Solace mixes with sadness in Utah’s ‘Fishenow’ Creek |

Solace mixes with sadness in Utah’s ‘Fishenow’ Creek

Photo special to the Post Independent Post Independent staff writer Dennis Webb maneuvers up the crux section coming out of Fish Creek Canyon and onto the plateau rim in southeastern Utah.

If you’re looking for somewhere to get away from it all, try Fishenow Creek.At least, this far-southeastern Utah gem of a hideaway seemed like a place to get away from it all. But as one Coloradan found under tragic circumstances recently, sometimes life’s harsh realities have a way of intruding on the most idyllic of backcountry getaways.But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, to clarify, you won’t find Fishenow Creek on a map. You will find Fish and Owl creek canyons in one of Utah’s more special spots: that square of high desert roughly bounded by roads between Blanding, Bluff, Mexican Hat and Natural Bridges National Monument.It’s an area replete with Indian ruins, many of them in a far more natural and less-visited state than at renowned sites such as Mesa Verde National Park just to the east in Colorado. And the Indian tradition lives on today in places such as Mexican Hat, where I’m only now getting over the guilt of ordering fry bread for breakfast at a restaurant overlooking the San Juan River.I was headed on my first raft trip on the San Juan, and invited two friends to join me afterward for an overnight backpack trip. Apparently, I need to learn to enunciate because all they knew before leaving Colorado was that they were going down to Blanding to hike at Fishenow Creek.

We clarified matters only after meeting up and further discussing the loop hike that I had spotted once on a map and been intrigued by ever since. Go down Fish Creek and up Owl Creek, or vice versa, and enjoy ruins and arches along the way.Truth be told, we saw only one arch and two ruins, but found much else to enjoy on our overnight excursion.We bought the required permit at the nearby Kane Creek ranger station, on Highway 261 south of Natural Bridges, and purchased a gallon jug of water there as well, after discovering that was the only nearby option for topping up our bottles.We then drove to the trailhead on a road that’s reasonably passable for most vehicles (apparently it’s a different story when wet). Shouldering our packs, we headed down Owl Creek Canyon. Rangers said that’s the best route when loaded down with a backpack, thanks to a tricky spot coming back out of Fish Creek Canyon that’s easier to go up than down.My tattered old guidebook by Michael Kelsey indicated ruins near the rim of Owl Creek Canyon, not far from the trailhead. Sure enough, we found some almost immediately, just off the trail. I kept my eyes peeled to rimrock overhangs, convinced by Kelsey’s map that there might be more ruins, but unable to find them. Maybe on some other day, without mileage to make and a pack to lug, I would poke around more for further traces of ancient people who once made this canyon home.Following a steep, cairn-marked route down into the canyon proved a bit challenging, but once we reached the bottom the hiking became pleasant and generally easy. And any worries about water on this trip soon disappeared. While the creeks are said to typically run dry farther down the canyons, we usually followed a clear-running stream. We also hiked around frequent pourovers where the water splashed into verdant pools below.

Best of all, the desert’s spring wildflowers put on a show. By all reports, the abundant moisture of recent months had resulted in one of the most glorious blooms in many years in southeastern Utah. Fish and Owl creek canyons might be hot and largely dry other times of year, but at the start of May they were lush and resplendent with color.Farther down Owl Creek we spotted another ruin far up a cliff, and nearby, the graceful Nevilles Arch. Maps showed more archaeological sites and arches up Fish Creek, but we failed to see any as we made our way back up to the car the second day.Coming out of Fish Creek (after consulting the map and looking on the left for the cairns leading up a side canyon), we came to appreciate the advice from the ranger station. Backpackers must huff and puff up 600 feet of elevation gain, and then make a few nifty moves to gain the rim. A helping hand from a hiking companion may be appreciated by some backpackers searching for the right handholds and footholds at this crux point.We had hiked the mile and a half across a plateau back to the cars, where we were enjoying the euphoria that comes after a satisfying backpack through remote and splendid backcountry, when a helicopter’s roar interrupted our reverie. Soon we realized the aircraft was landing near the parking lot, with two backpackers who also had been down in the canyons.They weren’t hurt, but when we stopped back at the ranger station we learned the sad truth. The son of one of them was in a hospital in Denver, reportedly brain-dead. Somehow the helicopter had found the father in the canyons and plucked him out so he could hurry back to his family.

It was hard to imagine: One moment enjoying the peace and quiet of a flower-filled Utah canyon, and the next being yanked into a terribly different world. Seeking to get away from it all in the middle of nowhere, only to be rushed by ‘copter and car back to a big city and a personal nightmare.My hiking partners and I drove back to Garfield County largely in silence, each mentally processing in our own way the disconnect between our own canyon experience and that of this poor man from Denver.I could hardly imagine his pain. Yet at the same time, I found myself appreciating family, the precious gift of life, and the privilege of being able to experience it fully in wilderness wonderlands like Fish and Owl creek canyons.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User