Family Hike: San Rafael Knob

On April 15, we headed out very early in the morning to the San Rafael Knob.  It is the highest point on the San Rafael Desert, and we hoped to climb to the peak before mid-day.  It had been rainy and snowy the three days prior, but we were hoping Sunday would be fine enough for a hike.  We decided to drive in the right direction, hoping the weather report would be correct.  Just after passing Soldier Summit, the highest point on our drive, we saw a small herd of elk including two bulls with fine racks.  We had to stop to try to capture the beautiful pink sky.

It was icy cold there at the summit, and though the river was not frosty, it definitely looked like a winter day.

To reach the San Rafael Knob trail, we exited I-70 at the Moore exit and headed south along the Justensen Flat road.  It is good dirt road, but shortly after it turns toward the Copper Globe mine, it gets quite rough.  I am not a good 4-wheel drive rider, and although everyone reassured me there was nothing scary about this road, I was much happier when we finally crossed the sandy wash and reached a parking space where we could cross the rocks on our feet.  There are some excellent camping spots along the rough spots of this road, especially where the road is close along the edge of the ravine.  A tent could be placed near the cliffs, and they would be wonderful to explore.

Although the wind was quite brisk, the sun was shining and we were able to leave the big coats at the car as we began our hike.  We immediately found some rocks to climb on as we followed the ATV track along the bottom of the wash.

We also enjoyed some “baby slots.”  Just another million years or so and we will be able to hike the bottom of this slot canyon.

The ATV track continues climbing gently through junipers and pinons to a clearly cairned trail leading up the side of San Rafael Swell.  Dad kept saying, “We’re heading for that Ponderosa!”  And sure enough, we ended up halfway up the side of the Knob under that Ponderosa pine.  We dropped our packs there as a lunch spot, and continued climbing the side of the Knob.

There were lots of paths on the Knob.  The trail that promised to lead us to the top, however, included a very narrow section at the top of a long drop-off.  Shandy crossed it and it seemed to continue for a while, but we decided that it was not a wise choice for the little kids, especially considering that we didn’t know if there would be more of the same, but with the certainty that we would have to cross that point again to get back down.  We decided to turn around there and head back to our packs for lunch.

When we got back down to where the trail had left the ATV track, we continued on around the Knob to where the ATV track ended.  We could see no surer way to the top of the Knob, but since we had seen posted pictures from the top, we are sure some have made it to the top.  We will have to save that attempt for another, braver day.  Round trip (not quite to the top) was a total of 8 miles.  It was a very easy hike, most of it practically road walking, and an excellent family trip.

The San Rafael Swell is a wonderful place to spend some time in the quiet of the desert.  The breadth of the view and the width of the sky is very restorative.  When you are tired of “hustle and bustle,” the desert is a place to rest your mind and heart.

I hope you enjoyed your weekend.  Did you spend some time outdoors?  Are you a desert rat, or do you prefer mountains or beaches?  Please, leave me a comment.

Leave a comment


  1. Heather

     /  April 18, 2012

    Looks fun and chilly! We love hiking too 🙂

  2. I like hiking and the beaches; I actually haven’t been to the dessert although I imagine it’s just amazing, what with looking up into the sky to see the stars. Looks like you guys had a great time!

  3. Anywhere other than the booooring cornfields of Iowa. Lovely pictures!


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