- Day 1: SUCCESS ON TWO FRONTS
- Day 2 part 1: LOWER CALF CREEK FALLS REDUX
- Day 2 part 2: BROKEN BOW ARCH AND THE HOLE-IN-THE-ROCK ROAD
- Day 3: THE RIDE HOME
Day 1: SUCCESS ON TWO FRONTS
With Julie and her mom bonding in Europe to see long lost relatives in France while sightseeing other countries, I thought this would be a great time to take mom out for her birthday back to Utah for the weekend. In a way, it had the feeling like it was Mothers Day in September.
It had been over three years since my last trip out there and it was memorable because of the deer incident. But perhaps being older and wiser, I had a different feeling about this trip. Mom was excited about doing this trip as a chance to get caught up with me and get some exercise since we hadn’t done a trip like this all year long.
So we packed lightly and efficient and were soon out the door by 5:30am. Given the early morning start (5:40am), Friday traffic was light except for a minor blip in the Las Vegas area, which was to be expected since we got there around 9:50am.
Instead of taking the usual UT9 route through Zion National Park, we opted to continue north on the I-15 to Cedar City, Utah. Then, we headed inland on Highway 14 towards US89 before resuming our route. Ultimately, the goal was to get to Escalante, Utah for some extended exploration of the Grand Staircase National Monument.
The drive went by seemingly pretty fast because we had lots to talk about. I always felt that I took after mom in a lot of ways, and this mother-son talk really solidified my hunches. Nonetheless, I found her dropping knowledge in my direction to be very inspiring and educational.
I could also swear the speed limits were increased from the time I received my two traffic tickets in a single day three years ago.
Anyways, when we headed east through Red Canyon along UT12, I had this idea to perhaps make a quick stop at Mossy Cave just to see if that waterfall was flowing. We had been there back in April 2003 and the falls was trickling. Perhaps we might have better luck since the Sevier River looked like it was gushy (albeit muddy).
The patching storm clouds in the area gave us the impression that it had rained in the area this morning.
At 3pm (realizing we had to move the clock up an hour since we now entered the Mountain Time Zone), we were back at the familiar car park for the Mossy Cave. There were quite a few cars parked here already and many more people walking around the area.
The plan was to see if the Tropic Ditch was flowing before continuing further up the short walk. And to our surprise, the ditch was not only flowing, it was rushing with milky runoff! Surely, we might finally see this waterfall flowing!
Within a few more minutes of the quick jaunt, we saw the waterfall. Sure enough, it flowed well. So we took photos of it and conquered this particular personal demon of mine.
We didn’t bother doing the Mossy Cave since we already had been there before and knew what that little place was all about. So we pretty much stayed a bit longer at the waterfall to try to compose photographs involving both a waterfall as well as hoodoos in the background (a very unusual combo indeed).
Now, all that was left was to see if we would finally see Upper Calf Creek Falls on this third attempt. And it appeared that we would have just enough daylight left in the day to try it today.
It was 4:30pm when we finally arrived in Escalante. We pre-booked a stay at the Circle D Motel because it was cheap. After seeing it in person, I knew I had made a mistake as the place was gross and the person who booked our stay misinformed me that we would have two double beds at the quoted rate. When we discovered there was only one, we inquired about it and was told the rates would be from $35/night to $50/night, which was what the cleaner and more modern Prospector Inn across the street was quoting. Oh well, we already paid and we couldn’t worry about this much longer as there was still a few more good hours of daylight to do some exploring.
So mom and I headed further east on the UT12 in search of the Upper Calf Creek Falls trailhead. The first time we tried to find this waterfall, we started from the wrong trailhead. We knew we wouldn’t make that mistake again.
As we tried to follow the Falcon Guide’s instructions to a tee, we realized that pullouts were nonexistent between mile marks 81 and 82 as it had stated. But we did spot an unsigned road just south of mile marker 81 with a passenger car parked at the start. Could this be the one?
