Category Archives: Camping

Coyote Gulch Part 2


Meanwhile, back in the Escalante River Basin, at the bottom of Coyote Gulch, just before it enters, the Escalante River, is a waterfall. To get around it, we have to traverse across a sloping face and then climb down a faux semi-Indian ladder. It is a very easy traverse except for two things, it is sandy because everybody who makes it has wet, sand covered, shoes and the traverse  has about fifteen feet – or so – of exposure with the bottom being a pile of nasty looking rocks. It is physically easy and psychologically pretty hard.


But, at the bottom, is the Escalante River – probably a stream anyplace east of the Mississippi, but a river here.


In Coyote Gulch, it is easy to step across the stream that has carved the canyon, but the Escalante is a much bigger deal and requires wading in most area.

On the first trip that Michele and I took to this area, we hiked down Little Death Hollow – a spectacular, very narrow, canyon – to the Escalante River and then worked our way down stream to Silver Falls Canyon. It was not very far on the map, but, because of all the wading required, it was an arduous full day of wading and bushwhacking. Another time, while wading down river between Fence Canyon and Twenty Five Mile Wash, we ran into a dead, decomposing,  cow in the middle of the river. It was one of those existential moments when logic and emotion collide. We were almost positive that our water filters would allow us to safely drink the water down stream from the cow – we had no choice – and the thought of drinking, even filtered dead cow water was pretty threatening.

In this case, we wandered up river to Stevens Canyon and checked out Stevens Arch.


Escalante-0070Then we hiked up a huge – 500 or 600 feet huge! – sand slope almost to the top of the Kaiparowits Plateau.


There we shimmy up through a crack in the top of the wall to the plateau above the canyon.





What I most remember – what I most love – about the Escalante River Basin is the intimacy. The Colorado Plateau is one of the most spectacular places on earth and, in a just world, the whole thing would be turned into an International Park, but it is not uniform. Bryce and The Grand Canyon are great places to hike but a visitor can pretty much see the whole shebang  by walking a couple of hundred feet from the car. Bryce, especially, is an one act play. A great one act play, but – still – an one act play. Zion is knockout with lots of hidden nooks and crannies to be explored. But, like Yosemite, it is very busy with over 2.5 million people visiting each year.

Escalante is different. It is really only accessible by walking. Sure, there are a couple of places where one can get a hint from the road but the road is on top of the plateau and it is only by walking down a canyon to the river that the intimacy and complexity can be enjoyed. In the rush to protect the Colorado Plateau, this area was missed: it is way out of the way – it was the last part of the lower 48 to be mapped – it is very rough with almost no roads, and it doesn’t look like much from the top. But, down in it, lies a treasure.


A Backpacking Trip into Coyote Gulch


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.








Death Valley Easter Trip 2013: some other Views

Sierras-JR on the Eureka Dunes by Coco Gonzo

Last Saturday, Michele and I joined JR at Gina and Courtney’s house for a spectacular dinner followed by their slide show of our Death Valley Easter Trip. Actually, I should say slides shows because we also saw JR’s shots and Michele’s pictures. The slide shows were about an hundred times more fun than it sounds.

First off everybody’s trip was slightly different, meaning that everybody’s point of view was both literally and figuratively different. I wasn’t where Courtney was to see the shot of JR and, if I had been, I might have been looking somewhere else. I know I was looking somewhere else when Gina was demonstrating how windy it was at the edge of Ubehebe Crater.

Sierras-Gina leaning into the wind by Coco Gonzo

Second, nobody got much in the way of shots of themselves, I didn’t, and it was fun to see pictures of myself (some of them, some were pretty horrifying at how fat I have become).


Sierras-2145Replacing the top radiator hose by JR

Sierras-1050053Steve leaving Red Wall canyon by JR 

While I was fretting over the waning light  as we crossed over the last Chance Range on our way to camp in North death Valley Wash, JR was looking at the great view down onto Crankshaft Junction.

Sierras-2211Looking down at Crankshaft Junction from a pass in the Last Chance Range by JR

He got higher than anybody on the Eureka Dunes and caught the sinuous road leading down to the dunes from the North Death Valley Road.

Sierras-2187From the highest ridge at Eureka Dunes by JR 

And, on his early morning walks,  JR saw and photoed every sunrise and even photoed himself seeing the sunrise.

Sierras-2353JR from Lake Hill, Upper Panamint Valley by JR  

Lastly, this was a special trip and it was fun to re-live it through the eyes of other people who were on the trip.




Death Valley Easter Trip 2013: Going Home

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After coming down from Red Wall, we drove to Stove pipe Wells to pick up a couple of beers and then over Towne Pass – 4950, or so, feet – to the Panamint Valley and up the Lake Hill Road to camp in the dark. I’m only calling it Lake Hill Road because that is what the Park Offroad map calls it, but Michele and I used to call it the North Panamint Road and, for awhile, I favored the War Eagle Mine Road after the mine at the end. Anyway, it is an easy road to drive in a car, even in the dark, and offers lots of flat – if somewhat exposed – places to camp, so setting up in the dark is close to effortless. Our last dinner out was a crisp celery salad by Michele and Gina and hearty lentil stew by Courtney and JR (seen here heating the water before starting) .

