Saturday, March 24, 2012

Outdoor Places: Escalante, Utah

Yeah yeah, I know!  You're reading the title and thinking OK, now this guy is just writing about his home.  Well yes, I am...and I'm proud of it!  And why not?  There's not a lot of places in the outdoors in Southern Utah that are easy to get to right now with the melting snow, and most of us are tired of winter activities and we're looking for some warm weather recreation ideas.  So, say what you will, this post is all about a great getaway during these early spring months, when you just can't quite get to where you would really like to right now!

So why Escalante?  Everyone knows if you are looking for great hiking, four-wheeling, and warm weather, places like Moab, Kanab, and St. George are the places that first come to mind.  That's exactly right, the first to come to mind...the first to attract the crowds.  Are you looking for a warm destination without the masses...somewhere that you and your family can have a little space?  How about a destination a little cheaper than the others, especially considering gas at nearly $4.00 a gallon?  Escalante may be just what you are looking for!

The past week has been amazing in the Escalante area!  After a brief weekend winter storm temperatures have rebounded to the low 70's in the valley.  Escalante at 5700 feet in elevation (and dropping more as you travel south into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument) boasts more mild temperatures during the cold months than many of the surrounding communities.  March and April can be some of the best months to explore the area, before the temperatures rise to the 90s-100s in the summer.  Conditions are great right now for hiking, site-seeing, and fishing!

There are so many amazing outdoor destinations in the area.  With spring break approaching for younger kids, I wanted to highlight a few places that are great for families to access and enjoy.  For those of you looking for something a little more off the beaten path, or maybe a more challenging adventure, be sure to check out Escalante Outfitters Excursions of Escalante (also known as the Trailhead Cafe) or contact the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) visitor center more details.  These 2 businesses and a GSENM visitor center are all located in Escalante.  Also a "google" of Escalante, Utah will give you DOZENS of leads to destinations, guidebooks, and much, much more.

Destination #1: Calf Creek Recreation Area
Calf Creek is a small tributary to the Escalante River, located right off of highway 12, about a 20 minute drive east out of Escalante.  A stunningly beautiful slickrock canyon, Calf Creek originates from springs near the base of the Boulder Mountain (Aquarius Plateau) and flows a few short miles to it's confluence with the Escalante River.  The box canyon's name originates from pioneer times, as it was used to hold calves that had been weaned from the cows.  The prize attractions of Calf Creek are 2 breathtaking waterfalls.  The Upper Calf Creek Falls is a short hike of about a mile from highway 12.  Lower Calf Creek Falls is accessible by trail from the Calf Creek campground...a two-and-a-half mile hike from the campground.  Along the trail you will follow Calf Creek as it flows through the canyon, as the walls of the canyon tower nearly 1,000 feet above you!  You will find wildlife, spectacular colors, and native American hieroglyphs on your hike to the falls.

Calf Creek campground offers tent sites, a few trailer/RV sites, bathrooms, water, picnic tables, one sweet footbridge across the creek, and information about the area.  Parking can get tight, so plan ahead, or show up early.  The campground area has some great swimming and wading holes for the kids, we love taking our kids there all summer long!  It's a great day long destination for hiking, swimming, and a picnic!

Destination #2: Hole-in-the-Rock
Hole-in-the-Rock is a historical landmark from the pioneer era of the late 1800's.  In 1879 LDS (Mormon)  Pioneers gathered from various Southern Utah communities were called by church leaders to establish what was then called the "San Juan Mission" of southeastern Utah, which today includes the communities of Blanding, Bluff, Monticello, and Mexican Hat.  Looking for the shortest route to the area, explorers from Escalante discovered a small "crack" in the canyon wall of Glen Canyon that they felt could facilitate a crude road to enable passage of the company down to the Colorado River (1000 feet below) and out the other side through Cottonwood Canyon.  The party departed the communities of Cedar City and Beaver, Utah, passed through Escalante, and spent many months in the desert south of Escalante anxiously awaiting completion of the grade through the "hole".

