A Backcountry Rest Day
Harris Wash Backpack, Day 2
Thursday, May 5
After yesterday's somewhat tiring two back-to-back backpacks (quite a mouthful, that), we restfully awoke to [another] sunny day; a day that was fairly light on agenda. The reason for this? Well, as mentioned on the previous page, we were on a three-day abbreviated version of our original five-day backpack plans. That original backpack's route was a loop - but it was a loop that had a distinct 'pinch' in the middle (it was almost a figure-eight in shape, schematically speaking). Our abbreviated version of the route took advantage of that, snipping off the farther of the two loops that formed the figure-eight. We found ourselves this morning already quite close to that pinch point -- which was close to the halfway point of the entire loop -- yet we had only walked for a single day out of three. That meant that day two of this backpack would only require a short distance to be covered before it was time to set up a campsite again.
First Campsite, Harris Wash
Now rested and in better spirits, our somewhat dreary little campsite didn't seem so bad. The sun was behind the rim of the canyon, shining its early-morning light on the cottonwood leaves above us, and birds were chirping in the reeds near the watercourse.
Harris Wash Herdpath
Since there was no rush today, we only got started walking at 8:30am (late by camping standards). We picked our way in the bright morning light, looking for the best herd path through Lower Harris Wash's thick vegetation.
The hike down the remaining portion of lower Harris Wash was easy and pleasant, and for the most part very shady. As we approached the Escalante River, we stepped up our vigilance for good campsites.
Big Alcove in Harris Wash
Open spot amidst the bush
At around 10am, less than 90 minutes after we started hiking, I looked up and saw an odd-looking kink in the water ahead, where there was a distinctive change in depth, color and flow. Of course, this was not a kink but an intersection - that of Harris Wash, spilling its flow of water into the Escalante River. Standing in the shallows of the last bit of Harris Wash, we could see the Escalante River was indeed a lot deeper and wider, but it didn't seem particularly menacing or fast. Because we had been worried about later afternoon mountain snowmelt raising the river levels in the afternoon, I decided to carve a set of parellel lines into the sandy bank of the river, then come back later in the day to check. A dip into the river to sound out the depths was also in order.
First, though, it was time to set up camp. We had espied an especially nice campspot just a few hundred feet back, on a nice sandy open patch next to a huge tilted block of some sort of above-Najavo-sandstone caprock from times long gone by.
Camp two of our Harris Wash Loop backpack was set up by 11am. That left a good nine-plus hours before the sun went down - a lot of time to do a lot of whatever!
We thought that it would be fun to explore the surrounding area. We decided to start off with a day-hike up Silver Falls Creek - a large side-canyon that came down from the Circle Cliffs, on the opposite side of the Escalante from where we were. Silver Falls creek was reputed to be very scenic, and there were several attractions along its length. Additionally, getting to Silver Falls Creek would require a ford of the Escalante, and we were interested to see what crossing the river was like (since the third day of our backpack would involve many crossings with full packs).
First Escalante Crossing
Armed with only sunscreen, a litre of water each, and wide-brimmed hats, we set off towards Silver Falls Creek. Not having anything on our backs emphasized the feeling of a light, easy, afternoon-in-the-park stroll sort of atmosphere.
Half-a-kilomtre upstream, we stood opposite the mouth of Silver Falls Creek, with the Escalante River separating us. One by one we carefully lowered ourselves into the water. Temperature? cool, but not cold. And the current? noticeable, but not swift. It never really got any deeper than hip-deep, and we discovered that if you chose your route carefully, you could keep it to mid-thigh. If the river conditions stayed like this, we'd be able to manage our fords without issue the next day.
Soon we were all on the opposite side of the river, with wet shorts and pants but otherwise unscathed. The warm, dry desert air would very soon remedy that, as well.
Lower Silver Falls Creek
We started our walk up Silver Falls Creek. Down at its mouth, Silver Falls Creek's walls are sloped and stepped, due to the ledge-forming Kayenta Sandstone that is the major geological layer here.
The walls rise
Silver Falls Creek is very unlike Harris Wash. Where the lower part of Harris Wash is filled with thick foliage and has a gentle perennial stream flowing in it, lower Silver Falls Creek is much drier, and has far less vegetation. Apart from the occasional solitary cottonwood, Silver Falls Creek's vegetation is much more typically desert: cactus, a few Utah serviceberry trees, dry desert bushes, and the like. There was a bit of intermittent water flowing in the canyon, but it left deposits of chalky white evaporites where it dried.
The walk up the canyon was quite easy. Often the dry bed of the watercourse was very flat and almost pavement-like in hardness, rather than power-sapping soft sand.
Site of Hobbs Inscription
As we headed north-east upcanyon, the ledgy Kayenta layer dipped beneath the ground. Above it, a newer layer of wind-deposited sandstone - the Wingate Sandstone, became prominent. And with the rise of this new layer came a big rise in the canyon walls. Soon they were soaring high above us, complete with the signature long streaks of desert varnish.
After about an hour's worth of walking, we arrived at the GB Hobbs Inscription historical site. Here, in a tighter s-curved section of canyon in a huge, beautiful shady alcove, was the inscription. It is large - perhaps twenty feet across and five feet high, chopped into the Wingate wall in separate, distinct strokes. It is visible for some distance away, and since the canyon is narrow here, you can't miss it if you are scanning the walls.
The inscription is the result of the misfortune of one George Brigham Hobbs, an early Mormon pioneer and explorer in southern Utah. As part of a settling mission he was a part of, he got caught and delayed by winter storms in the Escalante area. At the narrows in Silver Falls Creek, he felt that he and his group may very well not make it out alive, and he set about to carve a record of his presence on the wall of the canyon. As it turns out, they did make it out alive. Hobb's descendents returned in the 1950s to erect a memorial plaque next to the inscription, and today the spot is a known historical attraction in the Escalante region.
After resting, snacking, and examining the inscriptions at the GB Hobbs site (there are also several old rancher and cowboy inscriptions), we turned and headed back towards camp.
Prototypical Silver Falls Scene
Roy Crosses the Escalante
Once back at camp, we next sauntered down to the Escalante again. Ewart was keen to do a little water-frolicking in the warm afternoon sun. Most popular amongst the frolicking activites was 'be-a-floating-log', where one would put in a little ways upstream and attempt to limply float downstream until one ran aground.
After being refreshed by the cool river waters, we returned to camp for some afternoon lazing-about.
As the the shadows began to grow longer, we thought it might be nice to go on one final exploratory outing before dinner -- this time, up on the open ridge that rose up behind our campsite.
Flowering Claret Cup Cactus
Second Harris Wash Campsite
Second Harris Wash Campsite
A faint path led up from our campsite up onto the ridge. The ridge itself is the bit of land separating Lower Harris Wash from the Escalante River, and as we climbed up it, we were provided with great views - up Harris Wash, down and up the Escalante, and directly up Silver Falls Creek. We made our way to a boulder-strewn ridgecrest beneath a remnant tower of Navajo Sandstone, and in a pleasant late-afternoon breeze, surveyed the landscape.
Climbing above-camp ridecrest
Looking up Silver Falls Creek
It was a lovely early-evening scene, and we sat in contemplation for a while before heading back down to camp. After all, although the backpacking portion of our day had been short, we had filled up the remainder with a lot of activities. We were hungry!
Interactive Trackmap, Harris Wash Backpack, Day 2 - click map to expand
Hike Data - Harris Wash Backpack, Day 2
* : +/- 75 feet
* : +/- 75 feet
* : +/- 75 feet