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Coyote Creek to Escalante River: Escalante National Monument

The right time of year to visit Utah’s high desert is the Spring which is what we did in 1998. I headed out to Salt Lake on April 4th for our annual hike. But since the snow was still falling and plentiful, we stole one day on the front end to visit the Alta ski area. 12″ or more of fresh powder awaited us on a warm spring day. I think we counted 38 people total on the mountain. And the lift tickets were half price spring skiing! Never felt so much like a theif as that day at Alta.

The next day we met up with our largest group of hikers ever. We had Dave Kenison, David Hansen, Brad Clements, Gary (a friend of Brad’s), Buce Craygun, and Kim Ashcroft. And we would eventually meet up with Davy Crockett who was then living in Arizona and would drive North to meet up.

As we drove down we enjoyed the landscape as it gradually got to be red and orange…the colors of southern Utah. We went past some canyon rock that looked a lot like Bryce Canyon NP rock (hoodoos) and stopped to take some pictures of the freshly fallen snow on the rocks. Very pretty. But unbeknown to us, the snow would prove problematic for our friend Mr. Crockett.

You see, Davy was driving north from Phoenix. After he crossed the Glenn Canyon damn at the end of Lake Powell, he started thinking of shortcuts to get over the mountaints without having to drive route 89 all the way around the world. It was “just a few miles east” he thought. Turned out that he would go most of the way on small dirt roads and do just fine until he got to the ridge that lined the western edge of the Grand Staircase NM. This ridge was over 7000 feet and it was still winter.

Davy’s piece-of-crud mobile got stuck in the mud in a driving snow storm on top of that ridge. I forget some of the story, but I think he was able to make a cell call to Dave Kenison and explain the issue. So as we began our hike into Hurrican Wash, Dave Kenison drove his Explorer up to meet Davy on top of nowhere.

Realizing we would likely never see them again, we started down out hike through a sandy wash. As we walked along, the sides of the wash began to creep up. Small rocks and boulders began to take shape as walls which got higher. I noticed that the sand was darker in spots and sure enough a bit farther down, the sand was wet and small springs began the rest of the trip…walking in ankle deep stream water.

We camped the first night near the Jasob Hamblin arch, a beatiful sandstone arch. We had a neat campsite complete with pit toilet – no privacy there! But the view was spectacular for a toilet, I have to say.

Next day we walked further down until we met up with the Escalante River just before it flooded into Lake Powell. In those days the lake was very full…not so anymore. Along the way to the Escalante we enjoyed several arches including one natural bridge which I guess is just an arch over water.

Once at the Escalante we dropped our packs about a half mile upstream on the Coyote Creek and walked up the Escalante. not too far up river we got a view of Stevens Arch high above the valley. David and Brad would discover years later that a trail existed to walk right up to the arch. Damn!

Walking in the Escalante was fun. It was a lot of soft mud but every so often you would find a deep hole and sink in up to your waste! You could not see it coming as the water was milky from all the fine particulates. So we tried using our walking sticks to sense the firmness, but it was still a challenge.

We made camp and tried to pump water for the hike out which was a long dry hike up to an area at the rim of the canyon called the Crack-in-the-Wall. Literally it was a crack that allowed you to exit the canyon without having to use ropes. Our water pumps were very difficult to pump due to all the silt from the trip. So we tried letting the water sit in bottles to settle out before we pumped. It helped a bit, but not much.

During dinner, Davy and Dave Kenison showed up (as I recall). They had a real time of it on the mountain getting a wrecker up there to tow Davy’s car out. But they finally got the car towed to Knab and Davy and Dave back to Hurricane Wash for the hike. They ran down the canyon to meet up with us on the last day. This would be very fortelling of Crockett’s later life adventures but no one (not even Davy) would know this until much later.

The next day we hiked up the dry sandy trail to the Crack. It was fun squeezing people and packs through the very narrow and clostophobic. Once on top, we walked the slick rock back to a car we had shuttled to a small parking lot.

Since the hike was short and we had some time, we decided to drive the rest of the Hole-in-the-Rock road to view the Hole in the Rock (duh!). This was where Mormon settlers crossed the mighty Colorado (before it was a lake). What an ordeal that must have been!

After a quiet night camping, our next stop was a day hike into Spokey and Peek-a-boo Canyons. These are two excellent slot canyons just a 30 minute walk from the Hole-in-the-Rock road. They are very narrow and very beautiful. If you are ever in this part of the world, go visit. Kids love it! (even big kids) Our route was to go up Spooky and down Peek-a-Boo.

We visited Devils Castle on the way out and on our way to Coyote Gulch, another slot canyon nearby. We hiked that canyon on our last day “enjoying” the icy cold water and VERY deep pools. But it was a spectacular day hike. Later in life Davy Crockett would hike over 50 miles of that canyon!

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