Tuesday 11th October 2016 We drove north from Escalante area over Boulder Mountain and out into the beautiful wild badlands past Hanksville on Highway 12 and 24 before heading off down the Hans Flat dirt road for something like 30 miles to the Horseshoe canyon trailhead. The drive was enjoyable with vast open vistas across the high desert plateau and a big bruised cloudy sky.
We had read that Horseshoe canyon has some of the best pictograph rock art in the desert south west so were keen to see it in real life. The trailhead that we used sat on the west side of the deep canyon and we descended easily on a well worn old mining trail to the canyon floor. It looked like a hot sort of place but we were lucky with cool weather under a threatening cloudy sky.
Walking along the easy dry canyon floor, we saw four different pictograph panels, with best at the end, the iconic ‘Great Gallery’. The art includes many figures around 7 feet tall in what is known as the ‘Barrier style’ – named after this canyon which used to be known as Barrier. You can read more from the national park webpages here.
With little known about the people that drew the figures, or even when they were drawn, we were left to imagine what the artworks were meant to depict. But they were definitely impressive to see! Brian below one of the smaller panels for scale…
There were some cool huge alcoves along the canyon….
The Great Gallery….
There were a few drawings of what looked like domestic dogs with the figures…we particularly liked this one….
Probably the most famous figure is this one often referred to as the ‘Holy Ghost’……
Some beautiful autumnal cottonwood trees on the way out…..
And even the toilet block at the trailhead had it’s own ‘rock art’….!
10th October 2016 Today we had a day trip south of the town of Escalante to some superb narrow slot canyons. It was a 26 mile drive down the rattly dirt road of ‘Hole in the rock’ road before we turned off for the trailhead. We stopped about a mile short when the road got rougher and decided to hike in from there.
We had visited here in 2004 and had a great fun day out squeezing through the very narrow slots so we knew what to expect. They didn’t disappoint the second time around!
This time we took a video of our loop through Spooky canyon first then back through nearby Peekaboo……and you can see it here or click the image below.
Fantastic fun! Next we hiked east a bit through lovely sand dune territory to another narrowing canyon called Brimstone Gulch. We only got a a short distance down this one before we stopped at some deep, deep, cold pools between the canyon walls. We gave the canyon best and retreated back to the car after that!
Saturday 8th October 2016 Choprock canyon provided us with a pleasant, quiet and still night. In the morning we left our camping gear and decided to explore down the Escalante river to Neon canyon – intending to return to the tent and hike up Choprock canyon in the afternoon to camp.
First we had some cold river crossings and tough bushwhacking down the Escalante. We are learning that the rivers are a lot colder in the morning before they heat up from the sun later in the day!
After about an hour we came across more signs of trail and easier hiking- probably because we had passed Fence canyon which is another access point for hikers from the Egypt trailhead. Soon after that we stopped at a large petroglyph panel with a mix of older Anasazi art and more recent ‘Cowboy’ drawings.
We turned into Neon, a side canyon on the left/east side- it was leafy, about 30 meters wide with muddy pools of water and the most striking red walls imaginable. There was poison ivy around but it’s easy to recognise as it is shrubby and had turned to autumnal colours whilst the rest of the shrubby plants were still green. At least it was very visible and easy to avoid.
We hiked and waded for about 20 minutes up the beautiful twisting canyon before reaching a dead end- the ‘Golden Cathedral’. Here there was a pool of muddy water underneath a huge cave system pierced by two large holes where water must pour in times of rain. Reflected light against the walls created a stunning scene.
We sat around for a while before heading back to the tent, agreeing that this canyon was so good that we would return again as part of a future hike someday.
Returning to the tent without incident, we packed up and headed up Choprock canyon. We dropped the backpacks again to explore the south fork, which was again scenic, but we found it had a bit too many deep pools to encourage us to go too far!
Choprock canyon itself though narrowed to give about an hour of tremendous hiking with the walls only a few meters apart.
The canyon opened up a bit after that and with some seeps of spring water appearing we pitched the tent at the junction with the north fork (or poison ivy fork). What a magnificent day for scenery!!
Brian explored the north fork in the evening and then we were treated to a slow motion spectacle of the moon gradually lighting up the canyon.
Sunday 9th October 2016 We awoke at 6.30am to get an early start today as we knew we would be heading out into open and potentially hot territory on our return back to the car. The canyon widened further as we headed upwards but still with steep rock walls of wingate sandstone about 400 meters apart. The going was easy up the gravelly meandering wash and we made good time. We heard canyon wren and saw some jackrabbits, ravens and coyote tracks but mostly the canyon was silent.
We climbed steadily up into the grey and purple chinle rock layer to the watershed amongst pinyon-juniper, before finding a scrambly route down through a short rock layer to the Moody dirt track. There was a massive petrified log protruding from the rock here studded with glistening crystals.
