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Wolverine Creek to the Upper Gulch
Saying Goodbye to the Escalante


Sunday, May 6   Everyone was up before the appointed time of 6:30. The temperature had only dropped to 38 overnight, so maybe that was responsible for people moving more quickly. Susie and I were outta camp by 8:11 am, and we were the last ones out. Not sure why it takes us so long, except that I know I just need time to sorta stumble around in the mornings. I could have blamed it on my back, because that was really hurting. But such would have been just an excuse, not a reason. We had an uneventful hike down the canyon. We hiked virtually the entire way in shade, just because had gotten and early start, and the way the walls are set of the canyon, they afford protection from the sun early in the morning. We stopped for a 10 minute break just below the pour-off and then Susie resumed her march. The last morning, people are always pushing. Susie pushes because she hates to be last.

We arrived at the Burr Trail crossing of the creek at 10:10 am, so just about 2 hours down canyon, with a lighter pack. Waiting for us was Ron in the mini-van, I guess so we would not waste the group's time by having to walk back to where all the vehicles were parked. Ray was waiting for us as well, presumably so he could escort us back to Salt Lake City. Everyone decided that breakfast or lunch at the Boulder Mesa Grill was in order, so we all headed to the thriving metroplex of Boulder, Utah for what turned out to be a pretty good breakfast (the waitress told us that it was just a little too early for serving lunch). The four of us at our table all had the Boulder Mesa omelets, which were really good. Everything but the kitchen sink and lots of green chilis. What a great way to come out of the canyons.

We left a few minutes before noon, drove through some snow squalls, and arrived at the Days Inn-Airport about 5 pm, following a productive stop at the Super Target in Sandy to pick up several boxes of Krusteaz Apple Spice Pancake mix, about the only place that I have seen the stuff for sale anywhere recently. While in the parking lot, I noticed a voice mail message from Will on our cell phone: after exiting the canyon, they had decided to head home for Knoxville the next day, rather than goof off for a couple more days. Since they had been out west for a week ahead of the rest of us, it meant that Kim had been away from her two boys for a couple of weeks. Me thinks she was ready to be "Mom" again. The nine of us had decided that we would do the Blue Iguana for dinner that night. Compared to the Red Iguana, I would say that the food might not have been quite as good, by a hair, but the margaritas were better and it was not so crazy inside (might have been the difference between a Friday evening and a Sunday evening in Salt Lake). My suggestion the next time the reader is in Salt Lake: try ‘em both and see what you think. The most interesting dinner announcement was that Barbara had changed her mind and was not going up to Yellowstone to spend the summer, but rather, needed to head back to Portal, AZ, to be with her boyfriend and see where that might lead. Surely, the heart is an interesting organ. So the next morning, we all took off in our respective directions and all the chicks eventually made it, if not to THE nest, then to the nests they had made for themselves. As it should be.

As I sit here in my home office in Bozeman, Montana, preparing this report, I have been reflecting on the impact of the October 2006 Escalante flood, which, I suspect, will continue to impact the experience of those who hike in the area for a long time, perhaps decades. I am always taken by how the acts of mother nature dwarf the pathetic attempts of man to alter, deliberately or otherwise, the environment around him. On a short term dramatic scale, the filling in of wet lands, clear cutting, damming rivers, even pouring out ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide, don't seem to have the emotional impact - to us humans, anyway - that earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and wildfire hold.

I think back to how a few natural events have impacted me, and changed my behavior or perspective: The Nor'easter storm in March of 1962 that slammed Seven Mile Beach Island in Southern New Jersey, where I had spent every summer vacation as a kid, tore off the most southerly two miles of that island. Gone were the grassy dunes, the nesting places for wild birds, and the "wild" places that I could roam as a teenager, and try to keep my head screwed on straight. That storm removed what little emotional attraction I had for the island, and while my parents enjoyed spending summer after summer there, my enthusiasm was washed away with the shifting sands.

That Sunday morning in mid-May of 1980 (May 18, at 8:31 PDT, to be exact), when Mt. St Helens blew out its north face is one of those days that you-remember-where-you-were-when. The fall before, I had done a four day solo backpack in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, just downwind from Mt. St. Helens. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to day hike downwind of the volcano the late spring after the eruption. I was taken by the tremendous changes which made the experience like, as I have said before, hiking on a beach with trees. I was also taken by the incredible struggles of small plants to push their stalks up through the half-foot of ash or more that covered them, so that life, somehow, could continue.

I also visited Yellowstone National Park briefly the summer after the great fires of 1988. I was taken then, too, by the changes and resilience of life. Hiking through a huge burn area on the west side of the Park in 2003, I was awed by how many dead trees were still standing, as well as the incredibly dramatic display of Indian Paintbrush. A display like I had never seen, it had to be measured in square miles. One species loss is another's gain, I guess.

For me, the changes that occurred as a result of the October 2006 Escalante flood hold similar dramatic impacts for me. Gone are some of the things that I found attractive about the area, the grassy benches, the spring wildflowers, many of the shade trees. These have been replaced by acre upon acre of sand piles on benches, and mounds of debris and downed trees. I would suspect that there were also a few changes, on a small scale anyway, in the course of the river flow. For me, the changes, at least in the small stretches that we saw, made backpacking through this country somewhat less enjoyable (or maybe just tougher to hike). I realize that the years will soften the impact and that, with the continued diminution of subsidized grazing within the canyon, the grasses and flowers, etc, may recover faster than they might have 3 decades ago. But alas, I don't have several decades of backpacking left in me. That does not mean that I would not recommend these places to others. No way!!! The Escalante is a spectacularly beautiful setting in which to enjoy the wilderness. Rather, it is merely a personal statement of loss. So after nine backpacking trips to this particular canyon system, maybe it is time to say "goodbye." For now.

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To view supplemental photos of this trip, go to our TwoHikers PicasaWeb gallery.

© Roger A. Jenkins, 2007; Photo of mountain snows and sand with canyon walls,© Ronald E. Shrieves, 2007