Capitol Reef National Park
A hike through Upper Muley Twist Canyon, which can be done as a long day-hike (if starting from Strike Valley Overlook) or as an overnight backpack. Colorful canyon with many arches; spectacular views from Strike Valley Overlook and trailhead; 9 miles from Strike Valley Overlook.
Upper Muley Twist Wash cuts lengthwise down the spine of the Waterpocket Fold, creating a colorful, meandering canyon. The massive Navajo and Wingate Sandstones are beautifully exposed here - titled by the folding of the earth's crust and sculpted by millions of years of erosion. The Wingate, stripped of its usual caprock of harder Kayenta Formation, has eroded into unusual forms including many impressive arches and natural bridges.
Saddle Arch: - Strike Valley Overlook provides outstanding views of the Waterpocket Fold and the surrounding area, but if you plan on hiking the rim route in Upper Muley Twist you will get similar views from there. From the end of the four-wheel drive road at Strike Valley Overlook, its an easy 1.7 miles up the wash to aptly named Saddle Arch. At this point, a sign indicates the way to the lower end of the rim route and a cairned route provides access to the top of the Fold.
Continuing up the Canyon, the narrows are reached 2.3 miles beyond Saddle Arch. A set of rock cairns leads out of the wash and around the narrows via a ledge on the east side of the canyon. Keep an eye out for these cairns, as it is easy to miss this essential 'bypass' route. It is possible to explore the narrows, but a pour-off near their beginning requires a difficult climb using old 'moqui steps' carved into the rock. The narrows end in an impassable pour-off where water can sometimes be found. Here, deep in the narrows, large letters pained on the rock wall mark one corner of an old uranium mining claim - one of the few signs of man to be found in Upper Muley Twist.
A sign marking the upper end of the rim route is located a short distance up-canyon from where the narrows bypass drops back into the wash bottom. From here you can make a loop hike by taking the rim route back to Saddle Arch or return the way you came. It is also possible to explore farther up the canyon. A panoramic view of the Circle Cliffs can be had from Sand Point, just west of the head of Upper Muley Twist, and about 2 miles beyond the rim route sign.
If you decide to take the rim route, keep in mind that it involves some scrambling over steep slickrock which can be a little tricky if you are carrying a backpack. There are cairns to guide you from the canyon bottom up to the rim, but the route along the rim is mostly unmarked. Three-quarters of a mile form the upper end of the rim route you must cross a short steep notch in the crest of the ridge - use caution. Another 3/4 of a mile farther, and shortly after traversing another saddle in the ridge, you must climb up over some steep slickrock ledges to get back to the top of the rim - stay near the west edge and watch for cairns leading over this obstacle.
As you approach the lower end of the rim route, watch for a line of cairns. These will lead you west to the route that drops back down to the canyon bottom. The rim is fairly wide in this area and its easy to miss the route down, so be attentive. If you are making a loop out of this hike, you might want to consider taking the rim route on the way up and the canyon route on the way back, simply because it is easier to find the route back down to the canyon at the upper end of the rim route than at the lower end. This way, you will also do the most strenuous part of the hike in the beginning.
Trailhead: The Upper Muley Twist road leaves the Burr Trail about 1 mile west of the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks. Passenger cars can be driven one-half mile in to the Upper Muley Twist Trailhead; four-wheel drive vehicles can drive 2.5 miles farther up the canyon to Strike Valley Overlook. All vehicles, including bicycles, are prohibited beyond Strike Valley Overlook.
Maps: USGS 7.5 Minute Series: Bitter Creek Divide and Wagon Box Mesa (most of the hike is covered by the Bitter Creek Divide map) or Earth Walk Press, Capitol Reef National Park. Available from theCRNHA at the park Visitor Center.
Note: This is a route, not a developed trail. Portions of the route are marked with rock cairns to help guide hikers in areas that might be confusing, but these are not a substitute for good route-finding skills. Some portions of the route, especially the rim route and the narrows by-pass, require some scrambling and can be difficult to negotiate with a backpack. This area is extremely hot in the summer. There are no dependable sources of water along this route, though precipitation can temporarily fill waterpockets. Take plenty of water with you; don't count on finding water along the route. Occasional heavy rains can cause flash flooding in the canyon bottoms - keep an eye on the weather.
Upper Muley Twist Trailhead to Strike Valley Overlook - 2.5
Strike Valley Overlook to Saddle Arch - 1.7
Saddle Arch to start of narrows - 2.3
Start of narrows to rim route (upper access) - 0.6
Return via rim route to Saddle Arch - 2.7
Total round trip from Upper Muley Twist Trailhead - 14.0
Total round trip from Strike Valley Overlook - 9.0
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication