Coyote Gulch, Day 1
Wednesday, April 17
So, we'd just finished our Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyon loop hike. Easy and very fun. Now, the centerpiece of our trip was before us: ten or so miles further down the Escalante drainage, Coyote Gulch grows into a fantastically beautiful and verdant slickrock-walled gorge. A backpacking trip through it is one of the best outdoor experiences on the Colorado Plateau.
Forty Mile Ridge Road
There are several different ways to hike Coyote Gulch. You can hike it as a there-and-back; you can hike it as a traverse; or you can hike it as a loop. And on top of that, there are several different entry points: Red Well, Hurricane Wash, and a couple along Forty Mile Ridge. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, both in terms of difficulty, logistics, and enjoyability.
I had originally considered a true traverse, starting at Red Well, a point further to the west of the "good" section of Coyote, and ending up at the end of Forty Mile Ridge Road, the closest access point to the mouth of Coyote Gulch. But this would have been difficult logistically, as it would have meant a very long back-and-forth ferry on rough roads at the start and at the end of our backpack. Given that we were already nearly at noon, this would have pushed our departure time too far into the afternoon. I didn't want to do a there-and-back, as they are the least enjoyable of route configurations and generally means visiting less scenery. We were left with a loop -- or something close to a loop -- and I chose the same route that I'd used on my previous outings to Coyote: a start at a point along the Forty Mile Ridge Road (a place called the Water Tank), and ending at the end of the road. This would allow us to do a near-loop (technically it's still therefore a traverse), but with only a short 10-minute drive between the ends. Think of it as 9/10ths of a loop.
So, with that decided, we drove in tandem down the Hole-in-the-rock road for another dusty few miles, then turned onto the much narrower and sandier Forty Mile Ridge road (which was actually a bit of a relief, for the Hole-in-the-rock road had grown increasingly washboarded the further we drove down it). Given that I only had 2wd in the Tahoe, I was mildly worried about making it all the way to the end of Forty Mile Ridge Road, since it is technically designated at 4wd-only. However, I'd been down this road before, and in my mind I figured that I would still be able to make it.
Prepping for Coyote Gulch
The drive as far as "The Tank" -- a large cattle water reservoir on the crest of a low hill, went fine. This would be the start point of our backpack, and we got everyone out of the vehicles and all of our packs set up here. Chris and I then drove (with both vehicles) to the trailhead and parking lot at the end of Forty Mile Ridge Road, about 10-15 minutes further along from The Tank. Despite the warnings of deep sand and a few minor obstacles, I was able to get the Tahoe to the end without getting stuck. We left Chris' Jeep there, and drove back in the Tahoe to The Tank. We were now ready to head out on our 3-day journey.
By about 1:30pm in the afternoon, we were packed, assembled, and prepped to begin our day's walk. The first objective was to find our way into a tributary of Coyote Gulch - a tributary named Hurricane Wash.
To reach Hurricane Wash from "The Tank" trailhead, we had to first head in a north-north westerly direction, cross-country (not on a path or trail) towards a distant tower known as Chimney Rock. Following this route would get us to a point where we could safely and relatively easily descend into the wash, without having to worry about getting blocked by cliffs or other major obstacles. We briefly started off on the actual trail leading north from The Tank, but I quickly realized (and remembered from last time) that this was not the correct route for us. Look to and walk towards Chimney Rock!
This is the way
After crossing a sandy field dotted with desert bushes, we came to the edge of a large, undulating, and generally descending expanse of slickrock. Although it had been uncomfortably cool up in Escalante early in the morning, now, under a midday sun and a thousand feet lower in elevation, we began to feel quite warm. Under the fairly intense sun, we continued to chart a course in the general direction of Chimney Rock, curving around in places to find the easiest line through the terrain. Staying on the flatter sections of slickrock and skirting sandy sections involved the least effort.
Marching towards the spire
Progress seemed slow as we hiked cross-country towards Hurricane Wash. Nine year-old Katie, trooper that she is, complained little and kept up with the group, full backpack and all. Even five year-old Evie was doing well, although a little more coaching and distracting was required. A slightly slower pace and a few more strategic rest breaks helped, too. Chris and Gillian were doing a great job (and in fact, all of us were) motivating Evie to keep moving.
