Antone Flats: Hiking above the Esclante and Death Hollow canyons

The start of the teardrop pools began right below our first camp.
Despite the rain, the teardrop pools had an ethereal presence.

It’s May and summer was creeping through the grass. The air was heating up and the ground was beginning to crack. The last of spring showers were drizzling overhead and I was hiking up the Boulder Mail trail toward Antone Flats outside of Escalante, Utah. I was with my parents for quick two night trip before I was headed off to California for some city love. This was my last respite before I embarked on an urban adventure in the buzzing, cutthroat throngs of L.A.

I had no help in directing our trip onto this parcel of land situated above the confluence of the Escalante Canyon and Death Hollow, but as I hoofed my tripod, camera and few extra beers up past the “E on the hill,” I knew it was a good choice. For one thing, we passed only two others just outside the Escalante Canyon parking lot. And besides that the only other strangers outside our group were the ravens overhead and the scurrying Jack rabbits in the sage brush.

My dad, Ricki, and Bob departed early, opting to not wait for my mom, Sandy, and I to take our merry sweet time packing and making sure all the essentials were brought. I for one thing, somehow left my tripod mount in Ogden. I ended up Jerry-rigging rope to attach my camera body to my tripod. No true cameraman goes backpacking without his tripod!
 

Be sure to follow the sandstone; it's the only way!
We veered off the trail early on, plotting a line straight through sage brush, pinion pine and juniper. As per usual, we found the sandstone to be the most optimal hiking surface.
 
Pushing 60, my mom knows  that a good seat, hiking poles and tequila are essential on any backpacking trip.
Pushing 60, my mom knows that a good Thermarest chair, hiking poles and tequila are essential on any backpacking trip.
 
Bob sizes up the ledging.
Bob is a good guy to have around. He’s a solid route finder, good friend, and is always on an even keel.
  Within a few hours of venturing off the trail, ominous clouds rolled in overhead. We found our sought drainage no problem, but because none of us had been in the Antone Flats area before, we had no idea of where to camp – or even if we would find easily-accessible water. We took refuge under a big Ponderosa pine and let one of spring’s last thunderstorms roll by…

The sky dried as quickly as it had wetted. We shook out our rain gear and shouldered the packs. We were in camp-hunting mode, looking for good clean water and nice flat ground. The terrain changed dramatically, undulating and ominous drops became the hazards of the day. The canyon narrowed and deep in the gorge were large mysterious pools of clean water. We had our water, but we still needed our level ground.
  

Mira un hoodoo!
As the canyon floor dropped away into tear-shaped pools, the ridges above became eroded abstractions. “Mira una hoodoo!”
 
Crumbling hoodoo.
Thsi hoodoo caught my eye. As it came into sight, it was basked in light. I like how the rocks below clearly came from the butte above.
 
My dad navigates the brain-like rock.
My dad navigates the brain-like rock.
 

As my dad, mom, and Bob ventured downstream, I hung back and explored the “brains” of Antone Flats. I waited for the light to hit the hoodoos, but after 20 minutes or so, I had no such luck and followed suit downstream. Within a quarter mile the canyon below relaxed its squeeze and the crew had already begun setting up camp. We found a nice spot nestled against a large pool of water. Any later in the season and we would have been inundated by Mosquitos.
 

My mom, upper left, skirts a large waterpocket.
My mom, upper left, skirts a large waterpocket.
Who wouldn't stop to take a picture of this tree? So cool!
Who wouldn’t stop to take a picture of this tree? So cool!
 
The ridge above camp provided spectacular views, as well as a great place to clear the head.
The ridge above camp provided spectacular views, as well as a great place to clear the head.
 
The desert has the best gardens.
 
Not a bad place to rest your head…
 
Mid morning light makes anything seem special. Oh wait, this was pretty special!
Or rise from the dead.

We woke to clear skies, a hunger to explore and warm temperatures. We broke camp and stashed the packs near an easily identifiable butte above the canyon. With the freedom of weightlessness and beautiful vistas in all directions, we headed down the ridge that ends above the confluence of the Escalante canyon and Death Hollow. We passed more Indian Paintbrush, crumbling sedimentary rock and precipitous drops. The temperatures were beginning to soar, but the winds that took our raven friends for a ride kept us cool. The ridge slowly rolled below us and I had to keep downclimbing until I finally found a vantage point in which I could see down the Escalante canyon. I cracked open an orange and enjoyed the serenity (sorry, no photos)!

The rocks above the junction reminded me of the Wave. They had incredible textures and curves. I might might just have to take another trip out there to capture it in the magic hour.
 

The Indian Paintbrush seems to find the most peculiar places to call home.
The Indian Paintbrush seems to find the most peculiar places to call home.
 
The Wave?
The Wave?
 Before we reached our packs, I decided to scrambled down the canyon that I had photographed the night before. There was some considerable route-finding to reach the bottom, but the scramble was well worth it. The pools were massive, clean and overly inviting. Pretty impressive topography! Just like off the point, this canyon reminded me of the Wave, with deep sensual lines and soothing curves. I ventured downstream as far as I could, but without ropes I didn’t make it very far. I did scare a couple of frogs though; they were hiding in small holes on the side of a sandstone ledge. Pretty adaptive and cool! I’ve never seen a frog doing such a thing. Kind of wish I could just camp out in the desert like that…
 
A hole is a home too.
One man’s fingerhold is another frog’s home.
 
Ropes were needed to continue. Next time!
Ropes were needed to continue. Next time!

That afternoon we worked our way back toward the Boulder Mail trail. From the butte we dropped our packs at, we headed northeast, following the ridge that split the canyon of our first camp and the canyon that had the frogs. At the head of these canyons it becomes more difficult to find water – as we had discovered coming in – but we wanted a mellow hike out to the cars on the following day, so we kept pushing north. As luck would have it, we stumbled upon a seep and just below it, a nice flat spot to set up camp. I found an arrowhead while pitching my tent; it seems we weren’t the first people to think that spot was an ideal place to rest.

Down below the camp, the canyon dropped into several big pools of water. Too difficult to consider as an easy water source, but they made for some really nice photos. While my dad and I snapped away, my mom and Bob ventured farther down the canyon and up the distant ridge. The colors changed from gold to blue and we finally sauntered back to camp, not wanting the evening to end.
 

More paintbrush in bloom. They never get old.
It seemed on every bench, Paintbrush had splashed some color.
 
Each water pocket had a little something to photograph. This one was filled with a mini bog-thing of sorts.
Each water pocket had a little something to photograph. This one was filled with a mini bog-thing of sorts.
 
... And there goes the sun!
… And there goes the sun!
 
The light waned slowly and I finished off my whiskey in the twilight.
The light waned slowly and I finished off my whiskey in the twilight.

The beer under the truck had stayed cool. We clanged bottles and secretly wished we hadn’t rushed back to society.

‘Til next time,
Cheers!

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