The Moody track provided an easy hike for a few miles back to the car to complete another great and varied loop hike!
Thursday 6th October 2016 We planned to do a canyon loop around the Escalante river again but in a new area to us which we hoped would visit some of the finest scenery in the south west. In 2014 we visited the southern end of the Escalante river via Halls creek, Steven’s Canyon,Coyote Gulch and Hurricane as part of our Hayduke hike. This time we aimed to link up canyons to the north including Neon with it’s photogenic Golden Cathedral.
After coffee in the Burr Trail Outpost in Boulder, we drove along the super scenic Burr Trail for about 30 miles before turning south 10 miles down the Wolverine Loop Road on the east side. The road was a bit bumpy in places but we made it to a junction about 3 miles short of the hiking trailhead for Silver Falls Creek amidst big wide open vistas dotted with sage and pinyon-juniper. Here we sorted our gear out for 4 days and set off on foot down Silver Falls creek. We firstly followed a dusty jeep track to the actual trailhead for about an hour and from then just continued down the mostly dry stream bed surrounded by the colourful Chinle and Wingate rock formations.
The sun was penetrating but the air was cold making for great hiking conditions. As we descended the canyon walls gradually closed in and meandered with the steep clean red wingate cliffs surrounding us. Although cross country, the hiking was pretty mellow following the canyon- allowing us to gaze upwards at the alcoves and streaked rock.
Some water appeared in the canyon floor from springs before we reached the greenery of the fast flowing Escalante river itself. We got lost a bit in the deep willow shrubbery before wading through the river to find Harris Wash on the other side. Lot’s of fresh looking flood debris around here made for tougher hiking but we eventually found a comfy flat sand bench above Harris Wash to pitch the tent….
Friday 7th October 2016 A cold starry night and also a smelly one! We had a skunk pass by the tent during the night but by morning the smell had subsided (or maybe we had just got used to it!).
We left the tent pitched and explored up Harris Wash for the morning. Starting out, we waded up the calf deep wash which had frigidly cold water and it took a couple of hours before the sun crept over the canyon walls and warmed us up. The flood debris made for slow going but Harris had some superb deep alcoves and colourful walls. We didn’t see anyone here and only saw two other pairs of hikers in the four days we were out despite Harris in particular being described as a popular canyon.
Every canyon in this region has it’s own character- depending on the different rock layers, the steepness of the canyon, the amount of water, the size of the water catchment, the amount of sun exposure amongst many factors. It does make for incredibly interesting hiking as the view changes at every meander bend and there are constant surprises to be found!
We saw some wild turkey on the river banks but our main feathered companions were ravens -soaring above us with their shadows flickering across the canyon walls.
We found a side spring with fresh water coming in from a side canyon on the south side of Harris. Here we tried to climb out of the canyon here on grainy slickrock but we gave up due to the slippy rock and the lack of holds! A raven monitored our progress…..
Soon after, we turned around and returned back to our tent for a mid afternoon lunch. The water and air temperature had warmed up making the return more relaxing. Our plan next was to pack up the tent and hike / wade down the Escalante river towards a side canyon called Choprock to camp there.
The Escalante river had a much larger volume than Harris and we had to criss- cross many times in thigh deep water. But it didn’t cause many difficulties despite the steep muddy river banks. Between crossings we hiked most easily on sage brush flats with faint trails and with more difficulty through willow and tamarisk scrub. The canyon here was roughly 500 meters wide and with deep red walls and autumnal cottonwoods it looked great.
We followed some big cat trails for a while, and it looked to us that it might be mountain lion- and quite fresh at that.
Eventually we made it down to Choprock canyon at around 6pm and set up camp in a pleasant open spot next to our ever present cottonwood friends!
Sunday 2nd October 2016 After returning from our hike down the Paria river we thought we would sample the canyons and slickrock plateau in the Escalante area of southern Utah with a short 2.5 day backpack straight out of Escalante town itself.
We descended down to the Escalante river from the trailhead at around 4pm in hot sun but soon found cool shade at the river amidst beautiful autumnal cottonwood trees.
The Escalante was lusher, greener and a little less severe than the Paria river and the contrast felt good. We hiked downriver easily with some good trail mixed with crossings of the calf deep water. After about an hour we came across a huge alcove with a striking set of white pictographs with real size figures. A park service ammo box beside the rock art contained information leaflets and warned against touching the art to prevent it being damaged. It dated the rock art at 2000 years old and the location inside the massive cave was wonderful.
We hiked on a bit, splashing down the river before finding a pleasant riverside campsite. Another clear starry night above between the canyon walls was broken by constant flashes of distant lightning somewhere and some gusty winds. We had a night of broken sleep imagining another flash flood like last week’s in the Paria!
