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Baker Ranch Bridge / Waterpocket Fold

Tiff Mapel

Well-Known Member
Good morning, Wordlings,

Today's adventure takes us to the Baker Ranch Bridge, accessed through the end of Halls Bay. We did this hike in June of 2012. I believe this was the last hike/article I did for Lake Powell Magazine before it folded.

Enjoy!
Tiff
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Baker Ranch Bridge ~ Waterpocket Fold

The best thing about the beautiful, scenic sandstone that surrounds Lake Powell is that it is full of secrets and mysteries. Some of the best of these are the natural arches and bridges that abound in and on the Colorado Plateau. By definition, a natural arch is a rock exposure that has a hole worn through it by natural forces. A natural bridge is a natural arch where a current of water was clearly the major agent of erosion in the formation of the opening hole. Natural arches and bridges all over the Colorado Plateau are just waiting to be seen and appreciated.

One of the most notable features of the Colorado Plateau is the Waterpocket Fold, just north of Lake Powell. Nearly 100 miles long, it runs from north to south from Thousand Lake Mountain, just northwest of Capitol Reef, and down to Lake Powell, where you’ll see it on the western edge of Halls Creek Bay. The Waterpocket Fold is the defining feature of Capitol Reef National Park, just to the north of Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

The Waterpocket Fold is a classic monocline, meaning that it is a warp in the earth’s crust that has been thrust up on one side, usually present on faults in earth’s crust. The western edge of the Waterpocket Fold rises about 7,000 feet higher than the eastern side. The Waterpocket Fold was formed sometime between 50 and 70 million years ago. This was a time when the western United States was active in mountain building and there was quite a bit of crustal upheaval. There was another uplift period of the Colorado Plateau within the last 15 to 20 million years. The name “Waterpocket Fold” comes from the erosion of the rock layers, creating basins in the sandstone.

The three sandstone layers that make up the Waterpocket Fold are part of the Glen Canyon Group, which were laid down in the mid- to late-Triassic. This was during a time of increasing aridity; sand was blowing in from the north, and settling in the region. The oldest layer is the Wingate Formation, an orange-colored cross-bedded fossilized sand dune bed, about 350 feet thick. This layer is best observed on the western edge of the Fold. The layer atop the Wingate is the Kayenta Formation. It too, is a fossilized sand dune bed about 350 feet thick, and contains sand, silt, mud, and cobbles. Sometimes it is difficult to tell which is Wingate and which is Kayenta. Topping the Kayenta is one of the most common and beautiful of all sandstone layers, the Navajo Sandstone. This layer is anywhere from 800 to 1100 feet thick. The cross-bedded quality of the sandstone makes the Navajo one of the premier arch and bridge formations on the Colorado Plateau, and one of the most scenic sandstone layers that surrounds Lake Powell.

Before Lake Powell, two families homesteaded in the area of northwestern Halls Creek, which would later be covered by Lake Powell in the mid 1960s. The first family to live and farm the area was the Thomas Smith Family, from about 1907 to the 1940s. Later, Eugene Baker and his sons took over the ranch. They had cattle and irrigated fields for the cattle. When rain fell on the Waterpocket Fold, it was enough to irrigate all the fields of the valley. Not much is left of the old Baker Ranch site today. If anything can be found, it is likely an old rusty piece of metal from the farm.

Up on the Waterpocket Fold, many geologic formations abound—arches and natural bridges. The Baker Ranch Bridge is named for the old Baker Ranch, and is about three miles away from the historic Ranch site. On a clear June morning, eight hikers ascended the Waterpocket Fold out of Halls Creek Bay in search of the Baker Ranch Bridge. With the water level at 3636, you can get back into Halls Bay pretty far. Coming to the water’s end, you’ll see tamarisk flats, and old dead cottonwood trees. It is shallow, so go slow and watch your depth. There’s plenty of bird life in the back of the bay. We observed great blue herons nesting in the cottonwood trees, grebes, and various other water birds.

