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San Rafael Swell


The San Rafael Swell is Utah's fastest growing tourist destination. Most of this huge area is open to the public and adventures are left only to the visitor's imagination. The Swell is 2,000 square miles of public land, known for its scenic sandstone formations, deep canyons, desert streams, and expansive panoramas. The Swell is a massive maze of winding canyons, broken fins and buttes in the heart of Utah.

 

The geological wonder is located between Castle Dale, Green River, Hanksville and the northern end of Capitol Reef National Park. Click here to view a Map of the San Rafael Swell.

Below you can read a brief overview of some of the significant sites you'll see in this beautiful area.

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park is famous for its large collections of fancifully shaped rock formations. All of these unique and enchanting rock sculptures have been carved by centuries of abrasion by wind and water.

The Goblin Valley 3,654 -acre park, filled with hundreds of geologic wonders, is open to the public. Hikers can spend a few hours or an entire day wandering through the goblins and urchins. It is easy to imagine the antics of these chocolate goblins amid balanced rocks, spires and pedestals. Towering over the valley is a contrastingly white peak called Temple Mountain.

Please click here for more detailed information on Goblin Valley State Park.

San Rafael Reef

The San Rafael Reef dominates the eastern side of the Swell. The layers of earth which were once horizontal were been lifted up by an anticline- a huge dome underneath the earth's surface. This anticline manifests itself on the surface with a striking ridge. Erosion has exposed the jagged, upturned Navajo sandstone and cut deep canyons.

There is evidence of earlier travelers, Ancient Native Americans in the reef. Their rock art graces many of the canyon walls. Outlaws, such as Butch Cassidy, once hid from lawmen in these cracks, caves and canyons.

Today these canyons are ideal for hiking and exploring. A favorite horseback riding opportunity is the Behind the Reef Trail.

Much of the reef is within the San Rafael Reef Wilderness Study Area. Contact the Price BLM office at 636-3600 or visit BLM's web page for more information.

The Wedge/Little Grand Canyon

The Wedge Overlook is one of the best scenic vistas in the state. You'll see a dizzying viewpoint of this fantastically eroded gorge. It overlooks the San Rafael River as it flows through the "Little Grand Canyon." From this vantage point you can view Sid's Mountain Wilderness Study Area, Window Blind Peak and the southern Buckhorn Wash area. From the Wedge, travel east or west for more spectacular adventures. This is the perfect area for drivers, ATV riders, bicylcers or hikers.

There are toilet facilities, handicap access, camping (limited to designated sites) and hiking at the Wedge.

If you're visiting The Wedge overlook by bicycle be sure to read the complete directions on biking to the Wedge Overlook.

Directions to the Wedge Overlook

Navigation of this road is easy and the views at the end are highly recommended. Drive on Highway 10, 1.5 miles north of Castle Dale. Take the Green River Cutoff Road.

Mile 0
The Wedge Overlook Road begins at the 4-way intersection and heads south. As you travel southward, you gradually gain elevation as you ascend the northern slope of the San Rafael Swell. As you climb, the vegetation transforms until you are in the midst of a dense pygmy forest of Pinion Pine and Utah Juniper. The forest block all views until you reach your destination-The stunning Wedge Overlook of Utah's Little Grand Canyon!

Mile .5
At this intersection, the Fuller Bottom Road heads to the right (West). You should continue on the main road heading south.

Mile 6.1
You have arrived at the edge of Utah's Little Grand Canyon, with the tiny San Rafael River twisting along the canyon bottom. To the south, across the canyon, is the remote Sid's Mountain Wilderness Study Area, while the view down canyon towards the southeast takes in Window Blind Peak and the Southern Buckhorn Wash area. From this point, roads head east or west, providing more spectacular views for either drivers or hikers.

Once you have finished enjoying the splendid scenery, return via the same route. To protect the fragile resources, notably an endangered cactus species, use of motorized vehicles and mountain bikes is limited to roads and camping is limited to designated sites.

