Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: A Desert Gem
If you haven’t checked out the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument yet, put it on your short list. This place is not to be missed. It’s a little more off-the-beaten-path than Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks, but every bit as breathtaking. There are many incredible hikes to discover in this area, but here’s a rundown of my recent Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante River backpacking trip.
If you’re a history geek like me, you’ll love this hike for several reasons. The first is that the route from Boulder to Death Hollow follows the old Mail Trail that was used by packhorses in the early 20th century. I was pretty impressed with those packhorses as I scrambled over that sagebrush-dotted slickrock in the high desert heat. About halfway through this portion we also came upon the old telegraph line that replaced the mail route around midcentury. The telegraph wire is still completely visible, and you actually follow it for a good portion of the hike. Then it’s back to the packhorse trail as you make a rather intimidating descent into Death Hollow. Grooves were cut into the slickrock to help the packhorses down this treacherous route, but as you can guess by the name, some of them met their fate here.
The roughly 750-foot descent leads you from the hot desert plateau into a lush canyon wonderland. I can’t describe the beauty of this place, and even the pictures don’t quite do it justice. We reached the bottom of the canyon just before sunset, a time referred to by photographers as “the golden hour”. Never did that phrase make more sense than when I was looking up at the canyon walls around me, glimmering with copper, gold, and bronze. On the lowest portion of the canyon walls, the sandstone gave way to a dense carpet of lush green vegetation. As we made our way down the perennial stream that flows along the canyon bed, the beauty just multiplied. We alternated between wading through the crystal clear water of the stream and following the path through the dense riparian growth along the shoreline. Indian paintbrush, evening primrose, columbine, and globemallow dotted our path all along the way, and occasionally we even had to dodge poison ivy, an unexpected but beautiful plant present only in the Death Hollow section of the hike. At the end of a satisfying day in the canyon we lay in our tent with the rainfly off and stared up at the multitude of stars twinkling in the midnight sky.
I can’t say enough good things about this hike – and I haven’t even mentioned the Anasazi petroglyphs and cliff house ruins – all I can say is that you have to see it for yourself. Don’t forget to stop at the Burr Trail Grill in Boulder on your way home for the most rewarding burger of your life.
Written by: Tera Grant