Hiking Under the Claron Formation
***Well, it was bound to happen. Writing a bunch of posts and scheduling them weeks out resulted in me inadvertently switching the order they were posted…. So this post was about the hike we did we before the previous post, before we left Utah. Hope you can all deal if you were keeping track.***
With the prospect of getting into a whole new section of the plateau we drove our to the Mill Creek Trailhead on our first full day on the Paunsaugunt. After studying the map I’d chosen a route which would take us up the Mill Creek Trail to connect with the Grandview Trail; from here we could loop back via ATV trail or forest road after crossing Straight Canyon or at the Swapp Canyon Trailhead depending on how much distance we felt like doing.
The beginning of the Mill Creek Trail was mostly grassy, bracketed by stands of fir and aspen on each side of the gentle sloping canyon. We considered walking up this open meadow rather than sticking to the trees on the west side but the bottom was deceptively mushy, overrun with spring snowmelt and so we stuck to the faded path on the side, crossing patches of snow and mud as we wove between some of the most enormous aspen either of us have encountered. Near the top the shallow canyon flattened – and then we started rapidly descending.
Since I’d selected the route from a map rather than reading a trail description I knew nothing about the elevation gain/loss of the trail. The last thing I was expecting however was a downgrade since I believed we’d be walking uphill to the edge of the eroded Claron Formation, and then following the rim on the Grandview Trail overlooking the eroded bluffs and hoodoos such as on the western flank of the plateau. But I was very clearly mistaken. We switchbacked over a thousand feet down through thickly forested Mill Canyon, watching as the mammoth limestone cliffs began to rise over our level. Mercifully we reached the bottom of the canyon and the trail junction after a couple miles, turning west to track the rim from below.
The hulking pink formations loomed over us for the remainder of our time on the Grandview providing us with new perspectives as we gained and lost 300 – 400 feet every time we crossed a canyon or drainage. Near the canyon bottoms glimpses of the massive eroded cliffs materialized in the spaces in the canopy but once we reached the headlands our views were nearly unobstructed, allowing us 360 degree vistas out over the treed upper levels of the Grand Staircase to the south in addition. From below the cliff faces looked much more solid and imposing than from previous hikes along the crumbling limestone of the rim; from above the impression is of erosion and decay, but looking up the palisade appears to be solid for another few million years at least.
With so much repetitive elevation gain and loss, and knowing we had at least 3 more miles back to the trailhead from that point, we decided to turn off the Grandview after passing Straight Canyon. Fortunately the haul up to the rim was much more moderate than our descent had been and we crested the rim by 4pm giving us plenty of time to amble down Swapp Canyon following the meandering stream to the confluence with Mill Creek.