Dance Hall Rock, where pioneers held activities during the trek

The Hole-in-the-Rock story is an amazing tale of hardship, determination, and sacrifice.  As you travel the 60 miles from Escalante, across the unforgiving desert to the canyon rim (where you will now find Glen Canyon filled by the waters of Lake Powell) you will be amazed and humbled that the party was so successful in making it through the trek and eventually settling southeastern Utah.  Along the way you can stop to see several natural sites such as Devil's Rock Garden, Chimney Rock, and numerous trailheads that lead to beautiful canyons and arches along the Escalante River.

In Escalante you will also find the Escalante Heritage Center on the east entrance to Escalante.  Start your trip here, or at the local "Visitor Information Center" to get educated on the details of the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition.  The Visitor Information Center is a small pioneer cabin located on main street in the heart of Escalante, right across from Cottam's 66 gas station.

Destination #3 Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Gulches
 Looking for a fairly easy hike that is far from ordinary?  Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Gulches are anything but ordinary!  These two amazing slot canyons twist their way through Navajo sandstone that is painted by array of colors and enhanced by what sunlight can trickle it's way into the maze!  In several locations these slots in the sandstone are only inches wide!  The hike is fairly easy (a bit more to the moderate side if you do both in a day) but be prepared to get dirty!  You will find yourself crawling, climbing a bit (not technical) and squeezing your way through these tight canyon walls.

Peek-a-Boo is by far the easier of the 2 canyons, and a down and back trip won't quite be 2 miles, and is fairly easy even on young kids.  Spooky is a bit more challenging!  Here you will find yourself crawling and scooting around more.  If you are claustrophobic, or quite large, you won't want to go into spooky.  If you are looking at doing the loop (which takes you through both canyons) plan on a 3 mile hike.  The trailhead is in the Dry Fork wash, about 26 miles south of Escalante.  Talk to any of the local outfitter/guides services, or the GSENM visitor center for better directions, or check out this site (which is one of dozens you will find with info on these canyons) for more details:

Destination #4: Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
What a way to end a long day down in the canyons!  Escalante Petrified Forest State Park provides a little "green and blue" oasis to your desert experience.  Located on the shore of Wide Hollow Reservoir, this state park provides cooler camping conditions, trees for shade, and waters to play in to top off your trip.  The petrified forest itself is also a must see!  Hiking trails to the ancient forest that range in difficulty from easy to moderate provide a glimpse into the past as you view massive ancient petrified logs!

The park provides many amenities: showers, bathrooms, camping sites, water, picnic tables, and a boat ramp.  Wide Hollow Reservoir provides great fishing for trout, bass, and bluegill.  Check out this post from last week on the great fishing you will find at Wide Hollow right now!  Last week the water was already 60 degrees...a bit cold for swimming yet, but perfect for swimming in the summer months.  Evenings in the park are spectacular, what a great way to end a day of adventure! Check out the state park's webpage for more information:

Escalante City:
So what will you find in Escalante?  This is a great time to visit!  The summer crowds have not quite shown up yet, but local businesses are back open to meet your needs.  You will find about a half dozen restaurants serving a variety of excellent cuisine, gas stations, a grocery store, post office, art galleries, outfitter and guide services, motels, RV parks, bed and breakfasts, and much more!  Don't forget to visit the Escalante Heritage Center (Hole-in-the-Rock information) the GSENM visitor center, and the local Information Center to learn about the natural wonders and deep pioneer culture that make the Escalante area special.  Boulder, Utah only 28 miles east of Escalante offers the Anasazi State Park (native American ruins/cultural exhibits), more excellent restaurants, and lodging.  Boulder is also the gateway to the Burr Trail/Circle Cliffs area, and the lower end of Capitol Reef National Park. Check out these sites for more information on the communities and the area:

Also remember, Escalante is a very short drive from several national parks (Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion).  Escalante also sits at the base of the Boulder Mountain, and the incredible Dixie National Forest.  At this time, most of the forest is inaccessible due to snow, but come back in the summer to take advantage of awesome vistas, wildlife viewing, camping, and great fishing.  There's so much more to do than you could ever fit into a "spring break".  Escalante is a great place to visit throughout the year!

 If you do find yourself in the area, be sure to give us a shout!