The center of Gina, Courtney, Michele, and my trip to Utah was a four-day – three night – backpack down Coyote Gulch. Coyote is in Southern Utah, about half way across the state and the drive there – across California, Nevada, and half of Utah – can seem endless.
At some point during the drive, somebody asked me what I most liked about Coyote Gulch and I reflexively answered, The Adventure. I think that I surprised them with that answer, I know that I surprised myself. It is not the answer I would have thought that I would blurt out. The beauty or The awesome geology maybe, but I didn’t consciously remember Coyote Gulch as particularly adventurous. Dark Canyon and Buckskin Dive are adventures, I remembered Coyote as a canyon that can often be walked barefoot. I remembered it as a walk in the park. As is often the case, my remembrance was only partially right.
The night before the adventure started, we camped near the Trailhead. The next morning, while Gina and Courtney shuffled the car around, Michele and I started walking across the desert on a well-worn trail, down into the Escalante River Basin.
That is the rub, while the trail into the Gulch starts off easy – wide and smooth – and looks like it will stay easy, it gets progressively harder as it goes. The first time I walked down Coyote was around Memorial Day, 1982 which means that I was 41, almost 42, and now I am 74. What I remember as easy, or didn’t even remember at all, would be much harder now. At first I didn’t think that I should even try to hike into Coyote, but Courtney and Gina volunteered to carry most of the weight so I would be carrying a very light pack, and it is only thirteen miles in plus two out. With a full pack, even though it is very light, a small step up or down becomes a big step and a big step becomes an obstacle so I knew it wouldn’t exactly be a walk in the park but I didn’t expect it to be almost undoable.
Walking in, we run into water after about a mile and a half. Where there is water, there are Cottonwoods with their heavy bark, and chattering leaves that sparkle in the sun. they provide the shade that makes everything more comfortable. As soon as we hit water, we went from the desert into a classic riparian environment. By the time that Courtney and Gina catch up with us, the red walls dominate the little stream and we are bathed by reflected red, light.
and the next morning we wake up under cloudy skies. The weather forecast had been for sun the first day, clouds – but no rain – the next two days, and sun on the last day but, still, the cloudy sky left me a little uneasy as we walked deeper into the canyon.
The river is entrenched, a meandering open space that has been carved out of solid Navajo Sandstone. The sandstone, itself, was formed about 190 million years ago when this was a huge sand dune field at the western portion of the Supercontinent Pangaea. The Appalachian Mountains had been formed when the continents banged into each other as Pangaea was formed and, as they eroded for the next 100 million years, much of that erosion flowed west into a shallow sea at the edge of the continent, leaving layers of sandstones and shales. Those layers have been raised as Pangaea has broken up into the continents we know today.
On the outside of each meander is a huge wall and on the inside is a sandy bench with Cottonwoods, grasses, and a variety of blooming wildflowers. It is stunning! We walk down river, spending a time walking through the river itself, and then – to get out of the water and to take a short-cut – we hike across a hot, sandy, bench. Then it is back into the river. Variations on a theme in an – increasingly – deepening canyon. The second night, we camp on a bench, overlooking the Kayenta Formation, where we pump our water from a small pool above a rapid.
The next day, we will be going deeper into the wildness.