Panamint Camp dinner-9726I woke up the next morning about the same time as JR (6 AM, or so). JR went for a hike up Lake Hill for his morning constitutional and I sort of meanderingly packed the cars while Michele, Gina, and Courtney slept in.

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We were on the road early, waiting until we got to Lone Pine – in the shadow of the Sierras, or what would have been the shadow except that it was morning and the Sierras were to our west – for breakfast.

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Then we started north, driving along the Sierra Nevadas. Since we left Minden, Nevada, the elephant in the car – if that is possible with a car full of liberals – has been my poor, abandoned, Range Rover. When ever we had a cell phone signal – which was rarely – I tried calling the garage where it had been towed but all I got was an answering machine. Now that we were back in civilization, I was able to get through.

The poor baby was at Hollar’s Automotive And 4 Wheel Drive and Mr. Hollar said that he did not have good news. He had run a block test to see if I had exhaust gases leaking into the cooling system, which would indicate a blown head gasket, and the poor Rover failed. We are talking about $2,500 failed! I wasn’t really surprised, although I was shocked, three hose failures in a couple of miles indicated something serious is probably wrong. I asked him if it was even worth fixing and he said Well, it depends on how much you love it. My first thought was that anybody who would say that was a pretty good guy to work on a car I did, in fact, have real feelings for.

At some point during the trip, I think just after we abandoned the Rover, Courtney said something along the lines of That Rover put us all through this so it could get to a good repair shop and now it has found it. It reminded me of a similar comment by a fellow Obama campaign worker in 2008, while we were running tallies on voter contacts, I think God made us suffer through Bush so we could get Obama. Both sentiments seem improbable, but then I think of the quote of $4,000 to $7,000 I just got for the same work done here in the Bay Area; I think of how different our country has become under Obama than it was just ten years ago under Bush; I think of all the places the Rover could have blown a head gasket; and I think, Well, maybe they are right.


Part One: Here

Part Two: Here

Part Three: Here 

Part Four: Here

Part Five: Here

Death Valley Easter Trip 2013: Red Wall Canyon

I woke up early on our last full day in the Death Valley area and went for a short walk. It looked like everybody else was sleeping in and the day was dawning cool and still.

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Death Valley 2013-2871When I got back to camp, I realized that JR hadn’t slept in, just his bag had. He was up earlier than me and had gone for a longer walk. Finally, everybody got up, JR came back to camp, we all caffeinated in our favorite way, and we drove down valley to the closest we could get to Red Wall Canyon. Red Wall is a canyon in the Grapevine Mountains at the top of the third fan from the left in this very much vertical exaggerated screen shot from Google earth. We parked at the bend of the yellow Scotty’s Castle Road.

Red Wall

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Our path was up the fan to the reddest looking hole in the mountains. Walking up a fan in the desert is totally different from any other kind of hiking I can think of. Around where we live on the San Francisco Peninsula, or in a forest, or in the Sierras, on those hikes, the cars – usually in an authorized parking lot – disappear when we walk away because, following the trail, we walk around something like trees or a ridge. Walking up the fan to Red Wall, the cars just got smaller. We walk completely in the open across terrain that is both unendingly similar in all directions and radically different every ten feet. There is no trail or, even right path. The Park Rangers encourage hikers to spread out so as not to leave traces and everybody ends up walking their idea of the best way up.

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When we stop, we collect, then we spread out again.

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Death Valley 2013-9641As we enter the canyon proper, we start finding shade and places to stop for lunch (lunch for most of us, a place to climb for Courtney).

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Deeper into the canyon, the fan gets steeper and narrower.

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I am not positive that it is a immutable law of nature but every canyon seems to be graced by a dryfall or a series of dryfalls. Of course Red Wall is no exception. First there was a small dryfall,- almost a step – then, for all practable purposes a dead-end. (I have read that the canyon becomes easy again after the harder dryfall but we turned around there.)

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After the turn around, JR took our official group portrait, on a ledge, in front of a distorted rock outcrop.

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The ledge, by itself is worth looking at.

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These lines are layers of sediment that were laid down in a sea – probably shallow because the rock is red indicating the presence of oxygen – off the west coast of North America. Then, about 15 million years ago, give or take a month,  something raised it up1 so that the ancient seafloor has now become the mountains were are walking through.

Once we turn around, it is all down hill.

1. The something probably being an ancient Plate – the almost completely  subducted Farallon Plate – which was once between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate that are now rubbing together at the San Andres Fault zone.

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By the time we get back on the open fan, the day has cooled and we are boogying along.

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Very roughly, the fans are composed of flat areas with washed out gullies in between. Going down, it is much easier to see the flat areas which is often referred to as desert pavement and present easy walking. The combination of wind and time – lots of time – has sorted and flattened the rocks and they are often covered in a thin, dark, layer of  manganese oxide called desert varnish.

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Walking down the fan fast – and it is hard not to walk fast – is a walking meditation. Everything else falls away – atleast for me – but the next step and the direction of the step after that. The cool air, the ease of the walk, the canyon behind us, and the huge space ahead, all contribute to the meditation. It is both relaxing and exhilarating (that’s Gina and Michele in the center of the picture).

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Then in the distance are the cars and all is right with the world (if you are into that sort of thing).

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Part One: Here

Part Two: Here

Part Three: Here 

Part Four: Here

Part Five: Here

Next: Going home here