A break from hiking on Day 3 and Escalante National Monument on Day 4, Utah 2016
After two days of physically pushing ourselves, we decide that today we will just kick back and relax. I am still up early enough to see a very lovely sunrise and enjoy the mule deer that come to graze across the highway or in the lush pasture by the house. Oddly enough I hardly have any photos of the deer; I guess I was more interested in the elk that came every evening.
Joy has convinced us that we should go play miniature golf, a tradition of the Miller sibling reunion if we can find a miniature golf course where we are vacationing. The miniature golf course Joy found online is at a resort not far from the east side of Zion National Park.
We manage to find the turn off of Highway 9 that leads to the Zion Ponderosa Resort and find ourselves climbing up into the mountains on a winding road. It is a gorgeous drive so that is a plus to our foray to play putt putt golf. When we arrive at the resort we go inside the reception area to pay the fee for using the course. Colorful balls are chosen, green for me, and golf clubs handed out.
We walk back to the tastefully designed golf course that is fashioned after the landscape around us. There are no plastic crocs whose jaws open and close, instead the course has native boulders scattered on the fairways for obstacles along with some water hazards here and there. When the game is finally concluded, Paul and Joy must have a play off since they end up tied for first. Brother and sister choose to play on the fairway where most of us put our balls into the water hazard. Joy goes first and her shot carries the ball safely past the water hole. Paul ends up hitting his ball in the drink so Joy ends up with the five dollar pot. Paul evidently is worn out from the stress of the golf game so I drive back to the ranch house.
This evening if I remember correctly, Joy’s slide shows are transferred to a flash drive and we go down memory lane to last year’s reunion in England. After having fun reliving our time touring the area around Oxford, Joy then takes us on a colorful trip to Cuba via excellent photos accompanied by lively music. Perhaps this is the night that Paul and I lose more money to his sisters when we play two rounds of “Left, right, center”, a dice game that is pure luck. Lady luck shines down on Lois and Doris I believe and they win the five dollar pots.
This morning we are up early as we are traveling to Escalante which is the longest distance we will drive on our Utah outings. Escalante is northeast of Bryce so we get to enjoy the fanciful formations of Red Canyon once again. We reach the Escalante visitor center after two hours on the road and enjoying looking at all the educational displays plus there is a mosaic of stunning photographs on the wall. Not far from the visitor center there is a pullout with a breath-taking view of the plateau we are traveling through. We also stop in at another visitor center; it’s very small and located in a” bump in the road” town, but I’m not sure what the name of the center was. There are displays of Native American items and Mormon settler items to peruse. The women rangers manning the desk suggest we hike Lower Calf Creek Falls trail and give us a map with directions to the trail. We also meet a French couple here who are traveling in the states in a small pickup with a camper in the bed. The reason we meet them is that there is a cat lying on the pickup dash and Joy and I are pulled as if by a magnet to go over and admire the feline. It turns out that the cat is blind and not particularly inclined to being petted by strangers. I can’t imagine traveling with a cat, let alone a blind one!
By the time we reach our destination it is late morning and the day is heating up. We are a bit confused on where the trailhead is but figure out we must walk down the paved road a ways to get to the trailhead. Paul and I don’t take a brochure which proves to be a mistake because soon our group of five is spread out along the sandy trail.
The trail is near or follows alongside a small river bed which is full of trees and greenery, literally an oasis in the desert. Birds are singing throughout the verdant valley and there is one song that is predominant throughout the hike. I finally see one of the birds singing near the trail and figure out that the feathered troubadour is a Spotted Towhee. I have seen this bird before but I am still delighted when I not only hear but actually see several of the uniquely marked birds by the time our hike is over. There are small, drab-colored lizards that scurry over the rocks near the well maintained trail. There are numbered posts along the track marking points of interest, and if Paul and I had taken a brochure, we would know what the heck we should be looking at! Paul and I do recall that there is a petroglyph at number 9(?) and with the use of our binoculars we find the three shamans painted on a smooth mountain face across the valley. It isn’t until I see my photo on the computer that I notice a fourth figure to the right and slightly below the group of three figures.
