US South West

We have visited an area in the south west of the United States called the ‘Colorado Plateau‘ a number of times now. The plateau covers the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and southern Utah. It is characterised by high desert, deep canyons, steep rock cliffs, forests and vivid colours. For us the attraction is in the vast wild countryside that provides endless adventures for backpacking, exploring, hiking, scrambling as well as paddling and rock climbing. There are many signs of prehistoric cultures too: Ancestral Puebloan, including the ‘Anasazi,’ Sinagua, Fremont, and Cohonina. And thankfully much of the area is public lands such as National Parks, National Monuments and Wilderness Areas (although under some threat from the current Trump administration).

Listed below are our outdoor adventures- many with links to blog posts.

Autumn 2018

We returned to southern Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona in October 2018 for more backpacking in this wonderful area.

Buckskin Gulch slickrock

Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks

Escalante – Bighorn Canyon, Harris Wash and the ‘Cosmic Navel’

Capital Reef NP – Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek

Zion – Canaan Mountain traverse

Escalante – Scorpion Gulch

Grand Canyon North Rim Loop (Indian Hollow-Colorado River-Kanab-Jumpup Canyons)

Autumn 2017

Back again to the canyons and high desert of the US south west in October 2017! We flew from Scotland to Las Vegas and rented a car with 3 and a half weeks to get out and backpack further into some new areas.

Canaan Mountain and White Domes loop north of Hildale

Escalante – Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante-Brigham Tea Bench-Boulder

Capital Reef NP – Upper Muley Twist and the rim route

Grand Gulch area – East Slickhorn-San Juan-Slickhorn canyon loop

Dark and Youngs Canyons

Hackberry Canyon-Yellow Rock-Paria canyon

Autumn 2016

Back to the desert and canyons of southern Utah and northern Arizona in September/ October 2016. Two years ago we hiked and kayaked our own version of the Hayduke Trail. Having enjoyed it so much we returned this year with a rental car to hike to some other canyons and interesting places. Whilst we wouldn’t get the full immersion of a multi month hike such as the Hayduke, we were aiming to target some of the most spectacular places in the region with some trips ranging from  1 to 5 days.

Paria river backpack I

Paria river backpack II

Escalante – Death Hollow, Bowington and Boulder Mail trails

Escalante – Silver Falls, Harris, Escalante, Neon and Choprock canyons I

Escalante – Silver Falls, Harris, Escalante, Neon and Choprock canyons II

Escalante – Peekaboo, Spooky and Brimstone slot canyons day trip

Canyonlands National Park- Horseshoe canyon

Canyonlands National Park- Salt Creek backpack

Escalante – Farewell- Wolverine and Little Death Hollow canyons

Video summary from our 2016 hikes (6 minutes)

Spring 2014

The Hayduke Trail is a 800 mile hike and scramble txUSA-google-map-390hrough the canyons of the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah and northern Arizona USA. Read about our trip here…Hayduke hike

2009

We had 6 months in the USA in 2009 to mainly hike the wonderful Continental Divide Trail. We also managed a few short trips to the desert south west before after the CDT though…

Grand Junction CO – Colorado National Monument

Montrose CO – Dominguez canyon

Mesa Verda National Park CO

Montrose CO – Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Montrose CO – Dolores Canyon

New Mexico – Chaco Canyon

Arizona – Monument Valley

Canyonlands NP – Needles hikes

Moab UT – Slickrock trails mountain bike

Canyonlands NP – Islands in the Sky

2004

Our first visit to southern Utah and it was a bit of a revelation to us contrasting with the green and wet Scottish scenery. We did a number of hikes, scrambles and rock climbs…

Grand junction CO – Colorado National Monument

Moab- Kane Valley rock climbs

Moab – Negro Bill canyon

Arches NP – Off Balance Rock rock climb

Arches NP – Owl Rock rock climb

San Rafeal Reef

Goblin SP – Wildhorse Canyon – Crack Canyon

Capital Reef NP – Fern’s Nipple

Capital Reef NP – Sulphur Creek, Cassiday Arch

Capital Reef NP -Burro canyon, Rim Overlook trail

Escalante – Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls

Escalante – Coyote Gulch and Stevens Canyon

Escalante – Spooky and Peekaboo Gulches

Grand Gulch loop hike

Canyonlands NP – South Six Shooter rock climb

Canyonlands NP -Needles

Moab – Slickrock mountain bike

Moab – Fisher Towers, Ancient Art rock climb

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Ancient Art Fisher Towers

Moab – Castleton Tower rock climb

Grand Junction – Independance Monument rock climb

Telluride – Lizard Head peak

 

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Bryce Canyon and Zion Parks

This post covers covers two day trips to famous National Parks in southern Utah; Bryce Canyon and Zion.

