Posts Tagged ‘Utah’

After a night in Escalante cleaning up from our Death Hollow backpack we’d planned to hike out to the Golden Cathedral before heading home. Our plans were spoiled by the political fights across the country and we got the “Sorry kids, Walley World is closed” from a NPS ranger at the beginning of the Hole-In-The-Rock road.

Going with plan B we started the drive home and veered off UT-24 near Goblin Valley State Park to do an 8 mile hike through Bell and Little Wild Horse canyons. Despite a closed sign at the kiosk (this was federal BLM land) the parking lot was full, as was one of the two overflow lots. Even without some other federal lands being closed this is a pretty popular hike.

Most hikers just do an out-n-back up the more spectacular Little Wild Horse canyon, so we started with Bell to ease into the crowds.

Bell ends at a dirt road which connects with Little Wild Horse after 1.5 miles. From this direction Little Wild Horse slowly narrows down.

If doing the loop between both canyons I’d highly recommend doing Bell first, otherwise, I think I’d have been a little disappointed in Bell if we’d hiked through Little Wild Horse first.


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Our backpack would begin near the Boulder Airport in Utah. Airport security failed to confiscate our liquids (water and bourbon) and even more spectacularly failed to keep us off the runway.

I left Paul and our backpacks at a Starbucks near the international terminal (read: in the middle of nowhere) and drove a dozen miles down the highway to the Escalante River where I dumped his Jeep in the reeds and started to walk and hitchhike back up the road. A lovely lady from Holland traveling with two toddlers picked me up and cut my walking dramatically. My own country men couldn’t be counted on today to help a fellow out.

By noon we were clear for departure and started down the Boulder Mail Trail. Early pinion and juniper forest gave way to slick rock hiking as we neared the Sweetwater/Sand Creek drainage.

Somewhere around here we crossed paths with an old telegraph line which became fodder for many jokes at the expense of AOL forums.

Before diving down into Death Hollow itself, we took a side trip up a stone knob for an amazing view into the upper canyon.

Back on the Boulder Mail Trail we followed it to a cairn placed on the edge of the earth, before following the carved out ledge that we carefully followed down into the canyon.

On the way down we passed two hikers, they’d be the last people to see us enter Death Hollow. We decided to skip the first campsite we saw and hunt for something better. The first of numerous creek crossings quickly came up so we switched to sandals and survived our Death Hollow initiation.

Luckily for us we located camp right at happy hour. Which meant the bourbon load would weigh less on our shoulders tomorrow. Which meant we could hike faster and eventually get back to civilization about the time the bourbon ran out. I love it when a plan comes together.

Normally I might sleep lightly in a canyon where flash flooding can be a major concern. However, our forecast looked clear and Paul assured me that his tent was rated for debris flow.

The next morning we woke looking forward to the highlight of the 3 day trip – our passage down Death Hollow through some narrows and beautiful scenery.

The temperatures were warm enough that we quickly stopped trying to rock hop across every bend in the stream, and took to wading liberally in the creek in our sandals and neoprene socks. A few long wading sections we discovered were due to beaver dams.

After quite a few creek crossings and much dodging of poison ivy we came to our deepest crossing of the day. I volunteered to scout it out sans-pack, and found the muddy water to be only mid-thigh deep. All our other crossings had been knee-deep or less so far.

Around noon we stopped for a lunch break somewhere – neither one of us had really been paying enough attention to the map to know exactly where we were at this point. Our navigation was pretty easy, just head downstream.

Shortly after lunch we did cross a big side stream which I figured was Mamie Creek. Below this point Death Hollow would get narrower and the rains from 2 weeks ago would decide just how hard our passage would be.

We’d already found a couple trash bags, tossed around in the recent flooding but surprisingly intact and filled with sand. We’d dug those out and packed them out like good LNT hikers. But when I came across two blue external frame packs that was a bit much to pack out. We could have helped our selves to a sierra cup and spork, but left those items with the pack thinking that scounging anything from this bounty would be bad juju.

The first real waterfall in the canyon soon presented itself, so I broke out the tripod and 10-stop filter for a long exposure.

Half wading, half balancing on a narrow shelf we passed through the following narrows section.

We managed to get through without slipping into the deep pool of water and testing our dry bags.

Hiking the rest of the canyon was a little more enjoyable knowing we’d passed through the one area that could give us the most trouble already. And there was certainly plenty of Neature left in the canyon, including water snakes and water ouzels.

We hit the junction with the main Escalante perfectly for happy hour (this is becoming a habit). We found a perfectly flat campsite on a sandy bench surrounded by cottonwoods and investigated a nearby set of pictographs. We also madea point of pulling our drinking water from Death Hollow as it was much clearer than the muddy Escalante.

We may have been two days out and hadn’t seen another soul for more than 24 hours, but don’t let that fool you. There was certainly an element of glamping, after all, we had two fine bourbons to taste and Paul whipped up some salmon croquets for our dinner.

However, the glamping theme was a little put out by the wind and cold that came in as we cooked our croquets. And next morning’s cold wade across the Escalante for more of that Death Hollow water was bracing. But by 9am we were off and headed down canyon. Before too long we heard a chainsaw and came across a volunteer crew out removing invasive tamarisk trees from the canyon. The Escalante had also seen a lot of flooding two weeks ago and many debris piles had be to dodged as we bushwhacked between the creek and the higher banks.

