By all accounts, spring break 2009 was a smashing success. Temps got a little hotter than expected during the day and a lengthy ATV ride caused a little stress, but everything else pretty much went according to plan.
Above: the campground at Goblin Valley State Park. Yeah, it's exposed, dry, and pretty hot - but that's what desert camping is all about. Warm showers, flush toilets, and plenty of room for the kids to explore are some of the pros.
1st thing on the agenda was to explore the Valley of Goblins. Most of us adults remember finding fairly extensive caves when we were kids some 25 years ago, so we did our best to find them again for our kids to enjoy.
We never could find the same caves, but we found plenty of smaller caves, slots, and windows to play around in.
If you hike to the far east side of the valley and scramble up to the rim, you are greeted with a fine view of the flat and barren San Rafael Desert.
Below: a junior geologist hard at work searching for jasper nodules within the Jurassic Curtis Formation.
Above and below: an adventure-packed day two started off with a jaunt up the famous Little Wild Horse narrows.
Above: I was asked what these white bumps were in the Navajo Sandstone. I could tell they weren't your typical concentric-banded iron concretions (a.k.a. Moqui marbles or Navajo berries), which are more symmetrical and are typically a much darker rust-red than the surrounding sandstone. The only explanation I could come up with is that the rock had infected pores that were filling with puss. But, no one was buying it.
After lunch a group of us went out to Temple Mountain. Most went on the Behind-The-Reef ATV Trail while myself and Mike poked around the mountain.
Temple Mountain is honey-combed with uranium mines, and has historically been one of the biggest Uranium producing districts in the state. The first claims were maid in 1898 when the physical properties of Uranium and its daughter elements (mostly vanadium) were poorly understood. Mining here really got underway in the 1910s, fueled by the erroneous belief that radium had healing powers and could cure cancer and the like.
People tried injecting the radioactive substance into there bodies, bathing in it, and applying it as salves and inhalers. It was years later, and too late for many, until the real effects of radioactivity on the body were understood.
A second and larger mining boom hit Temple Mountain in the late 1940s spurred mostly by the advent of nuclear power and weapons development during the cold war. Uranium from Temple Mountain was used in the Manhattan Project and in the development of the first atomic bomb.
Above: Mike poses near a tram tower and ore bin on the east side of Temple Mountain.
Above: view to the west on the eastern flank of Temple Mountain.
Much of the Uranium mineralization in this area is concentrated near large collapse structures. Notice how all the layers of rock on the right side of the photo are flat lying, but as you follow these layers over to the left, everything appears to have collapsed down into the mountain. These columns of shattered rock allowed mineral-laden water to rise up through the rock column which interacted with organic-rich zones in the Triassic-aged Chinle Formation where the Uranium-rich ore was deposited.
The Chinle is known for its petrified wood, but if you find any around Temple Mountain, it may be radioactive! These same fluids that rose up through the collapse tube also bleached the overlying Wingate Sandstone so that it is nearly pure white (typically, its a deep red - like around Fruita in Capitol Reef).
After dinner we got a late start for the treasure hunt. So it was a race to follow the clues on the cryptic map before it got dark. The 200-year-old map showed a faint trail leading from Goblin Valley to some sort of "eyes" in the cliff to the north.
After a steep hike up the cliff, we finally found the "eyes" and the 2nd part of the map.
Fitting the two maps together we were directed to a tiny crack canyon than only small kids (and big kids, if they really sucked in) could fit through.
With Dad's broad and authoritative knowledge of ancient Indian and Egyptian glyphs, we were able to decipher the last clue leading to the treasure.
Above: Zoe negotiates through Fat-Man's Misery in search of the final clue.
On the morn of day #3 we we packed up plenty of drinks, snacks, and a lunch and headed for a long drive through the middle of Sinbad country in the interior of the San Rafael Swell.
After fixing a flat, we finally made it to the Hidden Splendor Mine complex which was the starting point for our hike down Muddy Creek.
Muddy Creek starts above 10,000 feet and 70 miles away high in the Wasatch Plateau. The cool mountain-derived stream is a welcome companion along this hike through one of the deepest canyons in the Swell.
The Hidden Splendor bunkhouse, a.k.a the "Motel 6." Miners would climb up the mountainside daily from here to start the dangerous business of uranium mining.
The Hidden Splendor was discovered by Vernon Pick in 1952. Vernon knew nothing about geology and had virtually no prospecting experience when he stumbled upon one of the riches ore bodies in the region. It would make Vernon a millionaire over the next two years as many tons of ore shipped daily. The Atlas Corporation offered Vernon 9 million dollars for his mine, confident in their geologist's estimates of 540,000 tons of ore still available in the mine. Vernon sold, but the Atlas Co. ended up shipping only 90,000 tons before the ore pinched out in 1957.
Interestingly, Life magazine ran a story on Vernon's 10 million dollar mine, where he claims he was stalked by mountain lions, harassed by rattlesnakes, and had to float down the raging Muddy on a makeshift raft constructed by strapping two logs together with his shoelaces and belt.
If you've spent any time hiking in the Muddy River Gorge, then you'll know Vernon liked to exaggerate a bit. These same "harrowing" conditions sure are hit with kids today.
I hope everyone had a good time, and start planning for May, 2010.