Within a day’s drive of Durango is a solitary dome of sunny, colorful sandstone: Yellow Rock. Neo-acrylic splashes, swirls and snakes of color surpass the normal confines of nature.
Slickrock lovers will find never-ending stone rising at a perfect climbing pitch. The second segment of the hike is in the beckoning narrows of Lower Hackberry Canyon. Splash up the creek as far as you wish.
This hike begins off the Cottonwood Road west of Page, Arizona. It is in the Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area, a small section of the greater Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Lower Hackberry Trailhead, elevation 4,760 feet, is located at the confluence of Cottonwood Creek and Hackberry Creek, three miles upstream of the greater union with the Paria River.
Yellow Rock Climb Yellow Rock first. Walk southwest downstream in the watercourse or along either bank. Both are troubled with tamarisk thickets. At 0.3 mile, turn right/west into the first side canyon below the trailhead. Locate the trail on the left side of a small, steep defile. It is a major asset in this inhospitable terrain. It soon crosses the dry wash and climbs steeply 200 feet northwest up a loose, rubbly slope, the only difficult segment of this short hike.
Stand on a lateral divide that looks into Hackberry Canyon. A few more feet and Yellow Rock rises from the earth as the morning sun. The curvature is comprised of Navajo Sandstone, the most prominent rock formation on the Colorado Plateau.
The trail heads west while skirting the north side of a craggy reef of pinnacles. This wild protrusion is distinctive and may be seen from multiple points on Yellow Rock. If you decide to scamper all around, use this feature as your landscape marker for finding the return trail.
The path heads west on a contour along the south side of the dome. Cairns lead onto the rock and a direct route to the summit via the front face. For a more comprehensive tour, traverse the stone mountain, ascending the steeper west ridge and descending the gentler east ridge. To do so, leave the trail at one mile and cross a low, sandy rise. This leads promptly to a sandstone runout on the south side of the mountain.
Colors vary markedly with location on Yellow Rock. Large volumes of Navajo Sandstone are bleached a brilliant white. Variations in the type and proportions of precipitated iron oxides result in shades of vermilion, mustard, sunshine yellow, salmon, crimson, peachy cream, apricot, and a muted grayish tan that provides calming relief from the bedazzlement.
The west face is just steep enough that sticky soles are helpful for the delightful friction pitch. There are plenty of features to keep it from getting scary. As the dome rounds off, it is typical Navajo Sandstone buff with characteristic polygonal cracks.
The broad summit, elevation 5,524 feet, features an expansive view of the Paria River dominion. East is Coyote Point and south is the length of The Cockscomb. Hackberry Canyon dominates to the immediate north and Castle Rock is decidedly alluring.
Descend the east ridge close enough to the edge to look into Hackberry Canyon. From this vantage point, see a mighty tower and a massive wall arch you will soon be passing on your creek walk. The walls rising up on the other side of the gorge replicate the orange and ocher hues found on Yellow Rock.
Smooth sweeps of rock are impregnated with elegant lines of color. Swarthy rust-colored sandstone transitions to feminine dusky rose, mauve, lilac, and pink.
Continue down the ridge to a short but unmistakable tower at 2.2 miles. Cut south, taking aim at the reef of pinnacles. There are some exceptional paper-thin rock fins in this region. Rejoin the trail at the reef and retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Lower Hackberry CanyonAs you approach the confluence of Cottonwood and Hackberry Creeks, be sure to choose the stream flowing in from the left/west. Wear shoes that can get wet because, try as you might, your feet are going to be submerged.
The canyon walls-up and thins. The floor is sandy and flat. The muted hues of immobile stone contrast with fluttering spring-green leaves of cottonwood and maple. Rock meets water in an intertwined performance of grace and might.
Walk under the wall arch seen from above. In another mile, pass by the tower that stands up straight for 150 feet.
The narrows behind, turn around in the maroon-red Kayenta Formation, not quite two miles up. Splashing our merry way downstream we reveled in the vibrant colors and powerful forms, blessed to climb the stone mountain and walk the watery way.
http://debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com. Debra Van Winegarden is an explorer and freelance writer who lives in Durango.