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Life In The Slow Lane With Eric & Laurel

~Because it’s all about the journey~

Three Years On The Road

Three Years On The Road

Posted by on Aug 21, 2016 in Musings, Oregon, Travel | 55 comments

As of mid-June, we’ve been on the road for three years full-time. Our blog is lagging behind, but before life gets too much more away from me, I want to share a few thoughts about how it’s going.

I’m writing this from the sofa, where I’m propped up with pillows and heat packs, anti-inflammatories and arnica salve close at hand. This is where I’ve spent the past three days, recovering from wrenching my back while kayaking. This is a challenging part of traveling—I would rather be in our hometown, where my acupuncturist and chiropractor are trusted friends. (For that matter, that’s where my trusted hair stylist is, too. I can’t tell you how many questionable haircuts I’ve had in the past three years.)

Because I’m generally several weeks behind in writing our blog, I have the luxury of looking at our life from the perspective of a few weeks’ distance. From that safe place—and a conscious choice to focus on the positive—things usually look pretty darned rosy. In truth, they are.

It’s not always so wonderful in the present moment, though.

I’ve written about the more difficult challenges we’ve faced in the past three years—the loss of our dear friend Kevin, who died suddenly not long after we embarked on our fulltime journey. The loss of our sweet kitty, who joined us for the first year-and-a-half of our travels. Our big boo-boo in the desert, where we wrecked our trailer and were out of our home for six weeks. The outpouring of support that we received, including from friends on our blog, carried us through those painful times.

There have been plenty of minor bumps in the road, too. I rarely write about those, because they fade from memory pretty quickly given some time and distance. These include expensive and sometimes unexpected truck and trailer repairs and computers and cameras going belly-up. There’s also been some not-so-minor stuff like cataract surgery for Eric and an anaphylactic reaction to antibiotics for me—but by the time all of that was over with, I didn’t want to think about it anymore.

We’ve been on Lopez Island since late June, enjoying what we’ve come to think of as our summer home. But our arrival was marred when we awoke two nights later to find ourselves ankle-deep in water inside of our trailer. We’re still dealing with the aftermath—everything has throughly dried out, but Eric is facing two days on his back beneath the trailer to replace the insulation, and we’re deciding where we’ll go to have new flooring installed when we leave the island. (I hated the little strip of carpet in the living room and bedroom from the beginning, but I assure you this was not my plan for getting rid of it.)

The bright spot in that incident? It wasn’t the black water tank.

The leak was the crowning event in a long string of relatively minor (albeit expensive) things that have occurred over the past several months. For a week in late June, while tearing out sopping wet insulation and carpeting and prying up five million carpet staples (the carpet installer clearly had way too much caffeine), we seriously questioned whether or not we wanted to continue this journey. We were exhausted and discouraged by this latest mishap.

This was one of those times that I wished, like Dorothy, I could click my heels together and go “home.” (Not sure if my Keens would work as well as ruby slippers, though.)

There’s no question that it’s more difficult when things “go wrong” when you’re living on the road. Having work done on our trailer means hauling our home to the shop. It can be challenging to find (and trust) repair shops, service centers, and computer techs. Basically, we check reviews on Yelp, cross our fingers, and hope for the best. For medical stuff, we try to take care of it at home, or in locations where we have friends and family who can provide referrals. So far, it’s all worked out pretty well.

But whatever the latest challenge, what always rises to the surface after the dust settles, the flood recedes, or the pain abates is that we are grateful—falling on our knees grateful—that we found the courage to embark on this journey.

This I know for sure: Had we not taken to the road three years ago, there is no way that we would have had all of the amazing adventures that we’ve experienced or met all of the wonderful people that we’ve encountered along the way. And we have no doubt that we would have regretted the road(s) not taken.

As I reflect on our journey from my currently uncomfortable position, happier images flood my mind: hiking to high peaks in the Sierras, and exploring the colorful mesas, slot canyons, and ancient ruins of the Southwest. Kayaking the bays of the San Juan Islands, the refreshing Florida springs, and the mysterious swamps of Louisiana. Witnessing the splendor of bird migration in the remote canyons of Arizona, and the magnificent courtship displays of nesting egrets along the Gulf Coast. Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge and along the Rio Grande in Taos. Wandering the lovely cities of Santa Fe, New Orleans, and San Francisco and the colorful small towns of Silver City and Breaux Bridge.

Returning to my roots in Apalachicola. Spending precious time with our families scattered across the country. Meeting new friends on the road and the joy of reconnecting with our friends at home. And of course, our glorious summers on Lopez Island.

