tldr; we think you’ll love this disaster episode.
Tuesday afternoon, we said goodbye to my parents and Duck Creek Village and drove to Escalante, a town right outside of Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, where we would spend the rest of the week exploring.
We spent Tuesday through Friday of the week at an incredible campsite, Escalante Outfitters. For just $16 / night we had wifi, clean bathrooms, warm showers, laundry, and picnic tables with outlets to get our work done. We were also right next to what some claim is the best pizza in all of Utah. After eating six pizzas from there over just one week, we’d have to say we agree (more on the over-the-top pizza quantity later).
As is our usual style, we didn’t spend our afternoons just lazing around the campsite. Wednesday, we hiked a loop trail through Petrified Forest State Park where we got to see huge, rainbow-colored trunks of millions-year-old petrified trees. Thursday, we did another hiking trail called Lower Calf Creek Falls with a huge waterfall at the end.
We hadn’t fully narrowed down our weekend plans until Friday morning when a fellow camper convinced me that we needed to embark on our first backpacking trip of the year, Coyote Gulch. I love backpacking and long, full days of hiking, but I know that Choi is more a fan of shorter, day hikes. Nonetheless, he decided to give the backpacking loop a try. We loaded up the van and headed down Hole in the Rock Road.
My parents had visited some slot canyons down Hole in the Rock Road on Monday and warned us that it would be bumpy. They weren’t exaggerating! The moment we turned onto the unpaved gravel and dirt road, the whole van started shaking. Plates, snacks, clothes, and my mini cactuses leapt out of their places on our shelves and onto the floor. An entire toilet paper roll and an entire paper towel roll unrolled completely, making it look like some middle-schoolers had wrapped the inside of our van as a prank. We couldn’t talk to each other the entire hour and a half drive unless we shouted over what sounded like our van slowly rattling into pieces.
Luckily, we made it to our trailhead with the van seemingly still functional and what appeared to be only minor casualties. It was already 6PM by the time we parked so we quickly grabbed our backpacks and hit the trail, aiming to make it across the desert to camp near an entrance to the canyon called “Crack in the Wall” before dark.
We found a level, sandy spot just in time to set up our tent and watch the sunset over some PBJs and Phase 10 (my parents bequeathed their game to us after seeing how much we loved it, thanks mom and dad!). It was incredibly quiet out in the desert, with no one around for miles and the stars shone bright over our heads as we slept.
The next morning, we walked to our first challenge of the backpacking loop, Crack in the Wall. Crack in the Wall is made up of three, narrow, vertical slots that drop you down into the canyon floor. It’s a tight squeeze – just a foot or so wide – and you have to wedge and wiggle yourself (and your pack) down and then across each level of the slot. We loved it!
The day started off cool but quickly warmed up which we appreciated for our many chilly creek crossings throughout the day. We tried to keep our feet dry for most of the hike, making big leaps across the water. Some of these leaps were successful, others, not so much. Choi even somehow managed to slice his fingers on a tree branch on one of his leaps, leading to bloodied fingers, which is unfortunately becoming a common sight.
Throughout the hike we passed lots of incredible views of cliffs, arches, waterfalls, plants, and streams. My favorite spot was Coyote Natural Bridge, where we stopped to take off our wet shoes and have some lunch.
We made it to the end of the canyon portion of the loop in the early afternoon and took a moment to rest under the iconic Jacob Hamblin Arch. Once we’d rested up, we took on the last physical challenge of the trip, a 200ft long incredibly steep scramble up a rocky face. We were grateful to find that two other hikers had left behind ropes that we used to help pull ourselves up the slabby face.
From there it was a 2-mile uphill trek through the sand back to the van. We ended up hiking over 13 miles on Saturday and were happy to reach the parking lot, take off our packs, and just sit and snack for a while.
Rested up, we rearranged some things in the van in hopes of having a less rattly drive towards our campsite for the night. Choi turned the key to head out, only to find that our car battery was completely and inexplicably drained. We quickly called over to some hikers in the parking lot and they graciously gave us a jump (Thank you kind strangers!). Mr. Smee back up in running, we drove for 40 bumpy minutes to the trailhead of Spooky and Peek-a-boo Slot Canyons, which we would explore the next morning.
Once we arrived, Choi remarked that the van smelled kind of like curry. I agreed. We looked around for the source of the smell and discovered that the tops of our spices had popped off and the contents of the spices were everywhere. Unfortunately our spiciest spice, cayenne, was the one that spilled the most. As we tried to clean up cayenne dust from all over our van, we found ourselves in a vicious cycle of sniffling, coughing, and sneezing.
With the spices mostly cleaned and the van only smelling like a hint of curry, we set up our camp chairs and read our books for a while, looking out over the desert and watching the sun set.
Sunday morning we headed out two hike some slot canyons that my parents had visited the week before and recommended to us, Spooky and Peek-a-boo. This was our first real slot canyon experience and we absolutely loved it! We got to walk through thin, tall canyons, squeeze our way through little cracks, and even saw some arches within the slot canyons!
We did the loop backwards which would have been a problem if we’d gone later in the day when the trails were busy but since we got an early start we only passed a couple of other hikes. I accidentally scared one of these other hikers in Spooky Slot when he came around a corner and I popped my head out of a little crevice where I was seated. I’ll never forget the look of total fear in his eyes.
After our adventures in the slot canyons we turned onto Hole in the Rock Road for the final time to head back to Escalante. Luckily, the van started and we made it off of the road with minimal mess.
Once we arrived back in civilization, we headed straight to Escalante Outfitters for some well-deserved pizza after 20+ miles of hiking over the weekend. We really lucked out when, after a kitchen mix up, we ended up with four pizzas instead of the two that we’d ordered, no complaints here! We boxed up our extra slices and waved a fond farewell to Escalante before heading south for a night of beach camping at Lone Rock Campground on Lake Powell.
Escalante, we’re not enthused by your bumpy roads and the havoc these roads wrecked on our van. Nevertheless, your wild and remote hiking, slot canyons, and amazing pizza more than made up for it. Along We Go!
Meredith Davis · April 14, 2021 at 4:28 pm
A true adventure!! Sleeping under starry skies, leaping creeks in single bounds, scaling steep cliffs, dead batteries and cayenne pepper everywhere . . . the suspense, the drama, it is the stuff of great stories and you guys are living it. Thanks for writing it down so we can be flies on the van wall . . .