Sunday, March 29, 2009

Crack-in-the-Wall, Steven's Arch and the Escalante River

During spring break, we took the young men to Southern Utah for some exploration of red rock country. We left Redlands Wednesday afternoon and drove to Petrified Forest State Park outside Escalante, where we camped. While driving some mountain passes over 7,000 feet we encountered snow flurries, but the snow was not sticking to the road. We arrived tired and somewhat shocked by the 35 degree temperature that greeted us. We quickly set up camp and settled in for a cold night.

In the morning, we got a call from Craig Wright who was driving to Escalante from the Provo, Utah area. He was driving in 8 inches of unplowed snow and informed us he and his boys, Kevin, Kyle and Brad, would be late. So we drove in to Escalante for a leisurely breakfast at the Golden Loop Cafe. Along the way we hooked up with Paul Hartman, Brian and Robby's grandfather, from the Provo area as well, but formerly of Redlands. [Clicking on the pictures will give a larger view.]

Cole Carlson, Seth Haws and Zac Willardsen enjoy a large breakfast.

Chase Renick sacrificed the Redlands Bicycle Classic to be with us and enjoyed a big portion of ham, eggs and pancakes.

Outside of Escalante, we caught the dirt Hole-in-the-Rock Road and drove 36 miles south to the Forty Mile Ridge Road. There we turned left and headed east for four miles. We decided, fortunately correctly, that our two-wheel drive vehicles could negotiate the next three miles of sand if we kept going fast enough.

Back to the west, the snow covered Kaiparowitz Plateau reminded us that the chill we were feeling was not all in our heads.

We get ready to leave the trailhead for Crack-in-the-Wall. Craig Wright had not caught up with us and we were having difficulty connecting by cellphone. From left to right are Paul Hartman, Zac Willardsen, Cole Carlson, Scott Zollinger, Robby Hartman, Seth Haws, Scott Foley, Tyler Puchalski, Pete Nelson, Rodney Nelson and Bob Cannon. A stiff wind was blowing and it was extremely cold.

We set off down the sandy trail with the canyon top just visible below.

After 2 miles of walking in sand, Paul Hartman reaches sandstone. Our vehicles are barely visible on the ridge in the background.

Cairns mark the trail over the sandstone.

Nearing the rim and Crack-in-the-Wall.

Paul, Robby, Scott, Brian and Pete view the scene below from Crack-in-the-Wall. Crack-in-the-Wall is an 18 inch wide crack in the sandstone that allows you to pass from the rim down to the sand dune below.

Rodney Nelson at the rim with the Escalante River in the background. Steven's Arch is visible up and to the left from the river. Coyote Gulch is to the left of Rodney, behind the knob.

Brian Hartman, with an assist from his grandfather, lowers a pack to Robby Hartman from Crack-in-the-Wall. The packs were too bulky to fit through the crack.

Most of the group pose for a shot below Crack-in-the-Wall. Craig Wright and his boys caught up to us there. Back left are Rodney, Brad Wright, Scott Zollinger, Robby, Kevin, Kyle and Craig Wright, Seth, Scott Foley, Tyler, Cole, Zac, Pete and Brian.

Cole leads a group of backpackers down the sand dune from Crack-in-the-Wall.

Kevin and Craig Wright with a view of Steven's Arch from the trail.

We camped at the bottom of the trail in Coyote Gulch. Coyote Gulch has a small stream that empties into the Escalante River about a half mile below where we camped. Scott Zollinger, Seth, Cole and Scott Foley set up tents in the sand below some beautiful cottonwood trees.

Camp taking shape. It was later rocketed by strong winds that night which blew tents across the sand. We had to put backpacks and rocks in the tents to keep them from blowing away.

After setting up camp, we headed out about 3:00 p.m. down Coyote Gulch for the Escalante River. Craig and Kevin Wright on the sandstone above a rock jam in Coyote Gulch. This section was a little scary for those that are afraid of heights.

Brian Hartman, in red jacket, follows the rest of the group down Coyote Gulch. Here the sandstone rises hundreds of feet overhead.

Nearing the confluence of Coyote Gulch and the Escalante River. This is just a few miles upstream from where the Escalante River becomes part of Lake Powell.

The group takes its first steps into the frigid waters of the Escalante River. I assured them that it was no deeper than knee deep (well, it hadn't been the last time I was there). The cold wind made the cold water feel even colder than it was.

A short ways up the river we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Steven's Arch in the canyon wall above.

Chase Renick and Scott Foley cross the Escalante. They were two of several that discovered that the Escalante has spots deeper than their knees. Suddenly plunging into the freezing water resulted in a surprising jolt to the torso.

We went to great lengths, trying to find the shallowest portions of the river to cross, sometimes negotiating rocks and trees on shore to avoid deep looking pockets in the river. Brian, Kevin, Kyle and Craig cross trying to avoid getting their pants wet.


We began to lose the group by attrition as some headed back to camp to get warm. We fell short of our goal of reaching Steven's Canyon, about 1 1/4 miles upstream. However, we were rewarded with some more beautiful views of Steven's Arch.

On the way back to camp, one of the boys discovered a dead bat in the stream.

Zac Willardsen leads a group of boys across the sandstone above the logjam in Coyote Gulch back to camp.

Zac settles in for dinner.

The post of our next day's hike, from camp to Jacob Hamblin Arch and back, will follow.


  1. Ah, the memories! I love this canyon! Need to go back. Thanks for sharing the photos and descriptions.

  2. Looks like it was a great trip and a great group. Thank you for the pics and the narration.