An Article from Aaron's Article ArchiveQuest for Drifty's Sand Mountain Overlook Geocache
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Quest for Drifty's Sand Mountain Overlook Geocache
Wednesday, 01 January 2003 4:05 PM MST
Quest for Drifty's Sand Mountain Overlook Geocache
by Astounding - St. George, Utah
What better way is there to spend a mild Southern Utah New Years Day than with family and friends exploring the sand dunes and sand sculptures of Sand Mountain near Hurricane, Utah, hunting for a G.P.S. stash (geocache)? I can't think of any.
Wednesday, 01 January 2003 - New Years Day
Found at 4:05 P.M. MST (-0700)
On Monday, my cousin phoned me to let me know he and a few others were planning a jeep trip to Sand Mountain and that I was invited to come along. I've been wanting to go there for quite some time now, ever since Drifty stashed a cache on the southwest rim. A few months ago, after a rain shower, some family members and I tried driving the sandy road up the mountain toward the cache, but only made it part way up the mountain before it was apparent that the sand was still a bit too soft. The shower had only soaked the first few inches of sand, and the top layer of wet, packed sand was torn up by the many four-wheelers that always inhabit sandy places. My cousin told me that the recent rain and snow showers of the past few weeks had left the sand well soaked and hard packed underneath, and that I probably wouldn't have any trouble in my street-tired vehicle. After his call, I checked out the weather forecast, which led me to hope for a few rain showers to wet the top layer of sand down too.
By Tuesday night (New Years Eve), however, there had been no rain to speak of over Sand Mountain. Still, the plan was to meet sometime around noon the next day and trek out there anyway. So...
After noon yesterday, my brother ("Percible" is his cache handle) and I went to my aunt's house in Hurricane where we'd agreed to meet my cousin and his crew for the trip. Not too long afterward, my cousin arrived, towing his brown jeep he calls "Ugly" on a trailer. With him was another cousin's husband and my cousin's son. The five of us were ready.
We drove south through Hurricane to Sky Ranch, where my cousin parked and unloaded "Ugly" from the trailer. From there, my brother and I followed the other three in "Ugly", down the dirt road south, then turning southwest where the road forked and a small sign pointed and proclaimed the way to Sand Mountain.
It wasn't long before the road was bearing due west, and soon it began to climb, the road growing sandy. It was just as my cousin had said it would be, the first few inches dry, but the underlying layers of sand packed firmly, still moist. Driving conditions were nigh unto perfect.
We followed "Ugly" up and up, as the road began to curve southward again, the filling Sand Hollow Reservoir waters reflecting the blue afternoon sky below and behind us to the north. Then the road disappeared entirely, and spread out before us was a wide tract of sand, dune after dune mounting higher and higher, capped at the western side by a sandstone outcropping, almost directly in front and above us to the south.
Across the sand we ventured, following "Ugly" as it blazed the trail. Fortunately, the sand was firm beneath the top dry layer on the dunes too, so it wasn't hard to follow (though we were in four-wheel-drive now) to follow, so long as my cousin charted a course that avoided any slopes that were too steep.
It wasn't long before we arrived at the outcropping of rocks and parked. My cousin pointed out some petroglyphs carved into the sandstone, surrounded by modern visitors who decided to carve their own graffiti (names usually) too, sadly. Below us to the west and northwest stretched sand dunes galore. North and below, Sand Hollow Reservoir gleamed. From our perch, we could see all around Southern Utah, from Pine Valley Mountain and it's red cliffed foothills, to Ivins' Red Mountain with Square Top Mountain peeking above, to West Mountain and Scrub Peak, the Virgin River Gorge area, Black Rock Mountain with Mt. Bangs peeking above (that's the sharp peak above Mesquite, Nevada), Warner Valley south of us with Seegmiller Mountain behind south and west, the Hurricane cliffs, with mesas galore perched above (including Little Creek mesa), and the ever majestic cliffs of Zion and Kolob. What a glorious view!
