Chasing Waterfalls and Taking the Plunge, Upper Calf Creek Falls, Escalante, UT

Short, steep, and super sweet waterfall and pools hike. The upper sister to Lower Calf Creek Falls— both doable in a day if you’re into chasing waterfalls and plunging into icy pools.

Elevation gain/loss ~600ft (per alltrails), 1,476ft (per Garmin) – uh, idk, split the difference? (Felt like more than 600ft and less than 1,400.) Let me know what elevation reading you get.

Miles: 2-3 RT, depending on how much you wander and explore.

Difficulty: Easyish, depending upon knee health and fitness level—Starts and ends with a half mile of steep slickrock descent and ascent, respectively – daunting to many – all the better for the few.

Highlights: Dramatic Navajo Sandstone slickrock landscape with expansive vistas, an 87-foot-high waterfall, and a couple cool (in  more ways than 1) pools set in a shady riparian oasis.

Getting there is half the fun: The trailhead is 22.4 miles NE of Escalante between mileposts 81 and 82 off  of UT-12,  which is one of the most beautiful scenic byways in Utah, and many would argue in the entire US.  Parking is free.

Post Hike Rewards at Escalante Outfitters—their Pizza is the Best!!!

Flying Across the Rapids and Above the Canyons With Sheri Griffith Expeditions

My adventurous boyfriend, Bernie, had been on a white-water rafting trip with Sheri Griffith Expeditions and loved it. He wanted to share the experience with me, so he booked our Cataract Canyon expedition on the Colorado River. I had some reservations that I didn’t share with him about “surfing” Class 4 and 5 rapids. I didn’t want to dampen his exuberance about the trip. While I’m adventurous, I’m not a risk-taking, adrenaline-seeker type per se. I’ve only experienced an afternoon-long white-water rafting trip with mild Class 2 to 3 rapids. My anxiety did not dissipate after discovering what class 4 and 5 rapids are.

What are Class 4 and 5 rapids, you ask?

Class 4 Long, unpredictable rapids with large waves and narrow passages for intermediate and experienced rafters.

Class 5 Large, gnarly white-water waves with the possibility of rocks and other hazards, including large drops—requires precise maneuvering and advanced whitewater experience. 

Pre-trip trepidation

Having reached a “certain age” where mortality looms large, the memories of serious accidents and the long road back from them haunt me. I pick my active adventures carefully. I want to stay happily and vigorously active for as long as possible.  White-water rafting Class 4 and 5 rapids is a bit out of my risk zone. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I had a couple of nightmares. I shared my qualms with some of my close friends—primarily about being tossed out of the boat, hitting my head on a rock, being held underwater, and lights out. These things do happen, but infrequently. (Indeed, Bernie shared a story that this had happened a week before his last rafting trip. Probably not the best story to share with me before our trip.)  Maybe I should take a more cavalier attitude like my Mother, “When your number’s up, your number’s up.”

Turns out, my number wasn’t up

Among the many exhilarating moments,  was the instant where I nearly got pitched from the boat, my legs flying out perpendicular to me like a ragdoll’s—it turns out my number wasn’t up. So I got my feet and entire body wet trying something new and somewhat risky, and had a blast.

Why the 2-night, 3-day Cataract Canyon white-water rafting adventure on the Colorado River?

It was just the right amount of time for me. 3 days without a vigorous workout will make me wangry, and Bernie knew it. Bernie also knew that most of the rapids are in a fairly concentrated area. A 4- or 5-day trip means more downtime. If you enjoy relaxing by the river, it might be the right trip for you. (Of course, how relaxing it is depends on the group.)

We lucked out with a semi-private trip with kindred spirit raftmates—a cool couple from Salt Lake City. Some rafting companies would cancel your reservation or force you to reschedule since small group trips are not profitable. While they asked if we’d like to switch to the 4-day, they let us stick with our 3-day plan. The ratio of guides to guests was in our favor at 3:4, so we received 1st class, VIP treatment even without them knowing that I’d be blogging this review.

We Had the Best Crew

Owen, our boat team captain/river cowboy, was a skilled raftsman. He navigated us head-on into the white-water waves for extra fun while sharing his knowledge and love of the river during the lulls.  As we floated down the river, he shared a poem about Floyd Dominy, the man behind the Glen Canyon Dam. The poem, Floyd’s Void, was written by former river runner, legendary Vaughn Short. (I’ve posted the humorous poem on the controversial dam at the end of this blog.)

Owen’s apprentices were Joe and Emma, college students, intellectuals, and athletes. After dinner clean-up, we’d chill out under the stars enjoying the evening and sharing stories

What did you bring? They take care of the food, tents, and sleeping bags. You pack for fun.