In Bryce we simply followed a few of the popular trails on a great crisp clear day with big rolling clouds.

In Zion we were looking for something to do on our last day of the holiday that avoiding the crowds. We succeeded as we didn’t see anyone else all day! Also we had a splendid day of slickrock, bushwacking, scrambling and a trail to the Deer Trap Mountain with great views down to Zion Valley.

See our photos from both trips here

 

Grand Canyon Northern Loop

The aim for our final week was to visit new territory to us on the northern side of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. We chose to try a loop hike, starting at the Indian Hollow trailhead and dropping down to Thunder River, before heading to the relatively popular Deer Creek and then to the Colorado River. From there we would hike along the river downstream off trail on rough bouldery terrain for about 7.5 miles to Kanab Canyon. We would then exit the Colorado and hike a long way up Kanab Creek then Jump Up Canyon, Sowats Canyon to reach the Jump Up-Nail trailhead. All that would be left then would be some jeep tracks and cross country over the wooded plateau back to Indian Hollow trailhead.

Saturday 13th October 2018 Starting from the town of Kanab, we drove towards the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park, firstly on tarmac, then a long good quality dirt road due south. There were lots of hunters camped along the way in cold and frosty sites in the high altitude and shaded ponderosa pine forest. The last 5 miles of off road driving turned a bit rougher with a few deep puddles, but with some nice autumnal aspen in the roadside forest. We were delighted to see a couple of Kaibab squirrels with their distinctive long bushy white tails and pointy ears.

Indian Hollow trailhead was still in the trees, but in a brighter open spot beside some wooden corral fencing. Leaving the car at midday with 6 days food, we looked forward to potentially the longest hike of our holiday, backed up by a reasonably positive weather forecast after the previous rainy couple of weeks. A short stroll on a trail took us to the edge of the forest and the lip of the north rim of the Grand Canyon- always an impressive sight!

We followed the clear trail down the first cliff band to the ‘Esplanade’ – a wide fairly flat terrace between cliffs- and this made for easy walking as we headed east to join with the more popular Bill Hall trail. Some cool slick rock slabs with good looking water in potholes provided an excuse for a stop to admire the scenery. Once on the Bill Hall trail we saw our first other hikers of the day but most were setting up camp and we continued on to the top of the next cliff band known as the Red Wall where we collected water from another pothole for our own dry camp tonight. Here we had our first view of the muddy brown Colorado River, still a long way below us and we descended steeply down a rubbly trail through the Red Wall into Surprise Valley.

The temperatures had been cool today and we felt that we had lucked out as this area can get oppressively hot even in the autumn! Surprise Valley itself hangs above the Colorado River and is the result of huge historic landslips. Once in the valley we headed east to set up camp just before the divide above Thunder Springs. There were rain showers passing through but we stayed dry throughout the night with our tent nestled in behind some boulders.

Sunday 14th October 2018 A great day! We take a short side trip down to the unusual feature that is Thunder Springs – a huge waterfall emerging from underground and through the middle of a cliff surrounding by lush greenery supported by this perennial water source. The views beyond were cool too with Tapeats Canyon snaking its way down to merge with the Colorado.

Picking up the camping gear we headed back on trail across the dry arid ground of Surprise Valley to cross the divide on its north side above Deer Creek, followed by another steep descent down to the creek. The low light and clear air resulted in beautifully coloured walls either side of us. There were gushing springs feeding into Deer Creek and we had a stop there under some cottonwoods. The hike down Deer Creek to the Colorado River was an absolute delight- initially through lush greenery and cactus then on rocky terraces through a steep striated and sculpted canyon. We found some hand print pictographs on the rock walls.

We exited the canyon all too soon but had the grand view of the Colorado River a few hundred feet below us now. Down at the Colorado we wondered around the stunning waterfall as Deer Creek plunges over the final cliff to the Colorado and met some other people as this is a popular spot for river rafting groups to take a break.

