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Escalante Canyon 1999

Weather movin' in

By the time we were midway thru our breaking camp, Sue came back from the river and reported that not only was the flow up, but the water temp, which had been in the high 40's, had dropped to 42 degrees. So we knew that we would have a fun day ahead of us. Our goal was to get about a mile or so above the crack that leads up into the Main Street/Side Street complex, or about a total of 2 miles above the mouth of The Gulch. We rolled out of camp at 9:17 am, as usual, just ahead of Mark and Will, but behind everyone else. Ray had found a bypass trail leading out of Horse canyon, which saves a couple of river crossings. Of course, that just delayed the inevitable, but when you actually stepped into the water, 42 degrees was not as bad as it sounds. The sky clouded up quickly, first with high thin clouds, and then the ceiling lowered. The air temperature did not seem to increase much. Above the mouth of Horse Canyon, the Escalante canyon tightens up. The walls move in, and there are not the broad banks which exist down near Harris Wash. That just means that you have to cross the river a bit more frequently, and you have a bit less choice as to where to do it. Of course, the cows always take the easiest path, so it is pretty simple just to follow the trail of cow pies. Late morning, we came across a party who were camped under a small overhang. Looked like real canyon rats. The apparent leader said that they had been down Boulder Creek before, and had to float their packs about a quarter mile (they did not know about the bypass route mentioned in Canyoneering 3, by Steve Allen) and then had to walk in chest deep water for a ways further on down the canyon. It was interesting that their comments, based on first hand experience, carried so much more weight than the strident pleas of the ranger we had met in the Escalante contact station. I guess in this country, experience is almost everything. Anyway, that seemed to make up our minds for us: we would shift to Plan B, which meant that we would not try to go up Boulder Creek, but instead, just go up the River canyon, get to the Escalante River bridge, and walk the highway 2 or 3 miles back to the car. No big deal. I think the fact that the water and the air temperature was pretty cool helped to solidify this decision.

About 11:30 or so, we got to what I call Crack spring. It is just downstream from where we camped below the mouth of the Gulch in '86. There is great water running out the side of the rock, about the flow of a garden hose full on. But I noticed a definite change in the ease of getting to the spring: in '86, you had to ford the river, and stand in the river with water up to your knees or so to get water out of the spring. Now, in '99, you stood on a sand spit to get the water. What will it be like if 50 years? Because I was concerned about the sediment level of the river, and suspected that there would be no other sources of water where we were supposed to camp, Susie and I filled up all our water bottles, and left some in the bag. I figured such would give us some nice drinking water for tonight, at least. It was so cool that we were not drinking much as we hiked.

Most folks gathered across from the mouth of The Gulch for lunch. The sun came out, and life was good. But it was not long after lunch that it started to spit rain. We debated whether to put on our rain covers for our packs. They would keep our packs dry, only if they were not being ripped off as we passed through the vegetation. Susie opted to put hers on, because it clings to her pack so tightly. I kept mine off. But it wasn't long before the skies opened up, and we ducked under an overhang along the river to stay dry. The shower lasted about 20 minutes, after which we all hoisted and rolled on out. Susie and I were somewhere in the middle of the pack, with George, as usual, out front, and A&S right behind him. Soon, we passed the spot which one can use to climb up into the Main Street/Side Street complex, so I was finally hiking in terrain which was new for me. But it wasn't but a couple more bends, and we saw Sue stopped and looking around. It seems that they had decided on a spot at a stretch where the canyon runs nearly due east/west. At first, the place did not look like much, but the more we looked around, the more we liked it. The spot had an Anasazi ruin right above us, and this unusual brown grass on which to put our tents. That is always preferred to sand. And there was a bit of an overhang, where we could get out of a shower, as long as the rain came straight down. It was 2:40 PM (still enough time to do a bit of exploring) and we had made 28 crossing of the river in about 6 miles or so. The river crossings had required more time than usual, because the water was sufficiently cloudy to obscure the bottom, so you had to feel your way across. I also noticed that with the cool air temp and the cool water, I never quite got warmed up all day. Always on the edge of too cool.

I took off and went looking for a spot where the river water was clearer. I found another ruin, way up high on a wall 200 yds above our campsite. However, I could find no better water than what was right across from us. I had to ford the river to get to a spot where the water was settling on the other side of a sand bar, but since our pump was giving out, we wanted to avoid putting any more sediment into the filter than necessary. Since the temperature seemed to be dropping all day, my bath was not really pleasant. In fact, it spit rain on me a bit. Always a delightful supplement to a cloudy day bath. We waited until 6:15 to cook dinner, which we did up against the canyon wall under the overhang. (This being under the overhang was a good deal. It showered twice during dinner, but we did not get wet. Very much anyway.) While Dolph was standing around, he uncovered a metate, the hollowed out stone used by the Anasazi women to grind corn. This one had been ground into the bed rock and covered with sand over the years. It was pretty neat to be cooking dinner right where the ancient ones had done it 800 years ago. No corn tonight, though: just Uncle Bens Cajun rice and beans, with some dried ham. It is better than the Lipton's version, because there is more of it. Mmmmm....... We built a small fire after dinner. We did not worry about impact on this area, although we kept our fires small, scattered and buried the ashes, and either broke up the fire ring or used existing ones. About 50 yds from where we built the fire, the cows have totally destroyed the area, having eaten every bit of vegetation. I stepped on a cow surprise right near our tent. A cow surprise is a patty that looks dry on the outside, but is quite moist and fresh on the inside. Usually, where you step on one, the shit squirts out everywhere. Thank you, BLM.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 1999