Spooky and Brimstone Gulches
National Monument, Utah
April 24, 2010
Travelling great distances from home for vacation somehow makes the vacation more exciting, I find. I canít say why a trip to southern Utah should be more anticipated than a trip to Rocky Mountain, but it is. Thereís something about removing oneís self geographically that really gets the wanderlust going. So, itís great to be here in southern Utah once again, though, admittedly, itís only been a year since I was last here.
Larry and I left last night
from Cheyenne, only an hour or so after I left my office at work for the
last time. There was a going-away lunch with some gifts: a birdhouse, a
Wyoming coffee mug and an excellent fly reel from my boss, Terry. After
lunch, I went back to my office and pulled the final pictures off the wall
and put them in the box with the rest of the stuff accumulated over the
last 8 years. The office looked very empty and small. I shut down the computer
last time, and then left. I drove home in the rain, which reflected my
mood. Itís hard to quit a job you like after being there that long.
Larry loaded his stuff in the Subaru, and we drove south into Colorado, braved Denver traffic to make it to I-70, and then headed west through sleet and a bit of snow around Vail Pass, stopping for dinner in Glenwood Springs at Qdoba, that most excellent maker of burritos. Although we had planned on camping near Grand Junction, the rain and the cold convinced us to spring for a $70 Comfort Inn hotel room. I believe Griff was so anxious to stay in a hotel room he would have paid the whole thing himself, but I enjoyed my nice, warm bed, too.
Today we left Grand Junction under a beautiful, sunny sky at 7:15 and drove across the immutable beauty of Utah to Green River, Boulder, Escalante, Hole in the Rock Road. The landscape here is unchanging, and in a world of change, that is comforting. The Hole in the Rock Rd looks the same as it did 7 years ago when I first came here. Itís nice to step into geological time for a bit, I think, as we roll down the dirt road kicking up a tower plume of chalky dust behind us. The road is washboarded, and I employ my time-honored strategy of dealing with washboard: go fast.
We reach the Peekaboo Trailhead at 2:15, and under a beautiful desert sun, I anxiously lace up my boots and slather on sunscreen. Off, down the trail, enjoying the sound of the crunch of gravel underfoot and the dry, dry air evaporating sweat directly from the pores in my skin. Itís so dry, that when I stop to take a drink of water and spill a bit on the sandstone, the rock soaks it in like a sponge, and not a drop rolls down the incline. The trail leads down into upper Coyote Gulch, and in short order, to a crack in the north wall of the canyon that leads up Peekaboo Gulch, the first stop on our afternoon agenda.
The climb up into Peekaboo is steep, and a little tricky, but not scary at all. A couple in front of us have some difficulty because of their slick-soled footwear, but my vibram-sole boots grip the rock well enough to climb right up. The canyon after the initial climb is extremely narrow, perhaps 5 feet wide, and about 15 feet deep. A narrow crack of blue shines overhead, and all within is smooth sandstone, sculpted by wind and water into undulating scallops, twisting and weaving northward. Itís dark in the canyon, and I stop often to pull out my tripod and take photographs, but continuing on requires the use of my hands, so I have to take time to strap the tripod back on my pack and put the camera away each time I wish to move forward. Slowly, I drop further and further behind Larry, who is motoring on up the canyon, until I canít hear any voices from the group ahead, or footsteps from Larry, who is also somewhere up ahead. All is quiet in the canyon, and I take a few minutes to sit and listen to the still, quiet sound of a million years of water drops cutting through rock. I like to picture the process in fast-forward, a kind of geological time-lapse, where the sandstone gives way to running water like ice in spring, carving a deep canyon in minutes.
