Desert Quickie

 Who doesn’t like a good quickie? I know I do, especially when it involves Southern Utah and hiking around the desert. Just a short drive from Salt Lake, it’s easy to get wrapped up in a moment of spontaneity.

 My morning started out pretty standard. Woke up, made coffee, checked the weather for the Wasatch and slowly started gathering my things to go skiing. The desert is always in the back of mind but I had no intention to head down that day. It was the last few breaths of winter and I was going to take full advantage of it. My ski pants were about halfway up my legs when the A.D.D. switch flicked in my head. I waddled over to my computer and brought up NOAA, checking the weather for Escalante. Sunny, mid 70’s and if I left right now I’d be there before dark, just in time to grab dinner at my favorite restaurant, Hells Backbone Grill. The internal game of ping pong began. It seemed totally ridiculous. Why can’t I just enjoy a nice day in the mountains, ski, have some beers, soak up the sunshine and wake up to do it again tomorrow?

...Because that shit is boring. Just as most of my adventures start, I said “f**k it”, packed the Jeep, stopped at to grab some food, and was heading south. Four hours later I was chowing down on a delicious dinner and cold beer at the grill and rolling out my sleeping bag in the back of my car before nightfall hit.

Objective was the roughly 20 mile Little Death Hollow/Wolverine Canyon loop. These beautiful non-technical slot canyons are easily accessible off the gorgeous Burr Trail Road and perfect for a quick weekend getaway.

The start of the Little Death Hollow is a vast desert with hints of canyons to come. Greeted with a beautiful sunrise, I made a quick cup of coffee and hit the trail.

Cows, a few pieces of petrified wood, and some day hikers were the first things to greet me as well as some Anasazi pictographs, but the canyon slowly started to close in and the anticipation of getting into the narrows made me pick up my feet...sort of.

I see the narrows ahead sir!

Canyon slowly starts to get more and more dramatic

Now it really starts to get interesting….

The colors of the ancient Wingate Sandstone really start to shine once the canyon closes up. This type of sandstone is beautiful in slot canyons due to its soft, malleable nature. The curves and contours are smooth and dramatic as well as the psychedelic shades of red and orange that glow from the bits of sunlight that find their way in.

Overall the canyon is very easy hiking. A few puddles and obstacles will present themselves, but even the most uncoordinated person should be able to navigate these zones without much difficulty. Depending on how much rainfall has occurred over the last few days, most of these puddles were only shin deep. I can’t imagine ever needing to swim in here unless some freak rainstorm came through.

Rumor has it that there are a ton of dead animals in this canyon, hence its name Little Death Hollow. I luckily did not come across any stuck cow carcasses, but I did find a nice set of teeth!

More photos of me staring at stuff.

Eventually the narrows begin to widen again, too quickly in my opinion but it was still a nice treat for the eyes. Stumbling into Horse Canyon, you're greeted with an obvious campsite nestled on a huge beach. There’s a tiny bit of water flowing in the creek, enough to slowly filter but I wanted to check out the camping possibilities at the Escalante river, a little under two miles from the LDH exit. As I wandered through Horse Canyon it was truly classic Escalante scenery. Red rock canyon walls with streaks of black known as desert varnish loomed overhead. Cottonwood trees dotted the creek bed, their new leaves glowing bright green against the sandstone walls. About thirty minutes later I was at the Escalante which was flowing clear and deep. Fish scattered in all directions as I crossed a shallow section. Unfortunately tamarisk and russian olive have destroyed the natural ecosystem and overrun the river bed making hiking a bush whacking pain in the ass. I spent about an hour wandering up and down trying to find a good camp spot (mind you, I’m insanely picky with my camp sites) and realized that the first site I came across right at the exit for Little Death Hollow was the best. So two hours later and about four more miles of extra hiking I made it back to the massive beach and dropped the pack.

Dark clouds and looming thunderheads kept me from getting too comfortable. Being in a narrow canyon in the desert is beautiful but can also be a death trap if you ignore the weather. Flash floods happen in a second and are one of the biggest hazards you can face down here. A storm fifty miles away can lead to a flash flood so its good to be on your toes and alway observing your surroundings. The winds quickly increased and a few claps of thunder made me pick up my pack and hike up the sandstone cliffs to an overhang high above the canyon floor where I could wait it out. Pulling my book and little box of wine out of my pack, I snuggled up against the sandstone and had myself a nice little rest.
The storm eventually passed and Escalante put on a nice light show. I scrambled around the cliff faces to gain some better vantage points and take in the stunning scenery.

Perfect end to a beautiful day. As the sun set behind the canyon walls, I enjoyed some more wine and “The Emerald Mile” as I started boiling some water. Beef Stroganoff, my favorite, was on the menu tonight. I whittled some chopsticks out of a few branches and turned on the comedy stylings of John Mulaney while I scarfed down my dinner. The stars started to appear as my eyelids became heavy. Unfortunately my camera battery was running low and wanting to save it for the next day, I took one marginal long exposure and just enjoyed the calm drifting night sky as I slowly fell asleep.

Morning came quickly and abruptly. I’m terrible at getting out of bed, especially when I’m cocooned in a fluffy down sleeping bag. My trick to force me out is to deflate my thermarest while I’m lying on it. It’s a cruel experience but a necessary one otherwise I’d lay there for hours watching the sunrise, listening to the birds and enjoying a cool morning breeze. Coffee mug filled and camp packed up, I headed out to complete my loop through Wolverine Canyon.

Entrance to Wolverine

The canyon began to tighten and I was excited to get into some narrows. Unfortunately Wolverine isn’t even close to what Little Death Hollow is like. It’s more just a nice canyon stroll, versus a true slot, but still a good wander. LDH is definitely the highlight of the trip so I recommend taking as much time in there as possible.

Finishing the loop you get to wander through the petrified forest close to the dirt road. What appears to be rocky hillsides is actually tons of ancient wood. I’ve never seen so much concentrated in one place! The last few miles were a hot slog back to the car. Enjoying a luke warm beer I scanned the surrounding desert, taking in the last few minutes before heading back to Salt Lake. The Jeep started right up, which is always a relief, and I hit the road getting home just in time for dinner.

Perfect little weekend.  

We caught up with adventurer, professional skier, and Fjällräven ambassador Kalen Thorien on her latest trip to Escalante. If you like her trip report here.. check out her website!

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