When we first told friends and family that we were going to rent our home and live full time in our trailer, many of them asked, “For how long?” Three years into this journey, we still don’t have an answer. What we do know is that we have a lot more adventures and travel planned, and we see ourselves traveling for a long time to come. Two more weeks on Lopez, and we’ll be taking off again. Meanwhile, I have a blog to catch up on—providing I can get the worst internet connection on the planet to cooperate. As far as I can determine, it’s the only downside to this beautiful island.

Thanks, as always, for coming along with us. We love having your company.

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Heavenly Angel Creek: Wells, Nevada

Heavenly Angel Creek: Wells, Nevada

Posted by on Aug 19, 2016 in Birding, Gallery, Hiking, Nevada, Travel | 22 comments

Angel Creek is one of the places that made us realize that Nevada is much more than barren desert and glitzy casinos. We stumbled across this little jewel several years ago on a cross-country journey, and were more than surprised by the beauty we discovered.

Mountains? High alpine lakes? Aspen groves? This was not the Nevada we were accustomed to. We spent three peaceful nights at Angel Creek campground, hiked to high alpine lakes from Angel Lake, and put it on our “must return to” list. In late-May, we finally made our way back.

Heading north from our last stop at Great Basin National Park, it’s an easy 200-mile drive through Nevada on some of the loneliest roads in America, through less than inspiring scenery. But pass through the dusty little town of Wells, take a left, and you’re suddenly on a scenic highway, traveling into a wilderness of snow-capped peaks, meadows of wildflowers, and alpine lakes.

We settled into our favorite site at Angel Creek campground, tucked into a grove of spring-green aspen and overlooking the valley below. In our travels—and life in general—we’ve learned that it’s the smallest things that make us happiest. Beautiful scenery, interesting hikes, abundant birdlife, wildflowers. Peace. Quiet. Dark night skies. (Good Verizon coverage is a bonus.) Angel Lake and Angel Creek has all of this, and more.

Our first visit several years ago was in the fall, and the hiking was superb. At least two trails lead to alpine lakes, one a 10-mile round trip hike; the other about 5 miles. We were looking forward to revisiting our hiking adventures—but failed to consider that in late May at this altitude, the trails would be covered in deep snow. Oops.

Had we known the trails were closed, we might have chosen a different travel route. But had we not been there in late spring, when the mountains and lake were still dressed in their winter finery, we would have missed the spectacular mirror image of the snow-capped mountains reflected in Angel Lake. Storm clouds billowed above us, and we hiked as far as we could before deep snow turned us around.

Just four miles below, snug in our campsite at Angel Creek, we were treated to abundant, colorful birdlife, including neon bright Western Tanagers, turquoise Lazuli Buntings, and Lewis’s Woodpeckers with their emerald green backs and rosy breasts. This is where we first saw Short-eared Owls several years ago, and we were delighted to again catch a glimpse of one as it flew across the road and landed in the sagebrush, staring at us with huge, unblinking eyes. The birding is fantastic in late spring—we saw 36 species in only a couple of days. To add to the delight of a spring visit, the meadows were thick with clutches of purple and yellow lupine.

Should you find yourself on this lonely road through Nevada, we highly recommend a couple of days at lovely Angel Creek and Angel Lake. It’s once again on our return-to list.

About the campground:

Angel Creek (a forest service campground) is a few miles off of Interstate 80 in the foothills of the East Humboldt Mountain Range, and eight miles southwest of Wells, Nevada. At 6200 feet, the campground is filled with mature aspens, and many of the sites are nicely shaded. Most of the sites are on the smaller side—our rig is 27-feet, and with our truck, we can only fit into a few sites. However, there’s one long, spacious site (number 16) that will accommodate any size rig.

No hookups, but there’s potable water and clean bathrooms. We also had blazing fast Verizon coverage in the campground. The sites are $15 per night (half-price with the Senior Pass).

Angel Lake—another four miles up a narrow, twisting road—also has campsites, but although there are a few 30-foot length sites, it seems better suited to small rigs and tents (I can’t imagine hauling a trailer longer than about 21-feet up that steep and winding road—especially with the sheer drop-offs). In late spring, the campground (at 8400 feet) was still buried under snow.

