Egg Canyon Loop
Grand Staircase Escalante NM / Circle Cliffs - April 5
For the second-last hiking day of our trip, we elected something even further off the beaten path: an entirely trailless route in the Circle Cliffs region of Grand Staircase-Escalante, fairly close to Capitol Reef. A semi-loop outing that promised interesting geology and a lot of seclusion.
I had read about this route for quite a few years now - It's been coined the "Egg Canyon Loop" by the author of the guidebook in which it's described (Canyoneering 3 - Loop Hikes in Utah's Escalante, by Steve Allen). Whenever I'd planned trips in the area, I would skim over this route, and for one reason or another, it never really properly fit into our plans. On this trip it fit quite well, being only a few miles north of where we were now camped. I carefully read and re-read the description over breakfast, and as we prepared for our day.
Dispersed Camping Morning
After a bit more drone experimenting, we followed the approach route described in the guidebook, following Lampstand road north and west towards the edge of the Circle Cliffs. The guidebook describes starting at a "parking lot" beyond some ruined mining huts, but I could find nothing other than a small side spot to park in at a point where the road became super-high-clearance-only capable.
I figured that maybe the parking lot was... higher up... but the road had become less passable over time. We geared up and began hiking up the road, which had badly eroded (and as I had said) was only passable to the most capable of 4WD vehicles.
Heading up a steepish slope, we soon came to a branch in the old road bed. Here even the tracks of an adventurous 4x4er stopped. We also stopped, having a hard time matching this intersection with the description of the various old mining roads and tracks that we were supposed to follow. Eventually we discerned that we needed to climb higher, up to the top of the low mesa above us, and we chose the mining track that best seemed to achieve that. It traversed up to the north and wound around to a sort of ... parking lot -ish area? Really just an area of ground devoid of trees, and hard to tell. Certainly no road-going 4-wheeled vehicle would be able to make it up the track, for it was badly eroded.
On the top of the low mesa, some more humming and hawwing over the description in the book ensued. The guide's description talked about a low pink pass between fairly high cliffs of Wingate, and there was none of that immediately visible from this point. However, it was clear that the major cliffs around here were just to the north of us, so it seemed best to head in that direction. We continued along a faint mining path northward, eventually arriving at a low saddle between two low ridges of white clay-ey Chinle formation. From here we could see something more promising on the western skyline: two saddles at the heads of two different canyons cut into the Wingate, and the saddle on the right did indeed look pink.
From here our old mining road split again, but it was fairly clear that we needed to head west, and we followed the faint track in that direction, making sure that we kept making general progress to the "pink pass" we saw in front of us.
The old mining track, faint but followable, led down into a shallow basin and across a shallow wash. At this point we were fairly close to the two saddles in the Wingate. The right-hand saddle was definitely distinctly pink and was clearly composed of Chinle Formation - both characteristics that matched the guidebook description. And, if we were on the right track, it meant that just over that pass was an excellent area of petrified wood.
To our left we could see the head and saddle of another canyon, which we were also now fairly confident about: that would be the canyon (and pass) that we would hike back through and over to complete the loop portion of this hike.
We now headed directly uphill towards the Pink Pass, climbing up fairly steep slopes of Chinle Formation that would probably be a gooey mess and unclimbable if it was raining. Near the top, quite close to the low point, we stopped for a break and for a quick bit of picture and video taking. The Pink Pass is composed of a particularly colorful and attractive layer of the Chinle Formation - and, as it turns out, one full of excellent petrified wood.
Brian and Andrew at Pink Pass
Scrambling over the top of the pass (which is a fairly abrupt twenty-foot high ridge of muddy pink clay), we were immediately presented with a amazing view of a small basin - the head of Egg Canyon - that contained all manner of beautiful and un-eroded petrified wood. Slices, chunks, segments of trunks were littered everywhere. There was a lot of excellent detail in many of the specimens.
The surroundings were very scenic: the pink Chinle slopes of the basin and the orange cliffs of overlying Wingate were very colorful, very pretty.
Internal Structure Visible
We spent some time wandering around the petrified forest, admiring the number and quality of specimens. There were some very impressive in-situ logs that spanned across the small wash that had formed in this upper part of the canyon. I hadn't seen such long and unbroken sections of petrified trees before. These were thirty, maybe forty feet in length - and perhaps longer, since the ends went into the ground. Very impressive.
We were obviously and definitely on the correct route as described in the guidebook. At the moment we were in the upper reaches of Egg Canyon (the Pink Pass marked the head of the canyon), and all we had to do next was follow the wash downcanyon. The Chinle formation's erosion had resulted in a very comfortable, very easy walk downcanyon in the wash bottom, which when dry (like today) had a nice, flat, firm surface upon which to walk.
About 90 minutes of easy walking brought us down the length of Egg Canyon (which has nice Wingate walls down its entire length) to The Gulch. The Gulch is a more major southward-trending canyon into which many of the other canyons in this particular area empty. It has a perennial stream and reeds and cottonwood trees and such in it.
It is also an area where cattle ranching is allowed, and there were signs of the bovines everywhere - churned up ground, cowpies, herd paths, etc. That made it a somewhat less than attractive area than the pristine side-canyon we had just descended.
After having lunch under a gnarled cottonwood, we followed a major cow-trail southward for perhaps ten or twenty minutes, until we reached the next side canyon coming in from the left. This was our return canyon - it ran parallel to Egg Canyon and would take us back east to join our walk-in route.
It was nice to leave the somewhat messy cow-pie filled canyon of The Gulch, as we started the hiked up the wash in the bottom of our return canyon. It was perhaps not quite as scenic as Egg Canyon had been, but still quite nice -- and quiet and secluded. This canyon literally had no official name (at least not on the map), and I still find it quite amazing when we hike something of this sort in southern Utah: a beautiful canyon that in any other part of the world would have been named hundreds of years ago and visited to death by thousands or tens of thousands of people per year.... yet here, is just a forgotten and rarely-visited corner in the vastness of the Colorado Plateau. I love it for that!