Coyote Gulch, Day 2
Thursday, April 18
Thursday, April 18 - "Holy Thursday", I think it is called, on the Easter Calendar. Super bright and clear - but cool, very cool.
Today was going to be very, very nice. The walk down through the lower part of Coyote Gulch is hiking at its sublimeist (probably not a word, that - but you get my drift). We would be following the canyon (for from this point on, Coyote Gulch is most definitely a full-fledged canyon) in all of its sinuous glory. The hiking experience would consist mostly of a long, gently descending grade, and very frequently in the waters of Coyote Gulch's perennial creek.
Morning at the Confluence
Now, about that perennial creek and walking in it. In the desert canyons of the southwest, and very often in the Escalante area, the easiest way to travel is to walk right in the watercourse. If the flow is reasonable, of course (don't think for a moment that you can walk down the bottom of the Grand Canyon in this way!). I had told everyone in the group to bring water shoes to aid in this, and for the adults among us, that wasn't too big of a deal. In fact, at this time of year, it's not even strictly required, if you don't mind walking in chilly water. Anna, in fact, decided to hike barefoot (Coyote Gulch is quite barefoot hiking-friendly).
Turns out it is quite difficult to find decent water shoes for kids. Chris and Gillian ended up bringing some existing waterproof Keenes that were too small to allow the kids to fit their neoprene insulating socks inside, so they ended up just hiking in their socks. Fortunately, most of the hiking in the Gulch is on a soft sandy creekbed.
Down Coyote Gulch we went - enjoying the fresh, cool feeling of walking in the inches-deep creek, its gentle flow not much more than what you would encounter at a spa. It was cool, but not uncomfortably so. Easy, relaxing and oh, so scenic. Rounded orange walls soared above us at all times. Bushes and reeds and other manner of river vegetation crowded the banks and benches above the creek, but didn't hinder us much, since if they at all posed a barrier, you just walked in the creek itself, which had an unobstructed, smooth, sandy bottom. The watercourse curved its way ever so imperceptibly downhill, and in the sharp curves, huge overhanging alcoves of solid bedrock covered the sky above us.
Everybody soon got into the rhythm of creek-hiking. Fortunately, the kids socks-only hiking solution was working - the neoprene socks seemed to be tough enough to hold up to the fairly gentle terrain of the creekbed and the occasional sandy bypass paths, which would shortcut across some of the bends.
After about an hour of very pleasant hiking, we approached a very special spot along the route - in a particularly huge, deep bend in the canyon, the forces of erosion had carved a hole directly through the huge sandstone fin of the bend. This hole, beautifully curved and sculpted, is known as Jacob Hamblin Arch (or Lobo Arch, as it is also known). A huge pile of fallen boulders sits along its lower side, but the upper two-thirds of the opening are clean and smooth. Very striking.
Brilliant Oranges and Blues
The area around Jacob Hamblin Arch can be somewhat crowded, given that it is such a beautiful attraction and also because it is near the point at which a steep scramble route leads down into / out of the canyon. There are also many excellent campsite locations here, on high flat sandy benches before and after the arch. But on this beautiful morning, there were only two other hikers here besides us. Perhaps our plan to be here not on a day of the easter long weekend had helped, too.
The huge bend in the river that goes around Jacob Hamblin Arch is just about as nice as the arch itself, and we walked around the bend as one would walk through the halls of a huge, echo-filled medieval church. Here, the canyon itself is relatively narrow, and the sheer walls of Navajo sandstone are especially high, and the overhangs around the bends are especially monumental.
Below Jacob Hamblin Arch, Coyote Gulch widened out a bit, and there were sections with pleasant paths across grassy fields - especially beautiful today as we were in the middle of the bloom of spring, with fresh green present everywhere.
The cool morning had given way to a thoroughly pleasant mid-day. It wasn't hot, it wasn't cold - it was just perfect for hiking. Nicely warm in the direct sun and pleasantly cool in the frequent shade.
Sculpted Slickrock Rapids
The day was shaping up nicely: the kids were doing fine (hiking in neoprene socks was still working out ok), we were making the right amount of progress (we needed to cover about ten kilometres of distance to maintain our schedule), and the canyon wasn't too crowded.
Next up was a beautiful section of canyon containing a number of scenic attractions. First, some beautifully-carved streambed (through which the creek rushed in energetic little flumes), then a cool mini-narrows below an abandoned meander, and then finally the stately gateway of Coyote Natural Bridge, which the waters of the creek flow through. We stopped next to the bridge for our lunch.
Transitioning to Lower Canyon
After our somewhat late 1:30pm lunch, we continued on downstream from Coyote Natural Bridge. The bridge marks what I feel to be the unofficial start of the "lower" segment of Coyote Gulch - the last remaining stretch to its confluence with the Escalante River. The canyon again gets wider, with large areas of open meadow in the terrain farther away from the creek's banks. The floor of the canyon also becomes more uneven: where most of the upper and middle canyon are a continuous gentle slope, the lower canyon has more in the way of abrupt steps and boulder rockfalls. Part of that has to do with the fact that Coyote Gulch's creek has dug down far enough at this point to completely cut through the Navajo Sandstone. Underneath the Navajo is the Kayenta Sandstone, and it consists of much more broken, layered strata - prone to forming bench-and-step landscapes.
The bench-and-step prone Kayenta means we have to start scrambling down the occasional drop. Usually not more than twenty to thirty feet high, they nevertheless made the lower canyon more strenuous to hike. On the plus side, there were many little pretty waterfalls.