Speaking of the food, how was it? I ate better and more frequently than I do at home. We had 3 well-prepared and beautifully presented delicious meals a day, plus snacks and appetizers. (I wish I’d taken pictures of the charcuterie board and the other lovely dishes (pork roast, grilled carrots and mashed potatoes, egg sandwiches and fresh fruit, refreshing Caesar salad wraps, etc. but I was too busy chowing down.)

What were the highlights?

Bouncing through tumultuous rapids while bracing for the next shockingly cold (~50 degrees) splash to face and body

Mini hikes to cool granaries and overlooks

Chilling by the river at sunset was sublime, especially when the big horn sheep (my spirit animal) came down to the water to drink.

Doing yoga on the river beach both mornings

Dawn and sunsets golden glow on the cliff walls

What’s the scoop about packing out the poop?

To leave no trace and keep the beaches and river as pristine as possible, packing out poop is a necessity. You do your business on a metal “commode” called a “groover’.  The earlier versions of the groover would leave telltale indents/grooves on one’s delicate cheeks. The name “stuck,” even though they have regular toilet seats now.  At each campsite, the crew places the throne in a private spot with a fantastic view so you can meditate on nature’s beauty as you answer nature’s call. Bernie was answering nature’s call or getting his groove on when he was graced with a big horn sheep visitation on the beach at dawn. How’s that for a memory?!

Oh, and that’s not all.

To top it off, the adventure includes a 40-minute flight back to Moab with Red Tail Adventures in a Kodiak!* You get a bird’s eye view of Moab’s amazing geological wonderland and, if you’re lucky, a documentary-style narrative by the pilot! We took precautionary Dramamine because Bernie said last time there was a bunch of turbulence. Fortunately, there was no turbulence on this flight.

Unfortunately, the Dramamine had an unintended consequence on Bernie.

*(Flight is weather permitting. Otherwise, you’ve got a 2+ hour van ride back to Moab.)

Would I consider another white-water rafter rafting trip with Sheri Griffith Expeditions? Yes-absolutely! The food, service, and entire experience was tops. There are many options on multiple rivers (Colorado, Green, Yampa) via oarboat, motorboat, and kayak. And, I’d request our same crew.

Wholeheartedly recommend Sheri Griffith Expeditions —2 thumbs up.

Other lasting impressions

You hear of the devastating depletion of Lake Powell and the Colorado River in the news. Hearing Owen describe how it’s changed in his time on the river and seeing the evidence first hand from air and land was heartbreaking.

Who knows how much longer there will be white-water water rafting trips on this man-strangled river. The only exit ramp left is steep and treacherous and takes hours for the crew to maneuver. Big thank you to Bernie, our crew at Sheri Griffith Expeditions, and Red Tail Adventures for an EPIC adventure!

I’ll close with Vaughn’s Short’s poem, Floyd’s Void from his book Raging River Lonely Trail, Tails Told by the Campfire’s Glow.

Floyd’s Void

There’s a breed of men who sit at their desks

And they like their water tame,

They like to damn the rivers up,

Then give the lakes a name

They do They give the lakes a name.

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys

And a special rah for Floyd

He built his dam and he built it well

And then he said, “In spite of hell, I’m going to fill that void l am I’m going to fill that void”

Now within this void, created by Floyd,

Was a special thing or two,

Reserved for the sight of the filthy rich

And a very greedy few They were A very greedy few.

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys

And a special rah for Floyd

For Floyd did say, “I’ll change this plan,

 I’ll open it up for the common man I will I’ll open it up for the common man.”

“What value the trees?

What value the grasses, Compared to the rights of the down-trodden masses?”

Floyd said, “I’ll make it so easy, I’ll make it so simple,

They can all speed their boats over Music Temple How about that?

Speed right over the top of Music Temple!”

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys

And a special rah for Floyd, For now we know beneath the blue

Is a revered spot once seen by few

How sad Before Floyd’s void seen only by few.

To see the Rainbow-aloof-remote you had to hike or you had to float

Denied it was to that jolly old chap

By his houseboat rail in his yachting cap

Oh my! Poor old chap in his yachting cap.

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys

And a special rah for Floyd.

Floyd said, “We’ll put the water there For this deserving old man in his easy chair,

For he’s entitled to his just share He is He’s entitled to his just share.”

If one should insist on making a list

Of the many grandeurs there-There were Gregory, Dungeon, Hidden Passage

And many more I swear Oh Yes!

There were many more I swear. So give three cheers for the Bureau boys

And a special rah for Floyd

He buried them all deep under his lake

But he did it for the people’s sake

He did He did it for the people’s sake.

For the power hungry man with the dollar sign eyes,

Who lights up the neon in the evening skies,

For the poor down-trodden in his speeding boat,

For the jolly old chap in his yachting cap

Who had no water to float Poor guy

 He had no water to float.

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys And a special rah for Floyd

Though he buried the Moqui and he shortened the wall,

He did it for the good of all He did

He did it for the good of all!

