Exploring Sinbad Country in Utah’s San Rafael Swell

Having beaten up my knee I decided that I still needed to get out into the country while the weather was good so it was time for a truck trip. When I first started coming to Utah in the early 90’s I used to go to the San Rafael Swell but I hadn’t been back there since I moved here so it was time to put that right. This particular area of the swell is known as Sinbad Country because the rock formations look like those described in the Arabian stories

The Temple Wash trail started out smooth and flat.
Strange balanced rock on top of a spire.
Pretty soon the wash got narrow, the Tundra would only just fit through the narrowest part of the canyon.

On the western side of Temple Wash is the ghost town of Temple Mountain with its temple rock behind it. The town was founded in the late 1890s when uranium, radium and vanadium were discovered there, they were mostly exported to France and it is believed that Madame Curie actually used some of the radium in her lab.
The town grew until 1918 but then cheaper sources of ore were found and it folded. In the 50s and 60s another small camp grew with the uranium boom but again folded as the boom ended. Over 2 million tons of ore were excavated!

Old mining cabin below Temple Mountain.

The San Rafael Swell is a giant uplift from the Waterpocket Fold out to the San Rafael Desert. The eastern edge is defined by a range of cliffs parallel to UT24 between Hanksville and I70 and beyond, the western side is open country with many canyons and castles.

Temple Mountain

I headed out on the start of Red Canyon Trail but it is a 37 mile loop and it was too late in the day to do that so I cut north through Rod’s Valley.

There are lots of minerals in the cliffs here.
The north end of Rod’s Valley has lots of trees, then a tower appeared, I thought I was back in Wyoming.
It’s a mini Devil’s Tower!
The topo map doesn’t show any name for it so I’ll call it Rod’s Tower.
Rod’s Tower
At the north end of Rod’s Valley the trail joins the Swasey Cabin trail. This is the real Sinbad rock area.
Giant rock pillars grow out of the ground, and tiny trees grow out of the top of them.
This formation is directly above Swasey’s Cabin, the shadows were all wrong for taking a picture of the actual cabin. The Swaseys moved to this area in the 1880s and were cowboys, Rod was one of them and named his own valley.

Past the Swasey cabin the trail becomes narrower, steeper and rougher as it descends into Eagle Canyon. I only made it about a quarter mile before turning round and even in that stretch I scraped a wheel on a rock with a wheel hanging off the other side of the road and bottomed out. I will return to Eagle Canyon on the CRF, it’s an ancient (pre-swell), deep, dry canyon that goes under a very high bridge on I70.

The trail down into Eagle Canyon proved too narrow for the Tundra

The Swasey cabin is less than a mile south of I70 though it is 10 miles to the nearest exit. I followed a sandy road through a single lane tunnel under the freeway to the Head of Sinbad area. About a half mile north of I70 is a line of ancient river cliffs complete with arches, this one is signposted as Dutchmens Arch but it looks like sleeping dog to me.

It’s not clear which formation is actually Sinbad’s head or if there is really one called that, but if there is one I think this is it.
It looks just like a sailor’s head!
Maybe that’s it!
At the base of these cliffs are some really nice petroglyphs but I didn’t know how to find them, I do now so next time I’m up there I’ll take a look.
This area is brutally hot in the summer and the trees show the effects.
The route starts on UT24 about 19 miles north of Hanksville and ends at exit 131 on I70 (formerly exit 129)

Routes found using ‘Utah Trails Central Region’ by Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson

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