Although a lot of this trail is fairly level there are places where there are some steep climbs or descents over rocky terrain and I am happy to have my hiking poles. We enjoy a variety of flowers in various colors that are growing along the trail, down in the valley and on rocky precipices above us. In places, Mother Nature’s arrangement of flowers, grasses, and shrubs couldn’t look more planned than if a gardener had placed them in such a pleasing design. The mountains that edge the valley give us a wide diversity of terrain to contemplate as we hike, including thin swirly layers of sandstone, holes etched in rocks in the oddest places plus horizontal and vertical striped cliff faces.
Paul and I continue plodding along but I am getting in that childish phase of asking “are we there yet”? The falls are 2.5 miles from the trail head but it seems like we have been walking forever. I begin asking people we meet that are on the return hike how close we are to the end of the trail. The first people I question are young, fit, hikers who tell us we have about twenty minutes to our destination. Once they move on I tell Paul that means at least forty minutes for us. We move on down the trail and the next youngsters we meet and question about the distance to the falls tell us we still have a bit of a walk but soon the trail will drop down next to the small river and it is much cooler there. I must look as hot as I feel! Sure enough we do descend into shade and boy does that feel wonderful. We meet a middle age couple and kiddingly ask if there really is a waterfall on this trail. The couple laughs and agrees that the hike took much longer than they had anticipated too but that it was well worth the effort. They suggest that we take our shoes off when we get there and put our feet in the water to cool off. Gee, we really must look overheated.
We continue hiking in the wooded area with the soothing sound of gurgling water as background music. The one downside to this part of the walk is that there are webworms hanging from the trees, many of the greenish worms dangling over the trail. Not that they bite or anything but occasionally my face connects with one of the squishy feeling buggers which is a bit gross.
There it is! We see the grand finale of this hiking trail seen through the hazy screen of greenery! We still are an eighth of a mile away probably but at least we know there really is a waterfall at the end of the trail!
Once we arrive at the bottom of the falls, Paul and I find a rock to perch on like the dozen other people who are sitting around enjoying watching the water cascading down the slick rock. I had fully intended on soaking my feet in the cool water but there are no rocks next to the pool plus it appears to be muddy next to the water’s edge. A young man and woman decide to take a swim in the inviting pool but they don’t stay in the water long, it appears that the water is very cold! The change in air temperature here is wonderful, and Paul and I are soon cooled off.
Doris, Lois, and Joy arrive a bit later and take a rocky seat. Everyone eats a snack as it is well past lunch time and our picnic lunch is over two miles away sitting in the car. Joy decides to start back after just a few minutes rest and Paul and I join her. Lois and Doris say they will catch up with us as they want to enjoy the waterfall and rest a bit longer.
The three of us encounter a middle-aged couple down the trail who assume we are birders since we are all wearing binoculars. The two ask if we saw the American Coots and their chicks that were swimming around in the stream near the beaver dams. We admit we didn’t see the birds but assure them we will certainly look for them when we reach that point. Paul and I are following another hiker, (Joy has left us in the dust), that is stopped by a couple still walking towards the falls. When they ask the person how much farther to the falls, Paul and I burst out laughing. Once the hiker tells them that they still have some distance to cover before they reach the falls, Paul and I apologize to the couple who had cast a puzzled glance our way when we were laughing. We explain to them that we too had asked several hikers the exact same question as they had, thus our laughter. We encourage them to continue as the falls as it is well worth the long walk. We visit with them a bit and they remark on the beauty of the valley, adding that a lot of the people they have seen hiking the trail don’t seem to take time to look at their surroundings. The two ask if we saw the Shaman pictographs and we reply that indeed we saw the impressive art work. The man then asks if we saw the old granary the Native Americans built in the crevice of the mountain. We admit we didn’t see that because we don’t have a pamphlet that would have told us where this ancient structure was situated. The friendly couple then gives us the number of the post which marks the granary site after which they describe where to look for the granary on the mountain face. We thank them for the information and vow to find the old structure when we reach that marker.
