Friday, April 19, 2013

Escalante Excursion - 4/11 thru 15/13

Grand Staircase - Escalante Overlook
Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument consists of 1.9 million acres of Utah, "where conserving the land's wild character is a top priority. These public lands don't just protect astounding scientific values. They safeguard one of the rarest natural resources of all - the opportunity for solitude - in a landscape sculpted by wind, water, and time." Named for Father Escalante, an old Spanish explorer, during the second Wesley Powell expedition in 1872, the road through this area which is now Highway 12, a scenic byway, was not finished until 1940. This is the last frontier of the lower 48 states. (Information taken from signage at the overlook in the photo above.)

Nine hikers from Las Vegas, Henderson, and Boulder City, Nevada plus one hiker from Atlanta, Georgia converged in Escalante, Utah for a four day adventure. Be careful what you ask for! Adventure, challenge and delving into the unknown filled our time there as we discovered only a fraction of what this national monument had to offer.

Thursday - Travel & Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Escalante, Utah
The ten adventure-seekers arrived in Escalante, Utah during the 3pm hour after a five hour drive up from the Las Vegas area. It was a chilly drive as we ushered the cold, windy air out of the area. There was still snow on the sides of the road at the pass on Highway 20 after exiting I-15 in Utah. And, a little rain could be seen falling in the distance from picturesque clouds above. Escalante is a small town, a mere blip on the highway. However, in ten years' time, it is possible that this small town might resemble a baby Springdale. Our Circle D Motel, has recently been renovated and painted and was ready for the spring and summer visitors as their season began almost one month before.

Petrified Tree in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

After checking into the hotel, we quickly piled into two cars and retraced our drive for two miles to arrive at the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. We payed $6 per car to gain entrance and took the two mile loop trail up to view the huge concentration of colorful and large petrified logs. The trail took us up and over a small ridge, down the other side to a cliff then back up and over for the return. We were all amazed at the fantastic collection.

Elly Stands Among the Petrified Logs

Even the Bark is Petrified

Signage at the trailhead gave us the following:

Much like today, ancient river systems flooded and overflowed their banks. Raging waters swept away 200' tall trees and even the occasional dinosaur! Uprooted trees collected along the riverbanks and gravel bars. Layers of silt, sand and mud from flood waters covered the trees. Buried in debris and cut off from oxygen the trees did not decay.

Volcanoes erupted. Ash fell like snow. Silica and other minerals from the ash saturated the groundwater. This mineral-rich water seeped through the earth and soaked into the buried trees. Over thousands of years the minerals gradually replaced the organic structure of the trees, creating a forest of fossilized wood.

For millions of years the ancient forest lay hidden in the earth. Water, wind and time have revealed a window into the past.

Colorful Petrified Wood

Rain on the Aquarius Plateau

Friday - Neon Canyon - Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Descending From Trailhead to Neon Canyon

Golden Cathedral in Neon Canyon

The next morning, we gathered at 8am and went to a local sandwich shop for breakfast. From there we piled in two 4WD cars, drove about 5 miles east on Highway 12 and found the Hole in the Rock Road, a well-maintained wide dirt and gravel graded road that runs over fifty miles to the southeast through Grand Staircase - Escalante NM ending at Lake Powell. This road was originally built by the Mormon settlers trying to establish a shorter route to one of their towns on the other side of the Colorado River. Apparently, the last ten miles are pretty hairy but we only had to travel 16.8 miles down the road today to turn left onto Egypt Road. Here, we ran into our own pretty hairy stuff for the next ten miles to the trailhead. A stream crossing, a deep sandy steep hill, and a wide rock wash were only a few of the challenges met by the Honda Element and Subaru Forester this morning. Dodging boulders and pot holes we arrived at the Neon Canyon trailhead two hours after leaving town. Stepping out onto shaky legs, we signed into the registry and took our group photos.

There are two or three routes that lead to Neon Canyon. We had decided previously that we would take the "Bee Line" route going in. In the distance, we could see a very prominent red sandstone rock dome. This was to be our target for the first four miles. It lies just past the Escalante River basin and just south of the Neon Canyon entrance. We dropped down the steep sandstone and looked back to know how to recognize the area for the return. At the bottom of the hill, we could no longer see the dome but we had our bearings and began a traverse across the desert. It was a beautiful day; a cool morning that would become a warmer afternoon.

