Site Information

Home

Trip Guides
Cedar Mesa
Canyonlands
Colorado Canyons
Cross Canyon
Dark Canyon
Dirty Devil River
Escalante
Green River
Hovenweep N.M.
Jungle Explorer
Natural Bridges
Navajo N.M.
Nevada Sites
Arizona Travels
Moab Area
Monticello/Blanding
San Juan River
San Rafael Swell
White Rim Trail

Words of Caution
Going Ultralight
Desert Gear
River Gear
Homemade Gear
Gear Reviews
Survival Kit
Survival Knives
Primitive Skills
Making Fire
Water & Hydration
Maps & Navigation
Backpack Foods
Bikepacking
Photo Gallery
Geology
History
Prehistory
Rock Art
Trees and Plants
Wildlife
Desert Links
Book Store
Gear Shop
Wilderness Kids
Expedition Vehicle
Desert Inspired
May, 1998 Manhunt
Blog
About Us
Contact Us





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backpacking the Escalante-The Escalante River from Highway 12 to Early Weed Bench


Robert and I spent a fairly leisurely 8 days walking along, and in, the Escalante River and some of its side canyons during the second week of August, 2009. We started at the trailhead at the Highway 12 bridge and ended at the Early Weed Bench trailhead.  The trek from trailhead to trailhead was just about 50 miles, not including any side trips, which were unlimited in number. We began by dropping the Land Cruiser at the Early Weed Bench trailhead. The road to the trailhead demands a solid high clearance vehicle, as do many of the trailhead roads.  From there it is about a two hour drive to the Escalante River Highway 12 bridge trailhead, not including a stop at the Kiva Koffeehouse.

The river at the bridge was calm and the water was clear and clean when we began.  For the most part, until a storm clouded the water with silt on day 5, we just scooped water out of the river and treated it with the MIOX.  After day 5, when the river rose from .2 CFS to 130 CFS and became a silty and potentially dangerous mess, we had to take other steps to get water. Fresh water is available in many of the side canyons, and is more abundant on river right, in the canyons to the southwest. Some "permanent" water sources included Boulder Creek, seeps/springs in SIlver Falls Creek, springs in Fence Canyon, seeps and the big pothole in Neon Canyon, and 25 Mile Wash.

Bushwhacking

This trek is definitely not for everyone.  From the looks of things not many people do it. To say that there is bushwhacking along the river corridor is an understatement. There is some relatively easy walking on cattle trails higher up river. Many trails were fresh, and we were grateful for our bushwhacking, route-finding bovine friends. Game trails can be followed along most of the river. We encountered tracks close to the highway bridge, and from Fence Canyon to Neon Canyon and Ringtail Canyon where there were actual trails to follow. These are popular technical canyoneering locations.

Otherrwise be prepared to squeeze,  break, chop, push, and crawl through tangled masses of willow, tamarisk, Russian olive, sagebrush, and cottonwoods.  Also, be on the lookout for poison ivy- it is here and there along the way. There will be many river crossings, some in deep water- your pack should be waterproofed.  Be prepared for deep, sucking mud and quicksand further down river.  In the end you will be scratched, scraped, muddy, and your gear, clothes, body, and mind will have been tested.  All in all, it’s a great walk!

Prehistory and History

There were at least 10 rock art panels along our walk.  Much of the rock art was Fremont era, but some of the elements appeared to be older.  I am in the process of looking over photos and identifying some of the elements and will write another blog post specifically on the rock art soon.

Some of the rock art panels are identified on the maps that you can review at the Escalante Interagency Visitor’s Center in the town of Escalante, where you can get the latest road and weather conditions and a permit.  In many of the canyons you will also see historical inscriptions dating from the late 1800’s through the 1950’s and 1960’s.  There are a number of cowboy camps with a foundation or two, corrals, fences, and historic trash piles. If you look carefully you might find evidence of occupation, or even a ruin or two, under an alcove.

