Even though our tent was set on a nice, level, sandy bench, there was only so much tossing and turning I could do before my hips begged me to give it up. I was up and out of our tent at first light. Eileen and Daniel slumbered on.
It was a beautiful, moderately chilly morning. I enjoyed the solitude, lounging back in my Slinglight chair, drinking in the views and relishing the silence. Gradually, the canyon came to life. As the sun rose, the shadows across the cliffs receded. The river gorge warmed and birds heralded the beginning of the day. My crew came to life within seconds of the sun hitting the tent.
We warmed up with our breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. Then we packed our things and broke camp.
Before going to bed, we had set out our hiking shoes and socks to dry in the desert air. A pointless exercise, really, since the very first thing we would be doing now is walking directly in the river to continue our trek. Still, it was nice to begin our day with warm dry feet, if only for a few moments.
When we stepped into the river, it was colder than yesterday, as Mamie Creek brought forth its chilled waters into the Escalante under the cloak of darkness. Within a few minutes, our feet were numb. Daniel was not happy.
But after walking a few hundred yards, the circulation began to offset the cold and there was again peace in the valley.
As we hiked the river, it became increasingly clear that we had picked the optimal campsite the night before. There were no places to camp between Death Hollow and Sand Creek. The next several miles were all hiked in the river.
When sandy banks emerged once again, we encountered a new, and bountiful obstacle: poison oak. We had been warned to avoid it if we intended to hike up Death Hollow, but this was our first encounter along the Escalante proper.
So much for hiking in shorts! I zipped on my pant legs and deftly lead the way.
The trails, such as the they were, between Death Hollow and Sandy Creek were fairly overgrown. I used my trekking poles to plow my way through, hoping to avoid snakes.
Between the poison oak and my snake anxiety, I recommended we stay in the river as much as possible.
We continued down river, enjoying the various rock formations and colors that unfolded with every twist and turn.
The cliffs were painted in beautiful desert varnish, stains from iron oxide leaching through the Navajo sandstone.
At certain points the sandy benches would rise 12 -15 feet up and they would be littered with broken trees and plant debris that had clearly been swept and caught by the branches in a past deluge. The thought of the torrent that must flow through here during a storm was sobering. The little calm creek we were scampering through would grow into a thunderous wall of water, at least 15 feet high, consuming everything in its path. No, better to hike this in May, the dryest month of the year in Utah.
Around the bend, we found an inviting rock. There, we rested a bit and ate some salty snacks.
Eventually, the canyon opened a bit as we approached the Sand Creek confluence.
At Sand Creek, there was a very large, broad, sand bench offering good campsites. It was here that we once again began to encounter other people.
It was getting warm walking in the sun, without the shelter of the canyon.
Immediately after the Sand Creek confluence, we came upon the Natural Arch. We knew our hike was nearing its end.
Immediately after the Natural Arch, the south side of the river boasts an Anasazi cliff dwelling. There’s a path that veers off to the right that takes you up very close to the ruin.
Just slightly further along the trail towards Route 12, we came upon the Escalante Natural Bridge.
From the bridge, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the Road. But not before we ran into this beautiful 4′ long Bull Snake.
The second day of hiking took a bit longer. Maybe 5 hours. It was a wonderful experience.
I spent the evening doing laundry at the Escalante laundromat. Tomorrow, we would again enjoy the luxury of clean, dry, sand-free clothing.