View Looking Back to Trailhead Descent

View Looking Forward to Rock Dome Target

As we made our way across the desert, sometimes we followed footsteps of hikers before us and sometimes we just winged it. Our fearless coordinator, Keith, had GPS in hand and we followed without worry or concern. The terrain was filled with sand, sandstone slabs and desert brush. Juniper and pinion pine grew sparsely. The hike, thus far, was simple with few challenges.

With one good break under our belts, we arrived at the last descent into the river basin at what appeared to be the same point that many hikers before us had arrived. We dropped over the ledge as seen in the photo above left and began an easy slog down the sandy slope. The view of the Escalante River basin to the north can be seen in the photo to the right. One last drop down a sandstone chute put us at the river level and we entered the brushy reeds on a trail that led to a river crossing.

Tim Arrives at the Escalante River Level

View Up River to Rock Dome Target

This is the river crossing that kept several of us awake the night before. We had heard that the water might be up to our waist as we crossed. We eyed the water nervously as we changed into our water shoes and removed whatever other clothing that we chose. (Don't worry, we were prepared with bathing suit underwear!) Kay was the first in the water. It was cool and refreshing! The ice cold knee deep water actually felt good after hiking four miles but for some, the crossing was still somewhat of a challenge.

We were right at the entrance to Neon Canyon as we sat to replace hiking boots. We entered the wide canyon next to a barely running stream of water. The walls were red sandstone that rose up on both sides. The group separated into two groups while the stragglers hung back to take a lot of pictures. The hike in was mostly flat with just a little scrambling near the end of the canyon.

Hiking Into Neon Canyon

Arriving at the Golden Cathedral in Neon Canyon

About 3/4 of a mile in, we came to the Golden Cathedral. Here the canyon ended with an expansive high wall on three sides. Just above the pool of water next to the wall were two large holes in the rock. Past these holes was a slot canyon that fed the stream. Rock climbers use the slot canyon to enter the area and drop into the pool through one of the large holes on a dangling rope. We were satisfied to just enjoy the view while we ate lunch on nearby rocks.

We stayed in the canyon for around half an hour and just before we were ready to go, another couple of hikers walked up. They had taken the trail down through nearby Fence Canyon and hiked down river following cow trails, crossing the river five times to get to the Neon Canyon entrance. A few of the hikers in our group decided this sounded like a better way to return. It did eliminate that potentially steep climb on deep sand if we returned the way we came.

Reflection in Neon Canyon Pool

Hiking Out of Neon Canyon

So, when we reached the exit of the canyon, we turned right instead of left and found a trail to follow along the river. There were many trails among the brushy reeds in the river basin made by the open range cows that foraged in the area during the winter months. In fact, we met one owner of some of the cows and learned that they were gathering their herd and moving them while we were there in the area. The cows had to be out by April 15th. (Hmmm. Sounds like a tax issue to me.)

Wandering around on the many cow trails, we crossed the river five times as prescribed. Each crossing was somewhat shallow but equally cool. Although two hikers continued to put on and take off water shoes, seven hikers had "hikable" water shoes and the last hiker just went into the water with hiking boots on. Even though this is not always recommended, the dry desert air assured fairly dry boots for the remaining four miles. Soon, we arrived at the mouth of a canyon that cut a path up to our left.

Crossing the Escalante River

Hiking the Cow Paths by the River

This must be Fence Canyon. And, yes, it was confirmed when we saw hitching posts (and the couple we met in Neon came hiking up behind us while we took a prolonged break to put on hiking boots.) Here, we followed a well marked trail that led up the side of the wash. Fence Canyon ended with a large alcove but we had already climbed up to the ledge above using the trail.

 The trail turned into a route as we began following cairns across the desert toward the particular sandstone climb which would lead to the cars. That last climb had to be met individually as it was very difficult after a ten mile hike. Nevertheless, we all made it and climbed into the cars for the two hour trip back to town. Finally, we drove into Escalante and got together for a pizza dinner at a nearby outfitters store.

