A True Desert Oasis
15 or so years ago I was a teenage boy and visited Coyote Gulch for the first time. At that point in time, Coyote Gulch was a lesser known canyon with few visitors each year. So few in fact that in the spring season we didn’t see any other hikers the three days we were there. Fast forward to 2019 and you’d find yourself incredibly lucky to see less than a dozen people over a weekend in the canyon. So why the sudden change? Coyote Gulch is one of those desert canyons of Utah that truly is an oasis, but it’s popularity has been more fueled by social media posts about the canyon. We will talk about this more as this report goes on.
Coyote Gulch is a canyon i’ve always wanted to get back to after being there as a young kid. When I was approached by a friend who had not been there before about doing a trip together, I suggested we visit the gulch to enjoy a nice fall weekend in a beautiful place. With bluebird skies and perfect weather, the weekend of exploring Coyote was one of the better trip experiences of 2019.
The drive to the trailhead for Coyote Gulch is a long, bumpy ride down the Hole In The Rock road south of the town of Escalante. We parked our car at the “water tank” trailhead, which is also known as the “sneaker route” trailhead. This trailhead allows for access into Coyote from about the halfway point just below Jacob Hamblin Arch. After parking, we slung on our packs and walked from the car down the sandy road to the Forty Mile Ridge trailhead where we accessed Coyote Gulch from the aptly named ‘Crack In The Wall”. The crack in the wall is the southern most access into Coyote and the trail basically drops you at the confluence with Coyote and the Escalante River.
After lowering packs and squeezing through the crack, we made our way down the massive sand dune with the intent to get to the Escalante river and leave Coyote to be explored the next day.
One of the things I love about this canyon is the available options to make the trip your own. Whether you start from the Red Well or Hurricane Wash trailheads, or do the route we chose, you can see many different things and have a totally different trip experience based on the route you choose. For us, after dropping down Crack In The Wall, we got down after a little bit of route finding to the lower end of Coyote Gulch. The goal then being to find a nice place to camp, away from other hikers near the entrance to Stevens Canyon. Stevens Arch is a massive feature that is seen from the lower end of Coyote, but the arch and canyon just above Coyote are much less visited, which made for a good opportunity to have some quite for our first night on the trail.
The water coming down the Escalante River was quite cold in this section and as we were getting closer to the end of the day, the shadows of the canyon walls were making walking a little colder than planned. That said, we moved our way up river a ways until we were just a few minutes walking from the entrance to Stevens Canyon. For 2019 and really for any other backpacking trip i’ve done, this was one of the better campsites i’ve had in a desert canyon.
Morning greeted us with a beautiful sunrise and awesome temps. After gobbling down some oatmeal and coffee we cleanup camp and our packs and started walking toward Stevens Canyon. I have always wanted to spend time in this canyon after seeing a few videos from some great hikers visiting the area. Stevens canyon was far more rugged and difficult to navigate than several of the canyon’s i’ve been in, in that area. That said, it came with an amazing reward, as our goal was to visit “the grotto” of the canyon. The Grotto is a unique feature in the canyon that is a natural pour off for when water is moving through the canyon. A large outcropping of rock, boulders and vegetation make getting beyond this point difficult, and the natural geology of how this formed is quite amazing. A mini arch and large pool at the rear of the grotto make this quite the sight to see. Needless to say, Stevens Canyon was worth the extra effort and miles for us to enjoy by ourselves on a beautiful day.
After visiting Stevens Canyon we made it back to our packs to find a couple ravens had rummaged through our packs and found food, making quite a mess of plastic bags. We got that cleaned up and loaded up to make our way back down river to the confluence of Coyote Gulch and begin hiking up the gulch for about a 7 mile day of hiking. It was pretty nostalgic to be back in Coyote and seeing features and sights I hadn’t seen for over 15 years. The canyon showed signs of heavy use and a lot of social trails, consistent with heavy use from backpackers and hikers. This was a little sad to see, as Coyote Gulch is easily has the highest visitation of all the canyons a long the Hole In The Rock road for backpacking or overnight trips. All that said though, it was nice to see that the agencies managing the area have done a good job of helping educate people on the need to carry Wag Bags for carrying out human waste, and there was a real lack of trash through out the canyon.
We kept a pretty quick pace walking up the canyon and spending a short amount of time at each feature to capture a few photos and video. We even ended up at one point working with another couple hikers to get over one of the scrambling obstacles at one of the waterfalls. With the high use, and having to walk in the water, there was a lot of sand transferred to the rock, making it quite slick and difficult to keep a solid footing on the rock. Team work prevailed and we kept making our way up the canyon. Our goal was to make it to Jacob Hamblin Arch where we would camp for the night, making for a quick and easy exit out the sneaker route below the arch. As we got closer to Jacob Hamblin Arch, more and more people started to show up as the campsites were filled with tents and hammocks. We decided to walk past the arch and find a secluded area if possible. After about 1/4 mile of hiking past the arch, we found a decent spot to call home for the night.
We had a wonderful night of sleep to finish up the last day, and hiked out early in the morning passing the massive overhanging wall at the base of Jacob Hamblin Arch and enjoying the solitude and quite that the morning brought. This place truly is an incredible location, and deserves to be protected for future generations to continue to enjoy. Remember when going into desert ecosystems, that you are visiting a fragile area that deserves to be cared for. Take photos and video to remember your experience and Leave No Trace in the places you visit.