In, On, and Around the San Rafael Reef

April 2017  |  Utah

The San Rafael Reef is the jagged uplifted eastern edge of the greater San Rafael Swell, a giant dome-shaped anticline rising to the west of the Green River in central Utah. People who have driven Interstate 70 west of Green River will likely remember the incredible highway route that cuts right through the vertical red walls of the San Rafael Reef. Though most travelers blow through the Reef at 70 MPH, in mid-April we spent a week hiking in, on, and around the San Rafael Reef to the north and south of the highway. This often ofterlooked region boasts amazing geologic wonders and a seemingly endless array of canyon and slickrock adventures and solitude. 

The first light of moonrise illuminates the entire San Rafael Reef, the colors enhanced by the camera's long exposure.

The first light of moonrise illuminates the entire San Rafael Reef, the colors enhanced by the camera's long exposure.

Looking out of the cave in Cave Canyon.

Looking out of the cave in Cave Canyon.

Mexican Mountain and the Mexican Bend of the San Rafael River, as seen from atop the San Rafael Reef - April.

Mexican Mountain and the Mexican Bend of the San Rafael River, as seen from atop the San Rafael Reef - April.

Looking up at the soaring sandstone slabs of the San Rafael Reef, just south of I-70, west of Green River. The sandstone was...

Looking up at the soaring sandstone slabs of the San Rafael Reef, just south of I-70, west of Green River. The sandstone was pushed up during the Paleocene Laramide Orogeny about 60-40 million years ago.

Hiking up Little Spotted Wolf Canyon.

Hiking up Little Spotted Wolf Canyon.

The San Rafael Swell got its name for a reason! From this vantage along the western side of the San Rafael Reef, it's clearly...

The San Rafael Swell got its name for a reason! From this vantage along the western side of the San Rafael Reef, it's clearly visible how the earth has literally swelled up in this region (60-40 million years ago).

Hiking through the depths of Crack Canyon.

Hiking through the depths of Crack Canyon.

A vast panoramic view overlooking the heights of the San Rafael Swell. La Sal Mountains are way off on the left horizon; the...

A vast panoramic view overlooking the heights of the San Rafael Swell. La Sal Mountains are way off on the left horizon; the Henry Mountains in the center.

The Henry Mountains rising in the distance above a colorful canyon.

The Henry Mountains rising in the distance above a colorful canyon.

Walking through colorful narrows.

Walking through colorful narrows.

Bright green box elders in the canyon.

Bright green box elders in the canyon.

The light colored sandstone of the San Rafael Reef glows magenta under a fiery sunrise.

The light colored sandstone of the San Rafael Reef glows magenta under a fiery sunrise.

Sunrise light on the San Rafael Reef, above Black Dragon Canyon.

Sunrise light on the San Rafael Reef, above Black Dragon Canyon.

Sunrise light shines on the San Rafael Reef above Black Dragon Wash, just north of I-70.

Sunrise light shines on the San Rafael Reef above Black Dragon Wash, just north of I-70.

The Black Dragon pictograph in Black Dragon Wash.

The Black Dragon pictograph in Black Dragon Wash.

Blooming flower on a prickly pear cactus - April.

Blooming flower on a prickly pear cactus - April.

Blooming flowers on a prickly pear cactus - April.

Blooming flowers on a prickly pear cactus - April.

Looking north from the top of the San Rafael Reef towards the San Rafael River, Mexican Mountain, and the Little Grand Canyon...

Looking north from the top of the San Rafael Reef towards the San Rafael River, Mexican Mountain, and the Little Grand Canyon area way off in the distance. You can see how the land along the San Rafael Swell forms a giant bulge from right (east) to the left (west).

Walking down the giant sandstone slabs of the San Rafael Reef.

Walking down the giant sandstone slabs of the San Rafael Reef.