When I was photographing on film, I became very good – in my humble opinion – at telling a story with a slide show, especially stories of trips. At some point, I quit making slide shows and concentrated on making just the right art shot. Over the years, I have reverted back to telling stories which, I think, I do much better and which is, really what this blog is about. So now I am trying to get some of those old – mostly trip – stories down here. Michele and my first trip down Coyote Gulch is one of them.
Backpacking in the Escalante River Basin requires a leap of faith bigger than any place I have ever hiked. First, it is a long way from the Bay Area. We have to drive for about sixteen hours, past all kinds of great places to hike and backpack; the Sierras, the Ruby Mountains, Zion, Bryce. When we finally get to the town of Escalante, it seems unremarkable. A small, isolated, farming town in southeastern Utah. The trailhead to Coyote Gulch – the Hurricane Wash cutoff, really – is about 35 miles down a dirt road off of Utah Highway 12. It isn’t dry enough to be called a desert, just Drylands – very red Drylands, it is true – heavily sprinkled with shrub brush, and interlaced with the occasional cattle corral or small water tank.
From the trailhead, on a bench of the Kaiparowits Plateau where the red Drylands – seemingly – go all the way to the horizon, we start walking down Hurricane Wash. We carry enough water to comfortably walk down to Coyote Gulch – about 3.5 miles – where we will find water (if we don’t find water, we will have a very uncomfortable walk back to the car). As we walk, the land slowly, slowly, becomes more wash-like. We pass petrified sand-dunes about – and that is a very big about – 65 to 55 million years old.
We are walking down-section which means that, as we walk downhill, we are also walking back in time. The wash gets deeper, a little rougher, and the sandstone gets older.
When we get to the corner of Hurricane Wash and Coyote Gulch and see water in this dry landscape, it is a little bit of a shock. The green against the red walls of the canyon is almost neon in its intensity. The running water is not big enough to be called a stream or a brook but over time – alot of time – it has carved a canyon that is probably over 300 feet deep. There are Cottonwoods everywhere, the still water areas are covered in Equisetum, and lots of unidentifiable – to me – bushes.
After wandering around – in awe – we cooked dinner under some Cottonwoods, and spent our first night in an covered alcove (feeling very Indian). About mid-night, we were woken by a stealth bomber flying over. It was very loud and very slow: not at all what I would have expected, especially having lived near a B-52 base while stationed in Texas, years ago.
The next morning, we headed deeper into the canyon. It must have been cold because Michele is still wearing her long underwear which makes me wonder what time of year we took this trip. If it had been in the fall, the trees would have been changing color, so it must have been Spring but it also must have been earlier than Memorial Day that we had carried warm clothes. Either way, it was cold in the early morning and Michele had her long underwear on when we started out, following a well worn trail.
I have hiked or walked – dabbled, really – in alot of mountain ranges, but nothing prepared me for hiking in the Escalante Basin. It is like hiking in a miniature Yosemite dyed red. Except that there are small waterfalls and arches. Oh! and ruins. and petroglyphs.
99 to 65 million years ago – according to Hana Doggett – this part of the world was an inland sea running all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic. Eventually that seabed was filled with material washing down from the higher ground both to the east and west and, then, it lifted, becoming a low flatish area with lazy, meandering rivers. It got lifted again, higher this time and the rivers, staying in their meandering beds beds, wore down those beds as the areas around them lifted up. Eventually, it became one of the most stunning places on earth.
Back when we first reached the corner of Hurricane Wash and Coyote Gulch, we dropped our packs and sat by the side of the mini-stream to take a break. As were sitting there in stunned awe, a German – or a guy with a heavy German accent – ran by yelling, YELLING!, Oh my Gott! Oh my Gott!. When he saw us, he stopped and said This is amazing, do you have any idea how amazing this is? and then ran off. We didn’t know where he came from or where is was going, we only knew that we agreed.
Two nights after the German ran by, we camped near a small ruin with petroglyphs, the next night we camped in a grove of Cottonwoods near where Coyote Gulch enters the Escalante River.
To be continued.