Next Up: Having A Blast In Boise, ID

Wildflowers And Snow

Tucked Into Our Favorite Site

It's A Little Tight

Mountain Views From The Campground

Lewis's Woodpecker

Western Tanager

Short-eared Owl

Blooming Lupine

Reflections In Angel Lake

Hiking In The Snow

Winter In Late May

On The Trail To Smith Lake

Chimney Rocks Near Angel Lake

This Site Is Big Enough For Any Rig

Wildflowers And Snow
Tucked Into Our Favorite Site
It's A Little Tight
Mountain Views From The Campground
Lewis's Woodpecker
Western Tanager
Short-eared Owl
Blooming Lupine
Reflections In Angel Lake
Hiking In The Snow
Winter In Late May
On The Trail To Smith Lake
Chimney Rocks Near Angel Lake
This Site Is Big Enough For Any Rig
Wildflowers And Snow thumbnail
Tucked Into Our Favorite Site thumbnail
It's A Little Tight thumbnail
Mountain Views From The Campground thumbnail
Lewis's Woodpecker thumbnail
Western Tanager thumbnail
Short-eared Owl thumbnail
Blooming Lupine thumbnail
Reflections In Angel Lake thumbnail
Hiking In The Snow thumbnail
Winter In Late May thumbnail
On The Trail To Smith Lake thumbnail
Chimney Rocks Near Angel Lake thumbnail
This Site Is Big Enough For Any Rig thumbnail

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Wonderfully Remote Great Basin Nat’l Park

Wonderfully Remote Great Basin Nat’l Park

Posted by on Aug 8, 2016 in Birding, Gallery, Hiking, Nevada, Travel | 34 comments

Considering that it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, it’s kind of surprising that we’ve made our way to Great Basin National Park three times now. I resisted going there for years, thinking that a national park in Nevada couldn’t possibly amount to much. But this remote, little visited national park has become one of our favorites.

Why, you ask? For starters, it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from the craziness that has overtaken other better-known national parks. You will find no crowded parking lots, no tour buses, and no crush of humanity on the trails. You’ll also find no charming gateway town, or any amenities to speak of. But if you’re after peace, quiet, and spectacular natural beauty, this is a place you’ll like.

The hiking is superb, with a variety of trails for everyone. Some paths meander along streams and wildflower covered hillsides. Other trails start at 9,000 feet, heading steeply up into the mountains through groves of aspen and along the shores of alpine lakes. The park even boasts an ancient bristlecone pine forest, a limestone cave with beautiful formations, and some of the darkest night skies in the country.

An easy 200-mile drive from Snow Canyon, the long highway eased us into the remoteness of the park. Located in the vast high desert of eastern Nevada, far from major population centers, there’s not much for miles around. The tiny town of Baker, population 68, sits at the crossroads outside of the park. The main street is wide and dusty; two cafes with peeling signs, a combination motel/campground/bar, and a self-serve gas station with a strange Twilight Zone vibe make up the “downtown” area.

Talking to the locals and the friendly park rangers leaves no doubt that this is definitely the road less taken for the 68 people who live here—there’s even a sign along the road to the park that expresses this sentiment. It’s a 70-mile drive for the most basic of groceries, further for more amenities. But that seems to be a small tradeoff for the peace and quiet and beauty of this place. (Would we live here? No. But we certainly enjoy visiting—we’ve even considered hosting at the park.)

We were here early this year, in late May, just before the roads opened to access Wheeler Peak and the high altitude trails. We contented ourselves with hiking the lower altitude trails along the creek surging with snowmelt, through meadows lush with bright yellow balsamroot and splashes of crimson Indian paintbrush. We even discovered a gorgeous, pristine natural spring where we harvested fresh watercress and mint.

Lucky for us, we happened to be in the park the weekend of a bioblitz. (A bioblitz is a biological census that focuses on an overall count of the plants, animals, and other organisms that inhabit a place.) The focus of this bioblitz was on birds. How perfect is that? We signed up for a couple of workshops and hikes (all free), and had a great time helping find and count birds. As a relatively new national park, the rangers use citizen science to help document species in the park.

If you visit the park, June is a lovely time, when all of the trails are open and there are still wildflowers in the meadows. Late September or early October, before the snows begin and the aspen are turning to gold, is also gorgeous. We’ve been in both seasons and found it spectacular. (You can read about those visits here and here.)

About the campground:

On our previous two visits, we stayed in the park in Upper Lehman Campground and loved it. However, the roads are tight, and the sites are small and ridiculously unlevel. The campground was closed for renovations while we were there—we’ll see on our next visit if improvements were made to make the sites more accessible and level.

This time, we stayed in town at Whispering Elms Campground, just six miles from the entrance to the national park. Although initially I wasn’t too enthusiastic (we always prefer national park campgrounds) it turned out to be a fine option. The sites are gravel and large, with many pull-throughs, and we appreciated having full hookups in the freezing temperatures of early spring. There’s a decrepit bathhouse and laundry, which we didn’t use. Surprisingly, we had unexpectedly good Internet, courtesy of the campground (that’s because our site was close to the front of the park). We spent three peaceful nights and would happily return. $30 per night.