Camps, Trash, Bugs, Animals

Dry, sandbar campsites are abundant along the route, making for comfortable sleeping and helping with Leave No Trace policies.  Be sure to pack out all toilet paper and trash, and remember that fires are not permitted in any of the canyons. We found many old fire pits, lots of toilet paper and piles of trash at the mouth of Fence Canyon. We concluded that the mess at Fence Canyon was left by a squatter. It was a very unpleasant find- We hope you don't encounter anything like it.

We slept in bug shelters most nights, and right on the ground a few nights. A few mosquitoes did come out for an hour or so around dusk, but for the most part mosquitoes and other bugs really weren’t a problem. Animal tracks were everywhere along the trek- turkey, coyote, deer, raccoon, and beaver were most common.  Turkey were everywhere- we saw them 5 of the 8 days and in the end found that they had a pretty good idea of the paths, and so followed them along the easiest routes.  We also found ringtail, fox, and elk track and scat. River otter have been reintroduced in the river, but we did not see them nor any sign that they were around.  Apparently they are nomadic, and could have been anywhere along the river. We had visits every day from whiptail, desert spiny, side blotched, and eastern fence lizards.  We also saw a number of toads- Woodhouse’s most definitely and red-spotted as far as I could tell. We saw one Utah black-headed snake and no rattlesnakes at all.

Maps

The Trails Illustrated 1:75,000, Canyons of the Escalante Trails Illustrated Map is the best planning map for the area. We used five 1:24,000 mapsheets: Calf Creek, King Bench, Red Breaks, Silver Falls Bench, and Egypt. Additional mapsheet will be necessary depending on how far you travel up some of the side canyons.

More Details From the Escalante Trek- Trash, Fish, Food, and Lizards

(Re-posted from 27 August 2009 blog post.)

It is often hard to cover the many details of a trip in the short amount of time I have to write blog posts.  Usually, as soon as I publish a post, I remember three other items I wanted to cover.  And then I do follow-up research after the fact and want to post that information. With that said, this post is a follow-up to last week’s post on our recent Escalante Trek.

Update- Trash on the Escalante
Since the last post I have spoken with a ranger responsible for the Glen Canyon section of the Escalante River.  I informed him of the trash and fire pits we had found along the river.  I gave him the details on all the trash at the mouth of Fence Canyon and included my interpretation of the scene from the perspective of an anthropologist and a tracker: Upon arriving at the campsite, finding the trash and other debris, Robert and I did a thorough search of the area while cleaning up what we could (there was too much trash for us to carry out).  Based on the amount of debris- mainly trash and toilet paper- and other factors such as fire pits and a lean-to, we concluded that we were seeing a sort of squatters camp, occupied for perhaps as long as two weeks.  One of the first things that Robert and I discussed was the possibility that it might be related to an illegal marijuana growing operation. Two such operations have been found in recent months in southern Utah, along with many others around the western states.  When I spoke with the ranger this was his first comment as well.

The Escalante River on our second day out, still shallow and clean. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Whatever the reason for such a mess in such a pristine location, the ranger is on it.  He plans to take another ranger, a full size backpack, and some trash bags and do a cleanup of the area.  Regarding the fires, it sounded like they are nothing out of the ordinary.  My impression is that he spends lots of time cleaning them up.  This is all very foreign to me- but I guess some people may not see the value in respecting Leave No Trace principles. In other places in southern Utah, Grand Gulch for example, in 10  summers of hiking there I have never seen a fire pit and never found more than a stray Clif Shot wrapper or a zipper pull that broke off.  The difference in the two locations is astounding. I am not sure why such a disparity exists, but it does. The photo at left shows the Escalante River on our second day out, still shallow and clean and with easy walking.

