Floating into the heart of the desert: Kayaking the Escalante River

The Escalante River in all it's glory runs for well over 100 miles.
The Escalante River in all its glory runs for well over 100 miles.

In the spring of 2011, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to run the isolated and magical Escalante River. For 11 months of the year, it is hardly a river at all. It is a muddy stream that at its deepest point comes up to your knee. But following a big snow year, this run fills with meltwater from the Aquarius Pleatuea and becomes an adventurers paradise.
Starting at the Highway 12 bridge crossing, just upstream from the confluence of Calf Creek and the Escalante, we shoved off into the groves of Russian Olive and Tamarisk trees — both invasive species — and both prone to popping boats. For the first two days of river, the majority of our time was spent avoiding the shores where these ominous plants hunkered.

Tamarisk and Russian Olive
Tom Butz and Ricki Brown coming through the thicket.

 

There were three portages of the trip. Here's the first one.
There were three portages of the trip. Here’s the first one.

The overgrowth of Tamarisk and Russian Olive gave way once the Boulder Creek joined the flow, nearly doubling the size of the river. And with it, the river spread out, providing more sky and thus more views of the red cliffs overhead. We saw cliff dwellings, arches, alcoves and amazing spectacles of varnish abstractions. At this point in the river, the cliffs average somewhere between 200 and 300 feet and are set back from the river bottom. The birds were in full verse, as well.

Ricki Brown can't help but enjoy himself.
Ricki Brown can’t help but enjoy himself.

 

Tom Butz enjoys the open open water views.
Tom Butz enjoys the open open water views.

Probably the most attractive part of this trip is all the tributaries. Neon Canyon, Choprock Canyon, Scorpian, Coyote Gulch and Stevens Gulch are just a few of the more famous. Each canyon has it’s own feel and thus, uniqueness. Be sure if you leave your kayak behind it is secure and deflated (I had to patch mine because of heat expansion).

Debris wraps around a young Cottonwood Tree in Choprock Canyon.
Debris wraps around a young Cottonwood Tree in Choprock Canyon. (Click image to buy print.)

 

A nice end to a nice hike up Choprock Canyon.

 

Scorpian Gulch is just another reason why this float is amazing. (Click image to buy print.)

On our fifth day the cliffs had now become towers. And the ripples had become rapids. The river still was small, but the flow had substantially grown, so the holes had the possibility of flipping the wary. Each boater in our party flipped at some point, whether it was in a hole, on a drop or because of a rock. As the sun set on our last night, none of us wanted the week to end and especially didn’t look forward to paddling out to Lake Powell. The estuary can be endless … not too mention the wind! But each trip must end and this one will forever be remembered.

Watch out for the holes!!
Watch out for the holes!!

 

Coming through a series of rapids under the now towering cliffs.
Coming through a series of rapids under the now towering cliffs.

 

It's the desert, shall I say more?
It’s the desert, shall I say more? (Click image to buy print)

 

Boulder navigation is a huge part of the lower section of the canyon.
Boulder navigation is a huge part of the lower section of the canyon.

 

Not a bad place to have lunch on the last day.
Not a bad place to have lunch on the last day.

 

Group shot in the Steven's Gulch Grotto.
Group shot in the Steven’s Gulch Grotto.

 

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