A passion for hiking in the southern Utah desert

By southern Utah, I mean the area south of I-70 and east of I-15. Being a desert rat, I admitted a bias. Also, I love rattlesnakes. However, the area is remarkable, by any yardstick, for geological wonders and archaeological experiences. When I thought of my favorite hikes, they all fell into that area that I love. That was not surprising, even though I have lived north, south, east, west in this beautiful country of ours. I will focus on three of my favorite hikes in the following categories; ancient Pueblo (or incorrectly Anasazi) ruins and art, an overland trail, a geological slot canyon. I have extended the walks to two days each, not because one day is not good, but because it is not enough.

Although these areas that I will cover are not as famous as Bryce or Zion, they are just as great.

Also, now that I think about it, my favorite mountain climb (it’s a hike, not a technical one) might be in the same area, and not Colorado! Mount Peale is only about 13,000 feet (elevation above sea level), if it is called a mountain. It is in the beautiful La Sal mountain range near the famous Moab, UT. I won’t give much guidance here, because if you can’t find your way down an obvious mountain trail, you don’t belong there.

Boulder Mail Trail It is my favorite overland trail. It is the royal mail (mule) route that was used between the cities of Boulder and Escalante in the early 1900s. You are now in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I like to hike half the trail (up to Death Hollow more or less) back and forth from the Boulder airstrip and then the other half out and back from Upper Escalante Canyon Trailhead. Or, of course, there is the option of carrying things on your back for camping. The entire trail is 16 miles one way. That could be done on a hasty day trip, for sure. But he wouldn’t have time for the side trip to the natural bridge at Mamie Creek. (The bridge is a one-mile side trip each way.) The trail is very well wet (it even follows an old phone line for much of the way) and is scenic throughout. As you go through the topography, imagine what the postmen went through. Sand Creek, Death Hollow, and Mamie Creek are potential sources of water along the way. Do proper research. Foolishness is a death wish here. 1 GALLON OF WATER IS REQUIRED PER PERSON PER DAY. Start early! This trail is a two day full charge. This is not a loop but a point to point trail.

Utahcanyons is a good web reference. If you prefer a book, Steve Allen does a good job with “Canyoneering 3”.
Access to the BMT is from Highway 12 at both ends. The western terminus is the Upper Escalante Canyon Trailhead near the town of Escalante. The eastern terminus is near the Boulder airstrip.

I rate this difficult hike for the duration, the exposure.

Buckskin Gulch, a tributary of the normally dry Paria River, is the best slot canyon hike in the world (pay area). A slot canyon is formed from relentless erosion caused by water, usually flooding. This one is 13 miles long, 2 feet wide in places, and up to 500 feet deep. Did about ten miles round trip once (20 miles total), entering Wire Pass Trail Head, which offers the fastest access to the straits. The ravine walls are so vertical and tall that the spectacular Antelope Canyon (near Page, Arizona) spectacle is not available here. But as the light filters through Buckskin Gulch, there is a comforting cathedral feel to the straits. Buckskin also has ancient rock art, at the junction of Wire Pass Trail and Buckskin Trail, where you turn right into the narrows. This is an extremely dangerous place if there is a flash flood. My group got caught in a flash flood once, thank goodness in Paria River Canyon and not Buckskin Canyon. It was still terrifying. Some Australian hikers who got caught in Buckskin had water up to their noses. As you go through the straits, look for the logs stuck over your head. Duh, that’s the water level, way up. You will get wet on this hike more often (potholes), but check the weather conditions with the Paria ranger station. You want to get wet only from the neck down. A daily use fee is required on the trail. Just pay, you are in the middle of nowhere if your vehicle is towed.

Americansouthwest has more good information. You should get the “Paria Canyon Hikers Guide” from BLM. My recommendation is to go as comfortable as possible and return to the vehicle, for a long day of travel. Or make it an “easy” two-day trip to the confluence of the Paria River (13 1/2 miles each way) and back, with gear. For multi-day backpackers, there are at least 60 miles of hiking available on the Paria and Buckskin River. Although Buckskin is the best, I prefer the idea of ​​Day 1 there and Day 2 in Coyote Buttes (pay area). This gives you nice and cool in the narrow ones to nice and hot and exposed near the “hills”. It will take a lot of water to drink in Coyote Buttes, which is divided into units north and south. The better known northern section is accessible from the Wire Pass trailhead. “The Wave” is the attraction (there are also recently discovered dinosaur tracks!) And can be seen in the southwestern United States.

