We had been out for a week but our energies were still high. The trip and our route turned toward the west and Lee's Ferry. Lee's Ferry is at the base of the Vermillion Cliffs and the gateway to the Grand Canyon.


Shane getting his coffee on and packing up for the next adventure.


Barb enjoying the journey upstream. We took a power boat up from Lee's Ferry to the Glen Canyon Dam. Glen Canyon Dam was constructed in the 60's and created Lake Powell. Currently, the dam is holding back a lowering reservoir. The past few winters have been lacking snow and therefore, water. Lake Powell is going down...The canyons are reemerging. But that's another story...


After being dropped off by our boat, we blew up our individual boats and began the 15 mile float back to Lee's Ferry. The day's plan was to float, fish, and relax. Yep, the fishing can be tremendous. The water coming out of the bottom of the dam is around 43 degrees. So, there we were floating down a river with an air temperature of 100 or or so with the water being almost 60 degrees cooler. The fish love the cold water and number in the thousands...


We found a nice place to camp for the night. The river put us at ease. It was a good night. The following morning we had about 9 more miles to float back to Lee's Ferry. My good friends Ed and Bryan had joined us for the part of the week. Packing up the next morning...


Close to Lee's Ferry, I noticed a large herd of wild horses coming down the river for a drink. I was lucky to get a few shots of the stallion. There were about 10 horses in total. They all just seemed to look at us in our pack rafts.


Our luck continued as we made our way to the Vermillion Cliff and the Buckskin Gulch area. Buckskin gets a lot of noteirity for being the longest slot canyon in the world. It's a magical place. It should be on your must do list if you are ever in the area. Ed and Bryan playing a mean game of corn hole. The light show behind them lasted for about 30 minutes and included light sprinkles and rainbows.


A tough state border crossing...No one seemed to notice or care:)


Photo: Shane Knight

Shane and I just looking at up. What else to do? We just marveled at this natural wonder and beauty. I had not been to Buckskin for a number of years. And, it was nice to be back:)


Our route took us into the remote backcountry of the Grand Staircase Monument. There would be 200 miles of dirt roads to come. Magic hour was hitting us as we made our way to one of the most picturesque camping spots I have ever been.

More to come...
Last edited:


Expedition Leader
The Magic Hour was upon us as we traversed the Grand Staircase. Just stunning beauty. The Monument was created by Bill Clinton in 1996. At the time, many in Utah were not happy. However, the polls show that the majority of Utahans favor the Monument. However, on this day, we didn't see anyone else out there...The Monument is comprised of miles and mile of dirt roads, canyons, and vistas. We were on our way to enjoy them all:)




Shane was the leading the group, while I brought up the rear. Shane spends a lot of time in the area. He is based out of Flagstaff and is up in the area quite often shooting. The beauty was everywhere. All we had to do was stay on the road and observe:)


Ed and Bryan stunned at what we found at the end of the road. Correct that...we were all stunned!


Yes, it was June and warm...but, on this particular night it was just perfect. The water below did look cool though...We spent the night cooking dinner over the fire and replacing a blown fuse in my refrigerator. Conversation among friends in a wonderful spot.


The morning was pleasant and even a few sprinkles fell on us. The first rain for the past 10 days. The light show was glorious as we sipped coffee and packed up.

Photo: Shane Knight

Photo: Shane Knight

We traversed back over MARS and headed for the Kaiparowits Plateau. We took the Smoky Mountain Road up and over. The road was in fine condition. The views were everywhere we looked. The goal for the day was to find some remote ruins and end up down on the Hole in the Rock Road. Off we went...

Photo: Shane Knight

Photo: Shane Knight

The Smoky Mountain Road is a must do drive. Just stunning. The stark, desolate desert is truly alive.

More to come...
Last edited:


Expedition Leader
Our route took us up and over the Plateau. We headed north and our final destination was the Hole in the Rock road. The Kaiparowits is full of roads leading in all directions. Ranchers still use the land for cattle grazing. We were surprised how good of shape the roads were in...We rarely had to transfer the trucks into 4-wheel drive low range. The scenery and being someplace totally new was captivating.


The view from the top for the road was grand. It was also nice to see some thunder clouds roll in for a little "mood".


Off we went...The cloud cover, higher altitude, and breeze put our temperatures in the 60s. Yes, we were enjoying the reprieve from the heat. We were on the lookout for some remote ruins the Ancient Ones. Yes, they had escaped the heat and roamed this land 800+ years ago.

Photo: Shane Knight
With a little effort and luck, we found what we were looking for. This beautiful ruin tucked back into the rock. No, it does not have the grandeur of Mesa Verde. But, finding a ruin in the backcountry of Utah is a unique, special experience. One that we all enjoyed.

The Monument does have a hard time trying to keep the roads open and the Left Collet Road is a passageway from the HITR to the Kaiparowits Plateau. The road is constantly hammered by flash floods and rock falls. The road is usually pretty gnarly, but we had heard that the monument has been working on it. Luck was on our side once again and we found the road to be a pleasant, spectacular drive.


Barb hoping some of the rocks don't move...

We made our way down to the Hole in the Rock road. This road has a wild, crazy history. Mormon leader, Joseph Smith, told his followers that they needed to spread the good word of Mormon all over Utah, so he asked people to spread the word. Good followers are just that...good followers. So, his followers headed out from Escalante for the direction of the southeastern corner of Utah. One major obstacle--The Colorado River. The got to the edge and saw that it was a thousand feet to the river. What to do? Turn around? Nah...How about blasting a road down to the river? They commissioned more supplies from Salt Lake City and eventually blasted a "hole" through the rock and down to the river. The journey was some six months long...The eventually made it the southeastern corner and founded Bluff, Utah.