We stayed a bit, played in the sand (especially my cousin's little boy), and munched on a few snacks, while I snapped pictures left and right. The crisp, cool afternoon air was perfect, not too cold at all, just right for such an excursion. And the air was so clean and clear. It was a prefect day. Below and even on the lone dune above us, other visitors on their four-wheelers and some few on dirt bikes, were enjoying the dunes as well.
I powered up my G.P.S. (my batteries were low, so I kept it off most of the time) to see how far we had to go to get the cache site. Once locked on to the G.P.S. satellite signals, it pointed almost due west and told us we were about 2.5 miles away.
We left the petroglyphs behind at last, driving down dune after dune to a low point west of where we'd parked, at which point my cousin started having a little fun, jeeping up a large dune's slope, and arcing around and back down. I just had to try it too. Inexperienced in sand driving, I was hesitant at first, then tried again with a little more velocity. Then I decided to try following "Ugly" straight up the dune's slope to the top, so I accelerated toward the dune, hit the slope and climbed, neared the top, but couldn't quite make it, with not enough speed or traction. I had to back down to the bottom in humiliation and come up another less steep way.
Atop that dune was a flat stretch of sand with another large dune on the east, with a zillion four wheelers spread across the sand in nearly all directions. A group of them gathered on the western side of the flat, then raced across the flat, gathering speed, then zipped up the dune face to the top. Then another group would gather and race. We parked and got out to watch a bit. One racer kept his throttle wide open the entire way up the dune, and launched himself skyward, a goodly slice of blue sky showing underneath his tires. We loved it! Sadly, subsequent drivers weren't as intrepid and would throttle back before the top. We hoped someone else would catch some air, and while stayed a bit longer, our hopes of seeing another soaring race finish were dashed. It looked like fun and was fun to watch.
Back in our vehicles, we ventured westward, climbing up dune after dune, with "Ugly" and it's navigator/pilot and crew again picking out a route my vehicle could follow, until we were at the top of Sand Mountain with the dunes below us to the east, straight across the sand from the opposite peak where the petroglyphs were. There we waited, watching a Ford Bronco below us on the sand attempt to follow in our footsteps (or rather tire tracks), but choosing a different route here and there, one or two of which were too steep or sandy, forcing the Bronco's driver to backtrack and try again.
Eventually, the Bronco arrived, and I met the occupants. My brother apparently knew them, as did my cousin. We chatted a bit and told them about the cache we were hunting.
Atop Sand Mountain, along the highest southern rim, is an east-west running road, with only a few sandy spots. We made good time heading west along the gravely, dusty dirt road, our trio of vehicles, "Ugly" in the lead, followed by the Bronco, my own vehicle bringing up the rear, often stopping to take another picture of the amazing formations all around us, or the superb vistas spread out around is on all sides. Below the road along the rim, another bench of the mountain extended southward. We could see a road down below paralleling our own course. Beyond the road, at the bench's edge, were hundreds of rounded sandstone humps, hillocks, and hoodoos sculpted by wind and water. Beautiful!
The soon road descended a sandy hillside to join up with the lower road, then continued west over and around another small hill. On the other side, we found ourselves driving out on an open bench of Sand Mountain populated with little sandstone hills, sculpted into fantastic forms all around us. We parked about two tenths of a mile east the cache where my cousin showed us a large rock with a tunnel all the way through it. Right in the middle of the tunnel, dividing it horizontally, was a delicate filament of sandstone bridging the two sides. Amazing! I had to take some photos.