Eventually, we took the short but bumpy and muddy (from the recent rains from either yesterday or early this morning) spur road to a fair-sized car park area with a trailhead register in clear view. Just by the basic infrastructure on display here, we knew we had finally found the correct trailhead. But even with this sense of relief, I couldn’t help but think that it was no wonder why we got so confused on the previous trips because the Falcon Guide’s directions were wrong!
The winds gusted somewhat fiercely. We could see sand getting kicked up and moved about the comfortable afternoon air. Patching clouds moved quickly above us but there was no threat of rain.
So after signing in at the trailhead register a little after 5pm, mom and I started down the slickrock slope. Although the trail seemed difficult to find at first, there was an obvious trail just below this friction pitch. We also started to notice as we descended that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had also moved the black volcanic boulders in a way that they essentially lined the path for easy route-finding.
And so mom and I followed the trail and the cairns in the gusy winds. The winds blessed us with cool air and comfortable hiking conditions, but it also sandblasted our eyes as the fine grains of the desert flew in the air.
We would eventually follow the trail towards a section where it seemed like it wasn’t heading towards the base of Calf Creek Canyon, which dropped to our left. Mom and I talked to this couple who were on the way out and told us that the path we were on headed to the top of the waterfall. They pointed behind us then back towards the right for the path to the base of the falls. I took this to mean we had to scramble down to the canyon and go upstream to see the falls. Still, I thought it was strange when I didn’t see any obvious trail or cairns as we looked behind us. Anyways, we wanted to see the falls from below so we could take better photos and we proceeded to attempt to do just that.
With simultaneously growing anticipation and doubt, mom and I took the apparent advice from the pair of hikers we talked to and scrambled down the slickrock and into the bushy depths of Calf Creek Canyon. There didn’t seem to be a trail and right away something seemed off. But thinking Upper Calf Creek Falls was in a wide open cove, I thought we could scramble upstream in the bush to eventually get there. But after a few minutes of scratching skin with the hard and dense growth around the gurgling Calf Creek, we retreated back up the slick rock. I had this sinking feeling that this waterfall would elude us for yet a third time.
But as we scrambled up the slick rock and in the direction of the falls, we regained the trail and were relieved. Still, the day was getting darker so we hastily continued on.
Finally, at 6pm, we could see the plunging falls moving with the gusty winds. We had finally found what we were looking for all this time!
Upper Calf Creek Falls plunged some 88ft as it went airborne over a cove before splashing onto the green algae-covered slickrock near its base. The winds would make the plunging light flow of the falls arc and dance as it blew back and forth in the shady depths of the canyon.
Still, we enjoyed the waterfall and basked in our accomplishment. So the two demons that haunted our waterfall hunting were finally conquered. Now, all we had to do was to get back to the car before it got dark.
Fortunately, the way back was much easier (doesn’t it always seem that way?) as we had little trouble following the cairns. On the last friction pitch back up to the car park, the BLM’s work in lining up the black rocks really kept us from getting lost and missing the trailhead. And by 7:45pm, we were back in the car and headed back to Escalante for dinner.
I had my heart set on having Navajo Tacos, which I knew the Prospector Inn had, but we thought we could save it for tomorrow and go for pizza at the Escalante Outfitters since it looked open and busy. And so we chowed down on the greasy stuff while thinking about what to do tomorrow. Now that we would have a whole day ahead of us after Lower Calf Creek Falls, I wondered if we would have enough time to drive the Hole-in-the-Rock Road and do the Broken Bow Arch hike since it seemed to have a really neat shape (according to the photo in the Falcon Guide). The problem was it was some 43 miles each way on the unpaved Hole-in-the-Rock Road with a high clearance section near the end plus 4 miles return of hiking in “moderate easy” conditions. We’ll play it by ear, I thought to myself.
With full stomachs, mom and I returned to the dingy Circle D Motel, showered, and shared the single double bed. Now I love my mom and all, but sharing the same bed wasn’t what I had in mind when I originally booked cheap accommodations. As you can tell, I still couldn’t get my mind off my poor decision to skimp on cost.