After a little over two hours, the line of Hurricane Wash became definitive, and soon we were casting about for the easiest way down to its sandy floor. Once there, we quickly found a small pool of shade under one of the very few trees of any size. And with that, the first segment of our backpack -- the cross-country trek from trailhead to Hurricane Wash -- was achieved.
A bit of hydration and rest got us revved up sufficiently to start on the final leg of today's activities. We needed to hike down the remaining length of Hurricane Wash, until it intersected with Coyote Gulch itself. Located there was abundant water and many good campsites. The perfect spot for us to settle down for the night.
The soft, sandy floor of Hurricane Wash was a bit tiring to walk on. However, just having completed the ups and downs of the slickrock cross-country route, we were still glad to be on its flat surface. The wash soon constricted into a stretch of narrows, with 40-foot high slickrock walls on each side. This, too, we were grateful for, for they provided some shade from the warm sun.
It was now late afternoon. Everyone was clearly a little tired, sweaty, and looking forward to finding a nice place to spend the night. At the moment, we were still hiking down a completely dry, barren desert wash. However, having been down this route a few times before, I knew that we were very close to the beginning of a big change. Soon, water would start flowing in the bottom of the wash, and with it would come a beautiful transformation. This change would also mean that we were getting very close to Coyote Gulch, and to our first good campsites.
Glad for the shade
Sure enough, around a few more bends of the deepening wash (the sloping banks of the wash were getting a little higher and a little steeper with every step), we saw some gnarled cottonwood trees in the distance. These were sure signs of water-down-below, and meant that soon we'd be getting to the wet part of Hurricane Wash.
Past the scattered cottonwoods, a few more bushes began to crowd the wash, then some reeds, dried grasses. Then a little bit of damp sand. And, then, a small smear of orange, oily water. Not much more than a long puddle, and not flowing. Kind of yucky, really. But not more than a hundred yards farther, more water - this time a very slightly-flowing trickle. The bushes and reeds became thick, and we had to look for the footpath that had now formed to allow easy passage.
Over the next few minutes, the transition from dry wash to lush riparian habitat was complete. A continuous little foot-wide rivulet of water flowed next to us; we were now shaded by head-high bushes and big, leafy trees. It's always quite amazing to traverse through such a transition. We had left the hot desert behind and entered a world of cool green-ness. The desert wasn't far away on either side, though - through the vegetation, we could still see the now vertical walls of Hurricane Wash only tens of feet away on either side. We knew that just on top of those walls, not more than a hundred feet away, it was just hot, barren, open desert again.
Re-invigorated by the verdant surroundings, we marched forward with a bit more spring and soon covered the final mile or so to the end of Hurricane Wash, and the confluence with Coyote Gulch. Head-down and following a path through bush, it was suddenly there - another stream coming in from the left - this one much bigger. The now two-foot wide streamlet that was Hurricane Wash noiselessly joined its big sister.
We all hopped across Coyote Gulch and surveyed the landscape around us.
Confluence with Coyote Gulch
The confluence of Coyote and Hurricane is a fairly open spot; the canyon walls are farther apart here and it's very spacious, but not in a barren desert sort of way. Instead, there was a lot of greenery and plenty of Cottonwood and other trees for shade. We only spotted two other campers, tucked away in a corner away from the confluence. We had no problem setting up our tents well away from them and in fact well away from each other (thereby minimizing the snore factor, if there were to be any).
It had been a long day, getting up early, driving down the tedious Hole-in-the-rock road, rushing to fit in Peekaboo and Spooky in the morning, then the backpack ferrying and setup, and then the multi-hour cross-country journey to this spot. So it was with a sense of well-earned accomplishment that we sat around our stoves, tents set up, quiet wilderness all around us, and had dinner. Afterwards, chatting and chilling in the cool evening while watching the perfectly clear sky start to show stars was great. The only fly in the ointment was the moon, which was near full. Although beautiful, it precluded us from getting a truly amazing night sky (without a bright moon, this place is excellent for dark-sky star nights).
I stayed up after most had gone off to bed, and set up my tripod with camera to take some long exposure shots of the moonlit desert vale we were in.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Coyote Gulch Day 1 - click map to view
Coyote Gulch Backpack Day 1 - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet