On Friday morning, we packed up the trailer, said goodbye to our friends and drove back toward civilization. Our final night in Utah would be spent at Fremont Indian State Park near Richfield. It offers full hookup sites in an intimate location.
Our 2023 Utah Spring Fling began with a drive to see some ancient Fremont rock art. As a fitting finale, a few small panels of Fremont Indian petroglyphs decorate the rock behind our campsite.
To our Chicago friends who had never been to Utah before, I promise that next time, we’ll show you pictures of the pretty part of Utah.
The first time I ever visited Utah’s canyon country was in the early ‘70s. A hiking group to which I belonged offered a backpack trip into Escalante River country near Escalante. To get to the trailhead meeting place, I took a shortcut up a 40-mile dirt road through Cottonwood Canyon.
For our last day at Kodachrome, while Dianne would go do a canyon hike with our friends, I would solo drive the Cottonwood Road to its terminus at U.S. 89 and back again.
Departing at the crack of noon, I decided to drive straight through and save my photo taking for the late afternoon return. I wanted to make sure I had time to make the detour to the abandoned Pahreah townsite and the nearby old movie set where films ranging from “Desperados” (1943) to “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976) were filmed. The two lay off another road a few miles up U.S. 89.
Back in the ‘70s, some old buildings still remained here. On this trip, the best I could find was an old rock wall and an cemetery filled with a number of identical, unmarked headstones. If there is anything more remaining, I didn’t see it.
I returned to the Cottonwood Road, keeping the camera handy. Here are a few shots of scenery along the drive:
So far, all of our canyons we’ve hiked have been dry. Hackberry is not. For this hike, we needed to don our water shoes. (Try to not notice the knee scars in this image. Of the six legs pictured, four have medically implanted, bionic knees.)
The lower end of the canyon offered towering sandstone walls hemmed with cottonwood trees…
…with the occasional rock spire to admire…
…and only a few minor obstacles to negotiate.
Our goal was to make it to Frank Watson’s old cabin about a four mile hike from the trailhead.
The hike out with the afternoon light painting the desert varnished walls proved to be just as mesmerizing as they were on the hike in.
Reaching canyon’s end, all that remained was a 25-mile drive down a somewhat graded road to get back to camp and waiting brews.
On Tuesday, we set off to do the narrows of Round Valley Draw. Getting in requires descending a pair of vertical drop-offs using rock climbing techniques. Our friend Brett, an accomplished rock climber, had no trouble chimneying down the first drop.
He had a short length of rope with him and offered to belay the rest of us down. The only problem would be if we got blocked in the canyon and had to actually come back up this way. My policy is to never get myself into a situation that I can’t get out of.
When we were down at Devil’s Garden a few days ago, an elderly woman hiked across one of the natural arches.
Across the span, the woman got on top of a small dome and froze, totally afraid to go back. She ultimately had to be rescued by an accomplished rock climber.
I didn’t want to be stuck down in a narrow canyon and have to be rescued. When the option to hike around to the canyon’s exit and hike up the narrows, I was all for it.
We followed a trail up on a bench hoping this was the Round Valley Draw exit route. Along the way, we passed beautiful scenery…
…and spring flowers…
…but we never did find the right trail. We turned back and headed for another set of canyon narrows to explore. Our replacement objective was the Cottonwood Canyon Narrows, which offered a no-brainer trail to enter and exit.
The narrows are only about a mile or so long…
The walking was easy and the walls picturesque…
…and we were even treated to some wildflowers in the more open sections of the canyon.
Best of all, unlike that elderly lady stuck on the natural arch, we needed no assistance to get out of this canyon.
On Monday, we made the 40-mile drive to Kodachrome State Park, which noted experts (us) have declared to be the most beautiful state park campground in Utah. Our site was in a nicely private, large pull-through site near the cliffs…
…with an excellent view of the park’s signature rock formation.
It’s not what you think it is. This is a sedimentary pipe, one of around 67 in the park, that formed when pockets of water-saturated sediments became cemented together. When the softer surrounding rock eroded away, the tougher caprock remained, forming vertical columns.
Saturday was a day of issues. Dianne is having knee issues, I’m having hip issues and the trailer is having battery depletion issues. A day of rest along with some little blue pills should help mitigate the knee and hip pains.
As for the trailer, a day spent moving our trio of 100-watt solar panels around as the sun slides through the sky should help alleviate the battery depletion issue. A touch of generator assistance may help, too.
On Friday, we headed out with our friends, Brett and Paula, to do a loop hike through a pair of narrow, “slot” canyons.
The route to the trailhead took us down the Hole in the Rock Road, which follows the 1879 route of a band of Mormon settlers sent to establish a settlement in what is now southeastern Utah. While it was just a pleasant wagon track for the settlers, we were treated to a graded roadway with washboards as high as the average speed bump but far closer together.
