John Guilford's Hikes
Coyote Gulch, Utah on 2002-05-28
Location: Coyote Gulch, Utah
People: (including myself): Joe Tarantino
Start: 10:30 0
Coyote Gulch: 10:40 1/4
Peek-A-Boo: 11:00 1/2
Coyote Gulch: 11:35 1
Spooky: 11:50 1-1/2
Coyote/Lunch: 12:50 2-1/2
Brimstone: 1:25 3-1/2
Out: ~5:45 10
This hike was in the middle of the Escalante Grand Staircase National
Monument. Our primary goals were a couple of very narrow slot canyons
named Spooky and Peek-A-Boo. Depending on the time, a secondary goal was
to hike down Coyote Gulch about 5 miles making a straight through hike
instead of retracing our steps. To enable this, we left a car at the far
end. To get to the trail heads, one takes Hole In The Rock Road (a dirt
road leading south from just outside of the town of Escalante and which
progressively gets in worse and worse shape the further it goes) south for
25 and 31 miles, respectively, to the Dry Gulch (?) and Red Well
trailheads. We left my car at the Red Well trailhead and returned to the
Dry Gulch trailhead in Joe's car. The day was hot and we each took 2
liters of water. The trail down to the floor of Coyote Gulch is well
marked with cairns and is mostly over rock. Once in the gulch, one can
take a left and proceed up Dry Gulch for miles. This is a wide slot canyon
(about 15-20 feet wide) that is rather boring. We went up a little ways
and we found it unchanging we turned around and went back down. Using a
trail description we got from the ranger in Escalante, we quickly found the
entrance to Peek-A-Boo Gulch. This entrance is less than 1/4 mile from
where one enters Coyote Gulch on the far (left when facing down stream)
side. It is an opening about 12 feet above the gulch floor. Rudimentary
footholds and some handholds had been cut into the sandstone to facilitate
entry and exit. We climbed into Peek-A-Boo without trouble and proceeded
to explore it to its far end (at least until the side walls became short
and the gulch exposed to steady sun light). The passages are twisty and
turny but did not have nay difficulties. We retraced our steps back to the
beginning. Down climbing the entrance was trickier than the ascent (and
scarier) especially if one forgot about a sizeable ledge half way up the
face that is invisible from inside the gulch.
We then proceeded down Coyote Gulch about 1/2 mile to Spooky Gulch.
This gulch is up a little sandy wash. This one starts at ground level.
The rock in Spooky is different and harder than in Peek-A-Boo. The
noteworthy aspect of Spooky is its narrowness. There are a couple fairly
long stretches where one has to turn sideways (with out a pack) and side
step. We did this for a while, holding our packs in one hand ahead or
behind us. That got tiring, so when we found a convenient ledge, we left
the packs to be picked up on our return. About 3/4 of the way up Spooky
(which goes back a bit more than a mile) there is a chock stone/rock pile
that one has to climb up through. Again, this didn't provide much
challenge (as compared to Red Cave, for example). Along the way we met a
couple who had gone up Peek-A-Boo, crossed over to the top end of Spooky,
and were coming down Spooky. We didn't realize one could easily do this.
Of course, doing it our way we got to go through Peek-A-Boo and Spooky
twice. On our way out of Spooky, near its mouth, we met a different couple
with whom we chatted for a while. From them I learned a neat trick. The
floor of Coyote Gulch is almost entirely sand, loose sand. Not does this
make the hiking more tiresome, bit it also creates a problem with getting
sand kicked into the top of my boots. It would have been convenient to
have some lightweight gaiters, but I didn't. I learned a pretty good
kludge, however. If you fold the top of socks down over your boot tops, it
is pretty effective at keeping the sand out of your boot. It looks kind of
dorky, but it works. I did that for the rest of the hike.
We stopped for a snack in the relative cool of Spooky before
continuing down Coyote Gulch. The next slot canyon is about 3/4 mile down
from Spooky and is called Brimstone Gulch. Before you get to Brimstone,
Coyote Gulch narrows down. In the middle of the narrows is a giant chock
stone with passages on the left and right. The left one could be gotten
down but maybe not back up. The right side had a set of stone steps that
someone piled up that made going either way relatively easy. To get to the
entrance to Brimstone you have to hike up a dry wash about a mile. At this
point we had a choice to make. We could either do Brimstone and then leave
the way we had come in, or we could skip Brimstone and proceed with the
straight through hike. I had a weak preference for the former option, but
Joe wanted to do the through hike. Coyote Gulch gets wetter and greener
further down, and Joe wanted to check it out. Since I didn't really care,
we set off down the gulch as expeditiously as we could.
The next four miles or so was a relentless slog through loose sand.
At times we followed a foot track that cut across the meanders. These were
also loose sand, but as the river bed was equally loose, the shorter
distance made the short cuts worthwhile.
