Canyons of the Escalante Grand Staircase

Canyons of the Escalante Grand Staircase

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Apr 27, 2009
Activities Activities: Canyoneering
Seasons Season: Spring

The First Evening

Never been to Escalante before, it is a bit off the beaten path. This was to be a short trip given my lack of planning and an unexpected invite from my sister, Barb, and brother-in-law, David.

After considering my options, I came up with a cheap flight to Las Vegas on The plan was to fly into Las Vegas Sunday morning, pick up a Jeep, and head for Escalante by way of Zion. I made Escalante by early evening just in time for dinner and a couple of beers.

Day One

Day one took us 26 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock Road to the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch. We wanted to hike through both the Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons. Our first slot turned out to be the Dry Fork but we had mistaken it for Spooky. Although it was pretty, it was not very Spooky, at least not until we were to discover our error with the aid of another hiker with a better map.

The climb into Peek-a-Boo was discouraging for those of us less confident with our climbing skills, but it turned out to be not all that difficult. Upon peeking into the entrance, it was one of those WOW moments. The light was spectacular and I managed to set up my tripod and take several exposures from within. The curves, arches, and color made for a surreal scene unlike I had ever before seen. It was quite a change from my usual Sierra forays.

Setting up in Peek-A-BooSetting up to make the catch

Peek-A-Boo Slot EntranceThe Catch

Then we found Spooky. When an impressionable 8 or 9 years of age, I experienced my first spell of claustrophobia. My two older brothers had stuffed me into a clothes hamper and sat on it while I freaked out just short of evacuating my bowels. Prior to entering Spooky, I informed Barb and David I might get spooked. Spooky is very narrow. I had to take off my waist pack to fit through the tight spots some 20 or more feet below the ground’s surface. And I was doing fine until the people ahead of us got into a jam and we had to stop and wait for them to proceed. All of the sudden I had this uncomfortable feeling of panic! I’m not kidding, it was a most unpleasant sensation. With nowhere to go except backwards, a few more people began coming up on our rear as the bottleneck developed. My sister instructed me to breath through my nose taking slow and deep breaths and it did help, but the sensation of panic remained lurking within some irrational and primitive part of my brain. After saying I was going to turn around, I managed to muster enough courage to make it through. What can I say? Spooky had indeed lived up to its name. The joke was on me for carrying a tripod through Spooky.

Spooky SlotThat is me up ahead of my sister... she was clearly having more fun.

After returning to our vehicle, we had enough time to make the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike. The light was not so good, but with the aid of Photomatix and HDR photography, I managed to pull off a decent enough shot using a 14mm ultra-wide angle lens. By then, it was well past beer-thirty.

Lower Calf Creek WaterfallLower Calf Creek Fall

Then nice thing about car camping is the food! David is quite the cook and we did enjoy our meals. Having absconded with some firewood from Calf Creek, we piled a few 1X2’s into the fire pit on this windless evening to enjoy our dinner in the comfort of warmth. After pouring what seemed to be a reasonable amount of white gas for priming, I reached down with a Bic and managed to singe most all of the hair from my left eyebrow and right hand, all of my eyelashes were curled and David was having a hoot over the left side of my scalp. Yep, I was lookin good.

Day Two

The following day we headed for Neon Canyon, a considerably strenuous day hike. Egypt Trailhead turnoff is 16 miles down HITR Road. Another 9 miles of 4WD terrain brings one to the trailhead. Turns out after a few miles into the Egypt turnoff, we came to discover a shredded right front tire! Flat tires on rough roads are not all that obvious, but when the smell of burnt rubber entered the vehicle, any chance for salvaging this Dollar rent-a-car tire was long gone. Never fear, the spare tire worked fine with what amounted to only a 15 minute unscheduled stop.

Do I smell burning rubber?Beyond Flat

The hike down to Neon is spectacular. After descending into Fence Canyon, we made five or six easy river crossings on the Escalante and entered the mouth of Neon. The Cottonwoods were brilliant green with their fresh Spring leaves and made for spectacular contrast to the deep red rock and desert varnish. The photos tell the story better than words.