Monday 3rd October 2016 No floods thankfully and we continued down the Escalante with a mix of trails, river and bushwhacking. The temp. dropped and we kept our fleeces and trousers on for a couple of hours as we arrived at the confluence with Death Hollow Canyon. A strong clear flow came out of Death Hollow and it was obvious that the river levels were high which was going to make our long hike up the canyon a little tougher than we had thought!
We set off up the river of Death Hollow which was frigid cold and knee deep. The vegetated banks were stuffed with poison ivy, so the river seemed the best way to make progress. Two dippers dashed around on the river. But boy was it cold! We lasted about half an hour (we reckoned we had about 7-8 hours to our planned exit point at the Boulder Mail trail) and decided to turn back to regroup at the Escalante river again where we were able to sit in the sun to warm up and eat some bars.
After scanning our map and the pages of Steve Allen’s wonderful but now rather ageing guidebook ‘Canyoneering 3 – Loop hikes in Utah’s Escalante‘, we came up with another high level route northwards up onto the slickrock plateau above Death Hollow canyon on the ‘Bowington trail’ before meeting up again with our intended route.
After about 40 minutes further down the Escalante, we climbed up on rock slabs above the canyon amidst some beautiful ‘zen’ water slides and golden layered rock.
We soon hit the ‘Bowington trail’ which we found to be a series of -just enough- cairns across undulating rock slabs and pinyon-juniper. The hiking on this route was relaxed, keeping our feet dry and with panoramic views- to Boulder Mountain to the north, the Henry’s mountains eastward and Navajo mountain south in Arizona. Tall ponderosa pine grew out of the cracks in the sandstone slabs.
Late in the afternoon we started dropping down on amazing rock formations into the canyon of Death Hollow again. Now following the more popular ‘Boulder Mail trail’ the cairns were more prominent but the scenery remained spectacular.
We return to Death Hollow and it’s river was heavily vegetated again but the going was easier at this point upstream of where we started out this morning. We found a lovely white sand bank under towering canyon walls in Death Hollow to camp. A great day!
Tuesday 4th October 2016 A cold morning as we climbed westward steeply and directly from camp out of the canyon on the ‘Boulder Mail trail‘. Grand views all around in the early morning light…
The hiking on this cairn marked trail continued through splendid scenery of pillow and brain shaped rock formations dotted with trees and some great little waterpockets in the rock hollows. We dropped down to cross Mamie Creek with a huge pool maybe 30m diameter at the bottom. The water here was rusty red colour – from the iron rich rock we thought.
The rest of the day we meandered over rock slabs and across some sagebrush flats westward to eventually arrive at a rock rim overlooking a distant Escalante town. The cairns headed steeply down improbably over more rock slabs before we hit the lush corridor of Pine creek at the bottom. All that remained was some now familiar splashing along the river and bushwhacking to pop out at the Escalante river again and back to the car.
What a magnificent short backpack with huge variety of hiking in a quiet area -we didn’t see any other people! Steve Allen describes the Boulder Mail trail as ‘one of canyon country’s premier routes’and we agree with that!
Friday 30th September 2016 The next morning we were up before 7am but as we were moving around we noticed that the river had started roaring! The river had increased in height by more than a meter and had turned chocolate brown with silt. Branches were coming down with the river and the flow rate had massively increased with standing waves where we had crossed yesterday evening from the spring. It looked like a flash flood had come through and we thought ourselves lucky with our tent perched on a sand flat a few meters above the river level. The river looked impossible to cross and, as our intended route was to continue down the river itself we were a little trapped!
[Click image to see the video] We sat watching the roaring river and set sticks up at the waters edge to monitor the height of the flow. After an hour or so the river level went down a little which gave us hope.
The river valley looked to widen out with a trail marked on our map starting about a mile downstream . If we could bushwhack down the south bank of the river for a way to stay out of the water, we could perhaps make it to the trail and continue downstream for a while before having to cross the river. So we decided to give it a go….
After some scrambling through willow, tamarisk and under some boulders we did hit an intermittent trail of sorts and we kept hiking.
We soon hiked onto the ‘Chinle’ rock layer which here was colourful and soft providing a welcome shelf above the river for us to walk on. We stopped at a side canyon – ‘Bush Head’- and scrambled up to find a spring with fresher water to supply us for the day.
The heat began to build after that as we headed downstream on sandy banks high above the river which was now lined by cliffs. We halted at a boulder, the only shade around, and were interested to see it had a petroglyph- we weren’t the first to find shade here!
Eventually we dropped down a steep sand dune back to the river at the now abandoned Wilson’s Ranch. Our guidebook suggested it might have a spring, but after lot’s of searching, we gave up trying to find water and slumped down in the shade of some cottonwoods. We needed to get to the other side of the river but it was still running too strong to cross so we pitched the tent to try again in the morning. Both of us were rather thirsty by now so Martina took the brown silt laden liquid from the river and filled our ‘platypus’ water bags with the hope that the silt would settle to the bottom overnight.