Thankfully the temperature was only a little warmer here as we now had an exposed bouldery, trackless walk alongside the Colorado River. We left the boating groups and started picking our way through boulders right down at river level, before using rock terraces to traverse under a ‘Tapeats’ cliff band to reach a small spit of sand. Resting here under a tamarisk we enjoyed a little breeze sweeping down the river and we debated the way ahead as we knew we needed to climb up steeply at some point to avoid being cliffed out. We noticed a few cairns just above the sand spit and climbed steeply up a scoop in the rock to reach a wide sloping terrace above which made for easier headway- and birds eye views down to the river.

We crossed a little gorge and Martina took water by scrambling down to a small pothole perched above a steep drop- one of our best water sources ever! Shortly after that we came across Siesta Spring which also had good water- and it was running. Onwards, we pass a cool jumbly conglomerate wall then drop back to the river at Cranberry Canyon. We decide to stop at the confluence of Fishtail Canyon and the Colorado River. A short stroll up Fishtail revealed some cool canyon walls and more clear water in large potholes. Also near our camp we saw some ‘scraping rocks’ which must have been used in the past to sharpen tools.

Monday 15th October 2018 The going along the river was slow, mostly through boulders with very occasional trail and some bushwhacking near the river. We make steady time though and take about 3.5 hours to cover the 4.5 miles to reach Kanab Canyon. The scenery was stunning with the shadows shifting as the sun rose through the morning and we enjoyed this cross country hike under the towering cliffs of the canyon. A few rafts pass us on the way and they helpfully ask us if we need anything or would like a lift down to Kanab Canyon! Brian was tempted but Martina resolutely wanted to keep hiking!

The water was flowing strongly out of Kanab and is a brown muddy colour- a sign that the recent storms are still having an effect. I (Brian) was concerned that we may not make it up the canyon as I had read that there are tricky deep pools to negotiate even at normal water levels. We knew we could expect the extra obstacles of high water levels, soft sand and mud and some storm debris of logs and branches.

A challenge can be good for us though(!) and we set off anyway and at a fast pace up the cobbly river banks with frequent muddy river crossings. Kanab is a beautiful canyon with unbelievably high limestone walls and constant twisting and turning. We passed under a sublime huge striated alcove with water dripping over the edge in a curtain from above. After about 2.5 hours we made it to the junction with ‘Whispering Falls’ canyon and its strong clear flow of water. This was to be our turn around point if things were too difficult, but we had no thoughts to that now and kept wading up canyon heading for a possible camp near a landmark tower at ‘Scotty’s Hollow’.

The going got tougher with a series of large dank muddy pools and car sized boulders to scrabble over and round. Each presented a test for us to work out how to get round them- wade deep pools, burrow under them through gaps or scramble up the canyon side? Surprisingly, we meet a large group of student age hikers coming down canyon- if they have made it thus far then we could relax in the knowledge that we should be able to make it up river.

Eventually we arrived at Scotty’s Hollow, a large side canyon from the west with clear running water and at a tight ‘u bend’ in the canyon overlooked by the lofty ‘Scotty’s Tower’. We found a good camp above the river (in case it floods again) but under a cave with loose looking rock unfortunately which made us a wee bit nervous lying underneath protected only by tent fabric. That was a 10 hour day of wet, silt, boulders, pebbles, scrapes and cuts but we both are feeling good if a bit tired. Interestingly for future planning, our pace up Kanab in these conditions was about the same as that boulder hopping along the Colorado River.

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Tuesday 16th October 2018 Survived the night with no rock fall! We headed up river, still wading the muddy stream and scrambling over huge boulders. Reaching another landmark that is Showerbath Spring, we admired it’s cool hanging ferns streaming with clear water. The going eased a bit from there for 2.5 hours before we hit the junction with ‘Jump Up’ canyon- our exit from Kanab Canyon and a chance for dry feet as it was bone dry! Resting here we watched some ubiquitous but always fascinating ravens soar alongside the canyon walls.

Jump Up was narrower and, with smaller canyon walls, provided quite a contrast. The limestone canyon provided lots of ammonite fossils in the pebbles as well as colourful red agates. These limestone canyons have quite a different feel to the sandstone canyons further east, such as the Escalante canyons, which have smoother sweeping walls of the Navajo and Wingate sandstones. Here the limestone is more broken, but equally colourful and full of variety as well as fossils.

