Spring Break 2010 went down well over a month ago, but with a new addition to the family things have been a little hectic.
Spending five days with a small group of family and friends was a welcomed departure from my typical m.o. of solo adventures. We packed a lot of stuff into just 4 days. Too much fun to recount in a single post, so I'll break it up by each day.
For more years than I can remember, I've wanted to venture into the remote, maze-like Escalante Desert region accessed along the historic Hole-in-the-Rock Road. The route was originally blazed in 1879 by Mormon pioneers who where asked by their leader to uproot themselves from their comfortable homes in southwestern Utah (mostly from Parowan and Cedar City) and trek 100s of miles across the barely-explored wilderness to establish a new community in the southeastern corner of the state along the San Juan River.
To make a long story short, as you may guess, the journey was several orders of magnitude more difficult than expected. As any southern Utah explorer will tell you (and as these pioneers soon learned), the shortest distance between two points in canyon country is definitely not a straight line. Many hardships were endured, the most famous of which was the harrowing descent through a narrow 1000-foot-high crack or "hole" in mighty Glen Canyon's wall.
The deep canyons, slickrock domes, and windswept ridges that seemed insurmountable to the pioneers make for an unforgettable playground for the modern outdoor enthusiast.
Several inches of fresh snow to start day one was a little discouraging, but you can never be too surprised with Utah weather in the spring. Things warmed up nicely though, and by the time we made the 3-hour drive to Escalante, it was shorts and t-shirt weather.
The first stop, only 12 miles down the Hole-in-the-Rock Road, was Devil's Garden. Here, an unusual concentration of arches, hoodoos, pinnacles, and balanced rocks has been carved by wind and water out of the Gunsight Butte Member of the Entrada.
The Hole-in-the-Rock Gang poses in front of Matate Arch: left to right - Rensky (my Dad), Eros (my brother), me, Matt (another brother), and Beege (friend).
Above: Mano Arch - don't worry, I couldn't even manage to dislodge a single sand grain. This arch will be around for many centuries to come (photo credit: Beege).
After exploring Devil's Garden a while, the sun was hanging low and we headed straight for our campsite up Collet Canyon. The primo campsite nestled back in a secluded alcove was already occupied by an outfitter out of Escalante. No big deal, there was plenty of flat ground to throw up a tent nearby.
Before setting up camp, we took a few minutes to find the 160-million-year-old dinosaur trackways (discovered only 12 years ago) spread throughout the Escalante slickrock behind camp. Most are a little difficult to recognize as you are typically looking at the disturbed sand (concentric circles above) beneath the actual footprint that has long eroded away. But you can tell from the pattern (highlighted with the white ellipses) that they are indeed a trackway.
In a few of the better prints, you can make out the three individual toes of what was probably a 10-12-f00t-high theropod.
The long, sweeping cross-beds in the sandstone here indicate deposition as great sand dunes -- not the best environment for preserving dinosaur tracks. A high water table and resultant seasonal ponds likely developed between the larger dunes. This water would have attracted the animals and moistened the sand enough to preserve their footprints.
After feasting on pulled pork sandwiches we turned in early so we could get plenty of rest for the following day. Sleep, unfortunately didn't come easy for all. Temperatures plunged well below freezing that night, and I recall Dad waking up at about 2 am in a frenzy because he could "see stars." "Why am I looking at stars?" he demanded, "I shouldn't be seeing stars!" At this point I though he had surely lost his marbles, but it turns out he just couldn't believe that the rainfly had not been placed on his tent, and this was the first time all night that he looked up to see stars instead of the inside of his rainfly. And Matt, well, he's been living in balmy southern California for several years now, and I don't think he slept a wink.
In the morning we would embark on the crown jewel of the trip: an 18-mile backpack through Coyote Gulch.
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