Sunday, May 4, 2014

Wrapping Up a Fantastic Week in Escalante, UT

We spent a week in Escalante, UT but felt we could have stayed a month. I have a feeling we'll be back another year...spring and fall are perfect here. We hiked every day, and even when the temperature started rising we were able to find some fairly shady trails to keep us outdoors. Here's a little detail on each of the trails we hiked. (Detailed info on hike location is available here.)

Escalante River, West

The Escalante River can be accessed from many points, but one day we chose to stick close to town so we used the trail head near Escalante High School. On the link above this would be the West access point. There is no formal trail along the river, but we followed a good social trail several miles down stream. At this time of year the water level was about ankle deep or so which made the river crossings very easy. It's a beautiful riparian zone surrounded by tall canyon walls, and very sandy walking. We saw some Fremont Indian pictographs and I discovered afterwards we missed two petroglyph panels (details here).

This large alcove held Fremont Indian pictographs.

Zebra and Tunnel Slots, via Halfway Hollow

After our amazing day at Spooky and Peek-a-boo slots, we wanted more slots! Zebra and Tunnel slots are located in a fantastical land of petrified sand dunes bisected by washes. From the trail head, you hike down Halfway Hollow, a wash that turns from cow pasture to amazing over the course of two miles. Enter Harris Wash and head left for a quarter mile to Zebra slot, then back to the Harris Wash entrance and go right for half a mile to reach Tunnel slot. Unfortunately for us both slots were full of water AND the light was poor...making it impossible to see the beauty these slots are known for. At this time of year the slots are probably lit between 12 and 1pm...we were too early. On our return from Tunnel slot we chose to go OVER the petrified dunes (instead of retracing our steps in the wash) for an interesting change in perspective. Even though the slots were a bust on this day, the landscape in this area is well worth the effort.

Colorful petrified sand dunes made for fascinating scenery along Halfway Hollow.

Without the sun shining overhead, Zebra slot was not worth getting our feet wet!
Traversing the petrified dunes above Harris Wash on our way back to Halfway Hollow.

Lower Calf Creek Falls

Located 16 miles East of Escalante at the Calf Creek Campground (good for tents and rigs 25" or less), Calf Creek Falls is popular and absolutely gorgeous! The trail follows lovely, clear Calf Creek upstream through a beautiful canyon filled with Fremont Indian history to the amazing Calf Creek Falls.

Fremont Indian granary high on a cliff face

Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Phipps Arch, via Hwy 12 at the Escalante River

This hike included three river crossings, some careful route finding and a crazy rock scramble to an amazing arch. Here's a helpful hint about the river crossings. The first one you walk straight across the river. The second and third crossings you simply head downstream a short distance and stay on the same side of the river you started on. We didn't know that about the third crossing and after actually crossing the river had a heck of a time finding another spot to cross to the side of river we needed to be on! Also, at this time of year the river was just about calf deep. We tried using plastic garbage bags over our shoes but they got small holes after the second crossing, even though we were walking on sand. (Pam, this was an awesome idea, but I guess our bags were just not heavy duty enough!)

Here I am crossing the river with trash bags over my shoes!
I so wish this had worked as it was an easy way to keep the shoes dry!

Maverick Natural Bridge.

You cannot see Phipps Arch from the bottom of the canyon.
You must follow cairns up the side of the canyon to get to the top of the bench.
The hardest part was a scramble up the rock face behind Hans.
Fortunately, there was a notch so it wasn't as steep as shown in this photo!

Phipps Arch is massive!

Near the trail head and overlooking the Escalante River, there were two Indian granaries high in the cliffside.

The Box, aka Pine Creek Trail

So here we are at the end of a week of daily hiking, we're getting a bit tired. But the area is so beautiful we just have to do one more hike. This time we head up Hell's Backbone Rd, a few miles North of town. We park at the Lower Box trail head and hike up an incredibly beautiful canyon between high walls of multicolored sandstone, among Ponderosa pines, alongside rushing, tumbling Pine Creek. Turns out there are a LOT of creek crossings. The creek is high due to snow melt from the last storm 10 days ago...many of the boulders normally used to cross are under water. After working to build up a couple of the creek crossings with more rocks...we finally give up and ford the creek in our shoes because there are so many crossings! That water was cold! We ended up hiking for three hours out and back, but the best way to do this trail would be as a shuttle, one way, from the Upper Box trail head down to the bottom, for a total of eight miles.

Multicolored sandstone walls on the East.

Towering white sandstone walls on the West.
You can see the normal crossing stones are under water...
we just gave up and got our feet wet. It was really cold!

A few observations about the trails around here.

  • There are a LOT of sandy trails! You're surrounded by sandstone and every wash, creek bed and river bed will be sandy walking. 
  • Our GPS app, Runkeeper, had a very hard time with the canyon walls. On every hike, the total mileage on Runkeeper was much more than the hike was supposed to be. It was pretty useless.
  • Grippy hiking shoes are a must for walking atop sandstone.
  • If you do Spooky and Peek-a-boo slots, wear old clothes, preferably long pants and long sleeves. Squeezing through sandstone is hard on your skin!
  • Many of the river or creek trails have water crossings and you are probably going to get wet!