Next Up: Heavenly Angel Creek: Wells, NV

Wonderfully Remote Great Basin NP

On The Road To Great Basin

Downtown Baker

Check In At The Bar

Whispering Elms Campground

Still Life With Oil Drum

One Of Our Magpie Neighbors

A Chilly Day On The Trail

Creek Crossing

Hillsides Covered In Balsamroot

Marmot Crossing

Mama And Baby Marmot

Three Babies In All

Spring Aspen Leaves

A Beautiful Natural Spring

Gathering Mint And Watercress

Bullocks Oriole

Wheeler Peak Sculpture

Gateway To...

Wonderfully Remote Great Basin NP
On The Road To Great Basin
Downtown Baker
Check In At The Bar
Whispering Elms Campground
Still Life With Oil Drum
One Of Our Magpie Neighbors
A Chilly Day On The Trail
Creek Crossing
Hillsides Covered In Balsamroot
Marmot Crossing
Mama And Baby Marmot
Three Babies In All
Spring Aspen Leaves
A Beautiful Natural Spring
Gathering Mint And Watercress
Bullocks Oriole
Wheeler Peak Sculpture
Gateway To...
Wonderfully Remote Great Basin NP thumbnail
On The Road To Great Basin thumbnail
Downtown Baker thumbnail
Check In At The Bar thumbnail
Whispering Elms Campground thumbnail
Still Life With Oil Drum thumbnail
One Of Our Magpie Neighbors thumbnail
A Chilly Day On The Trail thumbnail
Creek Crossing thumbnail
Hillsides Covered In Balsamroot thumbnail
Marmot Crossing thumbnail
Mama And Baby Marmot thumbnail
Three Babies In All thumbnail
Spring Aspen Leaves thumbnail
A Beautiful Natural Spring thumbnail
Gathering Mint And Watercress thumbnail
Bullocks Oriole thumbnail
Wheeler Peak Sculpture thumbnail
Gateway To... thumbnail

 

 

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Beautiful Snow Canyon: St. George, Utah

Beautiful Snow Canyon: St. George, Utah

Posted by on Jul 31, 2016 in Gallery, Hiking, Musings, Travel, Utah | 30 comments

We first visited Snow Canyon about 15 years ago while on a trip to nearby Zion National Park. All these years, we’ve planned to return—and finally did, in mid-May.

We found it just as enchanting the second time around. We hiked through stands of blooming yucca, admiring the magnificent red cliffs of Navajo sandstone surrounding us; the only sounds our footsteps and the calls of ravens. It’s a gem of a park. And it’s remarkably peaceful—which can’t be said for Zion, just 50 miles away.

We would love to return to Zion. But honestly, we’re not sure that we’re willing to endure the hordes of people that descend on the park from early spring through late fall. Some of the Utah national parks have become too much like Disneyworld—minus the excellent crowd control.

In large part, the Utah Office of Tourism and their wildly successful “Mighty Five” campaign are to blame. The international advertising campaign, launched in 2012, has put the Mighty Five (Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion) on the bucket list of travelers from all over the world.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share the vast beauty of our country with others. But it’s a problem when the infrastructure is inadequate to support the tidal wave of people who have responded to the allure.

The result is too many cars, too many tour buses, too many people, and a disturbingly large percentage of loud, brash visitors who aren’t there to immerse themselves in the stunning beauty of our national treasures, but instead seem more interested in snapping selfies in front of iconic landmarks while they overwhelm and trample the fragile ecosystem.

We experienced this first-hand several years ago when we visited Arches National Park in late September. At that time, I remarked to Eric that I felt like we were at an amusement park, not in a national park. We know how to get out into the back country and avoid the crowds—but meanwhile, what’s happening to our sacred wild lands?

Utah’s ad blitz is all about bringing in tourism dollars, not about supporting the parks. They’ve succeeded in overwhelming the little gateway towns with hordes of tourists. But they’ve done nothing to provide the towns with money for necessary improvements to handle the increase in visitors, including water, sanitation, health clinics, and law enforcement.

Here’s the most outrageous part: Utah is cashing in big time on the national parks—but the state is notorious for voting against funding for parks. Basically, Utah is turning our national parks into tourist traps.

Meanwhile, the advertising team that brought the world the “Mighty Five” has been hard at work on their next crusade. They’re unveiling a campaign promoting lesser known parks, monuments, and byways, apparently in an effort to leave no red rock unturned.

