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Wolverine Creek to the Upper Gulch
Saying Goodbye to the Escalante

An easy day

Thursday, May 3   We awoke to a breezy morning. It seemed like everyone was ready for an easy day, and that is what I had planned. Should be a stroll up The Gulch. We had moved past yesterday's planned camp, and so we likely only had 5.5 or 6 miles to the next campsite, which would put us in easy striking distance of the food cache and shuttle car for tomorrow morning. We were up a bit earlier this morning, a little after 6:30 am. We knew that the sun would be on us soon (this had been a fine campsite, but only in the afternoon and evening. The sun hit early here. Despite having a quick breakfast, we did not leave camp, until nearly 9 am. Trying to keep that leisurely feeling, I guess. The canyon was pretty open and we were thankful for the easy walking this morning, having gotten tired of fighting storm damage. We hiked for maybe an hour and 20 minutes or so: we were enjoying the lighter packs and the need not to push. Susie and I pulled into the first side canyon on the right, maybe 2 miles or so upstream of camp, at about the same time Ron arrived. Andy and Sue were just a minute or so behind us. We all decided, since we were moving so well, that we deserved to take a break and do a little exploring of the side canyon.

And a good one it was. A good omen was an owl sailing right over our heads as we got up maybe 150 meters or so into the canyon. Next, we found this wonderful little bench, just covered in paintbrush. It was hard to walk up on it without stepping on the flowers. But the final treat was really special. I climbed up into an overhang, and it just looked like it had been inhabited at one time, but I could not pick out anything special, except that the lovely flaked ceiling made for some great photo opportunities. Thankfully, Sue, the artifact-finder extraodinaire, arrived shortly, and ended up finding an spear point (that was clearly imperfect) and lots of stone flakes, and a grinding stone. Pretty neat. She left the spear point where she found it, so that the next lucky traveler could find it too.

We left the side canyon mouth about 11:15 and headed off to find a granary that Will had reported seeing on the 1986 trip. It had to be up on the benches just upstream of the side canyon mouth, so that is where we started looking. Ron, and Susie and I looked all over the bench, and could not see anything, even with Ron scouting without his pack. Susie and I gave up and yelled to Ron we were moseying. As we started to drop off the upstream end of the bench, we looked up high under one of the side alcoves, and there was the ruin. Actually, three small structures. We yelled back to Ron, and finally, with Sue's help, succeeded in giving him intelligible directions where to look. He finally saw them from below, but reported that there was no way to safely get up close to them, short of repelling down to them from the top.

We had wanted to stop in the first side canyon on the left, where there is supposed to be a spring. But I had not bothered to look at the map, and we hiked for some time, before I realized that the side canyon had been just upstream of the bench where we saw the ruin. We had passed it. We ran into Will and Kim, who had not stopped in the first side canyon, and they reported that we did not miss much, and that the spring was pretty sandy and had little water in it. We ran into them perhaps 2/3 of mile above the side canyon we missed. We attributed our missing it to a) my stupidity at not reading the map and b) the amount of trees in the canyon at this point. The leaves of small cottonwoods blocked many of the views when one was on the canyon bottom. We decided, collectively, to stop and have lunch, but it was not pleasant. The wind had really picked up and with all the sand scattered across the canyon floor due to the flood, it made for a very gritty and unappetizing lunch. Susie and I spent minimal time and were underway pretty quickly.

You could tell that the weather was changing. The air temperature was dropping, and without the wind driven sand, it would have been very pleasant hiking. Everyone seemed to be moving at their own pace, but Susie and I had not seen John, Ray, Barbara, or Terri since we had left camp. We got to a point where we were going to round a shallow bend in the canyon. I spied a nice sitting place, looked at my watch, and told Susie that since it had been about an hour since we had left lunch, it would be a good time to stop and see how close we were to camp. So I got out my GPS and it answered the question of "how close." The answer was: very close. Maybe 250 meters straight line distance. So the next question was: where is that part of the crew which was ahead of us, and have they gone past the planned campsite? We learned the answer as we rounded the bend: right around the bend. Barbara and Ray could not have been sitting more than 50 meters upstream of us, but out of sight in the shade of the trees. John and Terri were off looking for campsites. So several of us started scouting for potential spots to camp. One of the challenges in this part of the canyon was the aforementioned small cottonwood trees. There were so many of them, that it made seeing distant formations difficult. I went upstream a little way, and decided to bust through the trees lining the bank. I climbed up a bench, maybe 25 feet high, and here was lots of room, grass, flat spots, and a few scattered cottonwood trees. Sometimes, I thought, you do get lucky. The spot we ended up camping at (12S, 471952 E, 4186797 N) could not have been 65 meters from the point I had picked studying aerial photos. Yeah, you do get lucky sometimes.

This was the best of all the campsites we had used during the trip to date. It had pretty much all the things you could ask for: views, shade, a small side canyon to explore if you wanted, a good rocky bathing spot downstream from camp, and grass. It did have one additional amenity: cow shit. ("It's not a bug, it's a feature!") The cows are not completely gone from the Escalante. Sadly. But once you kicked the crap out of the way, it was a pretty good spot. Several folks relaxed, and explored the side canyon, and Andy and Sue just chilled out. I had spotted a rock shelf on the canyon floor just down stream from camp, so Susie and I luxuriated in the sunshine while cleaning up. We spent the afternoon just sitting around and chatting. Since moving from Knoxville, we do not get a chance to see our friends as often, so I consider "chatting" a legitimate canyon country activity.

As the sun dropped behind the canyon wall, the temperature fell with it. As I said, you could tell that the weather was going through a change. Frankly, we were ready for cool. We all dressed in our Polartek and fuzzy hats for dinner. And speaking of dinner, we tried a slight variation on things for something new tonight: we made up some pesto sauce from one of the Knorr mixes, and cooked some pasta, and mixed the two with some roasted-at-home pine nuts and lots of Parmesan cheese. Vegetarian, but not bad. The after dinner entertainment was more chatting, and with the cool weather, most of us were in tentia by 9 pm or so. We would have a full day tomorrow.

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Roger A. Jenkins, Suzanne A. McDonald, 2007