The Bronco driver headed a few yards south to a hill split in two by a mini canyon beneath twin sandstone peaks, the cleft entrance guarded by a short (about the length of a large vehicle, say a Ford Bronco) but steep sandstone slope. He apparently had decided to test his vehicle's mettle by attempting to climb the short slope into the cleft. We walked after him to watch attempt after attempt fail. It was just too steep for his Bronco. Soon thereafter, my cousin decided he wanted to give it a try, so he brought "Ugly" to the base of the sandstone ramp. He too tried several climbs, but was was foiled. It was so steep his jeep's front wheels would leave the ground, his jeep threatening to topple over backwards. One of the Bronco's occupants even tried tying on a tow strap and pulling to hold the front tires on the rock, to of no avail. It was fun to watch.
I decided I'd watched long enough. The cache was so very close, so turned on my G.P.S. and headed back to my vehicle, snapping a few more photos of the cave and filament before leaving. I drove down the road another tenth of a mile as my brother ran along behind me, then parked where the road turned sharply another direction. The cache was only 500 feet away.
What a marvelous area! That last 500 feet was a wonderland of sandstone sculpture. I knew I was nearing the edge of Sand Mountain. Before me, westward, the communities of Washington and St. George were spread out below. I could see the L.D.S. temple, white in the sunlight prominent in the central valley of St. George. I went crazy snapping pictures left and right, glancing down now and then to make sure I was following my G.P.S.
Then we arrived at western cliffs, the G.P.S. pointing right to the very edge. I called out to my brother who was nearby, exploring the vicinity, that this was ground zero, within the region of error of my G.P.S. receiver. Almost immediately I spotted a small stack of rocks atop a slab of sandstone and knew that the cache must be below.
A ledge runs just below the top of the cliffs, and the cache was hidden in a crevice in the sandstone that can be seen from this ledge. Fortunately, one need not quite go out onto the ledge, which is safe and wide at the cache, though it quickly narrows beyond. It felt quite safe for one as afraid of heights as I am. There, in the nook, beneath some flat rocks, was the green painted ammo box cache container, in the nook right below the cairn.
I extricated the box and sat down up above on the rocks near the cliff edge and began to write in the log book. Soon we were joined by the rest of the crew at the cache site. I showed them the cache box and explained a bit about cache hunting, then showed my cousin and his son where it had been hidden (carefully I might add). We let his son write his name in the cache log book. I hadn't brought anything to trade, but my cousin found something on his person to leave in trade so his son could take something. His son chose to take a pair of tiny green plastic aliens.
After returning the the cache to its hiding spot, my own log entry astoundingly brief (I'm making up for it here), we headed back to the parked vehicles. I overhead my cousin and my other cousin's husband talking about getting to get a G.P.S. and do some caching. My cousin knows a billion places he could place a cache. He's hiked and explored Southern Utah all his life perhaps more than almost anyone else I know. I suspect cache hunting has a few new converts.
We drove back the way we came, at least until we reached the sandy hill we'd come down. My cousin's jeep had no trouble, but the Bronco bogged down in the steepest, deep sand spot and had to back down. We all turned around ("Ugly" came back down the hill) and then "Ugly" led us down the road along the lower southern bench of the mountain. My cousin warned us that there were some stretches of rock where we'd have to do some "rock climbing" driving if we took this lower route. Not something I looked forward to. That is, until he spotted another route up the hill to the road along the top.
Up "Ugly" and crew went, up the south face of the troublesome hill, followed by the Bronco. The Bronco slowly picked its way while my brother and I waited and watched from below, choosing our own route based on the trouble spots we'd observed the others encounter. Once they made it, we followed, powering up the hill much faster than the Bronco. Up at the top, the Bronco driver muttered, "I want one of those," referring to my vehicle. I hid a grin.
The quickly sinking sun lit the sandstone and dunes from the southwest, painting with brilliant hues as we headed back. Again I had to stop to snap pictures. Awe inspiring!
