October 21-27, 2019

The Advantage of Not Having Plans

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner. In our former life, we used to vacation with a three-ringed binder full of hike details, maps, and a detailed itinerary. Lots of things in life have changed over the past nine months and learning to travel by the seat of our pants has been a big change for me. As my good friend and fellow RVer Josephine likes to say, “our plans are cemented in jello”.

Jello plans and no reservations still make me nervous at times, but we’ve also been finding this mode of travel quite liberating. Our recent time in Escalante has been a great example. We ‘planned’ to stay two weeks. But at the end of our visit, the weather and fall colors were still gorgeous and the crowds had thinned leaving Escalante feeling like a ghost town—I didn’t want to leave yet and we still had beautiful trails to explore. And so we stayed.

Escalante Cabins & RV Park, Escalante, Utah

For two weeks we had boondocked along Hole In the Rock Road within the boundaries of Grand Stairecase-Escalante National Monument. Our free permit allowed us to stay 14 nights maximum and our time was up. With continued issues running our refrigerator on propane and after two weeks of dry camping in the sand and dust, full hookups in town sounded pretty sweet. We made the short drive into the town of Escalante and checked into Esclalante Cabins and RV Park for a week.

view from our campsite on Hole In the Rock Road
Jason cleaning sand off the slides on moving day

We have been pleased with this park and would recommend it to other RVers. The owner and staff are extremely friendly and the sites are more spacious than other nearby options. Amenities include onsite laundry and propane (extra fees apply), clean showers, full hookups, views toward the Escalante River Canyon, and convenient location directly across the highway from the monument’s visitor center where they are always great to answer our trail questions. The park has 41 sites. Roughly half the spots were full when we arrived, but we’ve seen a steady abandonment over the week. As we prepare to spend our last night here, there are less than half a dozen RVs here. The weather is about to change and the season is ending.

Park sites have relatively level gravel pads (we did have to go up on a single level of our Lynx leveling blocks) with a small strip of grass and picnic table. Most sites have a fire pit, but a few do not. The owner was good to ask which we preferred. The park fronts the highway, but there is very little traffic at night and road noise was not a problem for us. Rates are $45 per night or $270 per week.

home at Escalante Cabins and RV Park

Leaf Peeping Along the Escalante River

descending to the Escalante River from near the trailhead

Wikipedia defines leaf peeping as the activity in which people travel to view and photograph fall foliage. I happily identify myself as a leaf peeper. Our three weeks in the Escalante area have offered some great peeper opportunities. By Monday of this week, the cottonwoods were peaking along the Escalante River. After waiting for an hour and a half at the local medical clinic to get our flu shots, we had just enough time to make a quick hike down the river to do some peeping and revisit one of my favorite rock art panels.

A Taste of the Boulder Mail Trail

slickrock climbing on Boulder Mail Trail

The Boulder Mail Trail has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I really want to do it as a backpack—either to Death Hollow and out via the Escalante River or across the slickrock and down to the town of Escalante. Unfortunately, both routes are too long for a day hike, so we just hiked a comfortable distance out and back.

enjoying the views down into Sand Creek on the Boulder Mail Trail

According to the trailhead sign, beginning in 1902, pack mules clattered along a carved sandstone trail, hauling letters and packages between Escalante and Boulder Town. The Boulder Mail Trail was a vital link between Boulder and the outside world until 1940 when Highway 12 was completed. I’m guessing those mules didn’t appreciate the beauty of their surroundings, but it sure made an impression on us!

The first mile or so was a gentle descent through pinyon pine and juniper forest with little for views.

Then the character of the trail transitioned quickly to a cairned route over colorful slickrock with expansive views as we began a moderate descent into Sand Creek. The texture and color of the sandstone was beautiful and some cottonwood trees along the creek added even more color to the scene.

After a short stroll along Sand Creek, we followed a relatively steep section of slickrock up to where the old telegraph line can still be seen. We continued a little further past that, but soon turned around to make the return hike. On our next trip to the Escalante area, we’ll hire a local guide to shuttle us so that we can do this as a through backpack!

