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Tapestry Wall - Two Ways to the Top

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
September 3, 1999
Lake Elevation: 3693’
Tapestry Wall

Today we hiked to the top of Tapestry Wall, a sheer cliff rising 225 meters (about 740 feet) above Lake Powell’s western shore. Before the lake, the wall stood an even thousand feet above the river. But even with the lake, it is still an impressive monolith, reminiscent of El Capitan in Yosemite. It gets its name from the distinctive dark streaks that run down its face, a product of chemical staining from infrequent runoff after heavy rains. The effect is that of abstract art, the kind some people pay millions for. Others might liken it to colorful kindergarten fingerpainting, the kind a mother puts on the refrigerator.

Tapestry Wall looks impressive from the lake, especially up close, but it can be scaled by heading south, and following steep drainages (across from Knowles Canyon) westward and upward to the silty Carmel Formation, which caps the Wall. It’s best done in the late afternoon, to take advantage of the outstanding light on the opposite (eastern) wall of Glen Canyon once you scale the summit, which is a small limestone pyramid on a flat plain of dark silty-sand. From the top the view of the lake is impressive, but the real revelation is what can be seen in all other directions. To the west looms the straight north-south monocline of the Waterpocket Fold. That’s the spine of Capitol Reef National Park, and the headwaters of Halls Creek. Beyond that, not visible from here, lie the small towns of Escalante and Boulder. These are near the headwaters of the Escalante River and the recently declared National Monument of the same name.

At our feet to the west begins a prominent canyon, dry as a bone, appearing to head toward the Waterpocket Fold. Actually it turns south not far from here and heads toward Smith Fork only 2 miles away, suggesting a possible alternate route to the top of Tapestry Wall from the lake. The five peaks of the Henry Mountains dominate the northwest sky, ranging 8-15 miles away. Lake Powell cuts a wide swath from northeast to southwest, 750 feet below. From up here, at least 10 miles of the lake are visible, including several prominent side canyons, most obviously the wide spidery Cedar Canyon to the northeast. From here, sadly, one can really see Lake Powell for what it is: a reservoir, an impressive reservoir, but a wholly unnatural creation. You get a sense of the sheer immensity of Glen Canyon, and marvel at (or lament) how much of it is no longer visible, hiding under all that water. It’s a wide blue streak across an endless horizon, otherwise unbroken by anything other than pale yellow and rust red rock formations that go on forever. Thin white lines move along the blue far below, the trailing wakes of passing boats. From this height, the boats appear like satellites in the evening sky, steadily moving but otherwise indistinct.

Khawer is visible on our tiny dot of a houseboat far below and across the canyon. And Navajo Mountain rises as a distant blue dome far to the south, 50 miles away as the crow flies, assuming it flies straight. Which is a poor assumption here at Lake Powell, where crows tend to move in circles hovering over dead rodents, catching thermals up the side canyons. They also follow the houseboats, looking for trash. But they rarely fly directly toward Navajo Mountain, except if there’s a good meal on top.

Looking back to the west, an intriguing little dirt road, overgrown with native vegetation, snakes away across the mesa top, toward the Henrys. It no doubt eventually connects with Highway 276, the road linking Hanksville and Bullfrog Marina. It probably provided the necessary access for the U.S. Geological Survey to install a little round benchmark at the top where we stand. Just four inches across, the benchmark is dated 1952, and bears the curious inscription “Mancus.” Just as curiously, it does not note the elevation, though there is a place for this information. (In fact, the elevation is about 4,500 feet.) The reason the benchmark is here is obvious to anyone who stands at this point: it is easily the most prominent site in the general vicinity, and affords unobstructed views in all directions. The Tapestry Wall hike is an absolute must for those who enjoy visualizing themselves as part of a topographic map of Utah.

On July 29, 1869, one-armed bandit J.W. Powell himself climbed the Wall, and faithfully described pretty much the same thing we saw on our way up to the top:

“And now I climb the wall and go out into the back country for a walk. The sandstone through which the canyon is cut is red and homogenous… The smooth, naked rock [Navajo Sandstone] stretches out on either side of the river for many miles, but curiously carved mounds and cones are scattered everywhere and deep holes are worn out. Many of these pockets are filled with water. In one of these holes or wells, 20 feet deep, I find a tree growing... Many of these pockets are potholes, being found in the courses of little rills or brooks that run during the rains which occasionally fall in the region.”