Lo and behold, the dirt and silt did settle to give us about 2/3 rds of a liter from each of the 3 water bags. After treating it with our ‘Aqua Mira’ water purifier tablets it almost tasted fine!
The water levels had definitely dropped overnight but the first crossing was still a challenge in thigh deep forceful water- but we made it. From there we strolled on with three other crossings to good trail on the final few miles to the tarmac road near the campsite at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona. Now for the challenge of getting back to our vehicle, 74 miles away in Utah!
We needn’t have worried, after hiking down the minor tarmac road a few miles towards the main highway 89A, we got a lift for the final 3-4 miles to Marble Lodge – a gas station, diner, PO and motel. Fortified by some lunch, we started hitching and got two great lifts; firstly from a Navajo family then from a Mormon family returning to Salt Lake City area. Back at the car we drove to Kanab for a welcome shower and fresh food. What a great trip down the fantastic Paria River!
Tuesday 27th September 2016 Our first backpack of this trip was to follow the Paria River down its lower section for about 40 miles or so to it’s confluence with the Colorado River. This was supposed to be one of the most spectacular canyon hikes around and we were so looking forward to it!
After an enjoyable morning hike in Snow Canyon state park near St George Utah, we drove east over to Kanab Utah to shop for food and then carried on about 40 miles east to the small Paria Visitor Center to pick up our permits for the hike.
We were told that a recent flash flood down the canyon had made hiking difficult with more water in the river, mud, quicksand and flood debris. Also that our intended start along a super narrow canyon called Buckskin Gulch for 14 miles before joining the Paria might not be possible due to deep pools and mud! We decided to still go for it but amended our plan to avoid the Buckskin start. However we still hoped to be able to explore a part of Buckskin from the main Paria river.
The dirt road was also closed a mile short of the start trailhead, as it had been washed out by the flood, so we parked our car by the closed signs and sorted our gear for the hike out on the dirt road. We then set off in lovely low light at about 5.30pm for a short evening hike and soon reached the trailhead with a register…..
We dropped down to the river in a wide basin and followed it down making many pleasant splashy ankle deep crossings. The bed was sandy and mostly easy although there were some soft patches of mud where we sunk down into its squelchy depths!
The river basin soon steepened to rocky canyon walls…..
After an hour or so we found a petroglyph site and soon after a sandy bench to set up camp. A grand start and it was great to back in canyon country!
Wednesday 28th September 2016 We had some rain overnight so we both dashed out to put the outer tent on for shelter- other than that there was a clear sparkly sky to enjoy. We awoke at 6.30 and after a fine muesli breakfast we both were up and keen to hike down the canyon. After a few miles the canyon walls constricted and we were in the famous ‘narrows’.
The scenery was splendid with huge twisting rock walls of ‘Navajo’ sandstone with lovely alcoves, holes and towers. The river occasionally reached both sides of the canyon but was never more than knee deep. Soon we reached the confluence with Buckskin Gulch and we decided to drop our backpacks and hike up Buckskin for a while to explore.
Buckskin was beautiful with it’s own character- narrower and darker than the Paria with only a tiny flow of water but mostly an easy flat sandy bottom. In 2014 we had hiked down from the other side of Buckskin 14 miles upstream for about an hour. We need to come back and complete the full traverse – it is unique and amazing!
Back at the Paria we hiked down more great canyon to ‘Big Spring’ – some lovely clear water gushing out of the canyon walls. We picked up water here and hiked on a bit to find another scenic camp on a raised sandy bench above the stream and under some cottonwoods. Today had been both successful and scenic. We both had injury fears before starting but the tremendous scenery, the warm weather in the 20’s C (but not too hot) and the variety of intermittent crossings of the river, sandy benches and occasional trail seemed to work wonders for us!
Thursday 29th September 2016 More rain with distant thunderstorms overnight so again we scrambled out to put the outer tent on! The river level was up and flowing faster in the morning as we headed down river to an area called the ‘Goose-necks’ – a particularly winding steep walled canyon section. This was one of the most dramatic hiking locations we have ever been in! We stopped at an old 1930’s cast iron pump ‘Adams Pump’ for a break- it was intended to be used to transport water from the river up a pipe onto the plateau to provide water for cattle. It never went into operation, and looked remarkably well preserved!
After lunch we left our backpacks again and explored another side canyon – ‘Wrather’ which had lush vegetation, deep red walls and a stunning arch higher up- it was definitely worth the trip.
After more, deeper splashing down river, we came across another petroglyph rock art before a good dripping spring. We filled up our water bottles then waded across the river to camp across from the spring. Spanish rice, tea and biscuits for dinner with canyon wren song, bats overhead and glistening stars – another great day!