Neon CanyonEntering Neon

Cathedral DomeCathedral Dome at the end of Neon Canyon

It was a long day. A beer stop at the Escalante Outfitters was mandatory prior to another fireside dinner. I’m not all that crazy about Porter beer, but I could not resist a Utah Polygamy Porter! Only in Utah.

The next day had me rushing back to McCarran International to catch my flight home to San Diego. It was a short but sweet trip. We plan to return next year for five-nighter along Coyote Gulch… a foray we figure to be even more spectacular as is this unique country known as the Grand Staircase.


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Viewing: 1-8 of 8

jareds - May 3, 2009 4:11 am - Hasn't voted

looks like a great trip

you can spend days in there, next time plan for longer!


peninsula - May 3, 2009 7:59 am - Hasn't voted

Longer Trip

Thanks jareds. No doubt about it, it was too short! My brother and sister were there for a full week. I was happy to make it for only a few days and now that I have an idea of what this area is all about, I definitely plan on a longer trip next year. We are thinking of doing a five-night backpack trip down Coyote Gulch. Is that long enough or should we go for an extra night or two? We are planning to start and end next year's trip at a B&B in Boulder. Any other suggestions for the area?


maddie77777 - May 4, 2009 9:36 am - Voted 10/10

Fantastic pics

Also, any time you can incorporate "evacuating my bowels" into a trip report wins points with me.


peninsula - May 5, 2009 3:42 pm - Hasn't voted

Fantastic Pics

Thank you!... I suppose I could have used more artistic license, but I guess you got the picture, so to speak.

Pack Addict

Pack Addict - May 5, 2009 7:51 pm - Voted 10/10

Sharp images

and very nice report.


peninsula - May 6, 2009 8:31 pm - Hasn't voted

Sharp Images

Thanks Pack Addict. I generally go for the maximum depth of field when shooting landscapes. However, that does not necessarily equate to the smallest aperture. Most all of the photos in this report did not have a substantial foreground subject, something unique to the red-rock landscapes of the Southwest relative to landscape photography in the Sierra, when using ultra-wide angle lenses. Without a nearby (inches to a foot or two) foreground subject, I generally shoot f/16, which is sharper than f/22 and works very well in these types of compositions.


madeintahoe - Jul 7, 2009 11:06 pm - Voted 10/10

So beautiful there

Greg..Thank you for sharing your story..WOW the singed eyebrow does not sound it okay?

This is awesome you experienced a little of the Escalante area.
My hubby and I had our 1st experience to the area in 1991 when it was still not all that popular..we did a two night backpack down Coyote Gulch..we camped around about half way down around Jacob Hamblin Arch..the next day.. day hiked down to the Escalante River and hiked up river a bit looking right at Stevens Arch!!!!..that trip hooked us..we were both in love with the area...two years later we backpacked down Harris Wash...that was our last trip there until we returned in 1998 we did a backpack which started near town there and we hiked along the Escalante River...this part was quite beautiful and very different than Coyote Gulch..we had Zeus, Lucy and Lara Lai their mother on that trip..also a day hike off of hole in the rock road..I think it was down Willow Gulch.

In 1999 we did with some friends a two night down into fence canyon..we camped around the mouth of Neon Canyon..and just explored the area...saw the amazing cathedral in Neon and was once again taken with the area.
My last trip was in 2000.. myself and some friends did a 6 night backpack down Coyote Gulch again...this was a wonderful trip..we did some exploring up the escalante River for a ways up river and also went in about 2 miles up Stevens Canyon.

I am so glad you are going to be doing another trip me it is a totally different experience than the Sierra..I can't compare the two..each one gives me something special..But there is something I can't really put into words the feeling I get while in those amazing red walled canyons 1000's feet high and splashing in the water walking's very soothing. Hubby and I are going to try to get back there this October.

We too are 1st trip down hole in the rock road blew a tire out!! also the last trip we were in a rental and blew one out in that too! That road is quite something. Sorry my comment is so long...just so excited for you and it brought back very good memories..the dogs loved running in that water playing.
Thank you Greg


peninsula - Jul 8, 2009 12:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: So beautiful there

You are welcome, Anita.

Flat tires... they should call that road "Hole in the Tire"

Viewing: 1-8 of 8