Tuesday, July 6, 2010 (Escalante–Grand Staircase)

High Points:  Devil’s Garden & the whole drive down Hole in the Wall Road

Low Points:  No trail markers or trail maps for anything inside the Grand Staircase area; Dust . . . everywhere


Buster was not loving our hotel stop last night.  He couldn’t figure out what was going on.  He wanted to go out every two hours, which should have been awful, but for two of those trips I had an amazing view of the Milky Way.  Stars everywhere . . .

We started today not sure what to do.  The major hike we’d come this way to do, the Calf Creek Trail to the Lower Falls, was under construction and closed while federal stimulus money upgraded the trails (I didn’t realize how needed this might be until we tried following another trail later in the day).  There were other, longer hikes, but we hadn’t planned for them and weren’t sure the kids could handle it.  We asked around for suggestions and one guy told us to find the Devil’s Garden of the Grand Staircase Monument area.  We were driving that road anyway, so it sounded good. 

Route 12, by the way, was once again a fantastic drive.  More crazy curves, narrow roads without barriers that plunged into nothing, and descents with 14% grades. 


A curve along Scenic Route 12


Note no road barriers along the curve


A scenic overlook near the summit

The Capitol Reef area was north, and now we were entering the Grand Staircase – Escalante Monument, a newer national land area designated in 1996.  DSC03105

After our scenic drive, we found the turnoff to Devil’s Garden, a dirt clay road called “The Hole in the Wall Road.”  When the Mormons first cleared it and passed through back in the 1800’s, they expected to take 6 weeks and instead took 6 months.  That should have been a good warning, but the Devil’s Garden was 12 miles down, so with our pop-up camper in tow, we started to slowly make our way there.  8 miles in we had yet to see another car, the road was getting worse, and the camper was becoming a problem.  When we saw a small turnout, we dumped it alongside the road (hoping nobody else wanted to hitch it up and pull it down this road either). 


Ditching the camper so we can make better time:  It’s weird to think, “God, I hope nobody steals our house.”

We really picked up speed without the camper, and the Devil’s Garden was a great time.  The dog could run loose, and we all enjoyed climbing around on the Hoodoos, these super fun rock formations. 


A line of Hoodoos!!


The Woelmer girls climbing on the rocks


Mike and Buster exploring one of the balancing rocks


Mike watches Julia climb around in a small cave


Christine and Elizabeth under an arch


Don’t let go!

We explored the area for a while and played around in the tunnels and arches.  Problem was, that stop was so cool we didn’t want to leave.  The brochure we picked up at the hotel said there were two slot canyons another 10 miles down the road, and we decided to check them out. 

I wonder how many bad travel decisions begin with the words, “Well, as long as we’re here . . . “

I don’t think many people venture past Devil’s Garden.  The road crews sure don’t.  It was bad before, but it soon got insanely worse, with the road washed out in areas, washboard for most of the trip, and covered in half a foot of sand the rest of the way.


The start of The Hole in the Wall Road, the only way into the Grand Staircase area and, according to the pamphlets, “Impassable when it rains.”

When we passed a sign that said Road Damage, it was like, “Really?  How the heck can they tell?” Mike seemed to be having a blast checking out exactly how much the truck could handle. 



Finding the trailhead for the slot canyons took us down a dirt trail that obviously doubled as a cattle path (there were corrals off to the side).  Inexplicably, the only other car there was a little VW Bus – that thing must have wings ‘cause I don’t know how it got there if it didn’t fly.  One of our brochures said the canyons were less than a mile away from the trail post, so while I stayed with the dog (we of course picked the only trail off limits to dogs) Mike and the girls loaded up with water and chocolate bars from the coolers and ventured out.  They were soon back, however, because the trail disappeared before they even came close to the canyons.  The clouds looked like rain, and that would wash away the footprints Mike had been following, so they came back to the car and we started the long drive back to pick up the camper.  If we had more than an eighth of a  tank of gas and some water, it would have been fun to explore the road all day ‘cause there are a ton of small turnouts with different things to see, but we hadn’t planned on going more than 12 miles, so according to all the official signs that warned “YOU CAN DIE HERE WITHOUT ADEQUATE PREPARATION,” we needed to find town. 

It was a true adventure, and even when the road was awful, it was great to look at.  We arrived in the closest town, Escalante, out of water and snacks and with only 20 miles before we ran out of gas.  We also needed a serious car wash.  What we didn’t know until we popped up the camper, though, was that we’d spend more than an hour later in the evening scrubbing a good layer of dust off of everything inside both the camper and the truck bed. 


Everything . . . and I mean EVERYTHING . . . was covered in dust


The girls scrub it all down

An hour after leaving Escalante, we scored a campsite inside Bryce National Park, the girls started scrubbing down everything we own, and we grilled some burgers for dinner.  Mike and the girls took a quick peek at one of the trailheads, and they went to bed anticipating some great hiking tomorrow. 


Our campsite in Bryce Canyon National Park

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