Coyote Gulch, Escalante River Trip Report
by Marty Pietz
(Updated June 11, 2005)
Coyote Gulch, Escalante River Trip Report
May 27-June 2, 2005
Participants: Bob Buhrman, Larry Lee, Rex Mast, Marty Pietz, Larry Walker
Overall difficulty rating: Easy to moderate if you take an easy to moderate pace. Roughly 27 miles roundtrip from Hurricane Wash trailhead to Stevens Arch and back out to the Red Well trailhead. Peek-a-Boo Gulch is less than 1 mile round trip.
Water sources: The winter of 2005 was very wet in the West. There is water in most of Coyote Gulch from about 1 mile downstream from the Red Well trailhead and in Hurricane Wash from about 3.5 miles downstream from the Hurricane Wash trailhead. There are numerous springs and seeps in Coyote Gulch. There is a spring gushing from the rock just past Jacob Hamblin Arch. All of these water conditions could change in dry years, so check recent trip reports and confirm water sources with the ranger station in Escalante before you go. Since there are still cattle ranches upstream from Coyote Wash, treat all creek water before drinking. We drank untreated water from the gushing spring near Jacob Hamblin Arch with no ill effects, but if in doubt, you treat the water you drink.
Overall Summary: A long drive from Phoenix but a fine walk in the desert. We saw uncountable beautiful sandstone escarpments, grottos, ampetheaters, slickrock, waterfalls, 3 arches, a natural bridge, springs and seeps, and hanging ferns. There was plenty of water and much of the hiking was in warm, ankle deep water.
Notices and Caveats: This is a desert hike in a remote area. Be prepared and equipped for desert conditions which means blistering hot in the Summer and bitterly cold in the Winter. Know your physical limitations. The nearest help is in the town of Escalante Utah, over 35 miles from the parking area. There is no cell phone service in this part of the planet. Flash floods can and do kill people in desert canyons such as this. Be aware of the weather conditions! Although Coyote Gulch is a popular hiking area, there is no guarantee that anyone will find you if you get into trouble, especially if you are up a side canyon (there are many of these), so again, know your limitations, physical shape and skill level. We were warned by both other trip reports we read and by the rangers that the deer flies are a problem this time of year. We did get a few bites from these "teeth with wings" but a spot of bug repellant seemed to control that problem. No real mosquito problem , but that is pretty normal out here in the West. There were several spots with pretty heavy poison ivy, so watch out for this nuisance. One rattlesnake spotted in a side slot canyon near Peek-A-Boo Gulch.
The Southern Utah area is home to many National Parks and Monuments. The Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument is the newest of these created by executive order of President Clinton near the end of his term. Although this is great for people who love and enjoy wilderness backpacking , kayaking, and mountain biking, it has been hard for local residents who traditionally made a living in ranching, mining and forestry since pioneer times. Please patronize as many of the local business in the nearby towns as possible to help the local economy.
Friday, May 27: We drove out of Phoenix about 6:30 PM. This is one of the earliest departures we have ever gotten away with. Since we are using 2 trailheads, we have 2 vehicles, both pickup trucks. The Flagstaff Denny's has a traditional table ready for us, then we fuel up and head North of Flagstaff to sleep in the volcanic cinders North of Sunset Crater. I know we always refer to this sleeping spot, but I realize we never have really described how to get to this wonderful bivouac. Head East thru Flagstaff on historic Route 66 until you get to Highway 89. Go North up and over and turn right at the turnoff to Sunset Crater National Monument. Drive on thru the Monument and you will be back in the Coconino National Forest. You will notice that you are dropping in elevation and the trees change from ponderosa pine to pinion and juniper. You will notice spur roads branching to the right. Take one of them, it doesn't really matter which one, you just will notice you are on a dirt road and the surrounding terrain is all black lava cinders with pinion pines , junipers and cedars growing up. There are many spur roads and trails off of your dirt road, take one of them that leads to a spot to park far enough the dirt road that any passing vehicles won't kick up a lot of annoying dust. Roll your sleeping pad out on the cinders, crawl into your sleeping bag and look skyward. The stars are spectacular here. Listen to the coyotes sing all night.
Saturday, May 28: Arise. Breakfast awaits at the Cameron Trading Post about 35 miles distant. We meander back to the paved road and continue North to re-join highway 89. Just South of the Little Colorado River is the Cameron Trading Post. We look over the merchandise, and eat breakfast in the dining room. We load back up and drive North to the Bitter Springs Junction, turning onto highway 89A which takes us to the Marble Canyon Bridge over the Colorado River. We stop and walk out on the old bridge, spot several giant condors below, then drive up to Lee's Ferry to look at the Paria River where it joins the Colorado. There is enough silt coming out of the Paria to stain the entire Colorado the color of caramel, although it doesn't look much deeper than when we hiked it in 2001. We load back into the trucks and drive through Jacob Lake, Fredonia and into Kanab Utah. We gas up and eat some great BBQ at a local restaurant. There is a backpacking/bookstore in Kanab, Willow Canyon Outfitters, 263 S 100 St E., which has a very complete selection of backpacking gear as well as a bookstore, maps, trail guides, espresso, etc.