But there’s a breed of men both hardy and free

Who lie at night on the lonely bars

And there beneath the glittering stars

They dream of TNT They do They dream of TNT.

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys And a special rah for Floyd

He built his dam and though he built it well,

These dreamers swear in spite of hell

They’re going to void Floyd’s void

They are They’re going to void Floyd’s void.

They dream of a mighty boom and a quake.

They dream of a swirl in a vanishing lake.

They dream of a river wild and free,

Freed from its shackles by TNT Sweet bliss

Freed from its shackles by TNT.

Now! Let’s have three cheers for the boys on the bars

Who dream their dreams ‘neath the glittering stars.

Who dream of a wild and a wonderful treat

A house boat running Dominy Falls at a million second feet

Ah yes A house boat running Dominy Falls at a million second feet!

Canyonlands Geological Wonderland, Moab, UT

So many parks, so little time. Had a chance to step into Canyonlands for a super quick explore of Mesa Arch (1/2 mile stroll to a heavily populated and photographed arch) and Upheaval Dome (.75 or 1.5 miler).

Mesa Arch

Upheaval Dome A mysterious 3-mile area of deformed rock layers. In the center, the rocks form a dome. The rock layers surrounding the dome fold away in the opposite direction. There are 2 theories about what caused the folds of Upheaval Dome.

Some geologists believe that Upheaval Dome is the result of a salt dome and erosion from the rock layers above the dome itself. If so, Upheaval Dome would be considered the most deeply eroded salt structure on earth.

Other geologists and recent research support the theory that it’s a partially collapsed impact crater from a meteorite dating back ~60 million years.

Whatever it is, it’s cool to observe this geological anomaly and ponder the mystery.

Canyonlands National Park is divided into 4 districts by the massive canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers—the short hikes to big overlooks of Island in the Sky, longer day and backpacking hikes in The Needles, to the remote wilds of The Maze

Just driving around, you can see views like these.

I was fortunate to get a bird’s eye view of this geological wonderland flying in a little Kodiak with Red Tail Adventures, our ride back from white water rafting (post to follow).

Getting to each district of the park (they are unconnected):

From US 191 north of Moab, UT 313 leads to Island in the Sky.

From US 191 south of Moab, UT 211 leads to The Needles.

It’s a long 4-wheel drive journey to get to the  The Maze (The Hans Flat Ranger Station is 2.5 hours from Green River, Utah. From I-70, take UT 24 south for 24 miles. A left hand turn just beyond the turnoff to Goblin Valley State Park will take you along a two-wheel-drive dirt road 46 miles (76 km) southeast to the ranger station.From the ranger station, the canyons of The Maze are another 3 to 6 hours by high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle (more if traveling by foot). Another four-wheel-drive road leads into The Maze north from UT 95 near Hite Marina (3 hours to the park boundary).

Note: High heat and sun exposure in the summer. Avoid the hottest times of the day and bring plenty of sunscreen, a hat, water, and salty snacks.

Happy Trails!

Tiptoe Through the Toadstools, Kane County, UT

If you’re into cool geological formations and/or you have a car full of kids repeatedly inquiring “Are we there yet?”, this quick roadside stop may be your salvation.

Toadstools are spire-like features with boulders on top. They form when softer rock erodes and leaves a column underneath.

These formations are fragile, please don’t touch, climb on, or deface them.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: ~1.5 mile leg stretcher/stroll

Notes: Free, dog-friendly, 100% exposed, scorching in the summer

Getting there: Located off Highway 89, 45 miles east of Kanab and 12 miles west of Big Water.

If you like this sort of thing, you should check out Mexican Hat , Fantasy Canyon, and Cathedral Gorge too.

Happy Trails!

Church Rocks—Glorious Views and Heavenly Sunsets for Nature Worshipers

Distance: ~5.2 loop

Difficulty: Easy, fire road, single track, slick rock

If you can get over the fact that you’re hiking alongside the 15 freeway (within sight and sound), this area still delivers big rewards. Whether you hike or mt. bike it, the panoramic views are stunning in every direction from Pine Valley Mt. to Zion. This area seems to capture the best golden light for spectacular sunsets. There’s more than meets the eye, here, at first it seems like just open landscape, but, there ae many nooks and crannies to explore—washes, mini slots, etc…The cluster of mammoth red, temple like, “Church Rocks” is a fun to explore. Watch for the hawks and swallows that have made this area their home.

Getting there: exit 13 from I-15 N, turn left onto Washington Pkwy and park in the parking spots. Red Cliffs Recreation area: You can access the Church Rocks Trail from the Grapevine Trail, Dino Cliffs Trail or to the south and Prospector to the north.

Note: The 100% exposed so be prepared with adequate water, hat, and sunscreen.