There is a canyon that I have wanted to do for a long time, but could never quite get around to it. I found out about the canyon through a guidebook, the same guide book which is unclear on how to get there. Confusion was my only emotion ,as I tried to study the hand-drawn maps that this book provided. I even turned to internet resources, but there was no route descriptions that I could find . So with some National Geographic software, a compass and a GPS, I was able to plan a trip to the Upper Black Box to the San Rafael Swell.
The Upper Black Box is a pretty amazing place. It is one of the closest, if not the closest, canyoneering adventure to Salt Lake City. It packs a pretty great punch. With a short drive, a short approach and a short exit, you can do the route twice and still be home for the news. Just be careful with some parts of this route, or else you might become the news.
The fun and adventure begins even before you get to the canyon. Approximately 15 miles before you reach your destination, you will arrive at a big Petroglyph panel that has been restored. This is a great place to take a few pictures and use the pit- toilet before you continue your journey. Once you have arrived at the end of the road, a ten minute walk will get you to the rim of the Upper Black Box. Three hundred feet below you will see the San Rafael River where it winds through the black- canyon walls that probably contributed to the canyons name.
There are two major drop in spots. The original drop-in spot is located directly above a huge rock-fall which has piled up in the water,way down below. There is a fairly risky and intimidating down-climb right before you arrive at the rappel station. This section of about 20 feet is where you want to be very cautious. A slip or fall could send you tumbling onto the boulders below. There is a slight vertical section where you will need to down climb, but the handholds are large and plenty. Once at the rappel’s staging area, you can have your choice of anchoring to chains or to a boulder, so you can prepare yourself for the 180 foot rappel that will introduce you to the Black Box Canyon. I am naturally skeptical of many chains, so we decided to rappel-off one of the boulders that was wedged tightly against the wall. Pulling your rope isn’t even necessary. Coming back for the rope adds extra fun.
The other drop- in spot is further up the canyon. Right before you get to the parking area, the road makes a large hairpin turn to avoid a drainage. If you follow this drainage. you will be treated to a long down-climb and a big flat area where a couple different rappel stations are set up. The rappels from here, are only about 90 feet. So if you want the longer option, the first one is for you.
Once at the bottom, you will be treated with spectacular views downstream. Large boulders litter the waterway and on the sides, there are areas where the water collects into calm green pools. Depending on how tall you are, swimming may be required. We played in the water and just floated for a while to escape the 100 degree temperatures that we were exposed to on top. Some information I had read, recommended to bring a wetsuit. In August the water is warm and doesn’t give any of the people in the party the shivers.
The next hour, we were continually forced into the water-way when the walls would close in and leave no dry ground on the side. In most places, the water was not very deep but occasionally the boulders ,we were standing on, would end, forcing us to swim for a couple of feet. The walls continuously got smaller and eventually dwindled to a mere 50 feet, where the water became deeper. Towards the end we ran into a couple sections of a 100 feet or more, that required swimming. The last one was the longest and carried us underneath some logs that were wedged into the rock from up above. They appeared to be almost level ,as if someone placed them there as a bridge.
When the swim was over, we were standing in ankle-deep water with gorgeous rocks on one side and tamaracks on the left. The exit may be hard to find. Look for a little wash that’s about five- feet wide on the left. A five minute stroll up the wash bring you to a jeep- trail. Less than a mile up that trail, you will find your parked car. Easy, right? If you have the time, do it again. The people in the party were definitely in agreement that this is a canyon they will want to do again.
There are a couple of different options you can explore when choosing to do the Upper Black Boxes. The first and safest one is to hike straight through the Upper Black Box. The route we decided to take is for experienced people only. There is a lot of risk involved with the Upper Black Box. The biggest one is finding the appropriate drop-in spot. If you don’t get to the proper spot, you may have severe difficulties that could result in meeting the search and rescue crew.
Call the Price BLM office for information about the daily water flows in the upper Black Box, DO NOT ENTER the canyon if water flow is over 50cfs. A couple of people have died in this canyon because the water was too high. This canyon requires full- rappelling gear and the knowledge of how to use it. If you have to ask what full -rappelling gear is, you may want to use the long option and forget the rappel. Take some dry bags or life- jackets for buoyancy. Most people could swim in all the places that require it, but why rush? Take your time and float, relax and enjoy the scenery.