Fence Canyon, Escalante River Basin, and Rock Dome

Kay Climbs Back Up to the Trailhead

Approximation of Routes Taken

Saturday - Peekaboo, Spooky & Zebra Slot Canyons - 
                           Grand Staircase Escalante NM

Peekaboo Slot Canyon
Beginning of Peekaboo Slot Canyon

Joan Plays in Peekaboo Slot

We all slept a little better the second night and woke to do the same 8am sandwich shop breakfast. Today, we would be traveling 26 miles down the Hole in the Rock Road to turn left on Dry Fork Road. Compared to Egypt Road, Dry Fork Road was a simple "straddle the wash" type of dirt road for only two miles. When we arrived at the trailhead, it was clear that this was a much more popular place as there were several families and a boy scout troop at different phases of getting ready for the hike.

Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons are known around the world for being special. They each have their own personality. After dropping down yet another steep sandstone hill, we circled around and came into a wash where we immediately turned left to arrive at the entrance to Peekaboo. The boy scout troop in front of us were making quick work of the slippery climb up to the slot so we watched them and learned what to do.

When it was our turn to climb in, we noticed right away that it was no easy task. The rock was well polished by previous visitors and it was very difficult to gain foot or hand holds. The last troop leader helped Keith up, then a rope appeared out of Keith's pack. Several of us used the rope to get up the last 5 or 6 feet of the climb. Once we were all up and in the slot, the fun began!

Climbing Into Peekaboo Slot Canyon

Kay Says She'll Use That Rope

Peekaboo Slot has several archways and windows. Our cameras were beckoned at every twist and turn. We had a lot of fun taking photos of each other as well as simple photos of the architecture and light playing within the walls. There were a couple of corners in the slot that required us to remove our pack so that we could squeeze around the smooth rock. Other places would have been very difficult to climb without the aide of a partner because of the smoothness of the rock. Although we were warned about certain pot holes that might be filled with deep water, today the slot was completely dry. We enjoyed the slot and actually never saw the boy scouts again! (Only small tracks in the sand high up on the sides of the slot!)

Again, the group spread out. We were filling Peekaboo from one end to the other. As we neared the other end of the drainage, the walls went from smooth to ridge detail to bumpy. The walls also went from being about thirty feet tall to only fifteen feet tall. As we neared the end, the walls changed shape and dropped down into a simple path of a wash.

Joan is Happy to Be in Front

Smooth Rock in Peekaboo Slot Canyon

The slot ended by opening out into the desert only a quarter of a mile after beginning. We sat for a small break while we talked wildly about our new experience.

It was another overcast day so the sun was not a factor in most of our photos. The slot has a lot more to offer photogenically than what is offered here on the website. This is the first dry run through of an often photographed subject and, yet still, the photos will hang on the wall for years to come! One could potentially spend all day in the slot with perfect light conditions and camera (with tripod) in hand.

Break over! We got up and began crossing over the desert to the very next wash. As we climbed up above Peekaboo, we got the photo below of the slot from above. It wasn't far before we dropped down the sand into the Spooky Gulch. A slot opened up in front of us.

Peekaboo Slot Canyon From Above

Crossing Over Land to Spooky Slot Canyon

Spooky Slot Canyon
Spooky Slot Canyon From Top Down

Darker Lighting in Spooky Slot

Spooky Slot immediately showed us a completely different character. The walls were a bit darker in color with a lot more ridge and bump detail. The first fifty yards were not very deep and a couple of places, we had to scramble over an obstacle. Things got a lot more interesting when we arrived at a pile of boulders that blocked the path as seen in the photo to the left.

Keith and Kay inspected the area looking for the way through. There had to be a way through. We dropped down into the boulders and saw another drop that appeared to be too far to risk. An added rope seemed to be a bit awkward. Finally, we turned around. Perhaps we could hike around somehow and enter the slot from the bottom.

Like angels, two really nice and helpful guys appeared as we exited the top end of the wash. "Do you know how to get by the boulders?" we asked. "Sure, we'll show you!" they replied. And, sure enough, the way that we had attempted was the way to go. But the guys knew the secrets of the passage which made all the difference. With the exception of Kay getting really stuck between a rock and a hard place and being pulled out with Keith's mighty strength, our descent past the boulders went smoothly and one by one, we entered the lower portion of a really spooky slot.

No Problem, Mon! Jus' SeetuAtion. (Learned in Jamaica.)

