We had gotten a lead on a dispersed camping (also known as Boondocking) site in the Escalante at a place called Devil’s Garden. It is down Hole in the Rock Road just outside of the town of Escalante. Hole in the rock is a trail originally established by Mormon settlers as a way to get their wagons through this area. They had to blast a path through the buttes blocking their way, hence hole in the rock. Now it is a 50 mile, gravel, teeth rattling, bone jarring road to nowhere on BLM land.
The national monument is named for the stairsteps of various geologic layers that are crossed when traversing the land. As you progress north from the Grand Canyon, you move up the layers and pass by cliffs of different colors you are gaining elevation in the geologic layers. The bottom of the canyons in the Escalante/ Capital Reef area are the top layers down at the Grand Canyon. All this is because of geologic uplift and then erosion over millions of years.
We traveled 20 miles down the road to Devil’s Garden
and found a delightful place to set up camp.
Our main interest in visiting Escalante was to explore several of the many slot canyons in the area. Devil’s Garden is also worthwhile exploring, as it is a collection of whimsical sandstone rocks and buttes, carved by nature in a Daliesque fashion.
We set up our site and after a good night’s sleep, we headed another 15 miles down the road to explore Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons. Ironically it was Halloween (10-31) that day for Spooky slot. After parking we walked a couple of miles into the desert along the trail to Spooky Gulch and down into the wash and then found the entrance to the canyon. It require a bit of a climb to get up into the slot but we prevailed and in we went.
These canyons are formed by erosion and running water from the monsoonal storms which occur on occasion in the summer. It is also very important not to go into one when there is any rain forecasted in the area due to rapid flash flooding that occurs. Once in the canyons, there is no easy way out. They are extremely narrow and require some contortion to maneuver through, but are very beautiful.
We went through Peek-a-boo and then Spooky (named because it’s so narrow that it’s fairly dark inside).
Honestly, if I hadn’t known people had been through before, I would have turned back. At one point I had to get on hands and knees to get through. It’s narrow enough that you are squeezing through sideways with both front and back scrapping the rocky sides of the canyon.
We also went though Dry Fork Canyon, another beautiful slot, but wider and much easier to traverse.
The next day we went to see Zebra and Tunnel slots. Zebra, named for the striations of different colored rock in the walls, was filled with water, and we didn’t make it to the end, because the water was very cold and began to get deeper as we progressed inward. Another interesting fact regarding Zebra slot is the Moqui marble inclusions that are there. These are sandstone balls 1-3 inches in diameter and are surrounded by Hemetite, an iron oxide. You can see them imbedded in the walls of the canyon and when we were hiking over the slickrock to tunnel slot, we found literally thousands of them laying all over the ground.
We did get into Tunnel slot, but were blocked by water once again.
After another night at Devil’s Garden we headed up Utah highway 12 toward the Capital Reef National Park. This has to be one of the most scenic drives in the country. We passed up from the desert environment through all levels to alpine as we crossed the ridge at around 9600 feet in elevation. Then the road leads down and to the Capital Reef National Park.
This park is named for the 100 mile long formation known as the Waterpocket Fold, a mountainous ridge of buttes and mesa’s, which were a huge impediment to westward migration. The Morman settlers passing this way called it a reef in reference to the coral barrier reefs in the sea and it was named Capital for a Navaho sandstone butte that reminded them of the national capital in Washington.
We settled into the campground in the park at a place called Fruita.
It is an original Morman settlement and has many orchards in the area, including, apples, peaches, plums and pears. Apparently in season, you can pick fruit to eat and buy pies made from the orchard’s bounty. Unfortunately, we were a bit late for that.
We explored the park and magnificent buttes and canyons in the area.
The Capitol Gorge was one of the only passes though the reef for many years and still had petroglyphs and inscriptions from those that passed by.
The Fremont River goes though the reef has been a traditional passageway with attendant petroglyphs left for posterity by the original people,
and the road (Hwy 12) was built through that gorge and is now the main thoroughfare.
We loved this place, but now we’re off to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. More pictures will be found in the gallery.