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Thread: Escalante via backroads 6.20.13

  1. #1

    Escalante via backroads 6.20.13

    Escalante has been on my bucket list for some time now, so I decided to plan a trip down there to see what it's all about. Many thanks to everyone that providedso many helpful suggestions for this trip!

    This entire trip was about going places I'd never been before. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I knew it would be an adventure.

    We started out heading up Spanish Fork Canyon to catch the start to Skyline Drive. The plan was to take Sklyine all the way to Salina, head south to Fish Lake, then to Loa, then south to Escalante.

    It was fantastic up there, there were tons of colors and we were up above all the heat.

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  3. #2
    Being on top of the ridgeline, there was a 360* panorama.

    We found this cool radio tower.

    Since we all had our fall protection gear, a few in the group decided to climb it.

    How can you get mad at kids for scratching your paint when they're so cute?

    The purple wildflowers were stunning.

  4. #3
    Our local friend who lives in Fairview assured us that all the snow was melted and the gates would be open. They weren't.

    So we continued on southeast to Huntington reservoir, to miller flat reservoir, to Joe's Valley Reservoir.

    The water at Joe's Valley was really warm, and it was a great spot to have lunch.

    From there we headed west to see if we could hop onto an open section of Skyline Drive.

    We had a fantastic view of Joe's Valley Reservoir. It's crazy to think that we were only 25 miles from the swell.

    A few streams crossed under the road on our way to the summit.

    About 40 minutes after lunch, we reached the summit, and fortunately it was not closed. (That would have made for a LONG route back the way we came).

    There were a few drifts, but almost all the snow had melted. There wasn't any snow anywhere near the roads.

  5. #4
    Like I said, there wasn't any snow on the roads...

    ... until we came to this just outside of jet fox reservoir:

    It was probably 30 feet high and completely blocking the road. However, it was only 20 feet long or so. We thought that digging it out sounded better than turning around and going all the way back to Joe's Valley Reservoir. A few of us scouted around and found an existing road around the snowdrift so we were able to continue on. We were excited to be able to use 4-lo even if it was for a short period of time.

    We had a couple more encounters with patches of snow. The trucks with the v8s were able to plow right through them with little effort.

    The sequoia was the last one through, so the ruts were deeper, and they had the least belly clearance. A little tug was all it took to get Spork all the way through.

    Next we came across a downed tree that was hanging down too low to pass without hitting it. So we moved it off the trail.

  6. #5
    Soon we found ourselves on the highest point of Skyline Drive.

    There were some cool looking lakes down below.

    Just around the corner from where the truck that rolled off the trail, we found more snow. Some ATVs had been through, but the road was slightly off-camber and tipped you downhill. plus the path was only about 3' wide. So we busted out the shovels and Cody had his Mattrax and we cleared a path just wide enough to squeeze by. There was no way we were going to turn back and drive all the way back.

    I think those mattrax paid for themselves in one single use. They sure provided a lot of confidence (and traction) in an otherwise scary situation. I'm adding these to the "must-have" list.

    The Tundra and the Sequoia were the widest, but they had no trouble.

  7. #6
    From there on out it was smooth sailing without any more snow.

    We saw lots of wildlife. Deer, birds, wild turkeys, antelope...

    Pretty soon we were coming down to I-70, heading West towards Salina. We decided to take FS 037 (I forgot the name of this pass) down into Fish Lake. I had done this once in the snow and it looked awesome, so I was excited to get back and do it in the dirt. Unfortunatlely it wasn't all that spectacular after having seen this terrain for hours already.

    Then we headed on down to Loa for gas, then south past city of rocks, near big lake.

    Well, big lake ended up being a big marsh/grassland with zero water, so nobody got to fish. We found a nice campsite just down the road a ways.

  8. #7
    Apparently it was really windy that night. I wouldn't know because I slept like a rock, but Kyle and Rosa didn't get much sleep at all.

    Cody's siblings had all slept in the car ride during the day, so they were wired most of the night.

    Those of us on the north end of camp slept really well.

