FLEE THE VIRUS – A Journey to the Desert to Self Quarantine PART 2

With everything going on, Coronavirus emerging seems like a lifetime ago. I originally hoped to have this write up finished months ago, but the adventures continued and life has continually one-upped itself in terms of craziness…

Without further ado….

Our trip was centered around the idea of exploring the vast beauty of Utah, all with never seeing a soul. We wanted to be safe, but use our time off in a meaningful way. I sat down and begin to plan the trip. I wanted to take Briana to some of the most unique places I had already seen, as well as plenty of new ones.

The map of the road trip

The trip was planned out for 7-10 days. & solid planned days, with the last couple being tentative places in escalate to explore.

Food was packed, and we had everything we needed to disappear into the backcountry without ever seeing a soul or stopping for anything other than gas. We got up early, stopped for our favorite Kolaches (a now desert tradition) and off we went.

Now a lot of the images I share are off of my phone, the ones that show the intimate moments where my dslr isn’t handy. However, all of those images are gone due to a recent phone crash… Lots of the small details are gone and it breaks my heart. I say this because everything except the landscapes will not be posted…

The beauty surrounding the roadways

Day 1, we arrived into Kanab, a place I had not visited since I was very young. We begin with a quick side trip to canyoneer Diana’s Throne, a fun way to loosen up our legs from the drive. Afterwards, we drove further past Kanab, on roads I had never been on to get to Wahweap.

Now I had seen pictures of the hoodoos in Wahweap, sending it to the top of my list of to-dos. But I was truly overwhelmed by how incredible they were.

I knew once seeing them that I wanted to spend the night and capture them with the stars. I was so happy that I did.

Truly an amazing piece from mother nature. The stones on top protect the mud, not rock, from eroding away when it wains creating towers ranging from a few inches to twenty or so feet.

Day 2 involved the largest chunk of driving on the trip. But again, it was new road, and new sights. We starting with another fun canyon, blue pool wash, that involved rappelling off a car, an engine block, all in a slot canyon under the highway.

Briana’s model pose with our rope at the end of the canyon

As we drove onto our next point, we passed through many native american communities. It was very eye opening to see the poverty and living conditions surrounded by the desert. We continued further into monument valley at the UT-AZ border. While everything was shut down due to Covid, we pulled over for photos and to admire.

“Life is like a box of chocolates”

Nearing the end of the day since we had left Wahweap, we arrived in valley of the gods. The kid brother to monument valley. I honestly loved valley of the gods more than monument valley. So much tourism was attached in monument valley, where as it was a single dirt road with miles of desert to admire with no signs of human existence in valley of the gods.

Views from above our camp spot

Once we got settled, we bouldered around a bit wishing we had a trad rack to get on top of these towers. We opted to cowboy camp and watch the stars. I don’t think I got more than a few hours of sleep, and it’s easy to see why.

Definitely worse places to call home for the night
Not a bad view from my sleeping bag.

The reason we had chose to camp at Valley of the gods was to access Grand Gulch quick for the day 3’s hiking as well as drive one of my favorite segments of road in Utah, the Moki dugway. A 3 mile road descending off of the top of the Cedar Mesa.

Briana taking in the “Detour” we took
The endless switchbacks. I need to get in contact with UDOT to get this paved ASAP!

As we reached the top of the mesa, we had one more pitstop before we began our long hike of the trip, House on fire.

House on Fire Ruins

This area of Utah is amazing, hundreds of ruins stand like the inhabitants will return at any moment. Pottery, arrowheads, and other artifacts line the canyons. It truly is a priceless gem showcasing ancient civilizations. Grand gulch is the brightest gem in the area, with ruin after ruin, and numerous pictographs all along a river wash. That would be our destination for the next few days.

I had planned for us to first spend a night in Fish and Owl canyon, then move over into the Grand gulch.

Fish and Owl canyon is a 17 mile loop going down and up two separate canyons. We chose to go down owl canyon and come up fish.

The only ruin we found in the loop

The canyon starts with a dramatic drop off with a ruin under a rock dome alcove. It continues losing elevation rather steep with very unique rock formations.

Briana admiring Owl canyon

As we continued further down canyon, we noticed the sky slowly changing from blue to gray, then to a darker gray. Anytime you are in the desert, dark clouds spell trouble with a flashflood possibility. We hoped the clouds would move away, but eventually they begin to open up.

Lucky for us, it wasn’t too heavy of a rain, but enough to get us both wet and ready to call it for the night.

Day 4 we arose for a brisk, damp, desert morning ready to get out and head to grand gulch. We had hiked 12 miles the day before, so expected about 6 before we were out.

One of the many river crossings

What we didn’t plan on was the dense bush, hard to follow trail, and the steep ascent to follow out.

A quick break before we climb out.

The few miles we did took a lot longer than we though, but we were glad to be out. I think it was safe to say both of us enjoyed Owl canyon immensely more.