It is a bare naked climb over rocks, and the occasional tree is truly noteworthy, as it was to Powell. There were also potholes, filled with greenish water, just as Powell had seen. Of course, he may have drunk from these stagnant pools, marginal quality at best, but I wouldn’t do it today. That’s why they make bottled water. And there it is, social evolution, right before our eyes.

In October 1871, Frederick Dellenbaugh succinctly but accurately described the view from the top this way in his journal:

“Prof. climbed out to a point 1215 feet above the river, where he saw plainly the Unknown Mountains, Navajo Mountain, and a wide sweep of country formed largely of barren sandstone.”

“Prof.” was Almon Thompson, the chief scientist on Powell’s second voyage. He, not Powell, did most of the exploring on that second trip. And it was he who later gave the “Unknown Mountains” the name Henry Mountains, even calling one of the five peaks Mt. Ellen, after his wife. The Henrys were the last major mountain range named in the Lower 48 states. To put that in historical perspective, this occurred after the golden spike completed the transcontinental railroad, even after the Cincinnati Reds were organized as a professional baseball team. It is possible that a child born before these mountains were named is still alive as some leathery old chain-smoking Tibetan monk.


August 5, 2008
Lake Elevation: 3633’
Smith Fork and Tapestry Wall

We are the last—and maybe the only—boat camped in Smith Fork. There are just not any other decent spots to be had. As it is, we found a small beach far into the canyon, but a beach only in the sense that the ground against the lake is soft and forgiving. Otherwise, it is ringed by rocks and felled trees, and as I said before, flanked by tamarisk. In fact, we actually had to run over a couple of mature tamarisk just to land here. I call it “doing our part.” No campsites in Crystal Springs, Knowles, or any other nearby canyon, and all the main channel coves seem to be taken. But that’s the nature of being just a few miles from a marina, though that is where we need to be, since we desperately need a few things tomorrow.

This morning, we took advantage of our location, and hiked out the end of Smith Fork. We are only about ¼-mile from the navigable end, so the motorboat cruise to reach the trailhead was quick. We tied up to a tamarisk tree and took off.

Smith Fork is known for its slot canyon, and we’d seen it before. It also has a grotto with a pool, and that’s where we started first. Sure enough, the grotto is still there, maybe ½-mile up the trail, on the right, or eastern side, down a short side canyon. The grotto is maybe 80 feet high, 60 feet wide, and has a deep depression that normally holds a deep pool, fed by a pouroff, beyond which the canyon continues as a slot, but inaccessible to us, since it is about 40 feet up. There is water in the pool, though much less than I’d seen in the past. It’s possibly about one quarter full, with a sandy beach ringing it on three sides, only the pouroff providing a sheer backdrop. We take a few pictures, and move on.

A family of about six passed us on their way back to their boat from an early morning hike, including a 3-year old on his dad’s shoulders. They had just come from the cave. We moved on to the narrows, maybe another mile farther. For about 500 yards, they are outstanding, as good as the better parts of Buckskin Gulch or Mountain Sheep Canyon, deep, twisted, overhanging, with filtered sunlight bathing everything with a warm reddish glow. Today it’s muted because of early morning clouds, but very nice anyway. Beyond the best part, the canyon continues, straight and narrow, though not as high or twisted. As it is, the core of the canyon is about 100 feet high, but to the top of the walls it is sometimes much higher than that.

We knew from the maps that it could be possible to access Tapestry Wall from Smith Fork. In fact, we saw this from the top of Tapestry Wall already. By somehow getting up on the eastern side of the canyon, one might be only a mile or so from the top of Tapestry. The challenge is how to get there, since this canyon is steep and boxy, with few ways out, a bad place in a flash flood. A couple side canyons to the right may have led up, but just as likely ended in box canyon pouroffs. We just continued in the main canyon. After the best narrows, the canyon becomes dry, pink and cobbly. Every now and then, there are large boulders, maybe 4-5 feet across, blocking the path, but they are easily avoided. We continue, but although the canyon is clearly moving up, the walls themselves also seem to get higher. It seems there will be no easy way out soon.

