Chris Roams

Travel, Adventures, and Photography

The Road Retaken

I came through Escalante earlier in the winter to go backpack along the bottom of Coyote Gulch, one of the spectacular tributaries of the Escalante River itself. Some other hikers I had met in Coyote had recommended a hike through Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulches as well so I was back with an objective in mind but first I had to get there. An old Mormon wagon trail runs south out of town between 50 Mile Mountain and the Escalante River, eventually down through a notch blasted out of the canyon wall of the Colorado River to the shore of Lake Powell. This was the location of the original ferry crossing used to settle southeastern Utah beyond Cedar Mesa. It took months to construct the trail and the entire route was abandoned after only a year in use in favor of Halls Crossing further up river. Today the Hole in the Rock Road is a wide dirt track, sometimes washboard and sometimes sandy, used (and maintained) by the local ranchers who use it to get to their herds. Rougher side roads lead up to 50 Mile Mountain or down to the canyon of the Escalante and its tributaries. A quick ride up one of the side roads into the mountains revealed that there is still plenty of snow at higher elevations, I was turned back by what appeared to be a small glacier working its way down the stream bed that doubled as a road.

One sight along the road that the helpful staff at Escalante Outfitters advised me to check out was Devils Garden, a collection of sandstone arches and hoodoos on a much smaller scale than Natural Bridges or Arches National Park. The formations face west so I wanted to be in the area to catch the sunset but I was running a bit early so after some initial exploring I climbed up into a shady nook behind an arch to wait. Two of the most common backcountry maps in use are the USGS topo quads, which are very detailed but horribly out of date, and National Geographic's Trails Illustrated maps which aren't as detailed but can generally be relied upon to have most of the major roads, trails, and campsites marked correctly (and have the advantage of being waterproof); the cover fold of each TI map usually contains a photo of some unidentified scenic landmark located within covered area (hundreds of square miles). Well, sitting in my nook underneath an arch I pulled out my TI map of the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument to see how far I would have to ride to get to the trailhead for the gulches after sunset and discovered that the arch I was sitting behind happened to be the one featured on the cover of the map.

The Escalante is a wild place (it's BLM policy not to have any designated trails or campsites so hikers are on their own) but not wild enough to be immune from overcrowding. Given the option I would have thrown my sleeping bag out right on the rocks of Devils Garden for the night, but I suppose so would everyone else, and hence camping is disallowed in the area. It is also disallowed at Dry Fork - Coyote Gulch trailhead, the entry point for Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulches, my objectives for the next day. No worries though, a few dozen yards before the "No Camping" sign is a convenient pull-out along the road to the trailhead and a flat sandy spot where many a camper had obviously stayed before.Devils Garden - galleryMetate Arch - galleryLeft Hand Collet Road - galleryMetate Arch - galleryDevils Garden - gallery