Now usually, our trips end at this point, we go home, we are tired, etc. But this was just the halfway mark! I could definitely feel the exhaustion. As we started the descent into Grand Gulch, I had to leave my pack and run back to the car twice. One for a belt, and the other for a camera battery, which was in my pack the whole time….. just an extra 2 miles to add to the day. I did however, make sure to leave Briana in a great spot.

A true cowboy camp, with the artifacts littering the alcove. She had a beer, sun bathed, and waited for me to return.

The canyon drastically changed from dry rough and flat, to tall walls with much more water than we expected. However this water quickly vanished again, making it a hunt for the rest of the hike. We decided to camp near the first ruin we encountered.

Day 5 begin with big ambitions. We had 8 miles or so to our end destination, the big man panel, which would be 16 back to camp. We hiked out, gathering any water we could find in keeper holes, and enjoying the sights. Walking in the wash all day was really the only thorn however.

Can you spot the pattern of where to build a home in the desert?

We eventually arrived at the big man panel, enjoyed lunch, and took it all in! Amazing what was left that we have discovered. I love hiking these areas as I feel like Indiana Jones trying to uncover a lost secret in an ancient civilization.

They may look small, but the figures were larger than me

We dreaded the hike back, but had no other choice. We threw packs on and headed back out breaking the long trek up with some interesting finds.

We had walked right by these ruins on the way up canyon, and barely noticed them on the way out. They are very well placed high on the cliff band. I never tire of walking up and exploring them. Thousands of years old, still with corn stalks dried up around them.

We continued hiking, wanting a nice flat sand beach for the night. we remembered one just past where we had camped for the previous night. The hiking continued, and at each bend we just wanted to be done. We never found it though. We kept hiking and as we got near the end of the canyon, it started to get dark, so we called it. I ended up with 21 miles on my phone, the longest in a day for me. I was tired, cranky, and done. But we had our camp.

Now just like how there is always room for dessert, I found I always have a little energy for photography at the end of the day. The sky was going crazy and I told Briana to set up the tent so I could grab a few photos.

They may not be the best, or my favorites of the trip, but it showed my how much of a passion photography really is. I can have a love/hate relationship with at times, so moments like this show we that’s okay, and that it will always be worth it to me.

Day 6 we got up, pretty exhausted, but stoked knowing we only had a few short miles till the car, and a nice long car ride to Escalante, nearly 5 hours away, After yesterday, it went by like a breeze. The car was oh so welcoming, and the drive was the perfect time for us to take turns to rest up a bit more.

Traveling in the desert has really showed me one thing, and that is to prepare for rough bad roads. I was surprised to find out this isn’t always the case, as taught from the Burr Trail Road. We had followed the paved road for awhile, leading us down switchbacks and to the valley floor. Looking from above I could not believe that this was paved.

This really brought my energy back to life ready to get back to hike. I was especially excited to explore a new region of Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. The trail we woudl be hiking was Little Death Hollow and Wolverine Canyon. We didn’t know much, other than a slot section and where to find water.

The trail started like any other, an empty desert with canyon walls far reaching the edge of the plains. As we put miles down the canyon walls quickly drew in.

Looking more and more like a slot canyon

My exhaustion faded with the walls drawing in. I was so excited to see what each bend held for us.

Huecos forming on the walls

The walls begin to be covered more and more with huecos. Some spots had hundreds oh pinhole sized holes, others had holes big enough me and Briana could both stand in. We decided as it was getting late we wanted to find a cool high place to sleep for the night.

Home for the night

We found a sweet little bend with plenty of room off the ground in case of a flash flood (none forecasted though). We had a great dinner, played around and climbed on the walls, then cowboy camped for another night under the stars.

Would it really be my type of trip without star trail photos?

The morning of day 7 we headed out planning on getting 16 miles done and camping. We realized a shortcut through another canyon connecting with wolverine would shave off some miles, and we would be able to get to car, not camp, and be there pretty early! So we set up for more desert exploring.

The slot canyon continued all the way to the confluence of the escalante river. Every turn was magical, and nothing technical. Truly an amazing place. We turned and started up Wolverine canyon to link back to the car. Now nothing like Little Death Hollow, it was still amazing. Big over hanging walls in every bend made us feel minuscule.

We continued hiking and made it to the car pretty early in the afternoon. At this point we had a frank chat. I had hives on my hands, a bum foot I could barely walk on (pretty sure it was a stress fracture), and utterly exhausted. Briana was pretty beat as well. We both wanted nothing more than a shower and a good nights sleep. We decided to head home instead of exploring more and calling it a solid trip with nearly a hundred miles hiked over 7 days!

I was so thankful for all the sights we saw and most importantly getting away. Being unemployed has been hard with the news coming at me like a fire hose. I was able to forget about the shit show 2020 is, and explore Utah with my favorite human. We also stayed completely covid safe. 12 people the whole trip, all well within 20 feet away from us.

Sometimes escaping really is what we need in life.

One Response

  1. Alexkazam says:

    Great trip! Gives me an idea of what to do before I move back to Salt Lake

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