At the trailhead, cars displaying license plates from across the country filled the parking lot. We would not be alone playing in the slots.
Our goal was to hike up Peek-a-Boo Gulch, cross overland to the head of Spooky Gulch and descend back through it.
A sign warned us about the narrowness of Spooky.
We tested it out. While Dianne’s body fit through, we were worried about her hat.
The two slot canyons feed into the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch. Our first obstacle involved sidestepping down the slickrock to get to it.
Fortunately, the route was well marked with cairns.
Entering the mouth of Peek-a-Boo Gulch requires ascending a steep chute of slick slickrock. A pile of rocks at the bottom helps one get a foot onto the lower Moki step someone had chiseled long ago into the rock. We watched as another hiker struggled up.
When we found out that from there, we would need to wade through knee-deep, canyon-bottom potholes of icy water, we decided to skip Peek-a-Boo and go directly to Spooky, which we would hike from the bottom up. Along the way, we passed a sandy bench covered with evening primrose blossoms.
We reached the mouth of Spooky and began heading up.
It wasn’t too bad at first…
…but that changed in a hurry.
It soon got worse…
The hike wouldn’t have been bad if all the traffic traveled in the same direction, but that wasn’t the case. While we were hiking up, others were coming down, and passing each other in a slot canyon narrower than potholes in a Colorado highway was a pain. One by one our group turned around, exited Spooky and hiked back to the car.
On the drive back to the campground, we detoured off the washboard road to track down some dinosaur trackways located up on a sandstone bench…
…followed by a stop at some photogenic rock formations in a place known as the Devil’s Garden.
“Why is it always named after the Devil?” Dianne pondered.
“Why not name it the Angel’s Garden?”
Back in town, we tried to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a nice Mexican dinner. Let’s just say that while Escalante may be named for an 18th century Spanish priest, it does not abound in indoor Mexican eateries.
Our campground lies in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. As many times as I’ve been through this little town in southern Utah over the past 50 years, I never knew they had petrified wood out here.
On Thursday, our recovery day from visiting the Cosmic Ashtray, Dianne and I did the 2¾-mile Petrified Forest and Sleeping Rainbows Trails in the park.
From the campground, the trail begins with a crawl up a steep slope before wandering around on a bench top. Up topside, we passed many samples of the totally stoned trees sacked out on the ground…
…some of which were quite colorful.
This petrified forest may not be as spectacular as the National Park in Arizona, but it’s still well worth the slight effort required to hike up the well-defined trail for a look at the rocky growth.
Tuesday, we hooked up the trailer and began the long, 144-mile trek from Goblin to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, which is conveniently located in Escalante, Utah. On the way there, we stopped at Stan’s Burger Shak and gas station in Hanksville so Dianne could have her (a day late) birthday burger and thick milkshake.
We arrived in Escalante and pulled into our campsite just as our camping friends from Gridlock City arrived. Over a glass or two of wine by our (propane) campfire, we decided that our first hike together out here would be a nine-mile, cross-country stroll to the Cosmic Ashtray.
Following a map copied off the internet, our wandering route took us across nice, firm rock…
…and deep, loose sand.
After about three miles of traversing the rocks and sand of the desert floor…
…it was time to start climbing up the sandstone knobs.
Finally, 4½ miles from the trailhead, we arrived at the immense Cosmic Ashtray.
To give you an appreciation of the size of this thing, the two specks you see at the bottom left…
We waited, hoping one of those extraterrestrial, cosmic entities we saw depicted in Horseshoe Canyon would show up and flick some ashes into the pit.
It didn’t happen.
Disappointed, we made the long trek back to the car and ultimately the campground where cold brews and hot showers awaited.
“This country is geology by day and astronomy by night,” observed English writer, J.B. Priestley.
While he may have been talking about the Arizona desert, it’s a perfect description of Goblin Valley and the rest of Utah’s canyon country.
Dianne and I have been to Goblin Valley several times in the past, so on this trip, we felt no rush to leave our campsite and go out to look at the hoodoos.
It wasn’t until Monday afternoon, the anniversary of my wife’s 29th birthday, that we hiked up the Entrada Trail from the campground to the valley of the goblins.
As we’ve done on previous occasions, we walked around the valley floor, examining the formations and using our imagination to suggest what they looked like.
On previous trips out here, I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night, driven out to the tourist parking lot and wandered down on the valley floor to photograph the goblins silhouetted against the Milky Way.
But not on this trip. Tonight, under a hazy, moonlit sky, we celebrated my wife’s birthday with grilled New York steaks and a stellar bottle of 2016 Plum Creek Cabernet Franc.