Day 2 part 1: LOWER CALF CREEK FALLS REDUX
Mom and I didn’t make the usual pre-sunrise start, but we did get out of the motel early enough to face the sun as we headed east on UT12 towards the popular Calf Creek Recreation area. With a chocolate donut and hot chocolate in our stomachs along with a roast beef sandwich packed for lunch, we were at the trailhead at 7:45am.
So far everything was just as I remembered it five years ago. Even the folks overnighting in the campsites were reminiscent of what we observed when Julie and I last did this hike in 2001.
Mom and I picked up an interpretive brochure (didn’t seem like it changed from before) by the trailhead register and headed off. Hiking in the cool morning shadows was a snap. The sandy trail actually wasn’t as brutal as I had remembered it because the recent rains actually packed the sand and made it easier to walk. Plus, mom and I took the time to pay attention to the signs along the trail. With all the hiking we’ve experienced over the last few years, there was this greater sense of appreciation as to how life must have been like in Calf Creek Canyon. We also noticed things I missed before like the cliff-hugging granaries as well as the rock art of three people that mom had to point out to me in order for me to notice.
So far the hike had been smooth going. We only saw one person on the way to the falls, who happened to be a very fit elderly man who was headed back to the trailhead already.
As the warm rays of the morning sun continued to rise, we could see the surrounding Navajo sandstone cliffs painted a nice soft yellow and orange color as they towered over Calf Creek Canyon.
Just as I had recalled from back in 2001, the trail was still pretty long and sandy. However, given that it was early in the morning and the temperatures were much more comfortable than it was in June 2001, the hike didn’t feel nearly as strenuous as before.
So instead of concentrating and trying to keep cool, our minds were free to notice the beautiful scenery a bit more. We even spent a bit more effort trying to find what the interpretive brochure would be referring to as we were following along throughout the hike.
By 9:30am, mom and I saw the falls basking in the morning light already as it towered above the underlying foliage ahead of us. We quickened our pace and got to the gorgeous Lower Calf Creek Falls.
It was just as I had remembered it five years ago. And like before, we had the falls all to ourselves. So we wasted no time snacking on an apple with taking photos. At least now, I got to try capturing this beauty with the new DSLR camera I was still learning how to use. I also carried my tripod in so I spent lots of time experimenting with long exposure photographs.
At 10am, mom and I left the waterfall and headed back to the trailhead. Like the previous time I was here, we saw hordes of people going the other way towards the falls so we knew we beat the crowd.
When we got back near the trailhead, we noticed a very large group of people that seemed to be on a tour. We asked where they were from and they said Germany.
Out of impulse, I told them, “Guten tag.”
That got them smiling, but then I quickly followed up by saying, “That’s all I know in German.”
Still, that didn’t stop someone from saying something in German to me. So I had to sheepishly tell her I didn’t understand. And with that, we wished each other well and parted ways.
But mom and I couldn’t help but wonder how it seemed like there were people around the world who knew more about America’s landmarks than Americans themselves. Indeed, it seemed like there were more foreigners in the Grand Staircase than Americans. Anyways, I sometimes wonder how different the world would be if many more of us Americans could take a cue from our foreign counterparts and get out there in nature to see the world we live in.
By 11:30am, mom and I returned to the trailhead. There was still the rest of the day left as I had anticipated yesterday. So I told mom we should go to the Hole-in-the-Rock Road and see both the Devil’s Garden as well as Broken Bow Arch, and that it would probably be some 10 miles of total hiking with 80+ miles of driving on unpaved road when all is said and done this day. Mom was never really one to back down from a full day’s worth of strenuous exercise. In fact, she said, “We’ve done 22 miles in a day, 10 miles is not a big deal.”