As we climbed upcanyon it soon opened out and we split into another side canyon called Sowats- this had clear running water and was greener with cottonwoods now appearing.

The hiking was now mellower and we stopped to take water for overnight at the gushing ‘Mountain Sheep Spring’ and looked at some pictographs on a nearby wall. A cairned trail provided an easy exit out on the south side of the canyon and back onto the Esplanade terraces. We hunted around a bit for a good campsite away from the trail and on the sandstone slickrock before claiming a viewful spot perched on a rock ledge above a small overhanging rock.

Wednesday 17th October 2018 Great to see the return of the sun in the morning after a cloudy chilly day yesterday. We set out south on a clear path along the Esplanade to reach a clump of cottonwood trees marking our exit climb out of the Grand Canyon. It was cold as we climbed up the trail in the shade to the Jump Up Nail trailhead and we grabbed the chance to take a rest when the sun first hit us. Lots of fossils beside the path and expansive views back across the Esplanade to the other side of Kanab Canyon. At the trailhead we hit a dirt road for a few miles back on the rolling plateau and pinyon -juniper vegetation. To get back to the car we mostly cross countried southwards from here and luckily for us the going turned out to be easy and rather pleasant through open woodland crossing a few dry washes. We got hit by a couple of hail showers though which forced us to keep up a good pace to stay warm!

Back at the car, we didn’t hang around as snow started falling and we were keen to get through the initial jeep tracks before the snow started lying. It was a sprint but we made it back to the town of Kanab and the end of a fantastic mini-adventure!

More photos here

 

Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek

 

Friday 5th October 2018 With a wet forecast for the next few days we again set off on a shortish trip carrying food for 3-4 days. Starting at noon at the Lower Muley Twist trailhead in the southern section of Capital Reef National Park, the weather was surprisingly bright with big puffy clouds. We had been here before in 2014 on our longer Hayduke hike and this time intended to repeat a hike of Lower Muley Twist canyon but then head off to explore different areas and to do a loop back to the car.

Muley Twist was superb last time and didn’t let us down this second time. Its mostly a wide twisting canyon for 12 miles or so with easy walking down the dry wash.  The huge Navajo sandstone sidewalls with black water streaks are stunning but it’s the massive alcoves that are the standout. These must be some of the biggest caves or alcoves eroded out by the canyon wash we have ever seen. They are quite hard to capture on camera but it’s cool just to stand underneath looking up at the roofs.

Saw quite a few bats today in the daylight which was unusual too. The final alcove down canyon is known as Cowboy Alcove and contains some cool graffiti and artefacts from the early 1900’s. Muley Twist is normally dry but there were a few pools of water in the sandstone potholes from recent rain- the wet weather has had some benefits!

We explored a side canyon for a while heading west at the bottom. Jamal Green has used this one as a means of accessing the high plateau across to Silver Falls and Choprock Canyons. We took a look for about half and hour and enjoyed the wild, rough, bouldery scenery but chose to head back down Muley Twist and find a campsite near the certain water source at ‘Muley Tanks’ where we had camped in 2014.

We exited out of Muley Twist with a narrow final eastward slant into the wide Halls Creek. Camp was found just as it got dark at a serene stretch of slickrock leading to a side canyon to the west. On the way we came across an old midden of flint rock lying under a small cave. Excellent end to the day!

Saturday 6th October 2018 Dark skies as we awoke and had breakfast looking out across our side canyon and the main Halls Creek. We left the backpacks and headed into our side canyon by wading through a short pool section then into the scenic narrow canyon which ended all too soon. Picking up the backpacks we made our way to the big pools of water at Muley Tanks then headed up the slickrock slabs behind to a place called ‘Hamburger Rocks’. A cool series of red boulders sitting on top of smooth slabs. Easy slabs took us back into the dry wash of Halls Creek again and its wide open views.

Halls Creek Overlook Trail was taken east out of the main creek and it climbed quickly amidst varied colourful rock and boulders. Great views back to the rippled folding rock layers. Rain crept in from the south and we were soon getting wet hiking north now on vehicle tracks. With a long wet dirt road hike ahead of us, we caved in when a SUV passed by and we hitched a lift (thank you!) for about 5 miles to another hiking trailhead called ‘The Post’.