I catch up with Larry at the top of the canyon, where it opens up onto the bench. A few scrubby junipers and indian rice grass flash some green on the scene, and we find some cairns to the right that we follow towards the presumed head of the Spooky Gulch narrows. Spooky Gulch starts out as a wide sandy wash, then files into a deep, narrow slot as it heads downhill, choked with boulders and exceedingly narrow. We pick our way around big sandstone blocks, and as I catch up to Larry again, he is pondering how to get around a stack of boulders. There is a steep dropoff on the far end, and a narrow squeeze under the boulders on the near end. I try out the near end, and shimmy down through the boulders, hoping none of them decides to break loose at this moment in the millennium, and Larry hands my bag to me after I am down. He hands me his bag, then follows. We continue down canyon, enjoying the cool air in the canyon after the hot bench walking to get here. The canyon is even more narrow than Peekaboo, and a bit deeper. There are many spots where the sky is not visible. The walls are rough, with tens of thousands of small rocks jutting out from the sandstone matrix. I stop to take pictures, and again, Larry gets ahead and out of hearing. I pass under a small arch, and through another several twists and turns. Awesome canyon. Better than any carnival funhouse. At the mouth of the canyon, Larry is kicked back on a sloping slab of sandstone, sipping water. I join him. The sun is slipping lower in the sky, and the afternoon light is orange and blunted. It feels a bit cooler.
Itís about 4:20, and we continue with the plan on of heading downcanyon to check out Brimstone Gulch. The narrows in Coyote Gulch along the way are pretty cool, and the hike is enjoyable. Turning north into Brimstone Gulch, we begin a long slog through a wide canyon filled with powdery soft sand that clutches at boots and drags us down. Man does that loose sand sap the energy! We slog away for some time, stopping a few times for water in the shade. The few boxelders that rise up from the sand are silhouetted against the bright canyon walls. The air is still and quiet, with only the croaking of a raven and the buzzing of flies to break the silence.
After a bit of walking, the canyon begins to narrow quickly. Rounding a corner to the left, the canyon drops down to a narrow slot no more than 6 feet wide, and narrows up from there. Itís dark and wonderful. We go in about 600 yards, both of us removing our packs and holding them in front of us, walking sideways, to get even that far. Larry leads the way, but when he gets to a point where he canít comfortably squeeze through, he calls it good. I am anxious to see if I can squeeze through, so I get in the lead, drop my pack and break out my headlamp. Itís so narrow I have to leave even my camera behind. Sliding sideways, I hung the sandstone, and feel it graze my back, pinching my body right around my hip. My hip canít slide any further, but I find that by spreading my legs a bit, my hips drop down to a slightly wider spot, and I squeeze through the crack and to the relative spaciousness of the 2-foot slot beyond. The walls of the slot bend and twist, so that most of the time there is no view of the sky. The light within is dim and blue, and without the headlamp, Iíd not be able to see where my feet are stepping at all. The canyon is so narrow at the base that my boots canít stand flat, but are instead inclined towards the diminishing crack at the ground. Wonderful. Slots like this are so rare and unusual, itís a real treat to get to experience them. I reach a spot in the canyon that is fairly large, at about 10 feet, with a jumble of rocks and boulders strewn about. Thirty feet beyond, it narrows up again, and this time, I find I canít get through. I measure the distance between the walls at 8.5 inches. I think, perhaps, if I had to, I could take off my shirt and shorts and slide through, but thatís getting a little bit extreme. I take a long look at the continuing narrow crack ahead of me, and decide to head back.
Walking back, I count my steps, and in so doing estimate the distance to the really small crack that turned me back was 400 yards from where I left Larry, which was about 600 yards from where the canyon first narrowed., a total distance of nearly half a mile through the narrowest canyon Iíve ever experienced. What a treat. What a fantastic place.
The hike out of Brimstone
Gulch is tedious as we again have to negotiate the soft sand. Once we reach
Coyote Gulch, the going is a little easier, as the sand is coarse, and
mixed with rock and gravel. The shadows grow long, and the sunlight turns
to an amber-red color as we ascend the south side of Coyote Gulch to the
parking lot. We reach the car at 7:55 and head quickly west to find camp
at Early Weed Bench, where we conclude the evening by cooking burritos
under the stars and sleeping under a clear, cool desert sky.
Heading down into Upper Coyote Gulch
Narrows of Peekaboo Gulch
Narrows of Peekaboo Gulch
PNarrows of Peekaboo Gulch
Crossing over to Spooky Gulch
Spooky Gulch above the narrows
Griff entereing the narrows of Spooky Gulch
Beginning of the narrows of Spooky Gulch
Small natural bridge in Spooky Gulch
Sam in Spooky Gulch
Extremely narrow section of Spooky Gulch
Dry Fork Upper Coyote Gulch