I cringe at the thought of hordes of tourists and tour buses careening along narrow Highway 12 and descending on Calf Creek and other remote places that are even less prepared for huge numbers of visitors. And yes, Snow Canyon is on the target list.

Don’t get me wrong— I’m all for humanity reconnecting with nature. It’s beneficial if people get to know and love these special places to ensure their long-term protection. But it does little good if we love them to death in the process.

Building more roads and parking lots is not the answer. We certainly don’t need to pave more of paradise. Limiting traffic—even banning vehicles within the parks and instituting public transportation (as they do in Zion part of the year) seems reasonable. Perhaps limit the number of people on the most popular trails. Or limit the number of people allowed into the park on any given day.

It all seems to come down to limits, which goes against my free spirited nature. But to my way of thinking, preservation should be given top priority.

About the park:

Snow Canyon State Park is brutally hot in the summer, with temperatures well over 100 degrees. But spring and fall are delightful. (We were pushing our luck visiting in mid-May, but with a cool snap, the temperatures were wonderful.)

More than 16 miles of trails (including a 6-mile paved multi-use, dog friendly trail) meander through a landscape of red rock canyons, lava flows, dry streambeds, and petrified sand dunes. The variety of hikes and terrain offer something for everyone. If you go, don’t miss early morning on the trail—the rising sun sets the red rock aglow.

The little 31-site campground is situated in the beautiful red rocks, with wonderful views all around. But the 12 electric and water sites are extremely tight, even for our relatively modest 27’ trailer. When our neighbors pulled in for the night, they were no more than two feet from our door. We had to laugh when we looked out the window and suddenly had a view of Joshua Tree National Park—it was a mural painted onto the side of their rental RV.

Had we not been concerned about the possibility of 95-degree days, we would have opted for a non-hookup site. Scattered throughout little side canyons, these spacious sites are much more private. Nice restrooms with free hot showers, dump station, and fair Verizon coverage (usable with our booster); campsites with hookups are $20, those without are $16. The town of St. George is just a few miles away, with every amenity you could possibly desire.

Next Up: Wonderfully Remote Great Basin National Park

Beautiful Snow Canyon

Views Along The Multi-Use Trail

One Of Many Hiking Trails

On The Butterfly Trail

Beautiful Red Rock Cliffs

Lava Beds And Sandstone

A Photogenic Landscape

On The Petrified Dunes Trail

Dunes Preserved For Eternity

Petrified Dunes And Clouds

View From The Top Of The Trail

Hiking Through A Sandy Wash

Sagebrush, Mountains And Clouds

Early Morning Colors

A Great Biking Trail

Lovely Little Visitor Center

A Place To Enjoy The View

Close Quarters In The Campground

Tight Squeeze

Suddenly Transported To Joshua Tree

Beautiful Snow Canyon
Views Along The Multi-Use Trail
One Of Many Hiking Trails
On The Butterfly Trail
Beautiful Red Rock Cliffs
Lava Beds And Sandstone
A Photogenic Landscape
On The Petrified Dunes Trail
Dunes Preserved For Eternity
Petrified Dunes And Clouds
View From The Top Of The Trail
Hiking Through A Sandy Wash
Sagebrush, Mountains And Clouds
Early Morning Colors
A Great Biking Trail
Lovely Little Visitor Center
A Place To Enjoy The View
Close Quarters In The Campground
Tight Squeeze
Suddenly Transported To Joshua Tree
Beautiful Snow Canyon thumbnail
Views Along The Multi-Use Trail thumbnail
One Of Many Hiking Trails thumbnail
On The Butterfly Trail thumbnail
Beautiful Red Rock Cliffs thumbnail
Lava Beds And Sandstone thumbnail
A Photogenic Landscape thumbnail
On The Petrified Dunes Trail thumbnail
Dunes Preserved For Eternity thumbnail
Petrified Dunes And Clouds thumbnail
View From The Top Of The Trail thumbnail
Hiking Through A Sandy Wash thumbnail
Sagebrush, Mountains And Clouds thumbnail
Early Morning Colors thumbnail
A Great Biking Trail thumbnail
Lovely Little Visitor Center thumbnail
A Place To Enjoy The View thumbnail
Close Quarters In The Campground thumbnail
Tight Squeeze thumbnail
Suddenly Transported To Joshua Tree thumbnail

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A Technicolor Landscape: Southern Utah

A Technicolor Landscape: Southern Utah

Posted by on Jul 23, 2016 in Gallery, Hiking, Travel | 29 comments

It’s quite possibly the most stunning landscape we’ve yet seen. Cliffs striped in crimson, orange, and violet stand tall against a cobalt sky; cinnabar colored hills rest against pillowy white clouds; giant red and white rock toadstools rise from a lunar setting.