About Escalante, UT

The town of Escalante has been a great home base for our explorations of this area. It's a small community focused on cattle ranching and outdoor recreation tourism. There are several lodging options and some good restaurants and at this time of year the weekends are busy with visitors. I'll have a post about our RV park, Canyons of Escalante, up soon.

We enjoyed good meals at Circle D and especially Escalante Outfitters, where we had another meetup with the Nealys. We liked that this town does not have a lot of little shops selling tourist's more focused on the essentials. There's a good, small grocery store (Griffin Grocery) with reasonable prices and there is a new, small home improvement store.

It hasn't been a perfect week though...when our RV park got busy over the weekend the close quarters became an issue when someone backed their truck into our truck...not again! Our poor truck got hit in an RV park in Bend, OR last September, and now this. Luckily, it is driveable so we'll get it fixed when we get to Carson City in a couple of weeks. Thank goodness the other person had insurance!

They managed to damage both halves of the truck!

Despite the truck damage, this has been a memorable stay. We will definitely return, there is so much more to see and do here. Tomorrow we're off to Capitol Reef. Not only are we moving to higher elevation, a cold front is on its way. Time to bundle up!


  1. Your trip reports are impressive, your photos even more so.
    Take your time coming to Washington looks like it will be raining well into July.

    1. Thanks Bill!

      Our travels to WA are already scheduled so I sure hope it dries up by mid July! We spend the week of July 4th in Portland, then head into your state. Looking forward to seeing you two!

  2. We only passed through Escalante going from Bryce to Cap Reef, but we always talk about going back to that area. You will love Cap Reef, too!

    1. We briefly visited Cap Reef about 7 years ago, now we're looking forward to digging a little permitting!

      I can only say that any time you spend in this area is well worth it!

  3. Great writeup of the area hikes. We have to get there. Particularly love your waterfall pic. Bummer about the truck. Hope the repair is painless.
    Nina and Paul

    1. It is absolutely worth a stop! I know we will return.

      Yeah, fingers crossed on the truck. Luckily we have a week in Carson City and a week in Reno that could be combined into one location if needed to get this taken care of.

  4. LOVE the trash bag idea!
    Think I'm going to put a couple of heavy duty was in our packs.

    Good luck with the truck repair

    1. Yep, find the thickest bags you can. I got this idea from Pam of Oh the Places They Go.

  5. I can certainly see why you say you will be back for a longer stay. The hiking looks amazing. I am partial to the beautiful waterfall though. I am always most drawn to water sources. I don't see myself squeezing through sandstone, so I appreciate the virtual tour!

    1. I too love water and was surprised how many water sources there were around here!

  6. We were in Capital Reef this time last year and it was perfect. Our friends that turned us on to fulltime RVing are from here. We had a wonderful time. Do check our blog on the Sheets Gulch. It was so beautiful and the climb over the chock stones was a trip (this is where I used John's head getting down as we came out). The walk back to slot (much larger than ones you just did) is about 3/4 mile through sand. We almost turned around. We were the only ones there the entire time. You can go about 4-5 miles back. Here is the address:

    This is also the area in our blog where we were in Torrey. We most definitely need to return for a longer visit. You can check some of the other hikes. There was an arch we really wanted to see but it was closed because of a rock slide.

    Loved following your visit to Escalante. I have pinned all these trails. You certainly saw a ton of water. Sorry the trash bags didn't hold up. We'll have to make sure we get tougher trash bags. I love the handles!! Did you get blisters from hiking in the wet shoes? Did you change socks? I was carrying an extra pair of socks just in case I got wet.

    So sorry to see the truck damage. Luckily, it is minor as far as driving it.

    Thanks for taking us this unfamiliar place. We are very excited to hike the area.

    1. I just reread your posts. We too are staying at Thousand Lakes. We had the same photo of the granary at the Escalante River! That meal at Hells Backbone Cafe sure looked good! When we drove the road from Boulder to Torrey in 2007 we saw lots of elk too, I hope we see some today. We've had recommendations for Sheets Gulch and Spring Canyon, they look like great hikes.

      We were happy to find that hiking in wet shoes was not a problem. I'd say we walked a couple of miles with wet shoes/socks with no issues. Perhaps the thick black trash bags would have held up better...I was really surprised to get holes when walking in sand. The white bags we had seem to hold up really well to pokey trash items, but not so well to grit!

      Gosh, we love this part of the state! We could easily fill three months in South and East Utah!

    2. Spring Canyon is beautiful!! It was one of those where the rock kept changing and so I kept saying, "Just a little further." Thank goodness we had plans and finally had to head back, which gave us a totally different view, because the walk back is slightly uphill in sand!! We didn't realize this heading in so we we were quite tired when we came out. I can't wait to see what you find in Capital Reef!!! Have a wonderful time!

  7. I can't believe your truck got hit again! Unbelievable! Of course you know what we're wondering now....ha ha!!

    1. :-) I know what you're thinking...and no, we weren't!

  8. Your poor truck! I can not believe you've been hit again. We really enjoyed our time in Escalante. We were there in October and it was cold! Hoses has to come in every night. Thanks for writing it all up.