Wonderful Willis Creek Narrows

Willis Creek Narrows near Kodachrome Basin State Park was another of those Bryce-Escalante area trails that had been on my bucket list since our first trips to Utah. At just an hours drive from our camp in Escalante, I couldn’t pass it up.

The Visit Utah website has a great description of the hike: Unlike many slot canyons that require tricky approaches and technical descents, Willis Creek Narrows is mellow and accessible. Here, you’ll find great visual rewards with minimal effort. You’ll enjoy shapely walls and delicate colors in the Navajo sandstone as it closes in around you. Much of the hike involves uncountable creek crossings or hiking directly in the creek, but the creek is generally only an inch or two deep. An added bonus, when compared to trips through other Southern Utah slot canyons like Peek-a-Boo/Spooky, The Narrows, or Antelope Canyon, it feels remote and secluded — you will likely only see a dozen or so other friendly hikers along the way.

Our hike started above a short stretch of narrows where we peered down onto Willis Creek. The trail descended to the canyon bottom where the walls were less than 25 feet tall. As we continue down canyon, the walls quickly grew taller and we passed through several lovely stretches of narrows.

The canyon remained quite beautiful even after the last set of narrows and we continued to the junction of Willis Creek with Sheep Creek (which was dry). Another backpack on my bucket list is to continue this hike down Sheep Creek to its confluence with Paria River and down to highway 89 east of Kanab. But again, that will have to be another trip.

near the confluence of Willis & Sheep creeks

We visited an area rock art panel before returning to the Jeep. With the extra exploration, our total mileage for the day was 6.0 miles.

ancient river map

We give Willis Creek “two thumbs up” and consider it a must-see for anyone visiting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kodachrome Basin State Park, or Bryce Canyon. The trail is easy and fun for hikers of any level. Like all slot canyons, DO NOT enter if rain is in the forecast for the surrounding area due to the threat of flash floods. Additionally, access to the trailhead along Skutumpah Road is not recommended during rains. This dirt/gravel road has several potential water crossings and a couple very steep grades. I highly recommend inquiring about weather and road conditions at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in nearby Cannonville prior to your visit.

What’s Up Next?

It has been a great three weeks in the Escalante area. Other than a couple big wind storms, our weather was perfect with almost constant sun and comfortable hiking conditions. We’ve seen some stunning new locations and visited some old favorites. Best of all, we witnessed the peak of the area fall colors from the aspen groves on Boulder Mountain to stream-side cottonwoods on the Escalante River.

Where are we headed next? Stay tuned next week to find out! We’ll explore more beautiful areas of the West and meet up with new and old friends as we continue our 2019 Snowbird Adventures.

For the Jake & Indy Fan Club

I’m finding that Jake and Indy are the most popular subject on our blog. As we are all heading into shorter days and longer nights, the boys wish you a warm and cuddly fall.

8 Replies to “More Adventures in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument”

  1. FANTASTIC scenery! I envy your 74 degree weather! Jake and Indy have really settled in for the long haul I see.

  2. Leaf Peepers! I love that and if I may, morph the term to “Leaf Creepers” for those of us over 60. The little bit that Greg and I “crept” through the Rubies was breathtaking…. the fall colors just starting. Lusha I thank you for your colorful posts! I can visit these places for now, through you my friend… you guys are my new RV heros…boondocking for 2 weeks! Hugs

    1. Thanks Toni! We’ve been doing lots of RV parks now with the refrigerator acting up on propane. I will confess I’m getting really spoiled with the convenience of hookups 🙂 But I’m sure we’ll be doing long boondocking stretches as we move back into Nevada and Arizona for the winter.

  3. Great photos and trail descriptions.. I love that you have added a map, I was just about to google map your locations when I found the deed already done!

    1. Hi Patty,
      We’re glad to hear you like the map! Jason has been working hard on that, so it is nice to hear someone is enjoying it already!

  4. You did quote me!
    Cool, now I’m even more famous!

    I’m definitely wanting to go back to the Escalante area myself! I’m going to put the Boulder-Mail Trail on the list of to do’s.

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