You’ll want to tie up your boat on the southwestern shore of the bay. Plan on about a 4.5 to 5 mile round-trip for the hike. Carry plenty of water and snacks with you, and don’t forget your camera. You’ll also want to wear shoes with good traction. Scrambling up sandstone faces can be challenging. The hike starts out by going north parallel to Halls Creek Bay. You’ll cross two or three major drainages and several smaller ones. Just look for animal trails through the thick brush, and you can make it to the other side. As you head north, you’ll come to a large sandstone “monolith” smack in the middle of the valley.

When you get to the point of the left side of the monolith, which points up the Waterpocket Fold, you’ll want to turn left and start hiking up the Fold. Stay on the left side of the drainage. Soon enough you’ll come to what looks like an arch in an alcove. It’s really just a cave feature. You’ll want to hike around the left side of it, and then cross to the right side of the drainage just above the cave.

Soon you will see the Baker Ranch Bridge in the distance. It’s not too far to go now. If you can make it down to the drainage, you can walk through the sand. There are plenty of pools scoured out by years of running water. Eventually you’ll come to a pour-off that’s about 15 feet tall. Just back track a bit, and scramble up the right side of the slick rock, and that will get you over the pour-off. Once you get above the pour-off, look directly down the sandstone face into the drainage, and you’ll see some pockets in the sandstone you can use for footholds. Grasses may be growing out of a few of them, but they work well to get you back down into the drainage. Now you can proceed to the bridge on the left side of the drainage. There are more waterpockets here, and some may be filled with water from the last rain. Some are very deep; so don’t fall in, unless someone is there to rescue you with a rope.

The sandstone in the basin of the bridge is easy to get around on. Parts of it are steep, but it’s got good friction. Directly underneath the bridge the sandstone has been polished smooth by years of flowing water. You can scramble up a small, steep part to get under the bridge. Getting back down is tricky, as you’ll probably have to slide for a short distance.

Spend some time relaxing under the bridge when you get there. In the morning hours there is still shade, and cool breezes blow through. Sit back and observe your surroundings. Let the peace and quiet envelop you as you listen for the call of the canyon wren. If you take a picture from under the bridge looking toward the lake, you’ll see a vast tamarisk flat in the distance. If Lake Powell were full, this would be covered by water. It is quite a beautiful vista looking out from under the bridge.

For the more adventuresome, if you get back out on the rim of the drainage, you can keep following the drainage up the Waterpocket Fold on the right side, up and beyond the bridge. One hiker in our party went up to see what was above the Baker Ranch Bridge. He reported that another bridge was above it just a short way up. It was getting hot, and the hikers were getting tired, so the rest of us did not make it up to see it.

When hiking back out, just backtrack the way you came in. Take your time, and make sure everyone in your hiking party makes it. The hike is not a difficult one, but moderate for length of time and the terrain you need to negotiate. It would be great to do this hike by getting started early in the morning. It would also be spectacular after a good rainstorm. The drainage would be flowing, and water would be pouring off the sandstone under the bridge.

The Waterpocket Fold is a vast area of sandstone. To cover the whole thing would probably take a lifetime. There are many secrets out there to discover: arches, bridges, and waterpockets tucked away that are teeming with canyon tree frogs or water beetles. Take the time to observe on your hike and you’ll discover amazing things. Remember to pack out what you pack in, and enjoy the hike to the Baker Ranch Bridge—it is a spectacular example of a natural bridge in canyon country.
 

JFRCalifornia

Escalante-Class Member
Great article and descriptions!! Thanks for posting! How does low water affect the approach to the landing site in Halls Creek “Bay”?
 
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Tiff Mapel

Well-Known Member
I'll post some pics this afternoon when I get home. Not sure about the water level now, as the hike would be a lot longer to access the start of the hike. There's so many drainages up there, it gets quite confusing.

Tiff
 
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