A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

The Copper Miner’s trail at Keg Knoll

June 12, 2019
Emilie Phillips

This is the fifth day of our two week flying and hiking trip to the Rockies. Check out posts from the rest of the trip.

Departing Eagle City

Flying from Eagle City to Keg Knoll

The Bearhawk’s engine oil cooler needed to get checked out at a mechanic shop. If we departed camp at Eagle City in the cool of the morning, we might reach Moab without overheating the oil. We weren’t ready quit our backcountry adventure yet, but it seemed we must. Then Tyson noticed the Keg Knoll airstrip, which had a lot of hiking options, was half way between us and Moab. We could take two days flying back to the mechanics, and let the oil cool off overnight.

The air temperature was up to 70F by the time we left Eagle City. 700 feet for the takeoff roll. We really weren’t having issues with performance, even at a density altitude of eight thousand feet. The oil temperature did OK until Tyson climbed away from a low pass inspection of Keg Knoll. The strip was overgrown with sage brush, but after the previous day’s experience, we knew our tires could handle it.

Keg Springs Canyon

We chose to explore the Copper Miner’s trail into Keg Springs Canyon. It was the shortest route off the plateau, if it existed. We only had vague descriptions to follow from blogs and forum threads. This post has a map showing it as the old miners trail. Other posts mentioned a cave in the canyon.

The north side of the Keg Knoll airstrip looked like a cliff in the satellite images, but we found a scramble down not far from the Bearhawk. Then Tyson and I had a bit of debate over whether to head straight for the large knob, or to follow the route Tyson had plotted using too maps and satellite imagery. If we went straight, we were more likely to stumble across impassible gullies blocking our way. So Tyson led, cross referencing his GPS. I focused on looking behind to remember our route home.

Flours and cactuses

We saw plenty of flowers. We tried to stay on the rocks or bare washes so we didn’t trample the microbial soil. Two doves and some tree swallows surprised me. I didn’t think either lived in the desert. Isaac loved the smooth rock formations. He was particularly amused by a large hill in the distance that bulged out creating an alligator mouth shadow.

These rock formations mark the Copper Miners Trail

At the edge of Keg Springs Canyon, I stopped with Isaac under a rock to eat a snack while Tyson hunted for the Copper Miner’s trail down the cliffs. If you are looking for this trail, there is a cairn a little way away from the cliff. From the cairn, go between the two rock formations in the photo to reach the top of the trail. Descending the steepest part of the cliff, the trail is obvious. When we got to the bottom of the side gully, we lost the trail and wandered off onto cow paths. We later found that the trail crosses the drainage and skirts the bottom of the giant rock tower splitting away from the cliff.

We were happy to have found the trail down, but then we didn’t find water at the bottom. Nor did we find shade to eat lunch. We had used more than half our water hiking to the canyon. Everyone was hungry and hot. We started debating if we should retreat. Or if we should explore far up one of the side canyons that said “spring” on the map. Before we had to make a decision, we found a small muddy puddle. Then a larger puddle with tadpoles and a mushroom. And just beyond that, a rock face overhanging enough to shade us if we sat with our backs against it.

Tyson and Isaac climbing to the cave

Rejuvenated, we explored farther down the canyon looking for the cave from Tyson’s notes. The cave was easy to find and easy to scramble up to. The inside was nice and cool. It was forty feet in diameter or so, and equally high. I didn’t see any trash, or recent footprints, but there was plenty of evidence of prior human visits, including what must have been quite the raucous Y2K new years eave party. The only other traces were a maze of lizard tail tracks on the floor. We didn’t see the lizards themselves though.

We hadn’t brought dinner or camping gear, so we had to give up on the cool and head back. We found a cairn at the base of the trail heading up. That’s how we found where it went at the bottom. The climb up was scorching. Isaac was red at the top, so I stuffed him and half of me under a rock overhang and fed him snacks and water. Tyson thought we might take a more direct route back, but all we ended up doing was trampling microbiotic soil. We gave up on the straight route and hunted for our outbound footprints.

It was a long trudge back. We followed our footprints, my memory of landmarks looking back, and Tyson’s GPS track. Isaac hiked without complaint. I took that to mean we were managing his temperature. I had assumed Tyson was taking care of himself, but I finally realized that his growing irritability was because he was getting cooked. Luckily at that point we were scrambling through a hard sandstone layer with steep drainage clefts. We found one with enough shade for all three of us to rest. It wasn’t until the next morning that we found out how badly Tyson had overheated. He had an upset stomach at breakfast, and had to rest in the AC most of the day.

Emilie and Isaac enjoying dinner at the airstrip

Up at the runway, we ate dinner watching the sun descend over Keg Spring Canyon. Behind us, empty desert stretched for 40 miles. Far away the sunlight caught the peaks of Mt Peale and Mt Waas.

All Photos

GPS Tracks

Flight from Eagle City to Keg Knoll

Hike down into Keg Springs Canyon via the Copper Miner’s trail.