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The Post trail heads west back over the folded rocks and into Muley Twist canyon again. This is another superb little trail although views were a bit limited with mist and rain rolling in. This trail could be used as an alternate to the Hayduke missing out the Burr Trail dirt road zig zags and the top 2 hours of Muley Twist. Maybe 50/50 as to which option would be better.

The rain worsened to a torrential downpour and we sped back up Muley Twist with sheets of water pouring down the canyon walls. It was a bit of a relief to reach the car and get out over the dirt road with rain banging off the windscreen. That said though this was another varied and scenic short trip!

 

 

 

 

Hackberry Canyon-Yellow Rock-Paria River

Sunday 22nd October 2017 Arizona Humphreys Peak

We drove down to the Flagstaff area in northern Arizona and climbed the Arizona’s highest point,  Humphreys Peak (12,633ft or 3,851m) using the standard route up from the Arizona Snow Bowl ski area. It was cool to be in forest with pondarosa pine, douglas fir, then aspen up to limber pine and bristlecone pine on the highest ridges.  Above we had views around northern Arizona and to the pitted landscape of volcanic cones. Being the highest peak, there were a fair number of hikers around with an excellent trail to follow. I guess though, the peak didn’t have particularly dramatic views compared with what we have in our own sunny Scotland so we decided one day was enough for us and we would spend the last few days before we flew out back in the canyon country of southern Utah.

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On Humphreys

Tuesday 24th October 2017 Hackberry Canyon

The aim for our last couple of days in Utah was to visit the Hackberry Canyon, Paria River confluence and find somewhere nice to camp overnight. From Page Arizona we drove over the Colorado River, past Big Water then left the tarmac to head north up Cottonwood dirt road for about 12 miles to near the foot of Hackberry Canyon. The light was sharp and clear and the cottonwoods looked particularly golden and autumnal.

With Michael Kelsey’s guidebook in hand we hiked east uphill to the top of Cockscomb ridge on steep dirt road then cross country to the top of the ridge itself. The panorama was cool with great views over rippling sandstone layers and slickrock to Yellow Rock, Castle Rock and Powell Point way in the distance to the north. We then hiked north up Hackberry Canyon which we rather rushed through previously on our 2014 Hayduke hike. The twisting canyon was beautiful and a healthy stream rushed over the sand and between the curving red walls. As the canyon opened out further upstream continued up through cottonwoods to rustic Watson Cabin in a technicolour scene of gold, reds, greens under a deep blue sky.

Back at the car, we packed the camping gear and headed uphill again this time to the west to the top of the amazingly colourful slabs of ‘Yellow Rock’. We found a superb camp near to the summit on slickrock and pitched the tent just before the sun set.

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From the Cockscomb south down Cottonwood Creek
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Lower Hackberry
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Watson Cabin, Hackberry
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Camp, Yellow Rock

Wednesday 25th October 2017 Yellow Rock, Paria River

We awake early in the morning to see the sun rise and it quickly warms to tent up for breakfast. Stroll over Yellow Rock down to the natural feature ‘the red cairn’ where the rock patterns are particularly vibrant. The peak to the south provided some slabby scrambling – this whole area is cool! We then followed a faint trail west then south back down into the ‘box’ canyon of the Paria River past some lovely cactus rock gardens amidst pinyon juniper forest – very mellow!

Once down in the Paria we hike up to the old movie set (last movie filmed here was ‘The Outlaw Josie Wales’) nearby situated under some particularly colourful Chinle rock formations. The heat began to build in the afternoon and we were happy to splash back down the Paria through the box and up Cottonwood Wash back to the car to complete a great little mini trip!

 

 

 

Dark and Youngs Canyons

Monday 16th October 2017 Mule Canyon-Hite

After a good breakfast at Twin Rocks diner in Bluff we drove to South Mule Canyon for a day walk to look at some Anasazi ruins. Flaming Roof ruin was the best, living up to its name with its impressive streaky sandstone overhanging roof. Whilst here though we both agreed that backpacking for a few days suited us better than day hiking and allowed more of an immersion into the backcountry! So we decided to visit Dark Canyon further west and drove off mid-afternoon back to the basic Hite marina campsite at the edge of Lake Powell.