    We headed south, catching the tail end of Hell's Backbone Road, then headed into Escalante. What a cool town. We stopped off at the biggest grocery store in town. It was full of super nice locals.

  9. #8
    From Escalante we headed south on Hole in the Rock Rd. to hike peekaboo and spooky slot canyons. None of us had ever been there before and we were pleasantly surprised with how great the slots were. It was really hot, and we came across quite a few people who were nowhere near prepared with enough water. Fortunately we had extra to share, or they'd probably still be out there. It was a hot, dry day, but we didn't mind. I didn't take my camera for fear of damaging it, so if you were there, post up pics so I can add them here. Or just watch the video to see how cool this section was.

    After the hike we figured that we'd already made it 1 hour down Hole in the Rock Rd, we might as well drive to the very end so we can check it off our bucket list. It was a tedious, boring drive, but about an hour later we came to Dance Hall Rock. After researching the Hole in the Rock expedition two years ago, and reading The Undaunted, I always had desires to visit Dance Hall Rock. It was a cool experience for me. The acoustics were pretty cool too.

    An hour later (20 more miles of washboard road) we finally arrived at the end of Hole in the Rock Road. From the East side of the trail, it's not so obvious why it's called hole in the rock. From the west side (escalante side), it's much more obvious. It was really impressive.

    It was such a hot day... and Lake Powell looked so refreshing... and we'd driven too far to just turn around... and the lake looked so close that we decided to hike down to the lake. Best decision of the trip!

    There were some OLD inscriptions dating pre-1900s.

    We were so busy hiking with our hands that we didn't take many pictures. See the video for a better representation of what the hike is like.

    Out of pure coincidence, we ran into tacoman99's dad on the trail, who was hiking up it. I still can't believe we ran into him.

    It was a hot day and the water was warm and really refreshing. Everyone hopped in for a quick swim.

    Then we began the long hike back up. In reality, it probably took longer to hike down the hole in the rock than it did to hike back up.

    On our way up we saw a baby snake coiled up in the sun trying to stay warm. It was nice and cool in the canyon. Once we popped up top, the hot wind hit us like a wall and we wanted to run back down and jump in the lake again.

    Then we took the long 2.5 hour washboard dirt road back to pavement. By the time we got there, it was starting to get dark so we set up camp quickly.

  10. #9
    From there we headed to hike Calf Creek Falls. Calf Creek isn't a difficult hike. It's very flat. However, this time of year it is difficult because of the heat. If you think you've got enough water, triple it, then you might have enough. It's 3 miles in and 3 miles out. We ran into issues with people in our group running out of water. Not a good situation.

    People warned us that the water was going to be cold. I wasn't too worried, I've swam in lots of cold water. We grew up surfing in 52* water, so we knew what cold was. Boy were we wrong! The water here is insanely cold. In fact, it was so cold that our lungs shrunk and it was difficult to breathe. I've never been closer to drowning. I was having a really tough time catching my breath. If we had to swim an extra 20 feet, I don't think I would have made it. If you ever do make this swim, be wise and listen to your body. It didn't help that the waterfall was spraying water all over and it made it difficult not to get a mouthful of water.

    On the hike back some of us ran out of water. Cody and Kyle charged on ahead, went to the water fountain, filled their water cans, and re-hiked part of the trail to deliver the water to those on the brink of dehydration. David came across a guy who had passed out on the trail, and another man who had to carry his passed out son. Heat stroke is not a thing to mess with. It amazed us how many families were heading up the trail in the heat of the day with only a 500 mL water bottle for each person.

    At the end of the trail we played in the creek and cooled down until the rest of the group caught up.

  11. #10
    Then we headed to Boulder for lunch. We hit up the Burr Trail Grill. I really wanted to eat at Hell's Backbone Grill because of its rave reviews, but they were closed. It turned out for the best though, because Burr Trail Grill was really tasty and the staff was extremely friendly. Plus is was all local grass-fed beef. That was the best burger I've ever had in my life.

