Last Chance Desert tour
The home of the Last Chance Desert, The San Rafael Swell, is an immense uplift of the Earth's crust that beckons the adventurous traveler. Those who are bold enough to answer it's call are rewarded with a landscape full of wonders seen nowhere else on Earth. Colorful badlands in hues of yellow, pink, lavender, green and blue as well as hoodoos, spires, buttes and mesas are just the beginning of the wonders which reside in this vast wilderness. Add to this canyons, sand dunes, arches, rock windows, and even volcanic fins that look like the spine if a long past megalithic beast and you will see why this unblemished wilderness is our personal favorite to share with other like-minded adventurers.
After picking you up from your hotel or Airbnb we will pass though a few quaint towns heading towards the Fishlake National Forest and Thousand Lakes Mountain.
Our first stop after summiting Thousand Lakes Mountain will be Cathedral Valley Overlook, a stunning view from around 9000 ft of nearly the entire valley down below as well as clear across the San Rafael Swell with even Moab's distant La Sal Mountains visible on most days.
A lovely drive though mountain meadows and alpine forests of Aspens follows before entering the Last Chance Desert.
As we drop into the desert, you will feel like you’ve just left civilization behind as a spectacular journey unfolds before you. You will be met by the stunning, surprisingly colorful desert of the San Rafael Swell badlands. If solitude amidst rich natural beauty is your desire, know that many times there is not a soul around besides yourselves and your guide.
We will visit an abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp complete with a coal mine, left as a reminder of generations-past mining activity. The camp is now just a setting of man's brief occupation and nature's reclamation, now a beautiful composition of geologic wonder with a hint of past human activity.
If you've ever experienced or learned of Cathedral Valley's Bentonite Hills region, the Last Chance Desert is full of the same formations. Each region's bentonite is unique and these in particular, include pastel blue to purple colors. We call it The BB Hills (Blue Bentonite Hills).
Your Guide will share the amazing geologic history and surprising cultural history throughout your journey which includes, volcanoes, a vast inland ocean, dinosaurs, ancient Native Americans, and even Butch Cassidy!
Our next stop is Mussentuchit Sand Dune. This is where you can walk amidst the pristine sands or just watch and ponder the wonders of nature that created this awe-inspiring landscape. This is where we can have lunch, if you choose so, with a view on this abnormally large sand slope named after the Mussentuchit geologic member which comprises much of this area.
After the stop at the dunes, your journey will continue through desert washes and vast, expansive views across the swell of mesas, buttes, ridges and fins. Some of these are actually comprised of lava, yes lava! Known scientifically as igneous intrusions, one of them even resembles the spine of a long deceased dragon jutting out of the desert. Your Guide will explain how such surprising and beautiful formations came to be in this region.
The approximate half way point of the tour is marked by reaching the pinnacle of the Last Chance Desert loop, the Badlands of Last Chance Desert. It’s a stunning valley that looks like a sea of lightly roasted marshmallows. We are confident you have never seen anything like it before. The reddish pink (roasted) points of the hills are actually rather sharp and beautifully compromised of colorful jasper, chert, chalcedony, and even crystals scattered on top of lighter hued hills. This is, in our opinion, one of the most stunning landscapes in the entire region.
We will then proceed through the southernmost point of the loop which borders and overlooks Last Chance's regional neighbor, Cathedral Valley of Capitol Reef National Park's north district.
Your next stop is Solomon's Temple, a massive sandstone monolith pushing its spires into a bright blue sky. We will proceed past red sandstone ridges harboring their own monoliths, hoodoos, and even a solitary spire standing defiantly to time and erosive forces in the unrelenting desert environment.
As we work our way out of the desert, the sights just continue to get better. A thrilling ascent up a set of switch backs through a gorgeous canyon take us to the top of Piano hill. What? Why? Well, remember the CCC camp we visited at the beginning of the day? Your Guide will explain the surprising name and you will also see that this is one of the most beautiful overview points of the tour.
The Last Chance Desert Loop, will never cease to reward those of us with the spirit for adventure and the aspirations to succeed and achieve it. It is full of beauty, history, peace and solitude, not to mention innumerable surprises that you're sure never to forget.
Once exiting the desert, you will pass again through the serine mountains and be transported back to your lodging, carrying lots of beautiful memories, and memory cards full of the same with you!