The side roads off the HITR road lead to some wonderful scenery. Notice the tower jutting up from the desert? That was our camping spot for the night.


Sam stoking the fire and enjoying Magic Hour. Remember the desert tower? Right in the background...

The trip was changing once again. Sam and Barb had to head home. Sam had his son Sammy with him and commitments called. Barb really wanted to join us on the next part but felt like physically she wasn't up to the task. We said our goodbyes and we took a left to head further down HITR, while Barb and Sam took a right and headed to pavement and Escalante.

What to do in the June when the weather is warm and you are in the desert? Swimming and boating of course!


Photo: Shane Knight

Ed trying to find water...There was a little to his left. But, not enough for the boats. So, we continued our ramble...


Nothing yet...There was plenty of water for filtering and drinking but not floating. The canyon was gorgeous and we all just marveled at the views in every direction.


We turned the corner and there it was...Lake Powell or Lake Foul or Reservoir Powell. I have to believe that John Wesley Powell would not be in favor of the "lake" that bares his name. We found ourselves under the largest, tallest alcove that we had ever seen. It was just stunning. Bryan took a swim and we prepared for tomorrow.

Final Installment to come...
Last edited:


Expedition Leader
The day dawned bright and blue. We were excited and somewhat nervous to be "explorers" of the lake. What would we find? Would we face any obstacles? It was time to get the boats ready.


Ed showcasing how the Alpacka Rafts are blown up. Ingenious! Such a smart and simple idea.


We all marveled at the lake levels from long ago. So much was covered and destroyed. The canyons are coming back. Get out there and see for yourself!


I had my gear and was ready for the day's adventure. Let's do this!


Because we were starting in the backwaters, we wondered what we might have to paddle through. Within 5 minutes, we found it. Logs, plastic, plants, etc. have washed up into the canyon heads. We were looking forward to the nonnatural turquoise water.


There it was...The "good" water!


The Moki Steps signified that the Ancient Ones had been here. They used the steps to access water on the Escalante River. I think they would be a little startled to see Caribbean Blue water in the sandstone canyons today.


We spent three days paddling and hiking the canyons of the Lake Powell. It was a tease...There is so much to see in this country. The packrafts open up so much more country to see and explore. We will be back! Ed and Bryan had to rally north for home commitments after we got off the lake. Shane and I had a few more days to explore and relish in canyon country.


We decided to go for a hike and swim. The water felt wonderful. Finding a desert oasis is unique. Make sure you stop and enjoy. We did...


Shane is a professional photographer and has galleries in Flagstaff and Williams, Arizona. It appeared to me that he was not shooting digital:) His large format cameras took a lot of time to setup and a great deal of patience. But, the pictures are fabulous. Shane waiting for the light.

The last night, we recalled all that we had seen and done over the past two weeks. Crazy awesome...But, the following day, we made our way home. I was a little sad that it was over but honestly, I was tired. We had traveled through the deserts of Utah and Arizona by foot, vehicle, packraft, and rope. We had been making the most of our daylight hours. It was time to savor what we had seen and done. It was time to head home.


I aired up my tires and hit pavement. The goods of canyon country can be enjoyed any time of year. Yes, it can be warm but if you ever get the chance; make an effort to overland the Colorado Plateau. Even if it is in June...

Until next time...
Last edited:
Very cool!

I was over in Canyonlands at the same time and the heat almost killed me. Definitely worth the adventure though.
I love that you were able to get a tour guide to some of the native locations in the reservation, I would love to see all that.
Have fun out here. Hiking in the summer isn't too hard if you start early and carry a lot more water than you thought you might need.
Look up for the ruins, they didn't build their abodes at ground level. We found a few the rangers didn't know about or at least they didn't want to admit they knew were there.
Read up on your Edward Abbey, It explains why the rangers out there are sort of protective about the area.
WOW, great trip report Mike!

I really like how you write these reports. You write with a creative spirit vs cut/dry. Your photographs are fantastic; matched with your words is a great reminder of the trip. However, you could have left the one of me stuck in the sand out :)

We all had such a great time. I have forgotten how much we did within a two week period. We definitely covered some ground; however, we took our time and didn't rush anything.

"I usually give a little direction to the trip," More like "a lot". You did such a great job rallying everyone and arranging all the major details of the trip (and all the past ones too).

Mike after a steady up climb to a fantastic sight.

Thanks for the great memories Mike (and Barb, Dave, Sam, Bryan, Ed, and Sammy too!),
Shane Knight


Expedition Leader
Yeah, it was a little warm. However, I was amazed as how I got used to it. I even noticed that when it cooled into the 70s in the evening, I would put a jacket on. Kind of silly...

Very cool!

I was over in Canyonlands at the same time and the heat almost killed me. Definitely worth the adventure though.
I love that you were able to get a tour guide to some of the native locations in the reservation, I would love to see all that.


Overlanding Nurse
Great report, thanks for sharing!

My wife and I picked mid June for our first Moab adventure a few years back. We commented to a ranger that we had only seen one other vehicle on the White Rim trail. She looked at us as if we were simple-minded.

"You do know that we're having a heat wave, right?"

We just figured it was always 110 degrees!
Here are a couple of more shots of the Arches National Park hike/rappel which was at the beginning of this trip.
What a great day!

This is from the top looking down onto Park Avenue.

Here is Mike aka MPH, dropping down the final 100' rappel.