Middle Boulder Creek
Friday, October 4
It had definitely been an inclement - although dry - night in the Escalante. During the night, we could hear the wind howling and buffeting the doors of our motel rooms. We were glad we had wimped out and stayed inside. With morning, though, the worst had passed. The sky was clear again, and although there was a chilly bite to the air, the winds had died.
Today was the day that the rest of Arn's family was to arrive, joining us for the last phase of the trip. That wasn't until later in the afternoon, though, and after yesterday's pretty relaxed day at Kodachrome Basin, we were hankering for something a little more adventurous. Again we had to consider the limitations imposed by the government shutdown and by time (since we had to be back by mid-afternoon). Out came Steve Allen's trusty Escalante area guidebook Canyoneering 3, and I chose something with an easy-to-reach start point, right along UT-12: a loop hike down Middle Boulder Creek.
Bright and cool Oct 4
Apart from convenience and rapidity of access and not having to deal with wagging-finger rangers, I chose Boulder Creek because it was a sliver of the Escalante that none of us - me especially - had visited yet. After re-doing two previous Escalante outings on this trip (Phipps Arch and Egypt 3), it would be nice to cover some new terrain.
As I said earlier, the start point for our Middle Boulder Creek hike was right along UT-12, after the Calf Creek campground and before the famous "Hogback" ridge section of the road. The location was a reasonably quick twenty minute paved-road drive from downtown Escalante. We located a suitable side pullout where we could park our rental car.
Boulder Creek is one of many watercourses draining the north side of the greater Escalante drainage. It is the first such drainage east of highway UT-12 (UT-12 runs north/south after crossing the Escalante River, as it heads up to the town of Boulder). This proximity to the highway made it possible to do as a relatively short day-hike.
Along the highway
The general idea behind Steve Allen's Middle Boulder Canyon route was to head north-eastwards, from the high flat ridge along UT-12 where we were now standing, until we intersected Boulder Creek. We would then head south - downstream along Boulder Creek, enjoying whatever scenic attractions it had to offer, until it joined with another north-south watercourse called Deer Creek. At this point, we would climb out of the Creek's canyon westward, charting a cross-country course back to our start point. A big, slightly misshapen triangle of a route.
The guidebook pegged this outing at 4 to 6 hours. Based on past experience, we knew we were probably on the slow end of that estimate, but it would still allow us to get back to the town of Escalante to meet Arn's wife Gosia, who was scheduled to arrive sometime around 3pm-ish.
Energized and excited to be exploring something new on this fresh and clear morning, we lifted the latch on a wilderness access gate near the highway, and soon traversed around the slopes of a white slickrock dome. As we rounded the dome and started descending to the northeast, we were presented with a very pretty view of the upper valley of Boulder Creek. Only twenty-five minutes into our hike, and already the scenery was amazing!
Valley of Boulder Creek
We stopped for a moment to take in the view and get our bearings. We could see the way down into Boulder Creek from here, and it was easy. Make our way down the gentle slopes in front of us, eventually reaching the bottom of a short tributary drainage below us. Once in the bottom of the drainage, we would simply follow it into Boulder Creek.
Heading towards Boulder Crk
Our journey down to Boulder Creek went quickly and without incident. At the point where the tributary joined with Boulder Creek, there was a high dryfall of perhaps forty or so feet - too high to overcome. Our guidebook described an old constructed cattle trail off to the left of the fall, and sure enough, it was there. In a few minutes we were in the bottom of Boulder Creek.
Kyle above Boulder Creek
Boulder Creek at this point was a riot of bushes and trees. Thick riparian vegetation was everywhere, and it was a bit of a bushwhack to get to the watercourse itself. Unlike the watercourses we had visited so far on this trip, this one contained a lively, clear stream. It was reasonably deep, too: we immediately plunged into water that was more than knee deep.
Boulder creek is named for the large number of weathered black volcanic boulders that are found along its length. It was clear the naming was accurate, because it was sometimes a little bit uneven wading along the boulder-filled streambed.
Our initial bit of travelling down Boulder Creek involved a mix of in-stream wading and out-of-stream bushwhacking. As I mentioned earlier, the vegetation on the banks of this perennial stream is fairly thick, and the existence of a footpath very minimal. We had to bushwhack through many sections - although those sections were typically short. At times, we had to wade through the stream, which was actually pretty nice: the water was cool but not cold and the fact that it was clear made it both a cleaner experience and easier to see where you were putting your feet.
Boulder Creek had a nice vibe to it: plenty of trees and greenery against a backdrop of medium-height walls of white, jointed slickrock. The energetic flow and clear waters of the creek, complete with occasional little sections of bubbling rapids, added a little mountain-like vibe to the desert surroundings. The lack of a well-defined trail made it feel more remote, less visited. More pristine. A pristine, clean little canyon. That's what it felt like.
Following the watercourse
Down middle Boulder Creek
The routefinding down our secluded little canyon continued for some time. Gradually, the canyon walls of Boulder Creek became a little deeper, a little more monumental. And gradually, the terrain on either side was becoming a little more arid, a bit more desert-like than mountain-stream like. Always present were the black volcanic boulders, which we often used to hop across or down the stream.