Then we are stopped by a giant rockfall, which clearly came from the western wall collapsing at some point in the past. It’s maybe 20-25 feet high, with a huge pile of all kinds of boulders, which offer enticing gaps below, and a few possibilities above, to get around the obstacle. We go over, and soon are back on an unobstructed canyon, now much shallower and a bit wider. There is an opportunity to scale the rounded dome of the low pink wall to the right, and up we go, across the naked rock. In a few minutes, we are at a tremendous vantage point, with views in all directions. To the north, the Henry Mountains are in your face, four of the peaks anyway, the closest being Mt. Ellsworth, jagged and dark. In between is a vast field of white, wavy stone, an ocean devoid of any kind of vegetation, looking very much like the sand dunes that Navajo Sandstone formed from. Scanning to the right, it’s more of the same, and obvious the Smith Fork drainage is a wide sandstone bowl, with deep clefts, that make what appears to be easy walking very difficult, since these would need to be crossed, most easily around their heads. Capping the bowl is the mocha colored sand of the Carmel Formation, which does support substantial vegetation, including yucca, Mormon tea, and a variety of thistle. Lots of red ants too, who make conical burrows like sandy volcanoes. These, along with the random barrel cactus, made sure we kept at least one eye to the ground as we slogged our way to the top.

You can’t see Lake Powell from here, but we know it is just to the east, over the Carmel rise. We also know that somewhere in our view is the backside of Tapestry Wall. We pull out the compass, and confirm our bearings. The Henrys are nearly due north, maybe a bit to the northwest. We see a small rise in the Carmel about 40 degrees east of north, and guess that’s the top of Tapestry Wall. (I check the map later and realize that couldn’t been it—Tapestry is actually more like a bit south of due east.)

The rest of the panorama is awesome. Nothing but naked rock to the east and south, with the deeply incised cleft of Smith Fork leading away somewhere around the bend from where we came. And a very distant mountain rise to the east I guess to be the Abajos, but I’ll need to confirm that. Navajo Mountain in the south is hidden by an even higher rising slope made of the same Carmel on which we are standing. No doubt we could walk higher and see the headwaters of Hansen Creek to the south, and beyond that, Bullfrog Bay.

But we don’t, we turn back, retracing our steps. Chuck’s toe hurts. We are back by 2 PM. According to Shubber’s GPS unit, we came about 7 miles, though it does not account for all turns in the trail, since it gets satellite readings only when there is a clear line of sight. With all our stops, we spent five hours on the trail. A most outstanding hike.

It is now 7:30, and tri-tip is on the grill. I am on to make instant mashed potatoes, so I’ll pick this up later. I have eaten more beef in 4 days than I have in the last 4 months.

Smith Fork and Tapestry.jpg
 

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SkibumUT

Well-Known Member
John,

I never get tired of reading these reports; thanks for sharing with everybody.

I haven’t camped up in knowles since the late 90’s, and I saw in your second trip you mentioned no beach spots open in knowles around 3633. Do you have an idea of what levels and available spots are like in there above and below 3633?
 

nzaugg

Active Member
John,

I never get tired of reading these reports; thanks for sharing with everybody.

I haven’t camped up in knowles since the late 90’s, and I saw in your second trip you mentioned no beach spots open in knowles around 3633. Do you have an idea of what levels and available spots are like in there above and below 3633?
We were up Knowles in July 2019 when the water was around 3620. There is a good cove to the right that was nearly perfect, with beach, room for the houseboat and two boats docked to it and shade from the cliffs early in the day and it shielded us from the full moon at night. It was windy all week and we hardly had any issues at the boat other than with plates and playing cards. The only complaint we had was there was not a lot of water circulation and with the mussels in the water there were a lot of floating shells.

There were also several spots toward the back end of the canyon that were occupied but looked less pleasant since our boat didn't have A/C. We have also parked in the cove on the left hand side, but that is mostly rock fall and has very little sand and I don't recall what the water level was at that time.
 