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Flaming Roof ruin

Tuesday 17th October 2017 Dark Canyon

 

Dark Canyon caltopo
Click the picture above to see the map in Caltopo

Some eerie coyote choruses overnight including some right next to the tent. A guy drove into the campsite last night and asked if there were any shops or diners nearby (Hite is a looong way from shops with Hanksville or Blanding being maybe 90 minute’s drive away). Martina gave him 2 snickers for the road and he set off for Hanksville!

Drove down in the morning to the Sundance TH- 11 miles of dirt road with beautiful vistas including the Henry Mountains prominent to the west and Sigor Ros on the stereo – superb! This road is also used as part of the Hayduke trail to hike between Dark Canyon and Hite and then onto the Dirty Devil river.

On leaving the car, we hiked for about an hour using the Hayduke route variation from the trail on a nice faint line through pinyon juniper and some cool slickrock before reaching the beautiful rim of Dark Canyon with horizontal layers and towers below. Three ravens and a raptor swooped above to complete the scene. The descent was steep, down bouldery and sandy ground, but at least is well cairned. We took it slowly and were down to a sub valley that feeds into Dark in an hour. After relaxing behind some massive boulders we moved on down the sub valley on good trail to cottonwoods and Dark Canyon itself with a healthy flowing river (rangers had warned us there might not be water here but that seemed unlikely with this major river system!).

Our aim was to hike Dark Canyon upstream to the junction with Youngs canyon and set up camp to explore- this again being part of the Hayduke trail that we hadn’t yet seen. This was a fantastic walk, often on limestone pavements above the river shore providing a mix of easy walking mixed with scrambling. The pavement terraces were often undercut and embedded with red, white and black cherts (we think) in a beautiful abstract array. Fossils appeared now and then too. With the water often pouring down slabs forming pools and waterfalls, we managed one cold dip but it was fun. The canyon was deep with high open walls blocking the sun out much of the time- perhaps where the ’Dark’ name comes from?

At one point we hit a dead end in the canyon and were forced to back track until we could scramble out the west side before picking up a cool trail following the rim upstream. Nearing Young’s canyon we hit some slower travel, more lush vegetation and bushwhacking before we arrived at the atmospheric confluence with Youngs canyon and set up camp with Youngs waterfall cascading nearby. Great day!

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Resting before hiking down the sub valley into Dark Canyon
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Smooth hiking along terraces in Dark Canyon
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Our tent (bottom right of centre) at the Dark- Youngs Canyon confluence
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Weird limestone terraces – intrusions?
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Dark Canyon autumnal colours

Wednesday 18th October 2017 Dark Canyon

We decided to leave the tent in place and explore Youngs Canyon today. To get into the canyon we bypassed the waterfall by going 100m up Dark Canyon then taking a steep cairned trail before traversing back into Youngs above its pool. Soon after we hit a deeply vegetated patch thick with poison ivy and bamboo- bashing our way through we were glad it only lasted a few hundred meters before we emerged out into a dry canyon.

From here we scrambled up the canyon floor on slabs and over boulders. Staying in the canyon we arrived at a beautiful slabby rockwall which we climbed before being halted in our tracks by another steeper 20m wall. We backtracked 400-500m down canyon to reach a cairn at a side gully and scrambled our way up past a tower on the east to pick up a rough trail contouring up the canyon rim. Following this for maybe a mile it dropped us back into canyon floor where we continued upwards.

Lunch was under some cottonwoods in an open section of the canyon at the foot of the cairned route taken by the Hayduke onto the rim again far above. The Hayduke does a big detour from the canyon floor here to avoid a dryfall above. At 2pm we turned back and this time stayed on the eastern rim trail as it went past the tower, round the rim of the side gulley and on another 500m or so to a cairned descent steeply down a rubbly scooped gully. This went better than expected and we were soon back in the canyon to scrabble through the vegetation before returning to the tent at 4pm. The rim route on our return was much quicker. Overall the section of Youngs we looked at was wild and scenic.

After dinner Brian explored up Dark Canyon from the Youngs confluence and again it was interesting with a more chilled, tranquil vibe.

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Youngs
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Youngs – Eastern rim traverse route with the tower centre picture

Thursday 19th October 2017 Dark Canyon

After a warm night we had a brief rain shower at breakfast and once it stopped we decided to both head further back up Dark Canyon and leave the tent.  The meanders are tight upstream and we both loved the mellow feel with a gentle stream flowing. There is an attractive large pool which we bypassed on the right going upstream. After about 1.5 miles from the Young’s junction the water stopped flowing and we went another couple of miles before turning back. It would be great to include upper Dark Canyon in a future longer hike- perhaps on the Hayduke alt from Salt Creek or joining into Woodenshoe canyon going south.