Day 2 part 2: BROKEN BOW ARCH AND THE HOLE-IN-THE-ROCK ROAD
So we reached the Devil’s Garden just before 12:30pm, which was some 12 miles from the UT12. The road itself was mostly smooth and wide with some washboards in a few places. Still, they posed no threat to my parents’ high clearance vehicle, which I was proud to say was actually getting decent use off the paved roads (after all, isn’t that’s what SUVs are for? and not to be staying in the confines of city streets?).
The lighting wasn’t that great for photographing at the 2 arches here – Mano Arch and Metate Arch. So we just had our roast beef picnic before continuing further down the road in search of Broken Bow Arch.
It was 1:15pm when we left Devils Garden and 2:30pm when we finally reached the trailhead for the remote Broken Bow Arch. The Hole-in-the-Rock Road went through a few rough patches, but they were totally doable by passenger car. We also surveyed the Hurricane Wash trailhead, which led to Coyote Gulch – site of a future backpack trip I would very much love to do if given the time. Though I wasn’t too sure about the car park being located so close to the wash as it may make the car disappear if a flash flood were to inundate it.
The unsigned spur road that led to the trailhead was definitely a high-clearance vehicle only road. I certainly wouldn’t want to take the passenger car out that way.
We signed into the trailhead register and proceeded to walk down into the wash. At first, we couldn’t find an obvious trail so we just followed some apparent footprints. Eventually, some cairns reassured us we were going the right way. There was also this interesting-looking table rock cairn that served as a nice landmark since it was so easy to get lost out here.
The walk undulated between hiking in the sandy wash and open areas atop slickrock. Eventually, we would get to a point where the wash had water in it and some muddy areas as well. There were bypass paths that went around such obstacles, but they involved a fair degree of bush whacking. Sometimes, mom and I wondered if we were going the right way at all, but we continued on the faith that following the wash would eventually get us to the desired arch.
After about an hour of hiking, I was becoming a bit concerned that maybe we had lost the trail. It had been a while since we last saw a cairn and all this trail-less bushwhacking and walking in the watery and muddy wash didn’t do much for our confidence.
But then, we rounded a bend in the wash and we could see a partial view of a massive rock span opening a window to the heavens ahead of us.
“There it is!” I exclaimed to mom.
So with that, we hastened our pace and kept moving closer to Broken Bow Arch. Suddenly our fears and apprehensions melted away and gave way to elation and accomplishment.
And as we made one final crossing of the wash towards the top of the hill, the only thing that separated us from getting to the bottom of the huge arch was another steep ravine as the wash curved before us. Obviously, we weren’t going to go directly underneath the arch, but the views we had were good enough.
The giant boulders and fragments sitting at the bottom of the span indicated the forces at work to create this arch. Obviously it would not be the place to be should another chuck fall off and widen the span.
Still, the arch dwarfed us both and it looked like the tip of some dull spearhead. The wash went around the span of the arch and it kind of reminded me of Rainbow Bridge. I swear this arch probably could’ve been a natural bridge if the wash didn’t decide to finally go around the fin.
In addition to the gorgeous shape of the arch, the late afternoon sun was behind us so we got both the warm glow of its rays as well as the blue skies behind it. For both mom and I, this arch gave us a tremendous lasting impression that would in fact overshadow even our waterfall accomplishments made earlier.
By 3:45pm, mom and I finally had to part with the majestic span. It took another hour of more wash hiking before we had to make the last climb back up to that familiar looking table rock landmark. Going back was much easier as we had been the only ones on this “trail” during the day and so we were able to follow our own footprints when we weren’t sure about the trail.
We were finally back at the car park at 5pm. I still shake my head wondering how the Falcon Guide author thought this hike was “moderately easy.” But then again, different strokes for different folks.
The sun was still pretty high up on the horizon so we knew we had a chance to return to the Devil’s Garden to take more photos of the arches over there with better lighting. So without further adieu, we headed back on the unpaved road towards the garden.