Fish and Their Identification
I did not mention in the last post the number of fish that Robert and I encountered as we waded through the Escalante River.  It started out with a few here and there, and those were small, perhaps 6 inches in length. As we made our way down river, the number and size quickly increased.  We were seeing schools of fish, 20 or more at a time, some of which were reaching 12 and maybe 14 inches in length. We did our best to identify them using  field guides- we know they are suckers, but we haven’t been able to positively identify the species.  Our best guesses include the bluehead or flannelmouth sucker, both native fish, and the mountain sucker which is apparently not native to the drainage.  According to the Glen Canyon fish checklist the first two are found in the area, the third is not.  I am not sure of the exact geographical coverage of the checklist. It is from the Glen Canyon website, and should therefore include at least the lower Escalante drainage. The ranger mentioned above said he would try to pass my number on to the fish expert in his office, and I hope for a call back from him to confirm the identification of the fish. We also saw many, many small minnow-like fish, both in the main drainage and up side canyons.  I will ask him about those as well.

Robert crossing a beaver dam up 25 Mile Wash. Note how thick the brush is- it's like this through most of the 7 miles from the river till you climb out on the slickrock just below the Early Weed Bench trailhead.

Backpack Meals and Food Ideas
In the last post I mentioned that Robert and I carried our usual Desert Explorer homemade backpack meals.  Many of them are based on my own creations, some are from Teresa Marrone’s book The Back Country Kitchen. The meals are filling, taste great, and offer enough variety that you look forward to eating them.  One lesson we did learn is that the meals are definitely too large for lunches.  Typically we do not stop and eat hot lunches, we just snack along the way and keep moving.  On this trip we decided to do it differently.  We planned enough time to allow long lunch stops where we ate well and had a mid-day cup of tea. Robert began by splitting his large dinner meals in half and adding a small side dish if he was really hungry, concluding that they were just too big for lunch. It was easy enough to separate the big meals into two bags; it is not necessary to cut the recipes in half when you are making the meals up.

As for side dishes, we usually include things like instant mashed potatoes, one of the Fantastic Foods soups, or maybe a bag of couscous.  Robert added to these sides by bringing a box of Stove Top Stuffing to the trailhead and pouring it into small Ziplock bags.  Disregarding its questionable nutritional value, it was a welcome addition, adding more variety to the menu.  I will be including it on my trips from now on. This is just one example of the possibilities right off the grocery store shelf. Take a walk down the isles- there are plenty of instant products, requiring only water, that will keep you fed on the trail.

Another deviation from our normal routine was to cook a Ziplock bag lunch meal at breakfast.  After re-hydrating in the bag, wee placed the meal inside of our titanium cups where it was safely stored away until lunch.  This helped us avoid breaking out stoves and unpacking too much gear on our lunch breaks. This is another procedure we will likely continue to use, especially on days when we are planning a long movement. For more on our techniques, and some of our recipes, visit our Backpacking Foods pages.

Lizards

Another desert spiny lizard posing for the camera. They were everywhere along the way, and many were very curious about us. Photo by Gerald Trainor.I have finally had time to add a few more photos and some more text to our page describing lizards of the region.  I added the northern plateau lizard, Sceloporus undulatus elongatus, also known as the eastern fence lizard.  There are a couple of photos of it, as well as a new one of a side-blotched.  Some species, including the northern plateau lizard, can be tough to identify when they are on the move. I have done my best on the web page with their identification from my photos.  If any herpetologists visiting the blog or website have any comments or pointers on identification, they would be appreciated. Visit our Desert Reptiles page and see what you think. The photo above shows a desert spiny lizard posing for the camera. They were everywhere along the way, and many were very curious about us and were not afraid to approach us or crawl around on our gear.

 



Other Escalante links:
Original 22 August 2009 blog post- Escalante trek
Original 27 August 2009 blog post- Escalante trek, continued
07 September 2009 blog post- gear reviews from the 2009 trek
See the 2009 Escalante Trek photos on Picasa.
27 May 2011 blog post- Escalante trek 2011
29 May 2011 blog post- gear reviews from the 2011 trek
08 July 2011 blog post- more from the 2011 Escalante trek
See the 2011 Escalante Trek photos on Picasa.


All Content © 2016- www.DesertExplorer.us