Project Backyard Trip Report: The Super Bowl Tour

Uncovering another extension to a long cross-country route through Capitol Reef

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This weekend I managed to shake the deadline dog off my ankle again and get out for another installment of Project Backyard, my self-assigned mission to map out cool new trips near my home in southcentral Utah.

I managed to uncover a 12.5-mile extension to a long, rough trip I’ve been scouting through the heart of Capitol Reef National Park. For a decade I’ve been casually assembling this maze-like expedition scramble. It’s involved as many dead ends as successes, due to the tortuous terrain and myriad cliff bands, but I’m slowly piecing it together. I call this latest addition the Super Bowl Tour – not as a memorial to the annual football championships (my team lost), but because of all the scenic slickrock bowls you travel over.

The Super Bowl Tour proved to be a great overnight on its own, but more importantly (to me anyway) is that it brings my Waterpocket Fold route to a 50-mile, weeklong trip, even with all the seemingly infinite dead ends checked off. I can hardly wait to thru-hike the whole enchilada in one gulp, with all the sense of adventure and immersion that entails, but first I’ve got to finesse a few more extensions on the northern and southern end.

The best part? This trip starts only two miles from home, and ends 20 miles away on a road I drive all the time. It is soooooo cool to find killer neighborhood adventures. All of life seems wilder just knowing all that beauty, refuge and life-enriching experience is sitting there waiting.

This trip also taught me the same lesson that most geese know by heart: When it’s cold, head South or, if the gas budget’s tight, at least get your ass to lower, warmer elevations. Even here at 6,000 feet, the days were shirtsleeve weather from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dawn was still-frozen, the only movement coming from distant headlights off near the eastern horizon. Evenings were deeply peaceful, with dark turquoise skies blending into a tangerine orange sunset, the air so still you could hear the whoosh of flying ravens a mile distant. I made a point of hiking late, strolling reflectively, following my headlamp beam across the high ridges as twilight turned to starlight.

Even though this trip went from one popular canyon (Capitol Gorge) to another (Pleasant Creek) I found zero evidence that hikers ever make it up there. I did, however, find gorgeous pocket forests of stunted ponderosa, secret pools of clear snowmelt water, and staggering vistas across the Dirty Devil country, past the remote Henry Mountains, and out over Canyonlands to the distant San Juans of Colorado.

Just think what you might find on your own escape next weekend. Start dreaming. Assemble the gear, the food, and some companions if they’re available. Then get out there. A whole world is waiting. –Steve Howe

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