The Fantabulous Scorpion Horse Trail
Thursday, March 13
Morning Twilight at camp
5:30 a.m. The sky was still inky black and studded with stars. Phuong had by now become well-ingrained with the idea of getting up and ready to go by whatever early appointed hour we had decided upon the night before, and had gotten up early in order to get ready for our 8am target start time. As we had our noodle soups and porridges, the glow of morning slowly grew in the east. And slowly, the amazing view provided by our campspot was slowly revealed. High tendrils of clouds criss-crossed the sky, and as sunset approached, these made for excellent twilight-color reflectors. I took out my monopod and took several "high-dynamic range" shots to try and capture the beautiful colors together with the desert landscape.
Sunrise at Kayenta Bench
We were indeed packed and ready to go just minutes before 8am. We were becoming a well-oiled hiking machine!
We knew today's hike was going to be the longest of the three, although I didn't quite know by how much. I had estimated 13-ish kilometres in the trip prospectus, but based on the twisty terrain before us, it would likely be longer. Still, it was nice and early, we had good weather, and there were no time-sapping obstacles in our path.
Jenn on a point
We started off along following the sloping Kayenta ledge, heading up-canyon. Above us were towering walls of Navajo sandstone. Below us were towering walls of Wingate Sandstone. The horse trail itself (didn't seem like any horses had used this path anytime recently!) was faint but distinct, heading sideways pretty much on a level elevation. In a few places it was somewhat close to big dropoffs, but not that often and not that close. Since it was following along a distinct strata, we followed every twist and turn in the terrain, heading in and out of little draws, and out and around points. It was very "tonto-like" (a reference to a long distance trail in the Grand Canyon), and, as a result, extremely scenic. With the trail always changing direction and heading around draws and points of land, there were many ever-changing views down into the gorge of the Escalante. It was truly a spectacular walk.
Hiking along the Horse Trail
We walked very briskly. So briskly, in fact, that I don't think I got to take all of the pictures I wanted to take! In the space of an hour, we had covered almost the entire distance of the Scorpion Horse Trail, and we arrived at the very faint and essentially unmarked exit ramp that led up and onto the flat benchlands above. Looking back from the edge of the bench, I was sorry that this excellent section of the backpack was over.
We were back up in the world of big views and distant vistas. We could see the long snowy edge of the Kapairowits plateau off in the distance, and, below that, the rounded shape of Scorpion Mesa. That was our landmark, and we knew that we would "close our loop" just below that point. It was simply a matter of heading cross-country from here to there.
The walk across the flats to the base of Scorpion Mesa was pleasant but uneventful. The terrain here was a mix of low slickrock knobs and domes, a few sandy patches here and there, and widely-spaced pinjon pines and utah serviceberry trees. The early morning light made everything crisp and bright.
Bob in the colorful desert
Cross-country back to Scorpion Mesa
By lunchtime we arrived back at the little wash at the head of Scorpion Gulch. We were making excellent time, and were on track for a mid-afternoon arrival time back at the trailhead. It was definitely going to be a longer walk than 13 kilometres (8 miles) though, and I could tell people were getting a little weary of the hiking. There were many mini-naps being taken on the rest stops!
We started up the long, mostly slickrock climb to the low mesa where the small arch we encountered on the way in was located. A strong wind had picked up from northwest, along with some intermittent high cloud. It wasn't strong enough to start whipping up sand, but it was a headwind for us and made the going a little harder. We were glad when we crested the top of the slickrock climbing, since this meant that most of the remaining way was not uphill. Plus, it meant that we weren't very far away fro m the trailhead. We took a nice, long break at the low arch. Only about an hour's worth of hiking to go! Off in the distance, against the high plateaus, it looked like the clouds were donating snow to the land below. Hopefully that wasn't coming this way.
Hiking away from the Gulch
Since I now knew the lay of the land and had a good GPS tracklog, I decided to cut a little bit of distance off our last bit of hiking by not following the faint mining road, and instead cutting straight across. I'm guessing this saved us several hundred yards (half a km), and, as a bonus, ended up being over terrain that was much less sandy than the old track.
Finally, at about 4pm (excellent time, by the way), we toiled up against the gusty winds and the final sandy stretch onto the Early Weed Bench, and the trailhead where our two Suburbans were located. There was still no one else at the trailhead - we had gone the entire three days without seeing a single other soul. Beautiful.
Grateful to be finished with our long cross-country walk (and Phuong was feeling pain from her twisted ankle), we dusted ourselves off and packed away our stuff into the vehicles. We still had the slow bit of the Early Weed Bench road to traverse and then the drive back to the town of Escalante, but we knew it would take less time, what with our bridge-building activities likely still in place.
Interactive Trackmap & Photo Points - Scorpion Gulch Backpack, Day 3 - Click map to expand
Elevation over Distance, Day 3
Elevation over Time, Day 3
Hike Data - Scorpion Gulch Backpack, Day 3
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet
Arriving back at trailhead
It was indeed much faster going back, and we were at the Hole-in-the-rock-road inside of an hour. From here, it was a simple, dusty drive back to the town of Escalante, where we had all agreed that a good meal and a nice clean shower and mattress were in order!
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Georgie's Funky Restaurant
After filling up, we prowled down the main drag of the little town of Escalante, looking for a place to eat. Now, as some of you will no doubt know, Escalante is a mighty small rural little town, and there aren't a lot of fine eateries. In fact, most of our culinary experience was confined to the cafe/restaurant right next to the Prospector Inn, and the subject of it's somewhat questionable dinner entrees had often been discussed.
There were other places -- interesting, quirky looking establishments -- that we'd always seen closed. Closed, that is, until tonight, when we noticed that the sign outside of "Georgie's restaurant" said open. All thoughts of white country gravy at the Prospector Inn's cafe went out the window.
We decided to ixnay on the getting our rooms and a shower in favour of going right away to Georgie's restaurant. After all, who knew when it would close, and we'd lose our opportunity. We entered the delightful over-the-top-decorated house-turned-restaurant, and sat down. The menu was southwestern, and I ordered a quesadilla dinner. The menu warned of a long wait for properly cooked food, and I availed myself of the stack of old outdoor magazines by our table. In back, we could hear Georgie on the phone calling in reinforcements: "we had quite a crowd come in - you better get down here and help out".
In fact, I even had enough time read, then walk along the main drag back to the inn and book all of our rooms, walk back, and do a bit more reading. The wait, though, was worth it. Fantastic food (and very hospitable service, too). And the dessert was out-of-this-world superb. Yes, most definitely worth it. Remember: Georgie's in Escalante. Check it out! (update: as of 2011, Georgie has retired and closed up shop. Too bad!).
Well-satiated, we headed to our rooms and the comfort of a warm shower and a cozy bed.