Returning to the tent, we packed up and headed back downstream in Dark Canyon. Repeating this stretch was no hardship as it’s so great! We found an excellent place to pitch the tent on a rocky limestone terrace right above the river. Heard a dipper and canyon wren on the way.

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Pool in Dark Canyon upstream of Youngs

Friday 20th October 2017 Lower Dark Canyon and up Sundance Trail

In the morning we hiked back down to the junction with the Sundance Trail after taking a short diversion up Lost Canyon which was also rather scenic. Met a couple of hikers from Flagstaff camping on the way. From there we decided to explore down the lower part of Dark Canyon to where it flows into the Colorado river. The canyon walls close in a little after the junction with Lean To Canyon and after a false attempt on the left, we retreated and climbed up to a trail on right/east of the canyon (LDC). This was a fantastic high ‘balcony’ trail with short exposed sections and tremendous views downstream.

After about an hour the trail drops down steeply to the valley floor at the junction with a side canyon from the east- a lovely spot with water sliding down bare slabs. From here we downclimbed past a deep, beautiful pool on its left and then scrambled up right past some loose blocks. Then things got muddy! Lake Powell  must have reached up to here in the past but the lake has since retreated back leaving the valley floor filled with mud and silt making for stodgy going! The temperature built up too and we plodded on but eventually turned round about 300m short of the Colorado river itself.

Going back upstream was easier and again a great hike- we thoroughly recommend this lower part of Dark Canyon. Made it back to the juntion with the Sundance Trail at 3pm in hot, sultry conditions. After a drink in the shade of cottonwoods we shouldered our packs for the steep, hot climb ahead to the rim. Made it back to the car at 5.30pm after another great scenic trip. Drove to the metropolis of Blanding for a motel and pizza!

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Lost Canyon
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Lower Dark Canyon
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Lower Dark Canyon
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Mud near the Colorado!

Escalante loop- Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante-Brigham Tea Bench-Boulder

Thursday 5th October 2017 We left Kanab campsite and drove on one of our favourite drives up through Orderville lined by beautiful autumnal cottonwoods and sparkling cold sun, then over the high plateau past Bryce canyon and onto Escalante town through stark but beautiful scenery. We asked at the ranger station about the state of Death Hollow river level as the river had defeated us last year with its deep, cold, fast flowing water. The ranger had one report of a team that had turned back recently at the crux narrows  but we decided to head in anyway as the autumn has been dry and we expected the water levels to be reasonably low.

We left the car at a windswept and dusty turn off about 2 miles west of the town of Boulder in mid afternoon at the eastern trailhead of the Boulder Mail Trail. Having hiked the west portion of this trail last year and finding it to be superb we were so glad to be back now on the eastern side.

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An easy hike to start on good trail winding its way through pinyon – juniper scrub before we dropped height onto slickrock and to cross Sand Creek with running water and lush cottonwoods, greenery and even some aspen. From there we continued west on slickrock before a bigger drop down rock into stunning Death Hollow. It was evening now and our thoughts were to finding a campsite before dark and we waded downstream in and out of the river of Death Hollow before finding the same site as last year on sparkling white sand on the canyon floor underneath ponderosas. Wonderful!

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Into Sand Creek
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Dropping down into Death Hollow itself
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Camp in Death Hollow

Friday 6th October 2017 Now for the descent down Death Hollow to the Escalante which had defeated us last year. The river bed here is filled with hard wearing volcanic boulders in many places making for tougher going than many of the canyon rivers here abouts. That plus the ubiquitous outcrops of poison ivy along the river banks slowed us down initially. The scenery was superb though with towering walls and the green canyon floor filled with tall ponderosas.

As we continued the going got easier and steady as we often followed faint trails on the banks between river crossings. The water warmed up into the day making the river crossings easier too. Often the bed of the stream was slickrock sandstone layer. It occasionally dropped off into potholes or deep clefts though such that we had to keep concentrating. We passed the junction of Mamie Creek which was a useful marker point and stopped for a bagel lunch on a beach with sparkling blue pools.

