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Escalante Backpacking

By Ann Driggers

Every spring I like to briefly escape the mud season in the mountains and head to the desert for some warm sunshine, sand between my toes and to see the desert flowers blooming. This year my friend Holly and I set our sights on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, specifically Coyote Gulch, a particularly spectacular tributary of the Escalante River. I had been part way down several years ago on a daytrip but wanted to go back and explore the gulch in its entirety so plans for a three day backpack were hatched.

Coyote Gulch, justifiably so, is one of the premier backpacking destinations of the desert southwest. It runs for 13 miles or so from close to the Hole-in-the-Rock Road (I like to call it Hole-in-the-Head Road on account of its horrible washboard which after 32 miles gets extremely tiresome). For a three day trip we decided to do an out and back so we could cover some miles - we do like to hike, not sit around - from the Redwell trailhead. The weather forecast wasn't too bad - highs in the low 70's, chance of rain one day, and some wind. Actually to be precise 'blowing dust' was on the agenda for the first day and evening. And boy oh boy did we get it. So much for the sand between the toes - there was sand between and in everything. The first night we lay in our tent at the trailhead, we were relentlessly buffeted by the wind and waves of sand blew through the tent mesh and into our sleeping bags, ears, eyes, everywhere.

Arising after a sleepless and gritty night the weather was calmer and as we entered the gulch were able to enjoy the incredible scenery for which we had come, and appreciate the winds role, along with water, in creating it. Jacob Hamlin Arch and the surrounding deep alcoves:

We spent one night camped under the arch before moving further down the gulch. On the second day we walked beneath Coyote Bridge:

We were pleasantly suprised by the lack of crowds only seeing approximately 10 people per day - unusual for Coyote Gulch in the spring but we did go midweek. We had our pick of the campsites and the second night scored a gorgeous spot in an alcove which kept us dry from the rain sprinkles and also out of the wind which, although not as aggro as on the first night still had a tendency to show its face every now and then.

The third day on our trip was actually my birthday so Holly and I had planned some treats with which to celebrate - really just an excuse for carrying in a birthday cake and a bottle of rum. I had found Crystal Light mojito mix at Target the week prior - score! Diluted with the cold water we found from springs gushing out of the rock and added to some Colorado Montanya rum and a little lime and mint, these mojitos are the backpacking cocktail of choice. I swear it tastes a lot better than it looks:

Delicious coconut chocolate ganache cake:

We cut it in half and had one night before my birthday (after all I was born in the UK which is seven hours ahead) and one the night of. So delicious despite the extra crunch added by sand. The mojitos we had every night. hic.

Nearing Coyote Gulch's end and its confluence with the Escalante River we decided to climb up and out of the gulch to get a view of the surrounding country. This was accomplished by a fun little trail called Crack-in-the-Rock. Since we had set up camp earlier in the day and left our backpacks at the bottom of the crack it was not an issue for us to squeeze through:

Up on the rim the views were expansive. We could see the Escalante River far below as it wound its way through the redrock and on the distant horizon we could see big rain clouds. It seemed as though we were in a donut hole of storms around us for which we were thankful.

On the final day of our trip we retraced our steps. Everything looked different coming back - the twists and the turns of the canyon, the angle at which the sunlight bounced off the walls and the water flowed in the opposite direction. I'm not always a big fan of an out-and-back hike or backpack but in this case I had no was stunning at every turn:

And then we were off on the second part of our desert adventure. Stay tuned.... 


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Thank you for sharing this trip at 81 I can no longer do this trip. Well I probably could but my wife will not let me. Love you pictures.

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