By 6:20pm, mom and I had returned to the Devil’s Garden. There were many more cars at the car park this time. But still, it was pretty quiet when we got desired arches. My knees were inflammed from the just completed hike so I pretty much limped around with pain the greatest when I had to do any downhill walking.
There were some young folks sitting atop Metate Arch taking photographs. With my inflammed arthritic knees, I wasn’t even thinking about following them up there.
But just as we had guessed, both Mano Arch and Metate Arch had great afternoon light. And so when the youngsters left, we had the arches to ourselves and took more photos. It was essentially the icing on the cake for a day that was full of accomplishments.
At 5:40pm, mom and I got back in the car and headed back to Escalante. At a little after 6pm, we made it to the Cedar Wash Road. Since my topo map said there was Cedar Wash Arch and the Covered Wagon Natural Bridge along the way, it seemed like a reasonable detour to take back to town. Mom was worried we might be driving the dirt road in the dark, but fortunately the road seemed a lot smoother than the Hole-in-the-Rock Road. The only rough spots were a couple of wash crossings.
However, as we zoomed along the road, we couldn’t find either of the two arches as there wasn’t any infrastructure nor tell-tale signs of the arches we sought. By 7:30pm, we were back in town as the sun had already set by now.
After filling up gas for tomorrow’s drive home, we stopped by the Prospector Inn for dinner. I was craving for a Navajo Taco so I couldn’t wait to reward myself for today’s hard work.
But then, when I got out of the restroom, mom told me they ran out of the Navajo Taco. Aww Bummer Dude!
Anyways, after settling for the usual fare of salad, trout, and rib-eye steak, we returned to the Circle D Motel and got cleaned up. We tried to sleep early so we could get an early start tomorrow and beat the Vegas traffic.
When mom and I were about to sleep, the silence was broken as the motorcycle group staying next door to us were being loud. Obviously inebriated from beers at the Escalante Outfitters, mom and I had trouble sleeping. I finally went up to them and requested if they could quiet it down. Fortunately, they were more considerate afterwards as they didn’t realize we were next door.
Still, it was yet another sign telling me not to make the same mistake again about going for the cheapest motel accommodation in town.
Day 3: THE RIDE HOME
Mom and I awoke at 3:15am and left by 3:30am. Worried about deer running in front of us, we took our time driving in the dark. There were lots of jackrabbits scurring about but fortunately no deer. We decided to head back via UT9 instead of UT14 thinking the old way might be better, but in hindsight it wasn’t. Still, we made it back to the I-15 by 6:30am.
We passed through Las Vegas at 7:30am (gaining back an hour as we entered the Pacific Time Zone) and noticed a bunch of Mad Greek signs along the I-15. We thought, maybe Baker might be a decent stop for a little petrol as well as some gyros. I guess their advertising investment worked on us.
After a brief stop at the Mad Greek in Baker, we continued down the I-15 towards home. It was around Yermo when mom and I noticed a very bad accident where a white SUV was upside down in the center divider with a guy lying motionless apart from his car (obviously thrown from the vehicle). Lots of other people stopped their cars in the I-15 either rudely looking or genuinely trying to help. I could imagine this was going to really back up traffic later in the day. I was glad we got our early start.
Still, we couldn’t help but wonder whether all the impatient folks going upwards of 100mph in the truck lanes as they swerved around the flow of traffic might have caused this accident. Perhaps even the driver might have partaken in the haste. It was all speculation, but we still couldn’t help but wonder how spending more time in the city tends to make people more antsy as clearly the Vegas traffic would seem to demonstrate.
Furthermore, it was chilling to envision one of us in that position. It just goes to show that you never know when things happen and can’t take life for granted.
Near Barstow, we saw another pair of cars off the side of the road with smoke coming out and mangled fronts. A guy risked his life standing on the slow lane directing people to change lanes and not zoom by the damaged vehicles.
It was finally 11:30am when we got home. Another successful trip with my mom and quite a way to celebrate her birthday. I figured this type of “gift” was far more valuable than any material thing I could give her. And I think mom agrees.
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