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Lunch before the Death Hollow narrows

Next up was a section of narrows which were exciting! The water roared through a subway shaped slot with rock overhead forcing us down to a crawl and a sloping slippery ledge under the water for feet. A mistake would have made for a cold swim but we both made it and from then on Death Hollow was more mellow but continually beautiful. Saw some canyon wrens, dippers, blue jays, woodpeckers, 2 snakes and a buzzard!

We made it to the junction with the Escalante River at 3pm and noted that the Escalante had much less flow than Death Hollow.  We continued down the Escalante with some trails, river crossings and bushwacking to camp near the Natural Bridge. What a great day!

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Death Hollow
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Death Hollow

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Escalante Natural Bridge

Saturday 7th October 2017 A cold night. Our shoes and socks froze overnight and we had a slow start waiting for the sun to hit us and thaw us out. We walked downstream along and across the Escalante river which was broader and more open here with sagebrush flats but still fringed by red rocky cliffs.

We crossed Highway 12 and saw a few people here around the trailhead, soon leaving the road and people though on a good mellow trail. Stopped to watch a canyon wren dart about on the rock only a couple of meters away. It had a white breast and long curving beak- good for extracting insects from cracks in the rock? There are a few well marked river crossings but mostly this section of the Escalante down to Boulder Creek is easy and relaxing hiking. Golden cottonwoods lined the river.

At Boulder Creek we hit a huge pile up of wood and flood debris which had formed a large island with rapids through the wood. Just beyond was a fresh downed cottonwood tree, with distinctive beaver teeth marks. Impressive!

Half an hour later we found our exit point from the river on the ‘Brigham Tea Bench as described by the Steve Allen guide and stopped for lunch in the shade from the now hot sun at about 2.15pm.

A faint trail climbed up rock slabs to a dessicated wooden ‘line shack’- an old cabin complete with an old bed and table. From there we headed north on a mix of sandy flatlands and swirly slickrock following a wide bench between the high escarpment on our left and the canyon of the Gulch on our right/east. It was hot and sometimes tiring on the sand but the wild atmospheric open views were a great contrast to the canyon walking.1007-IMG_2508-escalante-river1007-IMG_2514-escalante-river1007-IMG_2516-escalante-river-beaver1007-IMG_2519-brigham-tea-bench-line-shack

We decided to keep going into the evening to reach a series of rocky pools on the other side of a saddle on our western escarpment. Made it there to a wonderful campsite on a small patch of sand amongst rippled rock with a string of pools below us descending down the rock slabs. Crystal clear starry night and totally quiet- another great day!

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Sunday 8th October 2017 Warm still air in the morning (8C) and we left the tent to scramble up the creased slabs to the north. The slabs were too steep to be taken direct but zig zagging and following lines of weakness allowed us to reach the summit with multiple pinnacles. What a spot!- which didn’t look like it sees many visitors at all but with extensive views across this remote sandstone area with the higher slopes of Boulder Mountain to the north.

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Back at the tent we decided to also have a look at the water line dropping westwards before packing up and leaving the campsite. Numerous potholes and vegetated pond oasis’s made it another lovely area to explore.

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After a superb start to the morning we continued hiking north along the slabby eastern side of the dome escarpment until it faded away and we turned west to follow shallow washes into Deer Creek. Just before Deer Creek we hit an obstacle of a 30 foot cliff but after a bit of hunting around we found a slender tree trunk lying against the cliff and were able to shimmy down to the bottom. A bit more scrambling through bush, across Deer Creek then up walls on the west side aided by some juniper trees and we emerged onto a trail heading northwards upstream.  Relaxed hiking past autumnal cottonwoods followed before we hit the Burr Trail tarmac road at a campsite and picnic tables.

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From here we hiked north west on the Burr Trail towards Boulder town on tarmac. Paved road is not our favourite hiking but at least the scenery out here made it very pleasant and there was very little traffic although a supported cycle group came past at one stage. Eventually we caved in and hitched back to the car beyond Boulder. But what an excellent 4 day loop, with lots of scenic interest, variety, scrambling and a few side trips. Recommended!

More photos here

Loop hikes in Utah’s Escalante by Steve Allen – the bible to the Escalante area, a brilliant guidebook and a must buy. But getting rather dated (published 1997).

Jamal’s Across Utah description including part of this loop in a Hayduke alternate looks superb.