We ran into some day hikers just as we reached the significant landmarks of this stretch of the Escalante – the Escalante Natural Arch and Bridge and some Anasazi ruins.

After this trip and our spring visit to Grand Gulch we were starting to formulate our own theories of the Anasazi’s defensive cliff dwellings and sudden disappearance. I’ll share just two words with this readership while we wait for our peer-reviewed article to find a home in the appropriate scholarly journal: zombie apocalypse.

The last two miles were fraught with dangers as we had nearly emptied the last of our flasks and wondered if we could make the town of Escalante before going dry. Fortunately, Paul’s Jeep remained where I’d left it 2 days before and crisis was adverted.

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The worst part of spring desert trips is that the weather in Colorado so often tries to stop you from getting there. Despite the best efforts of storms to close both the Chicago and Denver airports, Kyle finally managed to fly in where we did a rush job outfitting him for his first backpacking trip before spending a Thursday driving out to the middle of no where (nearby Natural Bridges National Monument is known for having the darkest skies in the National Park system in the lower 48).

Car shuttled and permit acquired we left the Kane Gulch ranger station to start down Grand Gulch.

Within a couple miles we left the flats and found ourselves within the canyon.

The scenery grew more interesting but the first arch was a disappointment.

Thankfully arches aren’t why one comes to Grand Gulch. The plethora of ancient Pueblo (old term: Anasazi) ruins of granaries, homes, kivas and petroglyphs are the main attraction.

On this first day we’d see Junction Ruin, Turkey Pen, Split Level and several other smaller, unnamed sites.

After 14 miles we camped near the junction with Shieks Canyon.

The best water of the trip was found at the Green Mask spring just up Sheiks Canyon. The site also had some of my favorite pictographs.

Our first night’s dinner of black bean burritos were a big hit and got rid of the biggest weight for a single meal (2 avocados, 10 tortillas, salsa, dehydrated black beans and veggies plus summer sausage and cheese – I was glad to get that off my back).

The next morning we continued down canyon just a mile and a half to Bullet Canyon.

Here we setup Paul’s tent and stashed most of our gear inside to make a 5.4 mile round-trip hike to see Jailhouse Ruin and Perfect Kiva.

Perfect Kiva turned out to be the perfect place to use my fisheye lens.

While in Bullet Canyon we had to celebrate with a shot of Bullet Rye.

Then we traversed over to Jailhouse Ruin.

Exploration complete, we headed back to the Kane/Grand/Bullet junction and had a lunch before putting on the big packs again.

More ruins were seen and some explored as we worked on completing our afternoon mileage.

This section of the canyon had some of the worst hiking – deep sandy creek beds – that really slowed us down. We were all beat up and exhausted by the time we reached Cow Tank Canyon.

While the others took naps or tended to blisters, Grant and I grabbed the empty bottles and filter and hiked a half mile up Cow Tank Canyon to a muddy water source and spent an hour getting 3.5 gallons of clean water.

The silt-laden water took forever to filter but Grant I and eventually came back to camp and very hungry. Tonight’s meal of pasta, pesto sauce, sauteed mushrooms and salmon was largely prepared by Kyle and Paul.

Everyone crashed pretty early and I hoped the hiking would be easier throughout the rest of the canyon or else we’d be in for a very long day tomorrow.

Well rested and feeling better we all took a warm up hike less than a quarter mile up Cow Tank Canyon to a couple ruins and petroglyphs.

Then it was back to the main gulch to carry our burdensome packs onward. Quickly we came to the “Bird Parade” panel and then the Big Man Petroglyph (which required a short, but step hike to reach).

Our next stop was Pollys Canyon where we had an early lunch and filtered more water to get us through the afternoon. The report we’d gotten from the rangers was pessimistic about water availability from here to our exit point. Not wanting to waste a lot of time waiting for the gravity filter to do it’s job, I strapped the dirty reservoir near the top of my pack and the clean hung off my hipbelt while I let Grant navigate for us. I was too busy keeping the connecting tubes from snagging on cacti.

With only a few breaks we pushed on through to Bannister Ruin, finding more water along the way than we’d been told would be available. Also, the canyon views were at their best and the long stretches of sand that plagued us the day before were gone.

We were all pretty tired by the time we hit Bannister and we settled into the shaded alcove for a break. The ruin was interesting but a few of us were more attracted to the barrel cactus flowers.

Past Bannister we only had 3 more miles of hiking today and the canyon had some great views left.

We found a campsite near the turn off for Collins Spring and our exit point tomorrow. In the shade of some cottonwoods we all regrouped and enjoyed our last dinner as the sun set.

We’d gone all day with seeing only one other person but had a visitor as night set in.

I figured I should try to get a few night shots on our last evening in the canyon.

In the morning we did another leg stretcher warm-up hike to the narrows which were only a short distance away.

Then we picked up the full packs back at camp for the 2 mile walk to the Collins Spring Trailhead.

And that pretty much caps a great trip with a wonderful group. Overall the trip was a bit harder than I’d anticipated and I’d recommend 4 days (or going lighter) for the Kane to Collins Spring trip to better enjoy it. Milt’s in Moab provided an always satisfying lunch for the drive home and the Colorado weather reared up with another spring snow storm that nearly kept me from reaching home.

Complete photo album.

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