Trips in the Escalante Grand Staircase- Coyote Gulch

May 02, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

It's late spring in Arizona, the heat is already picking up. That means it was time for a quick trip north into the canyonlands of southern Utah, before things heat up too much. This year, I joined a group of fellow hikers from the Tucson/Phoenix Sierra Club, and headed into the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument area just north of the Arizona border.

Heading northwest on US 89 just past Page, AZ, Lake Powell borders the Escalante NM. Over the next few days, we spent time day hiking in some of the best canyon areas in the world. The first day of the trip was spent around  Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam, spending the night at the nearby Pariah Outpost in Big Water- our friends Steve and Susan Dodson are the best tour guides for Coyote Buttes area! Be sure to connect with them if you plan a trip to this region. They are extremely knowledgeable, and some of the best folks you will ever meet! 

Glen Canyon Dam Lone Rock Beach Lone Rock Beach






















The next day, we headed north past the small town of Escalante, Utah, stopping over for the night at Lower Calf Creek Falls campground. The trail to the falls runs about 6 miles round trip, and is an easy day hike. Along the way are spectacular pictographs from the Fremont Indians who inhabited the area long ago. Unfortunately, some of the pictographs have been damaged by the thoughtless acts of modern man. The 120 foot falls are the highlight of the hike, especially on a hot day.


Fremont Pictographs Fremont pictographs Lower Calf CreekLower Calf Creek



































On day 3, we headed down Hole in the Rock road, taking time to do some day hiking and explore several of the more spectacular slot canyons found in the area. Peek-a-Boo and Spooky are two of the best, although not for the claustrophobic or those with limited climbing/scrambing abilities. We were fortunate to have one of the most knowledgeable guides possible - Rudi Lambrechtse, who has spent over 40 years exploring the Escalante area. If you plan to visit the area, be prepared with topo maps and a good guide. Rudi has written one of the best- Hiking the Escalante, available from After an exhilarating day exploring the slot canyons and getting our legs ready for the upcoming backpack, we camped near the 50 Mile Bench junction, enjoying the distant storms as they passed over the Lake Powell and Vermillion Cliffs. 


The following morning, we headed toward our true destination- Coyote Gulch. Traveling further south on Hole in the Rock road, we left vehicles at the Hurricane Wash trailhead, where we would exit the canyon several days later. Continuing several miles further, we began the journey at the end of Forty Mile Ridge road, a long, sandy 4 wheel drive side road east of Hole in the Rock road. 

Our entry point to the canyon was Crack in the Wall, which necessitated lowering our packs about 20 feet over the ledge, then squeezing through the massive piece of sandstone that had broken away from the main canyon wall, forming a somewhat narrow crack to squeeze through in order to enter the Coyote Gulch. Our first night was spent on an immense sandy shelf undercutting the tall canyon walls. Several in the group made an extended day hike to Stevens Arch, located just beyond the confluence with the Escalante River.

Coyote Gulch is the most popular destination in the Escalante area, and it was not hard to see why. The canyon walls were incredible, with the sandstone cliff walls towering 400-500 feet tall in most areas. Dark striping of Desert Varnish streak the canyon walls, created from the minerals, oxides and hydroxides of manganese and iron that are contained in the water which cascades over the cliff walls during rainstorms. Huge Cottonwood trees line the canyons, offering shade from the heat. The water in Coyote Gulch flows year round, although this trip is best suited for spring or fall due to the extreme weather conditions that include freezing temperatures in winter, and scorching 100 degree heat in the summer, along with flash flooding that occurs during the monsoon period. 
Our camping spot the second night in Coyote Gulch was at the Jacob Hamblin Arch, where I set up my tent overlooking the creek with a birds eye view of the arch. A nearby spring provided fresh drinking water, far better tasting than the silty water of Coyote Gulch. Our final day we hiked from Jacob Hamblin to the confluence of Hurricane Wash, where we quickly left the towering canyon walls and waters of the Gulch, plowing through several miles of loose sandy wash to reach the vehicles left behind several days earlier. 








The final leg of our journey was to include another glorious area off Hole in the Rock road, The Golden Cathedral. After exiting Coyote Gulch, we drove north for 40 or so miles and headed east to Egypt, the trailhead for Golden Cathedral. Wind gusts were blowing in excess of 30 mph. Exiting Coyote Gulch, we never saw any hikers headed in, which we thought was odd considering it was heading into the weekend. The next morning, we discovered why, when we awoke to even stronger winds, and clouds that signaled a major storm was approaching. Quickly deciding to abandon the last leg of our journey and get out before weather made the dirt roads impassible, we headed into the town of Escalante for a hot breakast and multiple cups of soothing java. 


As we headed south towards Phoenix and Tucson, we entered into a snow storm, also headed to the southeast. For the next 5 hours, we encountered bouts of freezing rain turned snow as we headed south. Golden Cathedral will have to wait for another day. Along the way,  we stopped along the edge of Bryce Canyon for some quick photos of the snow as it began to collect on the juniper trees along the canyon. 


















































































































To see the full gallery from the Escalante Grand Staircase trip, click here






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