Saturday, October 10, 2020

Exploring Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

By May, we were needing a Coronavirus get-away. My brother, Ed, was willing to join the kids and me for a long Memorial Day weekend trip to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in central Utah. Our focus would be easy canyons. 

After driving half a day to get there, we met up and found the starting spot for the Egypt 1 slot canyon right next to the road. The kids were delighted. No hiking! We rappelled about 20 feet into the canyon and then started into some narrow slots.

Before too long, we were at the next short rappel. We had picked this canyon because it was short and had short rappels. It also had no approach hike and a short exit hike.

The kids didn't feel like they were hiking as we found one obstacle after another.

The kids were feeling quite confident by the time we got to the third rappel.


We found an injured owl nearby, and tried not to alarm it much.

A bit farther on, we found a slide that was so much fun the kids had to try repeatedly going up and down it. It was fun just playing a bit.

Desert Girl loved stemming, even when she didn't have to.

We finished the canyon in high spirits and had plenty of time to hike back in the light.

Hurray for blooming cactus flowers.

We could tell that a lot of other people had gotten the idea to come to Grand Staircase-Escalante, as most of the dispersed camping sites were full. Finally we settled for this adequate site right next to the road.

The next morning we got ready for another canyon, Egypt 3, a longer one, but with no rappels. It was noted to have a really tight section, so we tried to take little packs.

We had a longer approach, but it was beautiful. As we hiked over the slickrock, we couldn't see anyone else.

Then we descended into the canyon, and our views were just the sandstone around us.

We had some fun downclimbs.

We often had to tell the kids to slow down, as they could move in the tight spots faster than the adults.

A rest break and Desert Boy showing off his water bottle.

The report said that this canyon usually had several potholes, or holes with water in them. We were expecting to get wet. Desert Boy tried to find a way around.

Desert Girl followed me through the pothole.

My borther also skirted the pothole. It turned out to be the only wet spot in the canyon that day!

We got into a longer narrow section.

One spot had a lot of daddy-longlegs all around us.

Then we popped out into a wider spot again.

Not too fear, the narrows continued.

It got quite narrow. Even the kids were touching both walls.
My brother decided he would rather chimney up into a wider section of the canyon.

Soon we exited the beautiful canyon.

Then it was time to hike back. This hike was a long one, so we had to endure some whining.

We spotted this cool lizard.

The scenery was amazing.

We took a little detour to see how busy it was at the end of the Egypt Road. We couldn't believe that trailhead. This is the gateway to Neon Canyon (see 2015 post where I went canyoneering), the Golden Cathedral, and Escalante River.

People were parked all over, including on the sensitive plants. It was sad to see so much trampling.

Wow, Desert Boy giving his sister a back massage! We still had daylight, so once we got back to our vehicle and refueled, we decided to drive down to a couple easy canyons.

Along the main Hole-in-the-Rock Road are Peek-A-Boo and Spooky canyons. They are a great intro to slot canyons. They are also super popular. We got there late in the afternoon and were able to get a parking spot.

About 50 people passed us coming out as we hiked along the edge and then descended into the drainage below us.

Because of Covid, they had made the canyons one-way. So we started up Peek-a-Boo canyon.

It wasn't sunny, but that made it more comfortable. And we hardly saw anyone. I can't imagine the traffic jams that were likely present during most of the day.

The kids had fun stemming.

When we finished the first canyon, we followed the path and rock cairns to Spooky Canyon.

The sun illuminated the sunflowers.

The kids had fun posing. And then they took off.

More fun going on optional routes.

The canyon is beautiful.

It's also a bit narrow in places (10 inches wide), although not as tight as our morning canyon.

When we finished, we hiked back towards the trailhead.

We took a detour going up Dry Fork Canyon, which has nice, walking passage.

Desert Girl also found places to practice climbing.

We were starving, so we just made our soup in the parking lot. The sun set as we ate. We wondered where we would stay the night. We decided to drive back up the main road and down a side road towards our destination for the next day. Fortunately we found a camping spot, albeit it was rather windy that night.

The next morning we drove down the road and got the truck stuck in a really sandy area. Fortunately shovels and floor mats allowed us to escape. I drove to a firmer spot and the others carried the floor mats to me.

The road kept going, but it got sandier, so we parked and started hiking. Our destination was the Cosmic Ashtray or Cosmic Navel, a geologic anomaly.

The more common approach is from Old Sheffield Road, but I found directions from the south. It didn't take too long and we were at this strange geologic phenomenon.

We had brought a rope, as reports said we needed one. But the kids had done so well with climbing they felt comfortable without it.

Once down in the pit, we played on the giant sand dune.

We had to find a challenge, which was getting up onto the island of rock.

Adding a person on top really adds to the scale.

Getting out was relatively easy.

We found it's kind of hard to photograph because of the strong shadow. Maybe a cloudy day would be better.

Hurray, a weird spot and we had found it!

On the drive back to the main road, we found some moqui steps up another rock by a corral. We stopped and scrambled up, but didn't find much.

At the junction with the highway, the single dumpster was overflowing. It was quite disgusting to see how people couldn't take more responsibility for their trash.

The next order of business was food! We devoured this pizza! It was a great weekend. I really appreciated my brother's willingness to go and how much the kids embraced some challenges.

We love this area, and I highly recommend supporting the Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, a friends group who helps support the national monument and the resources it protects.

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