As we descended Coyote Gulch, we passed through several sets of
narrows, one of which was clogged with tumbleweeds.
The canyon became a bit wetter with more and more trees. The
flies also got a bit more annoying, though they never got beyond the pest
stage. It only really became annoying when we stopped for any length of
time. Cattle grazed or wandered about the canyon as evidenced by their cow
pies (which fortunately were dried out and did not smell). Trees
eventually became relatively common, which was a good sign for us as it
meant we were getting closer to our take out spot. Our big fear was that
we'd miss the exit wash. We had a USGS that gave us an idea where we were,
though sometimes it was hard to be certain which feature we were looking
at. Unfortunately, the actual exit wash was just off of our map. The day
was very hot, we were tired, and we were just waiting for the hike to be
over. It turns out that the lower portion of the gulch was not as Joe had
imagined it to be. In hindsight it would have been more enjoyable to do
Brimstone and then leave as we came in, but until you've been someplace you
never know what it is like.
We started running into cows (including one dead one) and an
occasional puddle of gross looking water. To make sure we wouldn't miss
the exit wash we started following the river meanders instead of cutting
the loops. At one point Joe stopped and said, "We're heading in the wrong
direction." Consulting a map (one different from the USGS that wasn't as
detailed but which showed more area) Joe concluded that we'd missed the
exit wash and were about a mile below it. We thought that if we climbed
out of the gulch we might see some land marks to help us get our bearings.
We climbed out of the gulch, but it didn't help. We couldn't find
any landmarks to locate ourselves, nor did we see any signs of cars or the
trailhead. I was getting somewhat scared. The day was getting late, we
were down to about 1/2 liter of water each, we were lost, and the desert
was a very unforgiving place. We headed northwest along the canyon rim
for a while looking for a landmark such as Big (Hollow) Wash but not
finding it. One fall back option would be to go back into Coyote Gulch and
retrace our steps out the way we'd come in. That would be very long and
tedious, but at least it would get us out, though maybe not till after dark.
If we headed west, we'd eventually hit the road, but it would be
tough going and we'd still have a ways until we could get to a car. None
of our options seemed real good, and I was leery about setting off across
the desert as I've read too many stories about people who've done that and
gotten into major trouble.
About that time we were at a little side wash that looked into Coyote
Gulch where the gulch was relatively forested. Checking the USGS, we
figured where we thought we were, which was above the exit trail still.
Instead of descending back into the Coyote Gulch, we decided that the
shortest way to he car would be to head straight south across the desert.
We dug out the compass and started off. One good thing about doing this is
that I got to see a desert hare (jack rabbit?) running over the rocks.
Up on the rim there was more rock which made the going easier than on
the sand, but the more varied topology made it harder.
After about a half mile or so we ran into a dry wash that we had to
skirt along (it was too steep to climb into where we were). We saw lots of
cow tracks but no boot tracks. If we were where we thought we were, this
must be Big Wash which was just above the exit wash. The walls eventually
got low enough that we could climb into the wash. We followed it down and
finally ran into the long awaited highway of boot tracks along with
cairns. We weren't positive that this was the Red Well trail, but it
definitely led someplace. We followed the trail and soon came to the
trailhead and the car.
In hindsight we made some mistakes. When we first thought we missed
the exit, the lack of foot prints should have told us that we didn't. Most
of the people who hike Coyote Gulch starting from our exit trailhead hike
the lower section of the gulch (the part below the section we had just
hiked). Based on the number of cars at the trailhead, there should have
been lots of footprints below the trailhead. Yet where we were we saw
relatively few. This would imply we were probably still above the exit.
In hindsight, we probably should have kept going another 15-30 minutes
before bailing out of the canyon. We thought we were close (if not beyond)
so if the exit was still below us, we should have found it within a half
hour. I think I fooled myself with the thought of climbing out of the
gulch "just to have a look around." I didn't think that once we climbed
out that we'd be loathe to climb back in. All in all it was a humbling and
scary experience. We lived through it, however. Hopefully we learned
something in the process.
Maybe the prudent thing would be to spend a half hour up front to
check out the exit wash at the beginning so we'd have known what to look for.
Joe in Dry Gulch.
Joe in entrance to Peek-A-Boo.
Looking upwards in Peek-A-Boo.
John downclimbing the entrance of Peek-A-Boo to the canyon floor.
John crawling in Spooky.
Joe in Spooky.
View inside Spooky.
Joe climbing at the chock stone in Spooky.
Joe about to climb back into top end of Spooky.
John in one of the narrows of Coyote Gulch,
climbing over a clog of tumbleweeds.
View of one of the greener portions of Coyote Gulch.
Joe going cross country looking for the exit trail after climbing
out of Coyote Gulch.
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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015