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.
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.