On a brilliantly sunny day with just enough clouds to add to the photographic drama, we embarked on a day trip from Lake Powell to visit a small portion of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

At close to two million acres, this is our country’s largest national monument. Our agenda was to visit three close-by places within the monument. A short hike to the Toadstools, a visit to the colorful ghost town of Paria, and a stop at the Big Water Visitor Center made for a perfect one-day adventure. All of our destinations were conveniently located off of Highway 89, traveling west out of Page.

First stop: The Toadstools. A magical Alice-in-Wonderland landscape, this is a wonderful concentration of unique rock formations known as “hoodoos.” (A hoodoo is a spire of rock composed of a relatively soft rock topped by a harder rock; the softer rock erodes more quickly than the capstone, creating unusual rock sculptures.)

An easy three-quarter mile trail leads to the Red Toadstool, one of the most spectacular and photogenic hoodoos. But there’s more—if you follow the footpath that parallels the dry creek bed (with just a bit of scrambling), you’ll discover panoramic views of the surrounding colorful badlands and many more hoodoo toadstools, including a moonscape of brilliant white hoodoos. (Travel west on Highway 89, the trailhead is just past milepost 19 on the right.)

 Second stop: Paria Townsite. Originally settled by Mormon pioneers in 1869 (they called the town “Pahreah”), the community was abandoned 40 years later after recurrent flash floods washed away their farmland, their homes, and their dreams. In the 1940’s, Hollywood discovered the scenic area, built an Old West movie set, and filmed here through the mid-1970’s. The Old West movie set is gone now, too, victim to time and pyromaniacs.

But the real attraction—at least for us—is the magnificent multi-colored cliffs and hills. There’s also a lovely picnic area with a gorgeous view of the banded hills. (To reach Paria, drive another 12 miles west on Highway 89, turn right at milepost 31, and drive six miles of steep and twisting dirt road to the parking area and picnic site.)

 Third stop: Big Water Visitor Center. One of four visitor centers scattered across Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the focus here is on dinosaurs. Apparently the monument has recently been discovered to be a premier location for dinosaur fossils. My knowledge about dinosaurs pretty much ended with what I learned in elementary school. But at Big Water, I learned that all dinosaurs had feathers. Seriously? I was not taught that in school. Feathers on most dinosaurs obviously weren’t meant for flight, but were probably for insulation. Somehow I find dinosaurs more appealing when I imagine them covered in feathers. (Heading back toward Lake Powell, located just off Highway 89 in the town of Big Water.)

Unlike the tourist magnets of Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend that we visited earlier in the week, we saw few other people on the trail to the Toadstools and in the former township of Paria. And at the Big Water Visitor Center, we were the only visitors, which afforded us an opportunity to talk with the amateur paleontologist who discovered his own dinosaur while casually hiking in the monument.

Next Up: Beautiful Snow Canyon: St. George, UT

Technicolor Hills Of Paria

At The Toadstools Trailhead

Stark Yet Beautiful Landscape

Distant View Of The Toadstools

The Most Photogenic Toadstools

A Close Encounter With The Toadstools

Red And White Badlands

Transported To Another Realm

Toadstools Of A Different Color

Bizarrely Beautiful Landscape

Feeling Pretty Small

A Bit Of Scrambling Involved

Gorgeous View From Above

A Few Tenacious Wildflowers

On The Road To Paria

An Amazingly Colorful Landscape

A Short Hike Into The Hills

Cinnabar Colored Mountains And Clouds

So Vibrant It Seems Unreal

A Perfect Place For A Picnic

Big Water Visitor Center

He Discovered His Own Dinosaur

Technicolor Hills Of Paria
At The Toadstools Trailhead
Stark Yet Beautiful Landscape
Distant View Of The Toadstools
The Most Photogenic Toadstools
A Close Encounter With The Toadstools
Red And White Badlands
Transported To Another Realm
Toadstools Of A Different Color
Bizarrely Beautiful Landscape
Feeling Pretty Small
A Bit Of Scrambling Involved
Gorgeous View From Above
A Few Tenacious Wildflowers
On The Road To Paria
An Amazingly Colorful Landscape
A Short Hike Into The Hills
Cinnabar Colored Mountains And Clouds
So Vibrant It Seems Unreal
A Perfect Place For A Picnic
Big Water Visitor Center
He Discovered His Own Dinosaur
Technicolor Hills Of Paria thumbnail
At The Toadstools Trailhead thumbnail
Stark Yet Beautiful Landscape thumbnail
Distant View Of The Toadstools thumbnail
The Most Photogenic Toadstools thumbnail
A Close Encounter With The Toadstools thumbnail
Red And White Badlands thumbnail
Transported To Another Realm thumbnail
Toadstools Of A Different Color thumbnail
Bizarrely Beautiful Landscape thumbnail
Feeling Pretty Small thumbnail
A Bit Of Scrambling Involved thumbnail
Gorgeous View From Above thumbnail
A Few Tenacious Wildflowers thumbnail
On The Road To Paria thumbnail
An Amazingly Colorful Landscape thumbnail
A Short Hike Into The Hills thumbnail
Cinnabar Colored Mountains And Clouds thumbnail
So Vibrant It Seems Unreal thumbnail
A Perfect Place For A Picnic thumbnail
Big Water Visitor Center thumbnail
He Discovered His Own Dinosaur thumbnail

