Day 2: CUTTING ACROSS THE STATE
It was a little before 5am when we awoke. Somewhat recovered from the mental trauma induced yesterday, we checked out early from the motel and put our stuff into the car. Once again, mom took charge of the driving and we slowly made our way towards the Escalante River – site of our next hike to see the Escalante Natural Bridge.
We made one brief stop at a roadside pullout before the Hwy 12 snaked its way down amongst the slickrock. I recalled that two years ago on our June 2001 trip, our group pulled out somewhere close to here and did the exact same thing!
After seeing the sunrise over the slickrock expanse some time after 5am, we arrived at the car park for the Escalante Natural Bridge at around 5:30am. I had put on Chacos knowing there were quite a few river crossings to get to the natural bridge and I didn’t feel like getting my boots soggy. Mom got her Tevas on and we hastily started hiking as the mosquitoes started to swarm around us.
The first river crossing happened immediately. There was even a sign that read, “Yep! You’re gonna get wet!”
So we continued hiking through a sandy trail that went through a mixture of sagebrush and cacti. The land looked lush yet unforgiving. Mom and I briefly missed the main trail when we didn’t see the second river crossing and kept following false paths into the bush.
After regaining the path, we crossed the river a few more times. On the way, we saw Skyline Arch way off in the distance and we eventually got our first glimpse of the Escalante Natural Bridge at a little after 7am.
We spent a few moments here gazing up at the impressive bridge, but the swarms of mosquitoes were become a bit too much for us. We got our shots then headed back on the trail for Skyline Arch. But not before I was bit numerous times on my arms and my hands.
We eventually made it to Skyline arch at 7:45am after a couple more river crossings. It was perched high atop the cliff wall and didn’t quite have the scenic qualities of some of the other natural arches I had seen. But mom wasn’t used to seeing natural arches and enjoyed this one.
It was finally around 9am when we got back to the car and the heat of the new day started to intensify.
Now, we headed towards Capitol Reef National Park. But we basically passed right through it as we intended to get to Natural Bridges National Monument to get close to the bridges that I had only seen from afar in my previous trip here two years ago.
The drive was long and mom made sure we stuck with the speed limit. We passed Hanksville at around 11am and it was still too early to check in so we kept driving south along State Route 95 (the Bicentennial Highway).
We eventually made it to an overlook of the head of Lake Powell by the Hite Marina in the Glen Canyon area. What we saw before us was nothing like the Webshots photo I had seen on my screen saver. That photo showed a large lake expanse with a road going around the lake amongst some rock formations. The view before us looked familiar, but the lake waters were replaced by ugly mud flats. It seemed quite apparent that the damming of the Colorado to create Lake Powell had resulted in all the sediment accumulating in the depths of Glen Canyon.
As we were enjoying the scenery, we engaged in a long conversation with one of the Navajo Indians who took his family out to see this overlook. He explained to us that they started letting water go at the dam because of the persistent drought. He also talked about how he usually works at some power facility near Page, but runs tours from his home in Monument Valley.
After we said our good-byes, mom and I continued to head south on SR95 towards Natural Bridges National Monument. We would eventually arrive to the trailhead for Sipapu Bridge at 2pm.
From there, we went down the steep trail, which had a few sections involving ladders (tricky if you’re carrying hiking sticks). It wasn’t long before we got near the bottom of the 1.5mi return hike where we could see the massive span of the Sipapu Bridge.
We even went to the other side of the bridge where we noticed there were some pools hugging the cliffs, and I’d imagine that this was the stream (or what’s left of it) responsible for the cutting action that caused this natural bridge.
Next, mom and I returned to the trailhead and were about to drive off when a pair of elderly men approached us and asked if they could hitch a ride. They were hot and sweaty from walking around the trail at the canyon bottom passing by all the bridges in Natural Bridges National Monument. Clearly, they were doing a shuttle hike, but we couldn’t take them all the way to their car at Owachomo Natural Bridge. We told them we’d stop at the next natural bridge Kachina Bridge and then they could figure out what to do from there. Mom and I were about to hike to the base of that second natural bridge.
And so that we did. We went on another short hike – this one about 1.2mi round trip with about the same elevation loss. But this one didn’t have ladders we had to contend with though there was a short steep section on slickrock that required using a hand rail bolted into the hard sandstone.
And we finally made it to the base of Kachina Natural Bridge at 3:45pm. The standing pool of water on the bridge’s backside provided interesting reflections of its big span. After spending a few minutes photographing this beauty, mom and I headed back up the trail.
Along the way, someone pointed out to us that there was another arch on the trail. Funny we didn’t notice it on the way down. But it wasn’t long before we saw the tiny wall-hugging arch. It was hardly anything to write home about, but it was intriguing nonetheless.
When mom and I returned to the car park, the skies started to get dark. Apparently, a thunderstorm was about to loom over us. But before we could end the day, we had to at least check out Owachomo Bridge, which involved a short 3/4-mile round trip hike on an easy walking trail.
After witnessing a few flashes of lightning, a guy at the car park told me that a friend of his was struck by lightning at the Grand Canyon. It kind of reminded mom and I just how dangerous being exposed in the desert can be if we’re not careful.
Anyways, Mom and I got to the natural bridge at around 5pm. By then, lightning continued flashing and the skies started pouring. Mom and I sought shelter next to the cliff supporting Owachomo Bridge before the rain finally relented.
It was about 5:15pm when we returned to the trailhead. And on a whim, I decided there was still a few hours left in the day to get out to Monument Valley. I figured it would be a good opportunity to show mom this distant spot. Besides, the San Juan Inn was near by in the town of Mexican Hat, and I knew they made killer Navajo Tacos since that town was run by Navajo Indians.
And so we proceeded south on the Moki Dugway. Mom had to avoid a few cows in the middle of the road on Hwy 261, but it didn’t stop us from moving forward.
By 6:45pm, we were finally at the visitor center area of Monument Valley. Here, the thunderclouds were disorganized enough to allow us some gorgeous shots of the Mittens and the Merrick Butte as the sun painted them nearly red as it was about to set.
When twilight was upon us at 7:15pm, mom and I stopped by the San Juan Inn, which sat right on the banks of the San Juan River. We took this opportunity to contact our motel in Hanksville telling them we would be checking in late. Meanwhile, we had our taste of the heavy but good Navajo Taco. It was still just as good as I remembered it two years ago.
It was about 9pm when we left the San Juan Inn. Mom finally relinquished the wheel so I could drive. Seeing that it was late and we’d be passing through the desolate regions along SR95, we weren’t too concerned about getting another speeding ticket.
And so I made my way back up the Moki Dugway and eventually back onto the SR95. All along, there were frequent flashes of lightning piercing the darkness of the night sky. The awesome display of nature kept both of us awake for this final stretch run back to Hanksville.
Finally after 11pm, we arrived in Hanksville, checked in (the guy at the lobby kindly waited for us to arrive), and quickly got to our rooms to clean up, tend to our personal hygienes, and sleep. It was good thing we booked this place in advance because it certainly looked like there was no more vacancy here.