SkibumUT

Well-Known Member
We were up Knowles in July 2019 when the water was around 3620. There is a good cove to the right that was nearly perfect, with beach, room for the houseboat and two boats docked to it and shade from the cliffs early in the day and it shielded us from the full moon at night. It was windy all week and we hardly had any issues at the boat other than with plates and playing cards. The only complaint we had was there was not a lot of water circulation and with the mussels in the water there were a lot of floating shells.

There were also several spots toward the back end of the canyon that were occupied but looked less pleasant since our boat didn't have A/C. We have also parked in the cove on the left hand side, but that is mostly rock fall and has very little sand and I don't recall what the water level was at that time.
Thanks for the info! The last place I stayed was the cove on the left (tied off to large boulders), but with young kids now, we need a little bit of sand for kids to play around in.
 

nzaugg

Active Member
Thanks for the info! The last place I stayed was the cove on the left (tied off to large boulders), but with young kids now, we need a little bit of sand for kids to play around in.
You can hike up from the back of the cove. There is a lot of sand throughout the whole area along with some brush that could be annoying. Really our only complaint about that spot was the water cleanliness. Interestingly enough, my wife's family parked in that cove in the 80s and had a storm roll in resulting in a waterfall off the top of the cliff right into their boats, cutting their trip short. Where the water is now, you probably wouldn't approach that type of problem, but you may see heavy drop at the front of the boat, so keep your eyes out, as always.

In my opinion, the best area to stay near Tapestry Wall at current water levels is in Warm Spring Canyon, which is impossible to park in during higher water levels. There are two good coves and the back of the canyon that are really nice places to park, with early and late shade and the canyon is not deep, so you have less temptation to surf/ski in and out of the canyon.
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
Skibum-- Nzaugg has it right about beach potential in Knowles. Actually, in my 2008 report at 3633, there were plenty of possible spots in there, it's just that they were all taken. The cove nzaugg references is still good at least down to about 3590, but not sure below that, because it starts becoming shallow and pinched. Actually, there's probably more beach area in there when it's closer to 3590 than 3620 for that reason--not perfectly level, but not too bad.

Here's my notes I've taken on Knowles beaches in general:

"There are always reliable sandy beaches along the entire length of this canyon at any lake level, because the lake traverses the crumbly and sandy Kayenta formation along its entire navigable length. It is similar in this respect to Forgotten Canyon, but with a wider inlet. The best beaches tend to be toward the end, or in one of the several side coves along its relatively short length. When the lake is lower (below 3600), these side coves shrink (or in some cases disappear), but there are still reliable spots where these drain into the main stem of the canyon. Privacy can be challenging, however, because the beaches tend to be straight and long, with few obstructions in between. Camping in a side cove provides some measure of privacy. Camping in the coves on the south side of the canyon could provide some shade, which is otherwise scarce in this relatively wide canyon—typically about a thousand feet wide and 300 feet high once the Navajo Sandstone walls take charge from the Kayenta base layer. These may also be preferable to beaches at the end where trees may appear in shallow water."
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
Just read a book, "The Last Narc". Interesting subject matter but lacking writing skills. Walked away disappointed. I'm convinced that you could write about practically anything and it would be interesting and a fun read. You're good. Thanks for the read.
Thanks birdsnest, much appreciated. One of these days I'll have to share some of my annual Christmas stories, which usually don't have much to do with Christmas, but tend to revolve around things like trees, spiders, deer or whatever else comes to mind at the time. I'll have to write one about Lake Powell at some point...
 

SkibumUT

Well-Known Member
Thanks birdsnest, much appreciated. One of these days I'll have to share some of my annual Christmas stories, which usually don't have much to do with Christmas, but tend to revolve around things like trees, spiders, deer or whatever else comes to mind at the time. I'll have to write one about Lake Powell at some point...
I’ll hold you to it. 😀
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
Do you have anyone proofread your bigger stories?
Sometimes, but since I don't really publish any of those stories, I'm usually not that concerned about the proofreading step, although I always appreciate input and corrections. But in my line of work (where I write a lot of technical reports and reports to City Councils), those get torn apart and bled on with the red pen by others...
 
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