Southern Utah Awesomeness

I had a week of free time and a map of Southern Utah. Now, where to go? There are infinite possibilities for awesomeness in southern Utah with slot canyons, views, rivers and National Parks. Just the 5 National Parks can provide years and years of exploring but with 7 days, you can only see and do so much. I chose to focus on the Escalante-Grand Staircase area since its not a National Park and its wide open.

I spent the first 2 days exploring the back roads of Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef is the least popular of the 5 parks and stretches for over 100 miles in amazing fashion. If you’ve not visited Capitol Reef you should put it on your list of places to explore!

I was interested in seeing Upper Cathedral Valley this trip so I drove many isolated miles from an already desolate I-70. After driving up, down, left and right I neared Highway 24. Just before the highway though was the Fremont River and it was crossing the road. The beast I was driving could’ve rallied that river crossing but I was hesitant to damage the low air dam up front. So, I headed back to my other option for reaching the highway. This was another 3 hour detour. Mad? Heck no! More desert dirt road driving for me!

From Capitol Reef I headed to Escalante for the night. My next adventure was south near Kanab at Buckskin Gulch. Upon reaching the Paria ranger station, I found out there were no permits for the 2 nights I was looking for. The next two were open though, sign me up!

I figured I was in the area already so I headed up to the Paria River near “The Box.” This was an easy walk up the wide river basin and passed though a tight section of sandstone. Many times I was walking in water but since it was warm and I was wearing slippers, it was all good. I could see beautiful yellow cottonwood trees in the distance so I aimed for them as daylight was fading. I found an awesome spot to camp with plenty of firewood on the river. It was by birthday so I made a gourmet dinner of tuna and pasta, wow. At least the tequila and Crystal Light was tasty:)

The next portion of my adventure was to hike Buckskin Gulch and camp for 2 nights. I started early from cold and starry Brian Head and headed south in the dark. It was a beautiful drive near Kanab with the sunrise and wide open landscape. I pulled in to Wire Pass shortly after and cooked up some breakfast with my signature strong coffee. Yeah buddy!

I followed the trail for Buckskin Gulch but somehow got off track. I was simply contouring on some sandstone and I approached Buckskin Gulch in no time, surprise surprise. The only problem was I was 30 feet above the canyon floor and the walls were vertical. I managed to find sketchy entrance #1 that involved a ramp of sorts with good handholds, so I lowered in. Once in, I was committed to Buckskin Gulch which was fine with me:)

Buckskin Gulch is 13 miles of slot canyon bliss. It is reportedly the longest slot canyon in the world! At times there can be water, mud and even midget rattlesnakes but I saw only mud and sand. It was dry the entire route until the last 1/2 mile or so where the ground was saturated and had a small amount of water on the surface. I walked, and walked, and walked with my pack unknowing of how far I had walked. It’s impossible to perceive distance in a slot canyon since you never really see the sun or sky. You can only judge distance by time and I was at the 5 hour mark.

I decided to put down my heavy pack, made heavier by the 5 quarts of water, and explore further down canyon. I walked about 1 mile and returned to my pack after seeing some promising sites to camp. It was getting close to stopping time and I came up to a beautiful section of the canyon with grass, sand and trees. Perfect. Did I mention beautiful?

The next morning I downed some signature coffee and headed to the Paria River confluence. In less than 1/4 mile I reached the full, flowing river. It was a magical site as the Paria River is simply beautiful. The silty and sandy water, giant red walls and sandbars made this river especially appealing. I managed to walk another 1/4 mile down river before returning to Buckskin since the water was like liquid ice. Note to self: Buy neoprene booties.

I returned to camp around 11am and relaxed in the reflecting red canyon light. I began to do some math and with 13 miles of hiking and hours of driving ahead of me to get back to SLC, I decided to pack up and head out. It was 1pm and by 7pm it is black out. Oh well, I have batteries and a headlamp, lets go! I put my tripod on the pack and started walking and walking and walking. At about 6pm I was still in the slot and I busted out the headlamp. This is going to be interesting, a slot canyon by headlamp. Sure enough I was soon walking in the slot canyon by headlight! I was a little concerned with the exit of Buckskin Gulch since I took sketch option #1 on the way in. No worries though, I had a gallon of water and a full backpack. I managed to walk out uneventfully though and reached the car around 7:30pm.

Looking back over the week I saw a lot of amazing places, took many photos and fully relaxed in the sun. I love Southern Utah as an escape from home yet not so far. It is drastically different and full of sun. See ya soon!

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16 thoughts on “Southern Utah Awesomeness

  1. lovely photos of one of my most favorite place …more importantly this comes as a timely inspiration since i was planning on a week long trip to Escalante and Moab 🙂

    I am assuming you had a 4WD, so i am wondering which of these would automatically qualify as NA for somebody driving a 2WD ?

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  2. Happy Birthday Crazy Man!!! “busted out headlamp”??!!! Thank you for the bounty of gorgeous images! I’m vicariously living through them. 🙂 I love Southern Utah also–it’s so other-worldly, like another planet. And I got to try that Crystal Lite and tequila concoction as well. Cheers!

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  3. These are some beautiful pictures. I went to southern Utah for the first time in 2010 with my parents and visited Zion and Bryce Canyon. We also stopped at Coral Sand Dunes and took a hike in the Escalante-Grand Staircase area to a waterfall. We didn’t visit any of the parks in this post and I’m rather impressed you ventured way off the beaten path to take these pictures! Not so sure if camping is my thing. Thanks for sharing!!

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