Tuesday, April 10
I think we all dream of rain hitting our tents during the night; in fact, a few times, I think I actually do, but then I realize that I'm mistaking the rustling of the wind on the tent fly for the sound of raindrops. Everything is dry when I poke my head out into the pre-dawn sky, and there are plenty of stars. I get up and spend an hour or so, capturing some long-exposure night shots and some pre-dawn silhouette shots. It is wind is gusty this morning.
Today is our day to head out of the Maze, and we have a long (and in places very slow) drive out. Our group is up for a little short morning dayhike, though, to wrap up our Maze experience. We see on the map that there's an Anazasi granary not far along the Spanish Bottom trail, so we decide to check that out.
We pack up our camp, get into the Jeeps, and drive the short 1km to the Spanish Bottom trailhead (which is very close to the Overlook trailhead). In the bright sun and gusty wind, we head along the trail to the Granary.
The trail to the Granary is pretty cool. It goes through a couple of very narrow joints in the sandstone (not to be confused with slot canyons), crosses a neat kind of valley that is known as a 'graben', and to grand overlook of another, much bigger graben known as Surprise Valley. From there it is a few more steps and we're at the Granary, which is a neat, but very unassuming little archeaological site.
Approaching narrow defile
On the way back, we decide to take a short cut over to the Spanish Bottom trail proper, we get to a point on the Spanish Bottom trail where we can see down into Spanish Bottom.
Looking up Cataract Canyon
Sophie and I are seized by a desire to quickly run a ways down the trail in order to get a better view. Spanish Bottom is a rather strange flat area next to the Colorado River, in a region where the River typically cuts a deep canyon with steep-sided walls. In this one spot, though, there is this strange, three-walled flat down at river level. I recall some geologic explanation that links this to structural deformation as a result of underlying salt deposits. River runners often use this area as a stop on rafting trips.
We drop our packs and run down the steep, rough, switchbacking trail. We get to a point roughly 2/3rds of the way down, and call it quits. We have to be mindful of the time, and of the long drive we have to get out of here. And the run back up the trail won't be nearly so easy!
Sophie and I turn and huff back up to the rest of the group, who have already turned around and are heading back to the trailhead.
A brief video overview of our time spent in the Dollhouse area of the Maze:
In and around the Dollhouse - Click on video above to start
Scrambling through the Dollhouse
Now that we've got our "4wd legs", we hope to make somewhat better time on the way out. And once we're past the rough Teapot Canyon section, we'll be on relatively easy road. We are going to take an alternate, shorter way out to the nearest paved road: Highway 95 at Hite.
With the day still beautiful, we start out on our drive out, heading north towards the Land of Standing Rocks, which is again fantastically beautiful, especially in this early morning light.
Finishing the morning hike
jeeping out of the Maze]
"The mind is a powerful thing. Hitting the 4x4 road again for the drive out is a real night-and-day experience for me. It seems to take half as long, and I enjoy it thoroughly - much more than on the way in to the Maze. Something about knowing what is up ahead of me - not specifics, as there is just too much road to remember, but just knowing that I can handle it, having been through it once already. I'm faster, and more confident. I seem to be able to keep up with Andrew a little easier. I'm joking more, and laughing lots. It seems Soph is the same way too - perhaps more than just nerves about the 4x4 adventure were at play on the way in. We were after all, further off the beaten path than I think either of us had ever been!"
As we drive through the Land of Standing Rocks, we drive past the sea of beige bumpiness and have a last look at the area that we know marks the location of Pictograph Fork, where we had our 'eventful' backpacking adventure. We then make our way west back through the tough stuff - The Teapot Canyon Section of the road.
I do indeed find the drive back across Teapot Canyon easier; the combination of 'knowing' the road a little bit, plus having more experience with the Jeep Liberty and what clearances work and don't work with it on this road, all contribute to the faster pace (as does Luke, apparently -- see his sidebar comments to the right). Catherine has downed a Gravol, and that allows Luke to make better time, too. Amazingly, she's out like a light even with all of the severe jouncing.
By 2pm we've made it back to Waterhole Flat. From here, we take a wide and well-graded road towards Hite. This stretch of road is new to us (we came in on the Flint Trail), and is has fine scenery. After another hour or so of drving, we finally reach smooth, wide pavement of Highway 95, just north of where it crosses the Colorado. I've almost forgotten what pavement looks like!
