Sand in Our Shoes: Hiking the Escalante, Day 6

Along the Burr Trail

Day: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
After several days of hiking, the itinerary today allowed for pure relaxation: A car tour of some of the more interesting roads in the area.

After breakfast, we gassed up and headed northeast out of Escalante towards Boulder.  After descending down the fold, and passing the Escalante River crossing from yesterday’s hike, we continued on past Calf Creek. At Calf Creek, there is an easy, Lower Falls hike that ends, appropriately, at a scenic waterfall. We had the opportunity to hike this while on vacation in the area in 2010.  Past Calf Creek, Route 12 climbs the cliffs and reaches an apex along a dizzying, scenic ridge known as the Hogsback. It presents a terrific opportunity to pull over and take in the 360 degree views.

Our intended course for the day was to drive up Route 12 to Boulder, then head East on the Burr Trail into Capitol Reef National Park and then North up the Notom Road to Route 24. From Route 24 we would drive West to Torrey for lunch and the further on to Bicknell.

From Bicknell, I wanted to get on forest service roads and climb the Aquarius Plateau, past many scenic alpine lakes and then drop out in Escalante 46 miles later. Unfortunately, checking road conditions while at the Capitol Reef Visitor’s Center, I learned that the forest service roads up at 10,000 feet were still impassable.

So instead, we drove south down Route 12, up and over Boulder Mountain. After passing through Boulder Town, we turned right onto Hell’s Backbone Road and road that back into Escalante.

The Burr Trail is a very scenic drive and is paved for 18 miles until the point where it reached the boundary of Capitol Reef and the road turns to dirt. Soon afterwards, the road descends down its famous switchbacks, connecting with Notom Road.

Burr Trail switchbacks down the Waterpocket Fold to Notom Road

Daniel on Burr Trail

Notom Road heads North along the Waterpocket Fold, the spine of Capitol Reef. It’s scenic and washboardy. Unfortunately, there was a lot of construction going on building bridges over washes and paving the road. Apparently, it’s likely the switchback section will ultimately be paved as well. This is unfortunate, because it robs the area of its remoteness, which is a big part of its allure.

After getting the skinny on the Posey Lake Road on the Aquarius Plateau, we ate greasy burgers in Torrey and headed south over Boulder Mountain.

On Boulder Mountain

On Boulder Mountain

It was beautiful up on the mountain with expansive views back down into Capitol Reef, the Henry Mountains and beyond. The aspen were coming to life with newly born, day-glo green foliage.

After Boulder town, we turned onto Hell’s Backbone Road. Hell’s Backbone was a good compromise. The 38 mile long dirt/gravel road ascends the Aquarius Plateau to 9,000 feet. It culminates at the Hell’s Backbone Bridge which spans a deep chasm where the heads of Death Hollow and Sand Creek cut deeply into the Navajo Sandstone. From here, the canyon falls down to the Escalante where we had backpacked and camped the prior two days.


Hell’s Backbone Panorama

Death Hollow trail head sign pointing out that death awaits you should you opt to venture down.

“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate,” or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”

In my travels, I’ve been on this road several times before. Today, it was a very easy drive because it was freshly graded. Eileen and Daniel had been up as far as the Upper Pine Creek Trail head (the Box) in 2010, when we enjoyed that 8 mile day hike down stream.

Soon we popped out in the center of Escalante. It was a long, but worthwhile, day of touring.

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