Little Wild Horse Canyon

Quick Facts
Season: Any - don't hike during snow or rain
Time for hike: 4 to 6 hours
Elevation gain: 500 feet
Water: Seasonal potholes in both canyons. Bring your own drinking water
Circle trip

Little Wild Horse Canyon is by far and away the most popular canyon in the San Rafael Swell - with good reason. It is a high-walled, tight narrows canyon, spectacular at every twist, turn and corner. Colors and textures run rampant here-a photographer's delight. The Navajo narrows of Little Wild Horse Canyon last for a mile or more.

The route goes up Little Wild Horse Canyon. After exiting the canyon it traverses west along the backside of the Southern Reef on the Behind the Reef road to Bell Canyon which it descends back to the start.

Go up the wash to the north. In fifteen minutes the wash divides. Bell Canyon is to the left (LUC) (SW). Go up Little Wild Horse Canyon to the right (NNW). For the next hour twist and squeeze through remarkable narrows. They politely open occasionally to give you a rest and a place to reload your camera. There are small obstacles to overcome, but nothing serious. For the less fit, or those with children, go as far as you are comfortable. Hiking through the first narrow section is a treat everyone will enjoy.

As you exit the head of the canyon you will see mining debris and sections of mining track. Follow the track north to the Behind the Reef road. Go left (W) on the road for thirty miles. The head of Bell Canyon starts at the next bread in the escarpment. To the west, on a knoll is a picturesque miner's cabin. Go south down Bell Canyon. It has small obstacles to circumvent. Bell canyon goes back to the mouth of Little Wild Horse Canyon.

From child to senior, fat to fit, everyone will enjoy these canyons.

Taken from Canyoneering the San Rafael Swell, by Steve Allen. This book details over 60 hikes in and near the Swell, from easy 1-hour strolls to multiday backpacking trips and technical canyoneering. No avid explorer of the Swell should be with out this one. This book is available at our museums of online via www.greenriver-utah.com/maps.shtml

Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry

Quick Facts
Location: Thirty miles south of Price, Utah off Highway 10
Facilities: Quarry & visitor's center, drinking water, restrooms, picnic tables
Activities at the Quarry: Guided and unguided tours, hiking
What's Nearby: camping and outdoor sports
Other info: This is a fee area

The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry is one of the world's greatest unsolved puzzles. The quarry contains the densest concentration of Jurassic bones ever found and Earth's largest collections of Allosaurs. So what is the puzzle? The bones found at the quarry site are in great shape, yet the skeletons are all jumbled up! Jim Madsen, a dinosaur expert, said, "It was as if someone had dumped a bunch of dinosaur skeletons into a mud pit and then taken a big stick and mixed them all up." Researchers are pretty sure that didn't happen. But, they still haven't found a theory explaining how all of those bones got where they are.

As scientists try to solve this puzzle, come and enjoy the Cleveland-Lloyd dinosaur quarry. You will see real dinosaur bones embedded in the 147 million year-old mudstone.

The quarry astonishes - and delights - visitors with its irresistible combination of dinosaur bones, interesting geology, and colorful desert scenery. It is located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-managed public lands at the end of 13 miles of winding gravel road. Visitor center volunteers and BLM staffers make every effort to create an unforgettable experience for the 5,000 visitors who come to the quarry each year.

At the Quarry

Come inside. You have arrived! A warm welcome, and your visit to Jurassic Utah begins. Two metal buildings protect the exposed bone bed from weather and vandals. The quarry walk trail takes you to a door open in one of them. There in the mudstone beneath your feet are black bones preserved by the geologic processes of fossilization. The ranger can take you on a short-track tour if you wish or you may take a self-guided tour of the Rock Walk. Or perhaps you may take the trail up to Raptor Point to enjoy the view. Wow! This place is just amazing!

Picnic: Picnic tables and water are available, you bring the rest! Remember, no feeding the dinosaurs.