We drive south for a couple of kilometres to the turnoff leading to Hite, where we know there is a gas station. Hite consists of some Park Service buildings, a small store and gas station, and some derelict looking marine stuff. Even though it is the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, the store is closed. The place seems deserted. Maybe it's because of the lowered level of Lake Powell, and the area is no longer suitable for launching and docking boats. Fortunately, the automated gas pumps are still working, and we fill up our tanks.
in seeing more of our Jeeping Adventures? Click
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Jeeping-related pictures, as well as interactive track maps
and gps-derived elevation profiles of the Maze-area jeep roads we travelled on.
After filling up, we head back north along Highway 95, which cuts spectacularly through the scenery in this area. Our aim is to traverse across a remote section of Southern Utah to the Escalante region, where we'll base ourselves for the next few days and where we'll do our next backpack.
The shortest east-west route across southern Utah is a convoluted one, involving multiple non east-west routes. We go up Highway 95, then down Highway 276, then up the Burr trail, then down Utah 12. Not a straight line, but it is still the shortest way.
Craggy Mt Ellsworth
All of the highways are amazingly scenic. Highway 276 drives through the southern Henry Mountains. These mountains are considered to be the last mountains to be mapped and explored in the entire lower 48 states. And it's still seems pretty remote and wild.
North on the Burr Trail
After few failed attempts, we finally find a roadside store that is actually open, and we make a short pit stop. The store and surrounding buildings show evidence of the marine nature of this area (owing to the existance of nearby Lake Powell). It's always strange to see the juxtaposition between marine equipment and desert.
Swap Mesa Cliffs
We next transition onto a very scenic and remote route: the Burr Trail. It connects Highway 276 with the town of Boulder, near the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. Along the way, the Burr trail passes through very wild and beautiful scenery, and crosses Capitol Reef National Park and that park's signature feature: the Waterpocket Fold. The Fold is a 100-mile long upwarp in the Earth's crust that has differentially eroded into a fantastic long spine of jagged, titled rock strata.
"this is the dramatic highlight of the drive. Once at the top, we can look back across the vast countryside we've travelled to get here."
Some of the Burr trail is paved, and some of it isn't. It starts off paved, then intermittently is paved and gravel, and then turns fully to gravel as it nears Capitol Reef National Park. Views to the Mesas and Henry Mountains to the east are spectacular, especially given the late day sunlight streaming in from the west. The nearby cliffs at the edge of Swap Mesa, in particular, are especially striking. Ewart seems to really like the Henry Mountains, and if we had a little more time, I'd suggest a hike to its 11,000-foot + heights.
Soon we pass the southern boundary of Capitol Reef National Park, and we encounter the jagged spine of the Waterpocket Fold. In fact, we do more than encounter it -- we drive right across it. The Burr trail turns sharply west and enters a narrow canyon in the fold, then rises over 800 feet in well-constructed and scenic switchbacks -- this is the dramatic highlight of the drive. Once at the top, we can look back across the vast countryside we've travelled to get here.
Soon we've crossed out of Capitol Reef (the park is very long but very small in width), and the Burr Trail becomes paved again. We can now go faster, and we make good time driving the rest of the way to the small, pretty ranching hamlet of Boulder, Utah, where we rejoin a major highway (Utah Highway 12).
Driving up the Burr Trail Switchbacks
It's been a long, long day of driving, but we're now close to our destination. From Boulder, we drive south on Highway 12, entering the beautiful slickrock domain of the Escalante. The vehicles are stopped and shots are taken at the famous 'Hogback' section of Utah 12. This is a neat spot, where the road winds along a narrow ridge with steep dropoffs into the depths on either side.
A bit of the Circle Cliffs
Photographing the Hogback
A video account of our drive from the heart of the Maze to the Escalante Region, including the drive out on the Teapot Canyon Jeep Road:
Maze to the Escalante - Click on video above to start
Catherine's been expressing interest in a motel, so when we reach the town of Escalante, we drop her off at the Prospector Inn, and the rest of us continue a short ways beyond to the Escalante State Park campground, which I've not been to before. It's nicer than I expect - a quiet, relatively inexpensive campground with excellent facilities (the showers especially are nice and the price is included with the campground fee), and relatively very close to the town of Escalante. Catherine has invited all of us to use the shower in her motel, though, and several of us take advantage of her gracious offer.