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Burr Trail

Sunday, October 30th, 2011: Southeast Utah, Trips.

Day 6: Bullfrog Creek to Escalante

Highlights: Hike into the Grand Gulch of Halls Creek, monumental slot canyons

The night before, I’d found a campsite after sunset, right along the Burr Trail where it crests a narrow point overlooking Bullfrog Creek. Definitely one of the more spectacular campsites I’ve had, and no traffic during the night on this remote road.

I was in completely new territory now. The new morning, I slowly explored north and took the first significant turnoff to get to something that looked interesting on the map. It turned out to be another monumental canyon at the south end of the Waterpocket Fold, and I hiked down into it, another steep trail dropping hundreds of feet, this time into a lush, broad valley.

I continued on the trail toward what was supposed to be Brimhall Arch, apparently a natural arch somewhere back in those tilted sandstone cliffs. The trail entered a dark slot canyon that became darker and colder as I went, zigging and zagging, with an interesting combination of forest and desert vegetation. I got to a “pouroff”, a sheer cliff like a stairstep to the higher part of the canyon, and there was an amazing rock ladder that had been built, apparently so you could climb the cliff. The cliff was over 20′ tall, and the ladder went up about 12′ of it, literally a carefully balanced tower of small rocks. There I was again, facing danger alone. But it was so cool, I couldn’t pass it up. Some very careful climbing, a reach for an overhanging limb and some intuitive bouldering at the top, and I was up. I figured on the way back down, I could rely more on the tree limbs.

Unfortunately, within a short distance I ran into an impassable barrier: a flooded slot canyon with sheer walls. I never even got to see the arch.

Somehow I made it down the cliff and out into the valley again. I ran into a younger couple heading for the arch, warned them about the cliff and the flooded place, and had an idyllic lunch under golden cottonwoods before climbing out of the Gulch.

Another long drive back to the Burr Trail, then driving at risky speed in order to somewhat mitigate the washboarded gravel. With my truck rattling for dear life, I was passed by four big diesel trucks in succession, all towing full-size stock trailers loaded with cattle, all driving much faster than me, apparently racing to get their stock to the Bullfrog Ferry to ferry them to market across the Colorado River in Arizona. It was a somewhat surprising evocation of history, since the Burr Trail was originally created by a rancher at Boulder, UT, to get his stock from the high Aquarius Plateau down to the ferry and hence to Arizona markets. I wondered if these guys had driven their full trailers down the famous switchbacks, on which trailers are strongly discouraged, for good reason, as I found out later, going up.

Up the famous switchbacks, a long drive over high, juniper-covered plateaus, and then down the outrageously scenic Long Canyon, stopping at one point to admire a statuesque cottonwood, only to find a beautiful, sanctuary-like slot canyon lined with soft sand right off the highway. Here, I encountered lots of tourists, even late in the season. Living where I live, I’m spoiled by the absence of yuppies, and it depresses me to encounter them and their stylish consumer goods. It seemed that my trip might be going in the wrong direction. But there was no turning back.

That evening, driving down Highway 12 from Boulder to Escalante, on an incredibly dramatic, narrow high bench overlooking deep canyons on either side, I pulled off the highway to snap a quick picture, and immediately behind me, three big black luxury SUVs also pulled off, and out jumped a couple dozen young Japanese men, all wearing black leather jackets. At first I thought I was caught in the middle of a movie shoot about drug gangs, but they were all smiling and just wanted their own quick snapshots!

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