    From there we finalized our plan for the next day: We would camp at McGath Lake off of Hell's Backbone Road, then go to Bryce National Park the next day.

    Off to Hell's Backbone Road. I'd heard a lot about this and a lot of people recommended I take it since I have a 4x4. Truth be told, it's basically an unpaved road. A prius could have made it no problem. It was scenic, but nowhere near as scenic as Skyline Drive. Every once in a while the caught a glimpse of the skyline through the trees.

    We headed up towards McGath lake and the road got nasty fast. We had to use 4-lo, and we got in some tricky terrain and cross some small creeks. I was worried about Kyle in his Tundra, but he had zero issues due to his driving skill.

    I had heard that the fishing on McGath lake was great, and I was determined to catch and eat a fish. When we got there, the lake was plenty big, but about 100' from the shore all around the water was shallow and full of reeds. This made fishing a big challenge. I didn't see how we were going to catch any fish without a boat.

    We had the twin rooftop tents set up in no time...

    ...and got the fire going. There were a lot of gnats (which looked likemosquitos), but they didn't bother us.

    Rick, Kyle wanted to make sure you saw that he was smiling on this trip. :)

  12. #11
    The next morning we awoke to one of the livliest sounds ever. The forest was bustling with animal life. We had woodpeckers, songbirds, ducks, and other water fowl. It was really neat to hear the chorus of sounds from nature.

    I decided it was time to face my fears and try to catch a fish. For some reason I was really fearful with the spinner on my pole. I think it got snagged on so many thules that everything felt like a bite and I got myself worked up. So I switched to the fly pole. I didn't have any luck with that either, but it was fun to practice my casting. We even looked for little tadpoles and smaller fish in the shallow water but we didn't see a thing. I'll have to overcome my fear of touching fish another time.

    From there we headed out to finish Hell's Backbone Road and head to Bryce Canyon National Park. On the way we passed these cows. They don't know how good they've got it.

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  14. #12
    We took a few pics on the Hell's Backbone Bridge.

  15. #13
    From there we headed down to Bryce Canyon NP.

    Aside from Rosa, none of us had ever been here. And despite my best efforts, it looks like we only got one picture the entire time we were there. (Cody, I need some pics for this segment). We did get plenty of video though, so check that out.

    Even though $25 is a lot of money to pay for a National Park, Bryce has done an outstanding job with its facilities. We often joked about the hiking trails being so free of bumps that you could take your jazzy through there no problem. Seriously, there wasn't a single root or rock to cause you to stumble. It's evident that Bryce NP has gone to great lengths to allow you to access and see the best parts of the canyon first-hand. It would have been easier for them to just rope it all off and prohibit people from going down there, but they have done a lot to make it a first-hand experience. Definitely hike around there if you get the chance.

  16. #14
    After that we headed halfway home and soaked in the Meadow Hot Springs.

    The water was right around 100* and it felt great after 4 days of hiking and driving. David was brave enough to dive about 20 feet down and capture some video for us.

    After the soak in the hot spring, we headed out to the Lava Tubes to set up camp. Dinner was quesadillas and pigs in a blanket.

  17. #15
    In the morning we woke up to explore the lava tubes.

    From there we headed on home.

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  19. #16
    Here are some notes for those thinking about doing this trip:

    1) Everyone was a great sport on this trip, especially the girls. I never heard a single complaint from the girls, they were a joy to have with us. They weren't afraid to pee in the woods or get dirty and sweaty from hiking, and they were super cheerful and helpful.

    2) The first day had too much driving. If I were to do it again, I would have spent more time fishing and swimming and Joe's Valley and more time hiking/exploring the skyline drive area. I also would have stopped at a lake to fish at that night, instead of trying to push past Loa in one day.

    3) We easily could have been blocked by snow and left with no option but to turn around and go out the way we came. That would have been horrible. It was a bit optimistic to think skyline drive was ready, though I did have faulty info telling me it was open when it was not. Oh well, it worked out.

    4) Mattrax are where it's at. Those things saved our bacon. I'll be getting a pair soon.