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A Spectacular Hike In Buckskin Gulch

A Spectacular Hike In Buckskin Gulch

Posted by on Jul 15, 2016 in Gallery, Hiking, Utah | 30 comments

Buckskin Gulch—the longest, deepest slot canyon in the Southwest—has long been on our hiking bucket list. Located in the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in southern Utah, the canyon is an undulating, narrow, 13-mile long corridor of sculpted sandstone.

We enjoy challenging hikes. But when I happened across an article in Backpacking Magazine that described Buckskin Gulch as one of the most dangerous hikes in America, I started having second thoughts.

Tackling the entire canyon requires an overnight trip (it’s a 21-mile journey); wading through waist-deep pools of cold, muddy water; and navigating rock and log jams with 15-foot or more drop-offs. What makes the canyon so perilous, though, is the risk of flash floods—with no means of escape along most of the route.

Still, we wanted to hike Buckskin Gulch—not the entire length, but part of it. And preferably, not the part with the deep, cold, mud baths, or the part with the rock falls that require ropes and canyoneering skills. With some research, we came up with a plan.

We stopped at the BLM contact station to inquire about the current conditions. The ranger assured us that with no impending storms within a 50-mile radius, it was a good day for hiking the canyon. The road to the trailhead had even been recently graded. But when I inquired about the condition of the trail, the news was less encouraging.

Our plan was to begin hiking at the Wire Pass Canyon trailhead, an option with more interesting scenery and a quicker route into the heart of Buckskin Gulch. But I had read accounts of the rock fall that blocks access to Wire Pass Canyon, with some people saying it was a four-foot drop off, others saying it was ten. “The canyon changes with every flash flood,” said the ranger. “Right now, there’s at least a ten-foot drop off.” Could we climb down the rock fall? “Probably not—but there’s a workaround.” Is there a marked trail? “Nope, but you can’t miss it.” And with these rather vague but encouraging directions, we headed out.

As promised, the road to the Wire Pass trailhead was an easy drive over a recently graded dirt road. We signed in at the trailhead and started out along the sandy wash. After an easy three-quarter mile hike, we entered the slot canyon, wanting to see for ourselves just how challenging the rock fall would be to navigate. We had already encountered several people on the trail who had turned around, discouraged, when they reached the enormous choke stone blocking the trail. “What about the alternative trail?” I asked. Everyone told us there wasn’t one.

We reached the choke stone, looked over the edge, and I said, “No way.” But finding the workaround was not as easy as the ranger had promised. With no marked trail, we started a sharp ascent up the sandstone cliffs, scouting the edge of the canyon until we reached a place where descent was possible. I have no pride when it comes to these kinds of challenges—crawling, scooting on my butt, I don’t care what it looks like—my focus is on getting down without falling over the edge. Once in the slot canyon, it was a remarkably easy and beautiful one-mile hike to the confluence of Wire Pass Canyon and Buckskin Gulch.

At the confluence, you have a choice: turn right (down canyon), and you’ll likely encounter mud or deep water about a half-mile in. Turn left, and you wend your way through the magnificent slot canyon of Buckskin Gulch for about two miles before it opens up into a wash—a wonderland of swirling sandstone and fanciful rock formations that look like soft serve ice cream. You can guess which way we chose.

Hiking back, we retraced our steps through the sandstone cathedral of Buckskin Gulch. This time, though, we opted to tackle the boulder fall that chokes Wire Pass Canyon, figuring it couldn’t be much more difficult than the workaround we chose on the way in.