We fuel up in Kanab and drive North about 70 miles , turning on Utah Highway 12 (a Utah scenic highway) and drive through the North end of Bryce Canyon on up into the town of Escalante. We see a lot of snowmelt flooding along the Sevier River on the way and are concerned if we will be able to cross the Escalante River on the hike. There is a beautiful, funded, ranger station and visitors center just as you pull into Escalante. We stopped and obtained our backpacking permit. Inquiry about the height of the Escalante River brought an official reply from the rangerette (who admitted she had never even hiked in the Coyote Gulch/Escalante ) that the water was too deep and cold to get across and should not be attempted. We took our permit and thanked her. Onward to the Hole-in-the-Rock Road turnoff just North of town. 30 washboard miles later we deposit one truck at the Red Well trailhead where we will exit and all pile into the other truck and proceed 3.5 miles farther down the road to the Hurricane Wash trailhead. There are several cars at both trailheads. We know there will be other people down the trail, but it is Memorial Day weekend, so we reckon that a lot of them will leave after Sunday. At around 6:30 PM MDT we heave-ho and start down Hurricane Wash. There is a trickle of water at the trailhead, but this ducks under the sand within a few hundred yards. The walls of the wash gradually rise and close in. The trail is a mix of slick rock and sand and just a smooth descent, easy walking. After about 1 1/2 hours we arrive at an un-named spring, shown on the topo map. We setup camp about 100 yards downstream from the spring. Green pork chili burritos with cheesecake make a hearty supper. It has threatened to rain since we started walking, so we begrudgingly set up tents and climb in. The rain never shows up beyond a sprinkle or two.
Sunday, May 29: Grits and oatmeal to break the fast, we pack up and proceed downstream past the junction of Hurricane Wash and Coyote Gulch. We hike mostly in the ankle deep water, sometimes bypassing the creek meanderings by hiking on the bank or straight-lining across some of the many S-turns and hairpins. We pass many deeply undercut sandstone alcoves and grottos. Maidenhair fern lines the walls of the canyon on both sides at the numerous seeps. About 1/2 mile before Jacob Hamblin Arch, we spot a spur trail that shoots straight up probably 200 feet over a sand dune to a collapsed ridge. Anasazi ruins? Petroglyphs? Nope. Just a fine view of the canyon below. We snap some pictures and chug back down, our shoes full of sand and our socks full of foxtails which are very abundant everywhere as soon as you get into sandy soil. A word on the sand. This stuff is just about as fine as powdered sugar and gets into your shoes and socks. Every few miles you have to empty your shoes out and rinse out your socks to get rid of it. It is surprising that the water in the creek is clear. We sort of expected it to be silt laden like Paria Canyon. Finally Jacob Hamblin Arch appears as we round a corner. Just downstream from the arch is one of the largest amphitheatres we have ever seen. The ceiling is easily 100 feet high and undercut 100 feet as well. It extends for an arc of over 350 feet. A fine campsite is on a bench under this huge roof, but sadly a group of loud, just-graduated -from-high-school lads were whooping it up and enjoying the echo under this massive sandstone dome. They seemed intent on staying here to camp. We eat lunch of salmon-avocado stuffed pita with a fig newton chaser and visit with a couple headed upstream. He is a high school biology teacher, she a physical therapist from Salt Lake City trying to get away from noise like the kids are making, so they indicate they will move way upstream out of earshot. Naps are the order after lunch and then we move on downstream. A fine spring gushes from the rock just past Hamblin Arch, so we top off the water bottles. On a slick rock part of the stream a small waterfall that forms a small Jacuzzi-like spa invites Larry W. and Marty to take turns in the maelstrom. The water looks clear, but your shorts and pockets are filled with sand and gravel when you crawl out. A short distance further and we hike in the creek right through Coyote Natural Bridge. We pick a potential campsite about 200 yards downstream, offload the packs and switch to daypacks then proceed downstream for about 1 1/2 hours to see if there is a better site. Problem is, there a countless beautiful sites under sandstone ledges, under canopies of cottonwood trees, we just can't pick, so we agree to leave the camp where it is. We hike to a 15-foot high waterfall just above Cliff Arch (also known as Jug Handle Arch). There is a small climb around problem at this waterfall, but it is pretty easy to find the bypass about 50 feet upstream. A couple is camped right below the waterfall and have a stunning view of the arch in one direction and the waterfall right before their eyes. A lovely spot indeed, but already taken. We shower off in the waterfall, take some pictures and return to our campsite. Spaghetti with Clam-Walnut-Pesto sauce for dinner. Prima! No tents tonight (except for Bob and Larry Lee, they routinely sleep in bug tents). The star and satellite show is great as usual.