    5) A lot of this trip was stuff I hadn't seen. It was a great trip, but there wasn't enough wheelign, and I don't think I'll be returning anytime soon. Escalante was cool, but not enchanting. I'm so glad we did what we did, but I feel like we covered all the high points and I'm not missing out on a whole lot by not visiting for a while.

    6) Hell's Backbone road wasn't worth it. It was just a dusty road without many spectacular views.

    7) Hole in the Rock road is a beast. I had heard that the washboards were really bad. I'm not a big fan of washboards. however, I found the road to be quite well-kept. Sure, there were washboards, and I kept it under 45 at all times. The brutal part about Hole in the Rock Road is that it takes so dang long to drive from one end to the other, without a change of scenery. It was an all-day activity to drive out and back. If you're ever planning on driving this road, you MUST do the peekaboo/spooky hikes, and do the hike down to the lake at the end, otherwise you will want to kill yourself. We spent over 8 hours along this road, and we were definitely done by the time we got out.

    8) Bryce National Park was far better than I had expected. If you just look at the views from the parking lot you're completely missing what this park has to offer. I highly recommend hiking the Navajo Loop, making sure to visit wall street. It really was a spectacular site, one of my favorite national parks. I will say, however, that it is extremely commercialized. There are lodges and hotels inside the NP, and TONS of tourists. Think arches x 100. But still very worth it. The entry fee is $25, so be sure to bring your NP pass.

    9) I want to explore the area just north and west of Bryce, it looks really cool.

    10) It's always great to get out and explore new areas with good friends. A big part of the adventure is not knowing what's ahead and taking each challenge as it comes.

    11) it sure is a relief to travel with 4 reliable vehicles that don't have a single problem, despite the fact that 1 of them has 240k, one has 180k, and one has 130k. We did about 500 miles offroad and the toyotas never gave us an ounce of trouble

    12) there's no real wheeling on this trip. The trip up to McGath Lake was fun, and it tested our skills, but apart from that it was 30-40 mph dirt road stuff in 2 hi that a civic could handle. McGath Lake was tough to fish without a boat since you couldn't cast it past the thules. But it did turn out to be a great place to camp.

    13) you must try the burgers in Boulder, they're fantastic.

    14) kids are meant for camping. They just know how to do it, and they love it.

    15) in the summer, sand gets really hot on dog's feet. Make sure you have boots for them to keep their feet from getting burned.

    16) on multi-day trips like this with a different camp spot each night, you cannot beat a RTT. They make it SO much more convenient. That being said, if you don't have a RTT, still make time to go out on trips like these, they'll make you realize what you've been missing.

    17) everyone who goes on a hike in the summer should take at least 2 L of water for themselves. As soon as I get kids old enough to hike, they're getting their own set of hiking boots and their own Camelbak so they can get used to learning how to ration their water and carry their own supplies. The kids we had were great, these are just notes for my future self.

    18) Be very cautious swimming in cold water. Now I know why so many people die in the lakes at the Rubicon. Even if you're a strong swimmer, the water temperature can turn you into a weak swimmer, and it's not just a matter of "mind over matter." It's a real physical impairment that makes swimming lots more laborous.

    19) All you single men out there: find a woman who loves the outdoors as much as you do. They're tougher to find, but absolutely worth it! It wouldn't be the same if my wife didn't enjoy doing this with me. I'm so lucky to have her.

    20) it's all about the journey not the destination.

    That's it. I hope you enjoyed the trip report. Hopefully it's useful for someone planning a similar trip.

    Here's the video.

  20. #17
    Another excellent TR!

    Dang, you packed a lot into just a few you think that might have had something to do with you being unimpressed with some of the places you visited?

  21. #18
    No, not really. I guess I'm just one of those guys that doesn't like to sit around at camp much. I like to be out exploring as much as I can.

    I also think its a factor of me not knowing the area much when I planned the trip. I didn't know how long each part was going to take. We are a really flexible group, we usually make flexible plans then change them when we get there depending on how we feel.

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