Travel Log by Philip Hyde
Group Sierra Club Trip, Escalante River Canyon Backpack
Escalante, Utah, May 1968
Note: Thanks to Bill Clinton, On His Last Day in Office, The Escalante Wilderness Is Now Part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
By Philip Hyde
May 1: Gates Cabin Camp to Camp Below 25 Mile Canyon
(To view the photograph larger or order prints: “Reflection Pool, Forming Arches, Escalante River Side Canyon, Utah.”)
The canyon was narrowing and the river stretches between bends were getting longer while the bends were tighter. We began this day to traverse the upper part of what the wranglers call “The Narrows.” The canyon walls were intermittently higher and the big alcove bends characteristic of the lower Escalante River near Glen Canyon had begun. There were also more short side canyons.
I turned and wandered into one canyon on the left at right angles to the river. Suddenly, another sharp bend next to a large sand slope looked promising, with a narrow bottom and high walls, cottonwoods, box elders and a few Gambel oaks. About two miles up this canyon, it ended abruptly, but there was a small, hard to see passage between two huge angular boulders. I entered the chamber, which was not unlike Cathedral in the Desert—its equal in quality, though not in size.
The vaulted roof was not so soaring and the dimensions of the chamber much less, but the same feeling of remote, secret beauty was there. At the bottom sat likewise a plunge pool for reflections and the beauty of a curved sandbar. This pool was fed by a now-dry set of chute-like chimneys in the roof, rather than a waterfall, like Cathedral in the Desert. The chimneys, one alone and a double-barreled one next to it, were beautifully water-sculptured and made me wish there was some way to ascend to the level of the chimneys to see the carved stream channel above. I spent perhaps two hours there, then left reluctantly, but elated to find this chamber well out of reach of “Lake” Powell’s inundation.
I continued back to the river, then down canyon, crossing through the water back and forth innumerable times. The canyon was really narrow by then and the walls were more impressive, creating a chamber of darkness with a thin strip of sky above. I wandered on, past some sharp bends with great sandstone columns and overhangs. I kept on past the “Wrinkled Eyes,” two rounded out holes high in the wall of the left bank. I passed 25 Mile Canyon, but at first I started into its mouth, went 100 feet or so, reflected on the hour and decided to head for camp instead.
I was the last man in. Campers were having their soup in their Sierra Club cups beneath a deep red cliff perhaps 350 feet high that was catching the last rays of the sun. I ate and then made my bed among the limbs of a medium-sized cottonwood tree—a leafy bower with a sandy floor and more privacy than usual. It was cloudy again with stars and blowing broken clouds overhead, their moisture too diminished by the time they reached us to dump any, though it looked a bit threatening at times. My tarp was ready to be rigged, but no drops came and I slept.