Quick wuestion: what have I never done in the wilderness up until a few days ago?! The answer: poop in the wild! Hahaha! Somehow I’ve always avoided this, despite all of the hiking I’ve done which has included several multi-day backpacking trips. I’ve always stumbled upon a pit toilet at the right moment, that is, until this week. We were camping out on some back roads in the desert and the nearest toilet was just too far away, so I walked my obligatory 200 feet from the campsite, dug a 6 inch hole, and the rest is history. My streak has been broken!
Okay now back to the less gross and more exciting part of our adventures! The last few weeks we’ve still been exploring Utah! We still have more to see and explore in Utah, but I didn’t want a super long blog post. Here is Utah part 2 of 3.
Salt Lake City
After leaving our long stay in Moab, and dealing with some van troubles and repairs, we made our way to Salt Lake City. We checked out the salt flats but were underwhelmed with the lighting at sunset and also had to drive through a snowstorm to get there! The salt flats were flooded, which was kind of neat, but I liked them better the last time we visited when they were dry and we were able to walk out on them. We also visited the town of Wendover briefly, but there’s not really anything there besides casinos.
Back in SLC, we had a lovely meetup with @wayfaring.girl, an awesome instagrammer from Utah whom you should definitely check out! We didn’t do too much photography or hiking in the immediate area, but the views of the mountains covered in snow were a really nice break from the desert views we had been seeing for days.
From Salt Lake City we took a short drive to check out the Diamond Fork/Fifth Water Hot Springs. We actually had tried to go on Friday but there were so many people there (the parking lot was full and there were tons of loud teens enjoying their spring break) so we decided to try again for Sunday evening. We lucked out and there were only a handful of people there on our second try. It was a 5-mile roundtrip hike to the hot springs, full of a lot of small hills, and it took us around 45 minutes to reach the springs. It is a gorgeous area with a rushing river and several hot spring pools of brilliant shades of blue and green. There is a sulfur smell in the air, which sounds gross but was more of a calming smell than a foul one. The geothermal scents filled me with nostalgia for our trip to Iceland a few years back!
We chose to soak in the two pools closest to the trailhead. The lower pool was warm but not too hot and the upper pool was a mix of hot and cold water. I couldn’t decide which one I liked better, so I kept switching! We heard from others that the springs across the river were much hotter, but by that time we were settled in and didn’t want to put our bags back on and hike further. It was quite chilly out! We enjoyed a very relaxing soak in the hot springs as the sun set and and the moon rose. A few people came and went, but overall it was very peaceful and quiet. We hiked out under the full moon, back to the comfort of our van!
As always, before visiting hot springs be sure to do your research. Make sure you are going to legitimate springs with safe water (some hot springs are NOT suitable for swimming and have dangerous acidity). Check the water temperature before you go in, read and follow ALL posted signs, and be careful not to put your head under the water due to the possibility of deadly amoeba in the hot water. Also, make sure to leave no trace and pack out EVERYTHING that you pack in, including food and toilet paper. Also be sure to follow rules about going to the bathroom – you don’t want to be close to the water if you have to go.
Capitol Reef National Park
We then made our way over to Capitol Reef National Park. The park was actually much more crowded than I was expecting from a not-so-popular national park in the middle of the week. We enjoyed learning about the awesome geological history of this park and all of the different rock layers and formations.
We drove around the park and ended up doing the quick and easy 2-mile roundtrip hike to Hickman Bridge, an incredible natural bridge in the desert. Though there was so much more to see in this park, the weather wasn’t great and we decided only to spend one day at Capitol Reef.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
From Capitol Reef we drove to the Escalante National Monument area. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this lesser known park. We had wanted to try to hike to Reflection Canyon, since I have been drooling over photos of this epic viewpoint for months. Unfortunately, we were told we needed a 4WD vehicle to access the trailhead and that there is no actual trail and the viewpoint can only be reached by map and compass. Sadly, our van is 2WD and we simply weren’t prepared for the hike. I was pretty bummed, but I guess this just gives us a reason to come back some day! While at the visitor center we asked about a few other spots, and were told they were much more accessible so we decided to check them out.
Lower Calf Creek Falls
After seeing a photo on @brianjohnsadventure‘s Instagram account of Lower Calf Creek Falls, Steve and I knew we had to go there. The desert has been wearing on us, as we are used to hiking among evergreens and mountain forests, so the lush green river area looked so refreshing! This is a pretty easy 6-mile roundtrip hike and took us about an hour to get to the falls and the entire trip took us around 3 hours, including stopping for lunch and tons of photos at the falls. We used the interpretive guide book and took turns reading from it along our hike. I’m glad we did this or we might have missed some of the interesting geological features or the red petroglyphs along one of the rock walls!