Back at the dunes, my cousin took us to the top of a very steep, long sandy slope down the south face of the mountain to the bottom of the dunes and declared we would be driving down it. My eyes nearly boggled out of my head. It didn't seem possible. So "Ugly" and crew showed us the way, driving, or rather sliding down the slope slowly and carefully while my cousin's little boy followed after using the rump slide method. Once his son was safe, next went the Bronco. It didn't look like driving at all, more like skiing, using tires as rudimentary rudders to control the direction of the vehicle. That clinched the deal. If the Bronco could do it, of course I could do it.
Finally it was our turn, so over the crest we went, and down the hill we slid. At one point,I let go of my steering wheel for a split second to see if it would straighten by itself (like when sliding on snow or ice). To the contrary, the sand pushed the tires hard to the left and I had to quickly correct or else we'd have turned sideways and likely rolled on down the hill. I felt a little foolish, for had I given it any thought, logic would have told me that that is what would happen. Once at the bottom, looking back up, I could smile. That was fun!
Now we were at the lowest point of the dunes, and we had to climb back up to the west to the rocks with the petroglyphs. On the way, "Ugly" and the Bronco had a little fun in the sand. I was ready to head back and didn't join in, spoilsport that I am sometimes.
Getting back up the dunes turned out to be a bit more difficult than anticipated. Perhaps the afternoon had dried the sand a bit more, or perhaps the activity of the day might have loosened the sand a bit, or some combination of both. Or maybe I just wasn't driving as well. We had trouble getting up several dunes and had to back down and try again another way. I was worried a bit that we might get stuck as the sun setting. I didn't want that.
Finally, my infinitely more experienced cousin pointed out another possible route to try, and it worked. We made it up the several dunes that were giving us trouble, and followed "Ugly" up the rest of the dunes to the rocks where we parked. I kept up my speed, not slowing down for a few bumps in the route where perhaps I should have slowed. The ride was a bit rough on us and on my vehicle, as I was determined not to get stuck, and so forged onward on to the top.
Once parked at the rock outcropping, we got out and looked around. There, far below us on the dunes was the Bronco, unmoving. Looks like they'd had a bit more trouble than we did. While my brother and I stayed (my vehicle really isn't cut out for sand duning) at the rocks and watched, "Ugly" and crew headed back down the sand to offer their services and those of their towing strap.
The sun had set by this time, though it was still light. The air, almost as soon as the sun set, very quickly grew cold, so as my brother and I watched, we donned jacket and coat respectively.
Two four-wheeler riders joined "Ugly" at the Bronco down below to see if they could help. It wasn't long, however, before "Ugly" and crew were bouncing back up the slopes to the rocks. Still the Bronco remained motionless below, but my cousin let us know they had been towed out and were now letting air out of their tires so as to grip the sand a bit better. While the Bronco's crew depressurized tires, I called my parents' home in Hurricane on my cell phone to let them know where we were at, then offered my phone to my cousin so he could check in with his wife.
Soon a pair of headlights approached us up the dunes. They'd made it! The Bronco's driver repeated his muttered wish, "I need one of those," again referring to my Blazer. Once again I hid my grin.
From the rock outcropping there is a road that heads down the west side of Sand Mountain. Down this sandy road we went, but since it was all down hill, there were no problems at all, Soon we were in the valley bottom, and saw a few trucks and even a car parked in the valley at a shooting range. If a car could make it to here, there couldn't possibly be any sandy spots in the road from here. We were home free.
Back at Sky Ranch, as my cousin loaded "Ugly" on its trailer. I told him to stop by my parents' home in Hurricane so I could show him some of the digital photos from the trip, then headed there to upload them on to my computer. Ugly's crew joined me and my brother at my folks' home for an on-screen slide show. I offered to print out a picture or two, and did so. It was the perfect end to a perfect cache hunting trip.
What a blast! I really enjoyed Drifty's cache, and appreciate my cousin inviting me to Sand Mountain and giving us the grand tour. I'm awfully glad that I didn't get stuck, and while I can't help but snicker a little that the Bronco did get stuck, I'm glad everyone made it back safely. Fun was had by all!
St. George, Utah