I've been doing a bit more exploring around the Babylon and East Reef area. You'd be surprised at how many St. George/Cedar City-area residents have never even heard of this incredible place. The geology in the area is first rate and there is a lot to see and do.
Recently, I lead a boy scout group on an overnight camp and 10-mile hike. The deep sand and river crossings challenged the boys, but I think some of the leaders had the hardest time!
We set up camp at the Sand Cove Primitive Campground near Sandstone Mountain. I secured a permit (free) early and I expected we would have the cove to ourselves, but a couple other outfits pulled in, so it appears the Desert Preserve gives out more than one permit per night(?) Oh well, there was plenty of room for all but one group next to us had a noisy generator, and one of us ended going over to ask them to turn it off at around 10pm.
Sand cove is a beautiful flat nestled amongst fanciful bluffs of Navajo Sandstone. Colorful sand dunes climb steeply up the sandstone on the lee side of the cove inviting the energetic to see how fast they can climb up the dune and then fly back down.
The late evening sun set the rock ablaze as we cooked our dinners and told stories around the campfire.
A couple of us laid out our bedrolls right on the soft sand and slept out under the stars. I wish every night could be like this.
In the morning, the hike began with a spur out to an overlook where we could see some of the sandstone formations we would later traverse.
Within the first couple of miles, the trail turns into a deep energy-sucking sand pile. Keeping up your momentum is the key in these sandy sections.
The area around sandstone Mountain harbors some of the most interesting iron concretions I've seen. The large, irregularly-shaped concentric bands will stimulate your imagination. When my daughter Zoe saw the above photo, she asked me if it was a hurricane. Below is perhaps a sly smile from old Mother Earth.
In other areas near Sandstone Mountain, the Navajo appears pock-marked, pimpled, and zebra-striped.
After circling around Sandstone Mountain, we headed toward the Virgin River. Near the river, the trail passes right under a medium-sized free-standing arch.
Above: our scout group poses under "Pentagon Arch".
Above: Navajo Sandstone is contorted along the east flank of the Virgin Anticline near the Virgin River.
A couple of crossings of the Virgin River ensured everyone was wide awake.
Above: the vivid colors of springtime in the desert.
Above: a geologic puzzle near historic Babylon.
We reached the old Babylon mill and town site about a third of the way through the hike to take a break. There's not much left to see, but starting in the late 1870s this area was bustling with activity. Mine owners at nearby Silver Reef figured it would be easier to bring the silver ore to a mill established on the Virgin rather than trying to get the water up to Silver Reef to process the ore. The mostly non-Mormon town that sprang up near the mill became known as Babylon.
Above: rock structure in Babylon, note the foundation constructed with hexagonal basalt columns stacked on their sides.
Above: boys will be boys. I'm just glad his dad was there to take responsibility.
Above: within the Kayenta Formation exposed along East Reef, hundreds of dinosaur tracks have been found in recent years.
Above: odd-looking benches have formed across the purple bald hills of Chinle clay. These are most likely weathered remnants of old landslide blocks.
The last leg our hike took us along the western side of East Reef, a knife-edged ridge held up by a prominent ledge of white Springdale Sandstone. It's this ledge of Springdale that hosts most of the silver ore that was mined at Silver Reef. The richest concentrations are found on the west side of the Virgin Anticline (known as the Harrrisburg Dome in this area) near Silver Reef and Leeds. But there are plenty of prospects (probably close to 100) along East Reef as well. Unfortunately (or fortunately for some I guess) the state has reclaimed all of these mines and they have been sealed shut.
Above: green silver-bearing minerals (malachite amongst others) found near Silver Reef are concentrated in organic material (a small piece of petrified wood in this photo) encased within the sandstone.
Above: an inscription of an East Reef miner dates back to 1879.
Various petroglyphs can also be found near the trails along East Reef.
I had a blast exploring this country with the scouts and I look forward to the next adventure. I'll also be back to East Reef soon. As evidenced by the numerous tire tracks on the Purgatory and East Reef trails, mountain bikers are starting to discover the trails out here. With some more bike traffic, these trails could pack down nicely. I need to do my part.
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