The falls themselves were quite nice, offering a shady spot with a light mist to cool down from the desert heat. Similar to Havasupai, this was a mini oasis hidden in the hot, dry desert. A handful of people swam in the pool below the falls, but the water was a bit too chilly for us! Overall this was a lovely hike and I’d highly recommend it!
On our drive out to the next few hikes (Spooky, Peek-a-boo, and Coyote Gulch) we had to drive down a very rough road called Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Don’t try driving to these hikes without a high clearance vehicle! Steve was kind enough to do most of the driving, as the washboard roads made our van rattle so hard I thought it might fall to pieces on the road. We made a brief stop at Devil’s Garden, a very easy and short hike to some otherworldly rock formations.
Spooky and Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyons
We then drove down a very wild and bumpy side road to the Dry Fork Trailhead to hike to two narrow slot canyons. The hike started with a descent down some steep rocks and a hike along a sandy wash in the baking desert sun to get to the entrance to the slot canyon.
We started with Spooky. The canyon was dark and cool with textured walls, and the most notable feature of this slot canyon is that it is extremely narrow! The guidebook said it is only 10 inches wide in some areas. We could barely fit through at some spots and hand to take off our backpacks and walk sideways! I wouldn’t recommend this hike if you are at all claustrophobic. Even though they call this an easy hike, I found that the climbs up and down were not a piece of cake and definitely required some maneuvering and strength. The tight twists and turns inside the canyon were incredibly beautiful and I would argue this was a better experience than we had at Antelope Canyon a few years ago because at Spooky Canyon we didn’t have to use a tour guide and we were able to hike and take photos at our own pace.
We then walked over to hike through Peek-A-Boo Canyon. About halfway through this slot canyon, we heard voices from above the canyon walls. Three young women whom we had passed in Spooky were lost and asking us which canyon this was. We decided to scramble out of Peek-A-Boo and help the ladies find their way back to the parking lot. By that time the sun was setting so we decided not to return to finish Peek-A-Boo, but I suppose this is yet another reason to come back someday!
Coyote Gulch and Jacob Hamblin Arch
We spent a lovely night at a dispersed campsite with no one around us, except some cows, and had the aforementioned poop-in-hole experience. The next morning we woke up early and continued driving down the bumpy dirt road to the Hurricane Wash trail head. From there we took the 12-mile roundtrip hike to Coyote Gulch with the goal of reaching Jacob Hamblin Arch. We had a lot of trouble finding information online about the best routes for this arch and thankfully someone at the Escalante Visitor Center was able to give us advice on the easiest route.
Most people do this hike as an overnight but we just went for the day hike. We started the hike at 9am and were back at the car at 5pm. That’s my kind of 9-to-5! The hike was mostly through a sandy wash, and it was pretty tough hiking through the deep, soft sand. Eventually we got to some narrower canyons (the shade was much appreciated!) and a small trickle of a river appeared.
As we kept hiking, the river grew wider and deeper and the plants grew more lush and green. We saw some incredible wildflowers along the route!
After several hours of hiking, we reached Coyote Gulch, a verdant oasis of dramatically high canyon walls, bright green trees, and an ankle-deep river winding swiftly through the canyon. The views were breathtaking, and the curved canyon walls were too large to really be captured by camera (even with the wide angle lens!). We hiked along a few curves of the river and finally reached our destination: Jacob Hamblin Arch. This arch was gigantic, surrounded by fallen rocks and framed by more towering and curved canyon walls. We stopped for a bit to take photos and eat lunch, chatting with a friendly hiker we met on the trail.
I really tried to soak in the experience, since I knew none of the photos would do this place justice. There was an earthy smell, cool breezes through the canyon, the falling of cotton-like wisps that looked like snow, the rippling of flowing water, the sounds of ravens above, the echoing of every little noise bouncing off of the canyon walls. The best part of this hike was the solitude. Compared to the crowds of hikers and tourists we have been seeing almost everywhere, we only saw a handful of people in Coyote Gulch and most of the time we were alone.
My one big piece of advice that I will give to anyone who does this hike is to bring water shoes! Since our online research didn’t turn up too much information, I had no idea there would be so many stream crossings. Eventually Steve and I just took off our boots and walked through the river with bare feet. While this felt pretty amazing, water shoes or secure sandals would have been much better for the rocky sections.
All right, that’s all for now! I can’t believe how much we are seeing every day; it’s hard to keep up with this blog! Next we are headed to Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Arizona border for more hiking and adventures! Let me know what we shouldn’t miss in the area!
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