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John Guilford's Hikes

Coyote Gulch, Utah on 2002-05-28

Date: 2002-05-28

Location: Coyote Gulch, Utah

People: (including myself): Joe Tarantino

			Approx. Miles
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
Trail:		 5:30	
Out:		~5:45	10
Escalante:	 7:15
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 [ PIX1 ]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 [ PIX2 ]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 [ PIX3 ][ PIX4 ]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.  [ PIX5 ]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 [ PIX6 ]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 [ PIX7 ](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 [ PIX8 ]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 [ PIX9 ]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.  [ PIXa ] 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).  [ PIXb ]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 [ PIXc ]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. 


[ PIX1 ] Joe in Dry Gulch. 

[ PIX2 ] Joe in entrance to Peek-A-Boo. 

[ PIX3 ] Looking upwards in Peek-A-Boo. 

[ PIX4 ] John downclimbing the entrance of Peek-A-Boo to the canyon floor. 

[ PIX5 ] John crawling in Spooky. 

[ PIX6 ] Joe in Spooky. 

[ PIX7 ] View inside Spooky. 

[ PIX8 ] Joe climbing at the chock stone in Spooky. 

[ PIX9 ] Joe about to climb back into top end of Spooky. 

[ PIXa ] John in one of the narrows of Coyote Gulch, climbing over a clog of tumbleweeds. 

[ PIXb ] View of one of the greener portions of Coyote Gulch. 

[ PIXc ] 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