Chuck Demonstrates the "Curve and Twist Squeeze Through" Technique

With Joan and Chuck in the lead, (Keith hung back to help at the obstacle), we began squeezing through approximately 100 feet of a very narrow and beautifully sculpted slot. This was not a place where anyone with claustrophobic issues would want to be. There were drop downs and narrow curves. The widest sections might hold two or three people across but most of the slot was only wide enough for a person to slither through sideways ... holding their pack in their hand to the side. It was fun watching the others in the group enjoying the experience as much. Joan took many photos of Chuck and Kay and Kay turned around to take photos of Elly. Elly was probably taking photos of whoever was behind her, etc. Put them all together and you get a group photo of all of us in Spooky Slot!

In spite of the obstacles, the most difficult part of the hike came when we met up with a few hikers coming from the other direction! After words were exchanged, the other hikers shimmied up the walls and sat while our group hiked past them under their legs!

Finally, we came to the end of the slot and exited out into the same wash from which we entered Peekaboo. It was a short hike around to the trailhead ascent and we climbed up to the cars. (Nevermind the half mile detour taken by three distracted hikers as they lost the route in the last .2 miles!)

Californians Climb Up to Let Us Through Underneath

Made It!

Zebra Slot Canyon
Zebra Slot Canyon Trail

Zebra Slot Canyon

The wind had kicked up tremendously while we were in Spooky. So, after we drove back to the Zebra Slot Canyon trailhead on the main drag, three hikers decided that hiking in the wind was not an option. The remaining seven hikers donned their bandanas and began a six mile out and back hike to Zebra starting at the third cattle guard from Hwy 12 on the Hole in the Rock Road.

The trail starts on the east side of the road and heads gently down to Halfway Hollow Wash. This a quaint pretty wash with the trail clearly cut crossing the wash at several places. As the wash grew bigger, the sandstone walls started looking like a Zionish landscape with cross cuts ridged into the walls. Just before the wash opened out, we had to duck under a cattle guard made of 1x4's hung across the canyon. (It was pretty clear that the cows had figured out how to get past the guard anyway!)

Dropping Down Into Halfway Hollow Wash

Cattle Guard Crossing Wash of Sandstone Hills

The wind was gusting pretty strong so we kept our bandanas on for most of the hike. We crossed over to the Harris Wash and dropped into deep sand turning left. Much of the sand ended up in our face as we hiked the last half mile toward the end of the right fork of the wash. We took a small detour to the right hoping to avoid some of the blowing sand but this didn't pan out. Finally, we entered the slot that the right fork of the wash funneled into.

Immediately, it was clear that Zebra Slot Canyon had yet another wonderful personality all its own. It got narrow very quickly and required climbing on the walls to straddle the wash at its most narrow places. The walls had striped ridge lines in the sandstone. And, further into the slot, the red and white stripes also helped with the striped theme. We hiked through the slot giving each other time to take as many photos as we wanted then came to a wall obstacle about six feet high. After a morning of overcoming challenges, the wall presented as being the most difficult. Climbing smooth sandstone isn't easy! Anyway, after the old college try, we aborted and decided that we saw what we came to see in the Zebra Slot and turned around in the raining sand. The hike back to the cars went swiftly and we were satisfied with the day's nine miles of slot explorations.

Keith in Zebra Slot
Tumbleweed in Zebra Slot Canyon

Sunday - Lower Calf Creek Falls & Falls Overlook; Mossy Cave Trail;
                      Pink Ledges Trail; & Travel to Zion NP

Lower Calf Creek Falls - Grand Staircase Escalante NM
Lower Calf Creek Falls

Beginning Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls

Oh, what a gorgeous day! The best weather so far. We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel restaurant and headed east on Hwy 12 at 9am. Approximately eight miles up the road, the landscape opened out into the view seen in the first photo of this entry. About four miles after that, we turned into Calf Creek Recreation Area on the left. Here, there is camping, picnicking and a six mile out and back trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls.

We parked in the parking lot and paid our $2 parking fee then found the trailhead. We began walking into a wide canyon with Calf Creek in the middle of it. The sandstone majesty rose on either side. We had grabbed one of the interpretive brochures at the trailhead and every time we came to a number on a post, we would read what it said in the corresponding paragraph.

Ancient Granary at Top Center


Above, there are photos of two of the sites mentioned in the brochure, a granary and pictographs. Both were difficult to locate but inspiringly in good condition once we found them across the canyon on the high rock wall.

The trail wound around and finally dropped right next to the creek where we could observe trout in the water. Keith was all about the fish as he enjoys slinging a line now and then.