Hiking: The "Rock Walk" is a 1-1/2 mile interpretive footpath. The Raptor Point Trail is a mile and a quarter scenic hike up to a viewpoint overlooking the quarry site. The Rim Walk Trail leading south and west from the junction with the Raptor Point Trail is another scenic hike with dramatic views of both near and far. It is a two-mile round-trip hike through pinyon, juniper and sagebrush uplands. NOTE: Collection of vertebrate fossils including dinosaur material is illegal on all public lands.

Pets: Pets must be kept on leashes and under control at all times. Please clean up after them.

Nearby Amenities

If you enjoyed the quarry, you will love the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum, and the Museum of the San Rafael.

Huntington State Park, just north of Huntington on Hwy 10, offers camping with trailer hookups, showers, phone, and a small reservoir for fishing and boating. Cedar Mountain Recreation site, located near the top of Cedar Mountain, offers picnic tables, toilets and a panoramic view of the San Rafael Swell. The San Rafael Recreation Site, located by the San Rafael River, provides tent sites, toilets, tables and fire grills.

Dispersed camping is permitted on most BLM land (some areas are restricted). Please use a portable toilet, fire pan and carry in your own wood or camp stove. Keep all areas clean; even biodegradable materials such as paper can take years to deteriorate in the desert.

Find out more about the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry's surroundings and history.

Hours of Operation

Early March - Memorial Day: OPEN Weekends (Friday, Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m | Sunday, Noon - 5 p.m.)
Memorial Day - Labor Day: OPEN Daily Mon - Sat 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday, Noon - 5 p.m.
September and October: OPEN Weekends (Friday, Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m Sunday, Noon - 5 p.m.)

User Fees

Adults: $3  |  Youth (ages 6 thru 17): $2  |  Children (5 and under): Free

Golden Eagle passes do not apply to the user fee at Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.

For more information phone: 435-636-3600 or visit the quarry's web pages:www.blm.gov/utah/price/quarry.htm and www.blm.gov/education/expert/4/index.html

Other San Rafael Swell Sites of Interest

Swinging Bridge on the San Rafael River
Swinging Bridge on the San Rafael River: As one of the most scenic features in the Swell, the San Rafael River is a perfect location to take a walk and see vegetation and wildlife flourish in this arid region. The swinging bridge located to the West was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938, and was the only bridge over the river until the early 1990s. Though you can no longer drive on it, it is perfectly safe to walk on. Floating the waterway is possible with a small craft during spring runoff. The San Rafael River Campground offers many campsites, picnic tables, fire rings and pit toilets. There is no drinking water available. There are many primitive campsites north of the river in the sand under the cottonwood trees. (Text from a "Road Less Traveled" brochure by Way Out Ideas.)

Temple Mountain
At 6773 feet, Temple Mountain is the highest point along the San Rafael Reef. Once an active Uranium mining operation, roads have been left behind that make this area perfect for hiking, horseback riding and biking.

Cedar Mountain Recreation Area
Cedar Mountain is an ideal location for getting a "bird's eye" view of the northern San Rafael Swell. An exhibit at this cliff-top overlook explains the area's geology. Pack a picnic, spend some time exploring and soak in the Swell's magnificent geology.

Hidden Splendor
Once the location of a very productive uranium mine, the Hidden Splendor area now attracts visitors with its striking views and scenic paths around Muddy Creek.

Hondu Arch and Tomsich Butte
Hondu Arch is a large natural opening that rests high above Muddy Creek. The undeveloped Hondu Arch and Tomsich Butte area is rich in opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and exploring.

Keesle Country
Keesle Country is a maze of canyons in the southwest corner of the Swell. A short hike or horseback ride into this road-less area will provide an introduction to its primitive character.

Head of Sinbad and Swasey's Cabin
Just off I-70, the Head of Sinbad area invites camping, hiking, and exploring. See the log cabin built in 1921 and other remnants of the Swasey family's cattle operations.