The rock fall is easier going up than coming down because you can see what you’re doing. But at least in my case, being taller would have helped a lot. After I quite gracefully (at least in my mind) climbed the rock fall and hoisted myself up onto the boulder, I got stuck on my belly, unable to move forward or backward because I couldn’t reach a wall to gain leverage. I started doing little pushups, trying to move myself along, but was stuck so far back on the boulder that I wasn’t making much progress. And then I started to laugh, which didn’t help at all. Fortunately, two kind hikers at the top each grabbed an arm and pulled, while Eric climbed up the rock fall behind me and pushed on my feet. (I told you I have no pride when it comes to these kinds of situations.)

If You Go:

The best and safest time to hike Buckskin Gulch is the dry season (April through June), when the likelihood of a flash flood is minimal. It’s also the most popular time to hike the canyon, but in mid-May, we saw few other people.

To access the Wire Pass trailhead from Page, travel west 34 miles on Highway 89. Be sure to stop at the Paria BLM contact station for updated road and canyon conditions. Turn left (south) onto House Rock Valley Road (BLM Road 1065) and drive approximately 8 miles to the trailhead parking area.

Permits are required for hiking and can be obtained at the self-serve pay station at the trailhead. The fee is $6.00 per person/per dog. Be sure to take plenty of water, because there’s none available at the trailhead.

Next Up: Toadstools And Technicolor Hills: Southern Utah

A Spectacular Hike In Buckskin Gulch

The Road To Wirepass Trailhead

At The Wirepass Trailhead

Beginning The Adventure

Fragrant Blooms Along The Trail

The Rock Formations Start To Get Interesting

Descending Into Wirepass Canyon

Change Of Plan, Searching For A Way Down

That's Where We Need To Be

A Possible Route Down

The Honorable Technique Of Scooting

Now It's Easy

Wirepass Slot Canyon

A Beautiful Stone Labyrinth

One More Obstacle In Wirepass Canyon

Just Before The Junction For Buckskin Gulch

A Few Petroglyphs Pecked Into The Walls

Buckskin Gulch Slot Canyon

Dwarfed By The Canyon Walls

No Clouds And A Perfect Day

The Trail Opens Up

An Interesting Landscape Of Sandstone

Vast Sandstone Ledges

Beautiful Sandstone Swirls

Back Into The Canyon Cathedral

Sculpted Waves Of Sandstone

It's Harder Than It Looks

On The Trail Out (And Happy)

A Spectacular Hike In Buckskin Gulch
The Road To Wirepass Trailhead
At The Wirepass Trailhead
Beginning The Adventure
Fragrant Blooms Along The Trail
The Rock Formations Start To Get Interesting
Descending Into Wirepass Canyon
Change Of Plan, Searching For A Way Down
That's Where We Need To Be
A Possible Route Down
The Honorable Technique Of Scooting
Now It's Easy
Wirepass Slot Canyon
A Beautiful Stone Labyrinth
One More Obstacle In Wirepass Canyon
Just Before The Junction For Buckskin Gulch
A Few Petroglyphs Pecked Into The Walls
Buckskin Gulch Slot Canyon
Dwarfed By The Canyon Walls
No Clouds And A Perfect Day
The Trail Opens Up
An Interesting Landscape Of Sandstone
Vast Sandstone Ledges
Beautiful Sandstone Swirls
Back Into The Canyon Cathedral
Sculpted Waves Of Sandstone
It's Harder Than It Looks
On The Trail Out (And Happy)
A Spectacular Hike In Buckskin Gulch thumbnail
The Road To Wirepass Trailhead thumbnail
At The Wirepass Trailhead thumbnail
Beginning The Adventure thumbnail
Fragrant Blooms Along The Trail thumbnail
The Rock Formations Start To Get Interesting thumbnail
Descending Into Wirepass Canyon thumbnail
Change Of Plan, Searching For A Way Down thumbnail
That's Where We Need To Be thumbnail
A Possible Route Down thumbnail
The Honorable Technique Of Scooting thumbnail
Now It's Easy thumbnail
Wirepass Slot Canyon thumbnail
A Beautiful Stone Labyrinth thumbnail
One More Obstacle In Wirepass Canyon thumbnail
Just Before The Junction For Buckskin Gulch thumbnail
A Few Petroglyphs Pecked Into The Walls thumbnail
Buckskin Gulch Slot Canyon thumbnail
Dwarfed By The Canyon Walls thumbnail
No Clouds And A Perfect Day thumbnail
The Trail Opens Up thumbnail
An Interesting Landscape Of Sandstone thumbnail
Vast Sandstone Ledges thumbnail
Beautiful Sandstone Swirls thumbnail
Back Into The Canyon Cathedral thumbnail
Sculpted Waves Of Sandstone thumbnail
It's Harder Than It Looks thumbnail
On The Trail Out (And Happy) thumbnail

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