Access is from House Rock Valley Rd. For Buckskin and Coyote. The closest paved highway is Route 89, about 40 miles east of Kanab. HRV Rd. Runs through Rt. 89A and Vermilion Cliffs, near Marble Canyon in Arizona. Nice hike there too, and petroglyphs on the rim (Eastern Crack, good luck finding it).

I rate Buckskin Gulch difficult for its length, possible deep water wading, rockfall. Coyote Buttes is considered easy, barring dehydration issues. If Buckskin isn’t skinny enough, try Spooky Gulch, accessed east of the town of Escalante.

My favorite archaeological walks are in Grand Gulch primitive area (pay area). My only complaint is that it is becoming popular. The Great Basin Desert in southeastern Utah (specifically the Colorado and San Juan river drains) has a staggering amount of ancient cultural remains of the peoples. I spent 15 years looking around me. I know where the unique petroglyphs are on the edge of the San Juan River. I know Moon House, The Citadel, The Procession Panel. Unfortunately, some places cannot be converted into tourist areas. Some places can’t handle stress. At least Grand Gulch has a minimum of supervisors, and visitors so far have tried to behave. The closest towns are Blanding (the largest with about 2000 inhabitants), Bluff and Mexican Hat. Don’t miss out on this open-air museum.

The “main lane” to Grand Gulch is the Kane Gulch Trail, which is just across paved Route 261 from the Visitor Center. The first famous sight is “Junction Ruin”, at the junction of Kane and Grand Gulches. It is four miles from the trailhead. That’s a long time to wait, but the hike is a nice and easy nature hike. In addition to a pretty ruin, there is an abundance of ancient hand-painted engravings. Another half mile or so to the left leads to “Turkey Pen Ruin”, with more pictographs and petroglyphs. Stimper Arch, a good one, is five miles from the trailhead. So a course change there makes for a ten mile day hike on fairly flat terrain. It’s a nice and easy start.

Day 2 at Bullet Canyon is a different story and a more difficult hike. There’s a lot more vertical elevation change involved here, and some jerky movements with rock jumping. I saw a Midget Faded rattlesnake once on this trail. It is a very small snake (this one was about a foot long) but powerful. Let them have the right of way. There are ruins of the “watchtower” at the beginning of the canyon, as you enter. Bullet also has several barns to view before the trail reaches “Perfect Kiva Ruin” at 4 1/2 miles. “Jailhouse Ruin” has a definite spooky aura (1/2 mile after “Perfect Kiva”), with a ghostly pictograph hovering above it. So again it is about a ten mile hike.

Have a day 3 to spare? If so, Todie Canyon will yield “Split Level Ruin” five miles from the Todie trailhead. There is a small ruin and pictographs 2 1/2 miles in, just 1/5 of a mile after the beginning of the canyon. (The canyon starts 2.3 miles from the trailhead.) There are also some barns on the way to “Split Level Ruin”.

For multi-day backpackers, there are around 75 miles of hiking available in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area.
There is a problem if you are a hiker. You have to see Sheiks Canyon, which is a very long day. It is full of great art and housing, especially the “Green Mask Spring” area. Sheiks is 14 miles from the Kane Gulch trailhead, 13.6 miles from the Bullet Canyon trailhead, and 15 miles from the Todie Canyon trailhead. There is supposed to be a loop from Sheiks Canyon Trailhead to Bullet Canyon Trailhead. This will be a 17 mile loop, but I never found the Sheiks trailhead. There is a fantastic petroglyph at “Wall Ruin” in the main Grand Gulch near the junction with Sheiks Canyon. It appears to be two smaller figures balancing on a larger figure, like circus performers.

Bullet Canyon Trailhead: Just south of mile marker 22 (Rt. 261), turn west 1 mile.
Todie Canyon Trailhead: Just north of mile marker 25 (Rt. 261), turn west 1 mile on CR 2361.
I like to use Trails # 706 illustrated map for Grand Gulch (waterproof / shatterproof).

I rate these hikes from moderate (Kane) to difficult (Bullet) for their duration and exposure.

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