Our last day in Zion, I added up our hiking mileage for the day and realized that the kids had hiked 6.6 miles. This realization of the kids’ capabilities and a new mantra to savor life (losing someone will do that to you) got our wheels turning. It was time for us to finally backpack Coyote Gulch. We’d read a blog post a few years ago about a family that took their 4 and 7-year-old and had felt inspired, but at the time our kids weren’t quite ready. Now that they could hike 6.6 miles in a day and not act like they were dying, they were ready. We planned the trip for over our Spring Break and set about being as practical as we could when you’re undertaking something so crazy. As our trip approached, the forecast was giving us a little bit of a scare and we decided to move our trip up by a day to hopefully avoid death by flash flood or paying to tow our car out of a mud pit. We were still a little nervous, but we just kept praying that if this was monumentally stupid idea we’d realize it. The trip started out with a drive through a blizzard (gotta love spring break). What should have been a 45 minute part of our drive ended up being a teeth clenching 90 minutes. We spent the night in Grand Junction and since we weren’t getting any horrible premonitions, woke up early the next morning and drove five hours to the Escalante Interagency Visitor’s Center to get our permit and poop bags (yes, poop bags). After that, we drove 36 miles on Hole in the Rock Road (a dirt road, this will be important later) to our starting spot: Chimney Rock.
Now, I should mention that the blog post that initially inspired us, also introduced to a “shortcut” that would shave off a few miles. The shortcut involved starting from Chimney Rock, navigating to Hurricane Wash, “dropping” into it, and arriving at the confluence. This would involve orienteering (reading topo maps and using a compass), but Noel is a former Scout Master so that wasn’t a worry. It all sounded easy enough. Well, lets just say it wasn’t as direct as we’d hoped. We spent a lot of time zig-zagging around hoodoos to get to our waypoints and when we arrived at the ravine that was supposed to “drop” us into the wash we had to reroute several times to avoid giant pot holes or perilously steep descents. Miraculously, everyone made it down without incident and after a few more miles, we arrived at a lovely alcove that we made our home for the next two days. According to my GPS watch, we did just over 5 miles. It probably would have been easier to hike a few extra miles, but it was an adventure.
The next day we left our heavy packs at camp to explore the gulch. We saw waterfalls, a natural bridge, and two natural arches. There was something new and beautiful around each corner. We ran into a couple of other groups, but for the most part were on our own. It was completely gorgeous and the kids had a lot of fun climbing and playing in the water. We spent one last night at our beautiful campsite – a sandy oasis where you could walk around barefoot. (Soapbox side note: Grand Staircase Escalante’s monument status is currently on the chopping block. Utah’s state legislature and congressional delegation are working hard to convince the Trump administration to have its area reduced by 70-80% to open up space for coal mining. If you live in Utah and don’t think places like this should be a strip mine, please contact your representatives to tell them not to be so short sighted. #standwithgrandstaircase)
It got really windy that night and both Noel and I kept having nightmares that the wind was actually pouring rain and that we were going to be trapped in the canyon for a few days. When we woke up, we were relived to find it actually hadn’t rained, but the clouds were looking ominous. We ate and packed quickly and then headed on our way. It began to rain lightly as we hiked and we urged the kids along, practically dragging them at some points. There was some crying that happened, but we figured a little crying was better than being stranded somewhere (or worse . . .) We’d thought climbing out of the ravine would be easier than getting into it, but it was just as convoluted and we had to be extra careful since everything was wet. They call it slick rock for a reason. Everyone was so relieved when we made it to the car.
The 36 mile drive out was both a little scary (for me) and a little fun (for Noel) as portions of the dirt road had turned into a mud bog. We were really glad we had the Subaru. (We were also really glad that the non-four-wheel-drive car that was full of single people trying to “float” across the muddy sections by driving across them at top speed did not rear-end us.) That night we camped in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park where we took showers and ate food that wasn’t freeze dried.
That night it snowed. All night. BUT, we were warm, snug, and dry in our tent. We all slept like the dead. In the morning we had a warm breakfast at the comfort of our covered picnic table and at around 9am it stopped snowing making it possible to pack everything up without getting drenched. We were staying in Grand Junction that night, but made stops at the Sunglow Motel in Bicknell (for unusual pies) and Capitol Reef (for a final red rock fix).
During the trip, we kept laughing about how if you just listed the facts of our trip it would probably sound like a really miserable time, but the truth was we were having a blast. Even though we were nervous about the weather, there was a part of us that didn’t want to leave Coyote Gulch. We just wanted to stay there forever exploring its beauty and being out of range of cell service. There’s a Scandinavian saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” I think it’s a great saying, perfect with just two additions: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, bad gear, and bad attitudes.
For more pictures and Noel’s thoughts, check out his gallery here.