This hike is just a beautiful walk with minimal elevation gain and loss. The new spring leaves decorated the red and white stone with lizards flitting about here and there. One hiker even spotted a garter snake slithering into the grass just before he walked by.

First View of Falls Through Trees

Nine Hikers Plus the Photog

As we turned the last corner, Keith announced that this was the "aha moment." He was absolutely right. The writer was unprepared for such a magnificent sight! This is perhaps one of the most beautiful desert waterfalls she has ever seen and, today, the water was flowing strong.

We took our lunch sitting at the falls.
After many photos were taken, we pulled ourselves away from the falling water and began our trek back to the cars. At the parking lot, four hikers took their leave from the group. The six remaining hikers were headed up to Torrey where a wonderful restaurant awaited them. Two of the four headed to Bryce National Park. The last two hikers were headed to Zion National Park.

Lower Calf Creek Falls

Calf Creek Falls Overlook
View of Calf Creek Canyon from Highway 12

Before heading south, the last two hikers drove up Highway 12 and found a trail that led 1/4 mile down to an overlook of the falls that they had just visited. They were now in the shade but it was still very interesting to see it from above. Back in the car, they turned around and headed back stopping at the main overlook area to get the first panoramic photo of this entry.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Overlook

Elevation Graph for Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike

Elevation Graph for Falls Overlook Hike

Falls and Overlook Hikes in Relation to Each Other

Mossy Cave Trail - Bryce Canyon National Park
Hoodoos at Mossy Cave Trail

Hoodoos at Mossy Cave Trail

As the two hikers headed on down the road, they came across the Mossy Cave Trail that is located within the Bryce Canyon National Park boundaries off of Hwy 12. It is less than a mile out and back and is a good way to see some of the Bryce Canyon type hoodoos without driving down into the park itself.

The destination of the little hike was a large overhang of rock where ground water drips down from the ceiling. This dripping water makes ice in the alcove during the winter and some ice remains to be photographed in April. We enjoyed our little hike and got back into the cars to continue a little further.

Windows and Hoodoos at Mossy Cave Trail

Hoodoos at Mossy Cave Trail

Pink Ledges Trail - Red Canyon - Dixie National Forest
Salt & Pepper Hoodoos in Red Canyon

The next stop was Red Canyon where a visitor center clerk suggested we take a half mile hike up into the hoodoos of the area. There are two particular hoodoos that they affectionately named "Salt & Pepper" and a good photo of these can be taken from the Pink Ledges Trail. The trail is nice and we hit it at late afternoon light.

Pink Ledges and Hoodoos in Red Canyon

Travel From Escalante to Springdale
Old Utah Farm

Bison Herd East of Zion NP

We had taken up all of our extra time on the two little hikes so we continued down to Zion NP without stopping except for a couple of photos. We traveled through the east side of Zion without delay and drove into Springdale at the desired time. A birthday dinner at Oscars topped off the day and we stayed in the brand new really nice La Quinta hotel that they were still building and landscaping. It is on the old elk pasture property.

New La Quinta Inn in Springdale, Utah

Windmills Anyone?

Monday - Zion Narrows - Zion National Park
Zion Narrows

Wall Street at Zion Narrows

The last day of hiking adventure for this trip was a 5.5 mile out and back hike in the Zion Narrows. We rented a dry suit for the birthday brother while the writer and her husband donned their wet suits. The water was a chilly 44 degrees and rushing at 114 cfs (cubic feet per second). Our shuttle left the Visitor's Center around 8:45am.

Kay Models a Wet Suit and a Goofy Smile

This hike needs strength and agility. Since you cannot see under the rushing water surface, you have to take every step carefully while checking for rocks of all sizes. At the same time, you have to battle the strong current of the Virgin River.

We saw around twenty other hikers in the Narrows while we were there. Toes got frozen then warmed up again but the day was irreplaceable.

Tim Returns from a Deep Exploration Upstream

Spring Leaves in the Zion Narrows

Topo Map for the Zion Narrows
We would like to thank Keith, Beth and the hikers of the Sun City Anthem hiking club for inviting us to join them. The trip was well planned and we appreciate the work that was put into it. We would also like to say what a joy it was to have the company of Chuck and Joan. It was a great adventure that will never be forgotten. Thank you. Kay & Tim

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