Tuesday, April 18th, 2023, 0630-1130)
Beginning of Coyote Gulch to Hole in the Rock Road, hitch to Escalante
12 miles, elevation 5870′
We survived the night, untouched by ROUS’s. I slept so well. Actually, I did have one complaint in that I was too hot! My thermometer was reading in the mid 60’s in the morning! I was sweltering under my quilt but wasn’t quite sure what that feeling even was, so I just ignored it. I recalled that I’d felt that way in Florida several times before. At least everything was bone dry \ no condensation in the morning…kind of weird being next to a stream and all. Not at all like Florida.
We got to enjoy about 7 miles of walking up Coyote Gulch, one of the most popular hikes in all of Utah. The canyon was breathtaking. It’s closely managed \ permitted by the BLM and free of cows. The stream was flowing well and all the trees were sporting bright green leaves. There was also lush grass growing everywhere. Best of all were the several arches, one of which the creek flows through. We passed quite a few people camping, especially around the arches. We hadn’t seen a single person the day before but we probably passed 20 in the first 2 hours this day. Most were still having coffee or just starting to pack. We were on a mission, eager to get to town and eat pizza from the excellent outfitter restaurant. We cruised the well established trails, enjoying some easy and pleasant miles.
We came to the split with the stream and main canyon. We stopped to get water, as did 7 mule deer just downstream. We eyed each other, as if we were assessing each other’s gear. They acted like just another group of backpackers, enjoying the scenic canyon. It was nice to see the wildlife living it up with all the bounty this year. We also met a lone hiker. We started a conversation and shortly had a ride secured from the trailhead to Escalante, which is no small matter since it’s considered the hardest hitch on the Hayduke. Hurricane Wash sits nearly at the end of a 33 mile extremely washboarded dirt road. A Hayduker once waited over a day for a ride. So it was best for us to talk to other hikers and backpackers before it came to thumbing it. Luckily we timed our arrival for mid-morning, when others were departing after a short overnight.
Our ride’s name was Tom and he was an engineer from Boulder CO. We beat him to the trailhead but didn’t have to wait long. He said he was going to do some side trips but abandoned his plans when the wind picked up. We walked a dry wash for the last 5 miles, gradually entering the plains. The wind was howling more and more with every step, directly in our faces, of course. I had to fall back or hike in different places than the others, just because the dust was so bad. It was killing my eyes and getting in my mouth. I was so glad to be going into town, just to escape the wind.
Some other hikers gave us pieces of leftover pizza and a beer while we waited at the trailhead. It was a very nice treat to tide us over. Also in our favor, Tom was of the mindset to drive his Honda Accord very fast over the washboarded surface, cancelling out the bumps. I felt like I was in the backseat of a rally car but we sure got into town quickly! We of course went straight for more pizza, then got a room at the next door Prospector Inn. We committed to 2 nights, very much feeling like we needed another zero. This trail is rough, prompting longer rest periods.
Sky, Leah and Mac all arrived later in the day, completing our hiker bubble. Meanwhile, I’d contacted a local couple we met at the Outfitter restaurant 3 weeks prior, when we were setting our caches. They’d given us their number, offering to contact them when we got back into town. Never one to pass on a good Trail Angel interaction, I texted them and they invited us to dinner the following night. It was nice to have an event to look forward to.
The rest of the night, we just hung out in the hotel room and swapped stories with the other hikers. Mac had some pretty interesting adventures pack rafting down the Escalante River…it had been a bit more than he bargained for. I’d heard similar accounts from others that had tried it. Often the river is too low and a pain to get over obstacles and sand bars, as was the case for Mac. As much as I love kayaking rivers, I’m glad I didn’t try to packraft parts of the Hayduke.
Wednesday, April 19th, 2023, Zero Day
This was one of the better zero days I’d had in awhile. I got some work done and enjoyed lots of good food and company. I had a nice breakfast sandwich from the natural food grocery and later some healthy items for lunch. I was able to exchange my Darn Tough socks at the awesome little cafe \ outfitters, which is directly across the street from the pizza \ outfitters. I’m not sure if they are owned by the same company, because one of the guys mentioned that he worked at both. Each had a slightly different assortment of gear but the pizza one is also the only state licensed liquor store in town. So that’s where we went to purchase wine for dinner. Artemis selected 2 bottles to pair with the lamb we’d be having.
Chores all done, I even had time to take a quick nap in the afternoon. That almost never happens on a zero day, unfortunately. While headed to dinner, we met a guy walking his 2 friendly dogs and 3 goats. I love goats! The big one was a former pack goat and just the sweetest. They all just follow him along the quiet streets of Escalante, up to 5 miles every day he said. Quite unexpectedly, my petting list on this trail was off the charts! There had been lots of awesome cats and dogs, but also goats and a tortoise! Hopefully I’d score some horses, mules, sheep, and maybe a donkey or alpaca before the time was up. But no cows… I’m over cows.
Our hosts Page and Steve immediately provided more dog cuddles from their 3: Zeppelin, Moqui, and Aspen. They were all cute but Zeppelin the pug \ wire hair terrier mix really took a liking to Stellar’s lap. Steve and Page’s house was lovely, very modern and nicely furnished. They were from Seattle but had lived in Escalante for 12 years. Steve’s a home builder and working on lots of projects in the area. By the looks of their home, he’s got a lot of happy customers.
Their daughter Margay helped prepare the meal and also joined us for dinner. During the course of our conversations, I learned that she’s also an only child and has the same birthday as me! What a coincidence. We were treated to a real feast all night, starting with fresh veggies as appetizers. Page had earlier asked if we preferred lamb or beef, so of course I’d chosen lamb. I’m still trying to cut down on meat in general but in these types of situations, I go with the flow. Steve and Page raise their own animals on their small parcels of land, so at least in this case we knew the origin and history of the meat. And oh my was it good! Perfectly cooked and seasoned. We also had an awesome salad and lemon bunt cake topped with strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. Amazing!
I can’t stress how incredible it is to have a home cooked meal when I’m on the trails. My diet is pretty terrible in the backcountry and not much better in town. This kind of treat is like a recharge…for my energy and soul. Sharing such wonderful food and conversation is at the core of being human. This evening came together so spontaneously and ended so well, starting with complete strangers who became good friends. Breaking bread with the locals gives me a whole new insight about the places I visit. Some hikers only care about the trail but it’s important to me to get a sense of the people and communities that I pass through on my journeys. Interactions with trail angels have given me a completely different understanding of America… it’s not all bad like you hear on tv and social media. There are lots of good people out there!
We capped the night with the best coffee I’ve had in a long time. Steve got to exercise his new espresso machine…those Seattle roots are hard to break. We also watched the packrafters’ video and talked a lot about our route. We left a huge pile of dirty dishes as a reminder of our visit, which I felt terrible about but Page insisted it was fine. She drove us back to the hotel, which was very much appreciated. We hung out with Sky and Leah for a bit, who had friends visiting them in town. It was a very social town stop for everyone and so much fun. Escalante is definitely one of the best trail towns anywhere. Much thanks to Page, Steve, and Margay for an amazing evening!