After we finished up in Kodachrome Basin State Park last April, we headed northeast through the mountains to the little town of Escalante, Utah. The Escalante Visitor Center was the first place we came to, an attractive building on the hillside with a full parking lot. Since we were new to the area, and it was raining, we decided to make the center our first stop for the day.
The Escalante Visitor Center has many great exhibits, a book store, plenty of free area brochures, and a helpful staff. According to Wikipedia, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument contains 1.9 million acres of land (an area slightly larger than the state of Delaware), and there are three main regions: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. In other words, it’s huge. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not cooperating, and the forecast for the rest of the week wasn’t improving. With our limited time left, we’d get to see very little of the area, but thankfully there is much to do right along the highway.
After leaving the Visitor Center, we drove through town, a task that doesn’t take but a couple minutes. Many of the businesses and houses along main street looked deserted, but where things were open, they appeared to be doing decent business. The main place that caught our eye, namely because of the big sign out front that says Pizza and Beer, was Escalante Outfitters. We stopped for an excellent lunch of gourmet pizza and local Utah brews. It tasted even better knowing there wasn’t food and drinks as good as these for miles in any direction. We enjoyed our meal so much, we decided to return the next morning for breakfast. In addition to the food, Escalante Outfitters has a little store full of all the gear and supplies you need for adventuring in the area. It’s like having a mini REI in the space of someone’s living room! Escalante Outfitters also offers cabins and camp spaces out back. With the wind and rain that was starting to build that afternoon though, we opted for the Prospector Inn next door instead.
After a cold and windy night, we decided to make our way northeast to Capitol Reef National Park, stopping along the way to explore portions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Over a delicious breakfast at Escalante Outfitters, one of the employees tipped us off to the scenic Burr Trail which includes a short slot canyon about 10 miles east of the town of Boulder. This option sounded great, since the longer hike to Calf Creek Falls that we had planned wasn’t working out with the schedule and the weather.
Leaving Escalante to the east, the road climbs and snakes through and over canyons and slick rock. It wasn’t long before I lost my sense of direction. At one of the overlooks, I wasn’t sure which direction we had come from. The landscape was vast, and it looked like you could explore it for the rest of your life. I was even a little amazed there was a road through this country.
Along the road we crossed the tree-lined Escalante River, which supposedly offers great extended backpacking trips. We also passed the trail to Calf Creek Falls along the way to Boulder, and it looked beautiful even from the road. We definitely need to come back and hike that one. There was so much to see, but it was hard to take my eyes off the twisty road that skirted along many drop-offs.
When we arrived at the nice little town of Boulder, we took the Burr Trail turnoff for a scenic side trip. The Burr Trail is a backcountry route extending from the mountain town of Boulder, down through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument into Capitol Reef National Park, and then to Bullfrog in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The upper section is paved, and stretches for 18 miles from the town of Boulder down to the border of Capitol Reef National Park.
The Burr Trail becomes narrow as you leave Boulder, but with the light traffic, it’s easy to relax and look around. We passed the Deer Creek Campground, and then just a few miles later descended steeply into a canyon. Within another couple miles, we reached the Burr Trail Slot Canyon on the north side of the road. Although it’s not long and extremely narrow like the slot canyons we had hoped to explore on this trip, it was still awesome to behold. Just a short walk off the road down an embankment gets you to a sand wash that enters the tall-walled canyon. There are many trees and bushes near the entrance of the canyon that contrast nicely with the red rocks. It’s just a short walk to the end, but definitely worth checking out if you have the time.
Before heading back to Boulder, we climbed around on the rocks a bit. All along the canyon were little pockets in the rock that were fun to climb into. On the rocks high above, we could see water stains where it looks like the water cascades down the cliffs during the rainstorms. How cool it would be to witness such an event!
When we got back to Boulder, we noticed there were a couple places to eat that looked pretty decent. We kept going though, heading north on highway 12 towards Capitol Reef National Park. Soon we were climbing high up into the mountains, even driving through a little snow as we crested the 9,600 foot pass! This is one of the biggest things that surprised me about Southern Utah. I imagined it to be low elevation desert most of the time, but most of our trip had been spent in high rugged mountains, canyons and hills. The amount of recreation opportunities in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area blew my mind, and it was unfortunate we had to speed through it. We’ll be back to this area for sure, and will make sure we allocate plenty of time.