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.
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.
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).
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.