Waking up in a toasty warm sleeping bag, and knowing that you have to get out of it into 10 degree weather takes some serious motivation. It helped that we had a remote start on our vehicle which was about 50 feet away (putting on icy boots and getting from tent to car was not our favorite thing). It was motivation enough to know we were going to Moonshine Wash, which was promising in terms of scenery and adventure.
We’d passed the parking lot for the Moonshine Wash trailhead the day before, (Shannon had it marked on a map he’d made) so we traveled back toward it for about 10 miles or so, which took about a half hour. The road to the trailhead for this hike was less traveled than the “main” road through the wilderness, and was covered in deep snow and ice. We had a 4WD vehicle, which was necessary, however, there was a certain point that we became concerned about the judiciousness of continuing to drive. We parked on the side of the road about 1/4 mile in, and a mile from the trailhead. As we walked on, we agreed that it had been the right thing to do as we walked up and down steep, snow and ice covered, muddy roads with washouts and potholes. Shannon had marked the location of moonshine wash with his GPS again, which was absolutely necessary, as the trailhead was completely covered in snow. In fact, we missed it on the way in and made our own way through an interesting yet scenic route.
From the car to the start of the wash took about an hour, and by the time we reached the mouth of it, we started to get really excited. We’d brought boot spikes in case of ice covered rocks and frozen standing water but didn’t use them as it was fairly dry with minimal snow cover inside the wash.
I cannot over state how much I loved this place. It felt both enchanting and rugged, scenic, beautiful, interesting, and so much fun to walk in!! I felt like a kid in a theme park! There was an old sheep bridge (written accounts say it likely pre-dates the bootleggers that once frequented this area) we looked up and saw it above us, and also saw the skeleton of a cow that had met its demise by falling in, which was a bit sad. Still, the experience of being down in the wash was thrilling!
There was only one spot inside the wash that was tall enough that we needed to use a rope and carabeener to climb down. There were a few spots to scramble over and around large boulders but the actual 2 miles we spent down in the wash was not difficult. We’d read that there were several ways to get out of it; one was to continue on into a 2nd part of the wash that had a considerable distance (4-5 miles not in a loop) that we weren’t sure was wise in the conditions we were In. A 2nd option was to turn around and go back the way we came, which would have involved some skilled climbing up the steep rocks we’d just climbed down. The 3rd option, which was the one we chose, was to scale a steep rock wall up and out of the canyon at a mid way point between the 2 canyon washes.
Once we got to the top, we began looking for trails. We had a general idea of direction, thanks to the GPS, and we could see the top of the wash we’d just walked in. Very important to stay far enough away from the rim of the canyon to not risk falling in. We walked for a good while without a trail, although there were a couple of visible cairns out in the open. I found some of the best bright red and yellow agate in the rocks as we stopped to look through them on some breaks. The snow and the prairie and the sky came together out here in an arresting display. We did eventually re-join the trail out, and realized that we’d come back to the trailhead that we’d missed on the way in. Although covered in snow and easy to have missed, we recognized the rocks lining the parking lot perimeter, which were barely sticking up out of the snow. There are no signs or trail markers here.
All told, from the time we left the car until we returned to it, was about an 8 mile journey. It was about 2 O’Clock by now, and we decided to carry on to Colonnade arch. I’ll tell you all about it next!