We spent the second night on a sandy bench under a huge wall on the outside of a meander with the sky trying to clear. After our morning toilette,
and instant oatmeal with dry fruit for breakfast, we wandered around the area for a few minutes. Up until now, we have been walking through Navajo Sandstone, but, now, the creek – brook? stream? – has carved its way down into another layer or, more accurately, down into multi-layers; and the canyon starts to take on a different character.
Today we walk under Coyote Bridge, following the stream, and nobody is around. Yesterday, we walked by Jacob Hamblin Arch, probably the most famous – using the term famous relatively – place in Coyote Gulch, but there were two large parties camped there, so we kept on walking. For the most part, we are hiking alone, although we do run into people going the other way or going faster (we don’t pass anybody who is walking slower than me). The first time I came here, we didn’t see anybody and now there are probably thirty people spread out along the thirteen mile canyon.
We are in an official park, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument but this is land that is administered by the Bureau of Land Management rather than The Park Service. It is the BLM, to anybody who lives in the Rural West. The BLM which administers over 245 million surface acres and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral rights. The BLM: giver of grazing and mining permits, regulator – over regulator or under regulator depending on you point of view – of fracking. Normally they do not administer parks and I really don’t remember the political reasons that brought this on except that the Monument was set-up under Clinton/Gore and Gingrich was running the House at the time.
What ever the reason, the BLM is much less formal than the Park service. In Zion National Park, many of the trails are paved, even in the Yosemite highcountry, some of the trails have wooden boardwalks and, in The Valley, some have guard rails. In Coyote, there are no trails, there is only the way (as in this way may go through, or this way is better, or no way!). Sometimes the way is over a sandy bench covered in wild grasses, sometimes the way is in the river, sometimes it is through Gamble Oaks and Willows, but the way is always down into the canyon.
Sometimes we take a break, just to bathe in the beauty, the wildness,
but the way always takes us deeper into the canyon.
After a small waterfall, we ran into a slickrock section that required help from a stick that Courtney found. I kept thinking, I have been both down this section and back up, it is very doable. But I am older and stiffer and more brittle and, looking down at the landing zone, I realized that I would not make it without the stick. We slid halfway down on our butts, scooched to stage right, and then slid off the ledge to the solid sand landing zone. It was one of those places that is physically pretty easy, psychologically scary, and takes lots of time-consuming discussion.
The last night in the canyon, we camp in a huge alcove. Alcoves are not my favorite place to camp because they seem so well used, maybe overused. I know that the Anasazi must have stopped here because they like alcoves, but they abandoned their major cities like Mesa Verde and Chaco near the end of the 13th century, and this is far from those cities. The magic, if it ever existed, is gone, wiped clean by years of ranchers and cowboys using this place.
After our morning meditation, we hike the last couple of miles of Coyote Gulch,
Coyote Gulch ends at the Escalante River at just about the place that the Escalante River, itself, ends at Lake Powell. It is as deep as we can go. But there is a way out – a long walk up a sand dune, just before the end – that leads to the Crack In The Wall. This sand dune has been a major worry for me, it is steep, sandy, and doesn’t have any shade, so Michele and I started while Gina and Courtney explored downstream. The hike up the sand dune is much worse – and much shorter – than I remembered it and my tactic becomes look up the trail, pick out a destination 15 to 20 feet ahead – like an Opuntia – then hike to that point to take a break and catch my breath. I repeat it about 50 times.
Finally, we get to the Crack and it is much narrower than I remember – I am almost too fat – but I am able to squeeze through, only to be stopped by a block that has to be climbed.
At this point, the only way out is to go up, going back is a two-day slog, at best. With Courtney directing my feet and Gina pulling, I get above it and then scramble to the top of the plateau and, shazam!, we are out (with only a tiring, flat, walk back to the car). That night, we have a delicious dinner at the Hell’s Backbone Grill.