Monday, May 30: Memorial Day 2005. We heft up the daypacks at around 8 AM and head downstream. Our objective is to get across the Escalante River to see Stevens Arch. We pass the waterfall at Cliff Arch and move on downstream. About 1/4 mile above the Coyote Gulch -Escalante River confluence, we pass below the high water mark for Lake Powell. There is another climb around to the right required just before the confluence. We arrive at the Escalante River which is flowing about mid thigh deep and rather cold from the upstream snowmelt, although not nearly as cold as the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. When Lake Powell is full, you can arrive at this point by boat, however, the lake is more than 30 miles downstream due to the long western drought. We cross the river, pull up into a thick grove of tamarisks and bushwhack reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. After we are clear of the thicket, Stevens Arch appears. We find a use trail up to a ledge perhaps 250 feet above. We eat lunch and admire the view of the magnificent arch. Larry Lee and Bob return to cross the Escalante, Larry W., Rex and Marty work out onto the ridge toward the arch. It is not apparent from below, but the ridge is wide and an easy walk to right up under the arch. A bad pilot could easily fly a Cessna right through the arch. It is huge. Larry W. walks down the other side of the arch and looks at Stevens Canyon. Rex joins him shortly. All three return and cross the Escalante River and slog upstream. We return to camp around 6 PM. Roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy hit the dinner spot. Snore time.
Tuesday, May 31: More grits, we pack up and head upstream. At the Hurricane Wash-Coyote Gulch junction we bear right and head up the Coyote Gulch arm toward the Red Well trailhead. The canyon is pretty, but perhaps not as lovely as below the junction. Our noses tell us that we are getting back into cattle country which raises the annoy-o-meter significantly. After lunch and the requisite nap, Bob spots a gopher snake and picks it up for a photo session. We pass through a hiker gate and the cows are everywhere. They naturally prefer to relieve themselves in the creek water and the air temperature is over 90 degrees warm. Overall, I'd not recommend this route to the trailhead when cows are grazing in the area. We arrive at the truck, throw in the packs and drive to the Hurricane Wash trailhead to recover the other truck with its ice chest full of cold water, beer and hard lemonade. We do pass a small ranching operation and spotted a cowboy on horseback and his dog rounding up the doggies. Life as it should be. We split up into the trucks and drive to the Dry Fork trailhead, about 11 miles back toward town on the Hole-in-the-Rock road. Hike down into Dry Fork Gulch and turn up a nice slot canyon. We think this is Peek-A-Boo Gulch, but later find out it is an un-named, but otherwise pretty slot. It goes about 1/2 mile and then tops out. There is a trail on top and we follow it around back to the main canyon and find the real Peek-A-Boo. This slot is a lot of fun. There is a 10-foot climb up at the entrance, but some handholds have been hacked into the rock surface to make it easier to ascend. Then you proceed to twist and squirm upstream for about 1/4 mile. It's a lot like caving without the darkness. At the top the canyon widens out and it is a short scramble up to the rim. A trail goes back to the main canyon floor, or branches to the top of Spooky Gulch. We are running out of daylight and will visit Spooky and Brimstone next time. A serious warning on Slot Canyons: Just 2 weeks prior to our visit 2 college students were killed in Brimstone just 2 slots downstream from Peek-a Boo. A few years back 15 foreign tourists were killed in Antelope Canyon on the Arizona side of Lake Powell. Some of the bodies have never been recovered. Flash flooding is a serious, deadly hazard in narrow canyons. Never enter a canyon if there is even a slight chance for rain upstream. You will not survive. Never drop into a pour off in a canyon unless you are sure that you can climb back up or are sure you can exit downstream. Never try to swim across a filled hole in a canyon unless you are sure you can climb back out. 'Nuff said!
We feast on Turkey and Stuffing with gravy. Darkness creeps in and we bivouac. Brilliant stars everywhere. ZZZZzzzzz.
Wednesday, June 1: We roll out and drive into Escalante Utah for a fine breakfast in a local cafe (just can't recall the name). A small attached bookstore, "The Roan Pony" has some interesting browsing while waiting for our food to be served. We hop back into the trucks and drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Parking one truck to avoid having to pay 2 entrance fees, we head for the showers then lunch at the North Rim Lodge. Our usual corner window table gives us a breathtaking view down into the Bright Angel rift. After lunch we hike out to the observation point off of the outdoor deck, pat the statue of "Brighty" the burro and head over to the North Kaibab trailhead. We walk down a bit and return to the truck. Out the gate and recovering the other truck we drive west into the forest. Larry Lee spots a porcupine so we stop and snap some pictures. We visit a couple of lookout points for a spectacular sunset view, then we camp in the forest.
Thursday, June 2: On the road back to Phoenix we brunch at Cameron, arrive back in Phoenix at around 4:30 PM MST.
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