Finally, gratefully, we make it back to paved Utah Highway 12. Turning left, it is only a few short miles down to the town of Escalante itself, where we stop for a gas-up and a bathroom break.
At this point, I'm thinking that the best next course of action is to go and secure a campsite somewhere (we were thinking the local state park campground, which has nice hot showers). But the lure of a hearty lunch overpowered us, and instead we opted to pull in to Nemo's Restaurant
, a 50s/60s-style roadside burger joint. Named after the famous Everett Ruess and his well-known 'Nemo' moniker, Nemo's' burgers were indeed delicious. Doubly-so after a 3-day backpack.
After finishing our burger lunch, we drive just out of town to the west, in the hopes of snagging a nice campspot at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. We arrive at the entrance gate to discover that the last site has just been taking, not five minutes before we arrived. All that's left are group campsite spots along the edge of the main parking lot. We huddle for a bit to discuss. Ultimately we decided that we don't really want the marginally-appealing group sites. Darn!
So, what to do... what to do.... we had wanted the state park campground partially because it offered hot showers, but we weren't married to that. We decided to try a National Forest campground high on the shoulder of Boulder Mountain. In addition to being the next closest campground to our current location, it was very near to the start point of an upcoming two-day backpack we wanted to do, so we'd get a sense of the starting conditions, and maybe we'd even decide to start the backpack the next morning.
We drove north out of Escalante on Pine Creek Road. Pine Creek Road is the western start of an unpaved backcountry route called the Hell's Backbone. It was completed in the early 1930s and was the only way to drive between Escalante and nearby Boulder until the construction of the present-day paved UT-12 route in the late 50s / early 60s. Hells Backbone climbs high up on the southern flanks of 10,000+ foot high Boulder mountain, winding and turning and going across some precipitous terrain.
As it turned out, the cool spring and continued cool and wet weather meant that as we approached the campground (Blue Spruce NF Campground), we began to encounter patches of snow on the road. These got bigger, deeper and longer as we curved around into a more sheltered hollow, getting to the point where I didn't think the 2wd Tahoe could negotiate them. I got out and decided to scout out the road ahead, to see if these patches were just in this one spot or more widespread. I actually ended up walking a couple of kilometres down the road. It was clear at that point that it wouldn't be possible to bring the vehicles further (and I had not yet reached the campground, which based on the conditions, was surely closed).
So, I walked back to the waiting vehicles, and gave them the bad news. Another nearby road leading to a different National Forest campground was also similarly snowed in. No camping up here tonight.
Next we decided we'd try good old-fashioned boondocking. We drove back down towards Escalante, looking for good spots en-route but not finding anything particularly appealing. Next we decided to check out the more popular boondocking roads to the east of the town. We got to them by about 6pm, and each spot we came across already had an RV or tents already set up in them. This continued for some time, but every decent and semi-decent site was occupied. I guess our fears about the long weekend were true: everybody and their dog was out recreat-ing this Easter weekend. And we were left holding the bag, so to speak.
With the weariness factor rapidly rising, we drew together again for a final huddle. Were we willing to go back to the state park and take the (admittedly) not so hot group campsite? Another poll and .... no. The fallback? The good ol' Prospector Inn. Always the final fallback, it seems.