Our group is beginning to draw near each other and we end up together where the granary is supposed to be. After following the couple’s very good description on where to look for the stone granary we soon find the structure which is in amazing shape. Paul notices a pile of similar rocks strewn around the crevice floor and we assume that another granary stood there in the past. We all ask the question, “how in the world did the natives carry their grain down to this sheltered granary tucked away on the mountainside”? Did they lower the grain and themselves over the edge of the mountain, or maybe they had steps carved down to that ledge. Whatever the answer it took a heck of a lot of work to build the granary and to get the crops to the structure for storing. Wow.
Soon we arrive at the beaver ponds and we begin to search for the Coots and their brood. As if on cue an adult coot emerges from a weedy area in the stream into more open water with two chicks following in the adults wake. The chicks are absolutely a hoot as they have dark bodies with fuzzy yellow down sticking out along their neck and wings. The most comical feature is a bright red/orange beak and what appears to be a pinkish bald spot on top of their heads. Why?? Most of the time bird and animal coloration makes perfect sense but sometimes, as in this case, I can find no practical reason for such brightness in the wild. The color of the chicks seem to be screaming, here I am, come and eat me! There are several more of the brightly clad chicks that don’t seem too concerned in staying with a parent. Paul also finds a pair of ducks with ducklings in the vicinity.
The end of the trail is in sight and with my stomach telling me that I have had very little to eat since this morning, I find my second wind and step up my pace anxious to get back to the car and lunch. Again there are handy picnic tables near the car and my turkey sandwich sure tastes good! There are several striking White-crowned sparrows foraging around the picnic tables where we are eating to provide some entertainment too.
Our hike took nearly five hours round trip, granted that included a lot of stops for photos, an occasional stop to take a breather, and of course time to enjoy the beautiful falls. However our day is not over as there is a scenic drive depicted on the map to the town of Boulder which isn’t far from where we are. The Anasazi State Park and museum is located in this small town and this was recommended as an interesting place to visit.
After our very late lunch we situate ourselves in the car and proceed to drive the scenic road to Boulder. We are able to look down on parts of the trail we just walked as we drive the steadily climbing highway. Soon we discover why this highway is designated as scenic because along either side of the road there is suddenly nothing more than sky. We are driving what is known as the Hogback section of highway 12 and it is terrifying. I am not generally bothered by heights but it feels like the car is making its way over a tight rope plus there is next to no shoulder. Paul who does not like heights is staring at the road, (thank God), though he finds enough humor in the situation to make a quip about hoping he can find his manhood again when this drive is over. You don’t want the actual quote:). I make the mistake of commenting that if there was any crumbling under the road bed a car would have nowhere to go but down into the abyss. That observation did not go over well. We pass a turnoff called Hells backbone and I can’t imagine what that road must be like, and none of us want to find out. O.k. I did scan the vacuous space on both sides of the car on occasion and looking down on mountains was quite spectacular but it is nothing I want to experience again any time soon. Oh wait, we have to come back this way! I couldn’t even unclench my hands to take any photos!
We finally get through that stretch of road from hell, (can you imagine having to build the darn thing?) and continue on to Boulder. We find the museum but once inside decide we really don’t want to pay the entrance fee, plus the Indian village outside of the museum is just a replica, not the actual excavation of the village they are working on. Truthfully between our long trek and that scary Hogback ridge road, I think our energy is depleted. We pile back into the suv and guess who gets to drive back over the strand of spider web highway in the sky? That would be me, as Paul says he could do it but would prefer to hand the reins over to someone else.
When we reach the Hogback section of the highway, I crowd the middle of the narrow road and never take my eyes off the pavement. There is very little traffic, (gee I wonder why:)), and surprisingly it doesn’t bother me all that much once I set my mind to driving this crazy road. Paul says that for once he is more comfortable not driving and he is even able to look out over the open space at the scenery far below us.
The sun is riding low in the sky when we reach the rental house and after such a long day what is left of the evening is pretty low-keyed. As usual I am off to bed before the rest of the group but I don’t think they lingered too long after I hit the sack.
I might add that overall, I think this was my favorite hike of the trip. It is hard to compare them really as all were so different but Lower Calf Creek Trail had so much variety to offer. The pictograph, ancient granary, bird life, reptiles, fantastic mountains, lush trees and bushes, and of course the picture postcard waterfall!