After our terrific stay in BBRSP we journeyed east on FM 170 (farm to market) alternatively known as Farm Road 170. The local folks just call it the River Road. It is also a segment of the Texas Mountain Trail. Regardless of what name you reference it by it is an absolutely stunning drive. The road is an undulating strip of asphalt winding its way between the mountains of BBRSP on one side and the Rio Grande and Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains on the other.
Big Bend National Park is an expansive park with remarkable diversity in regard to the terrain and species of wildlife and flora. While it is wild and rugged it is far more accessible than Big Bend Ranch State Park. There are visitor centers, a gas station, drinking water, paved scenic drives and more people. The one thing that both parks have in common is the spectacular scenery.
We would rate this park as a “must visit” national park. A couple things to keep in mind – this is not a summer park due to the South Texas location and it is a spring break destination for many Texas families (making mid-March the busiest time).
Re-assessing our itinerary based on developments with Covid-19.
We stayed four nights at the Slot Canyons Inn while exploring the EGSNM. The inn is located on a 160 acre property about five miles west of the town of Escalante, and is perfectly situated to watch both sunrise and sunset. While in residence at the inn we had the opportunity to hike on the property (what else!). There are four hiking cats that live on the property and three of them accompanied us on our hike as we looped the property. Joette-Marie Rex owns the inn and is an incredibly gracious host. Joette-Marie invited her friend Mary Kaye, a singer-songwriter in the western cowboy genre, to perform at the inn during our stay. She has a beautiful voice and provided a lot of history about the cowboy history of the local area.
We also had the opportunity to visit David Delthony’s studio while in Escalante. David is a custom furniture artist and built the two chairs in the Slot Canyons Inn (pictured below).
The Slot Canyons Inn was a great base for our stay in Escalante.
On Thursday morning we made an early drive into Zion NP for our final hiking of the trip. We started with a walk along the Virgin River following its winding path until we reached the narrows where the flow of water due to winter snow melt makes continuing further too dangerous. We then hiked the steep climb up to Hidden Canyon. This is a fairly strenuous hike with a 1000 vertical climb along steep narrow switchbacks and exposed cliffs. Well worth the climb with outstanding views and exhilarating moments holding tight to the chains bolted to the rock.
On Tuesday we hiked the Middle Fork of the Taylor Creek in the Kolob Canyons district of Zion NP. We accessed the hike from the trailhead on Kolob Canyons Road. We followed the middle fork crisscrossing the creek multiple times. The canyon narrows and deepens until ending at a double arch alcove. Along the way we stopped to see two long abandoned cabins built by homesteaders around 1930.
On Tuesday we drove north 40 miles to access the much less visited Kolob Canyons area in the northwestern section of Zion NP. The road is paved and winds up along the western side of the canyon providing spectacular views of Nagunt Mesa, Gregory Butte and Burnt Mountain.
On Wednesday we hiked in the Box Canyon within the Box – Death Hollows Wilderness Area which is located in the Dixie National Forest. The Spring Creek flows through the canyon and requires numerous crossings of the creek to proceed up the canyon. This area is very different from the nearby Escalante desert with a mix of red rock canyon walls and towering Ponderosa Pines. The creek was running high from late winter snow melt so we eventually had to get our feet wet on several of the creek crossings. Our hike took about 4.5 hours in which time Maria and I had the canyon completely to ourselves.
On Saturday we hiked down into the Fairyland Canyon from the rim of Bryce. This is one of a kind scenery with towering hoodoos reaching straight up into the sky throughout the canyon. As typical of Utah at this time of the year at 8000 ft elevation the weather can and does change dramatically within minutes. We started this hike under cloudy skies and then encountered heavy snow as we descended from the rim down into the canyon. Within an hour the snow moved off and we enjoyed blue sky and sunshine for the remainder of our trek through the canyon. This is a long hike with over 2000 ft of vertical but well worth it to experience these other wordly formations.
On Wednesday we ventured down the Hole in the Rock Road for 26 miles to canyoneer in several exciting slot canyons. This environment was a dramatic change from the tall Ponderosa Pines of the Box Canyon in Dixie NF where we hiked on Tuesday. The road is a washboarded bone rattling dirt track but fun to drive none the less and provides dramatic views of the Straights Cliffs section of the Fifty Mile Bench and Fifty Mile Mountains. Once at the trailhead we tackled the three slot canyons which can be accessed from the Dry Fork Gulch below the trailhead. We hiked Dry Fork first as an out and back as the slot became impassable due to water. We then made a loop by climbing up through the Peek-a-Boo slot and then traversed across to Spooky Gulch and then down climbed Spooky slot exiting into Coyote Gulch and returning to the trailhead from there. As you can see from the photographs below the slots provide some challenging terrain with the tight spaces and chimney descents but make for great fun and excitement.
This afternoon we hiked up the Lower Calf Creek trail under a beautiful blue sky, following the canyon floor. At the end of the canyon we were delighted by the cool mists of the 126 foot falls that feeds the perennial creek. As a result of the creek providing water year round, the canyon is lush with vegetation. Pictured directly below is the creek from above, and below that the falls from the trail.
On Saturday we climbed to the Rim Overlook which provides great views to the east, west and south as well as the park directly below the rim. After a break at the rim we ventured further down the Navajo Knobs trail and then ventured up a side canyon before turning back and retracing our route back to the trailhead.