Between COVID and the fires in California, it had become almost impossible to get outside. I was going stir crazy, so I decided to just drive as far away from California as I could get on an overnight trip. I convinced Manny to come along with me to Coyote Gulch. And with a little bit of planning, we decided to leave on a Friday morning and drive all day. With the time change, it took us a full 12 hours to get past Bryce Canyon and to the end of the dirt road that lasted an hour and a half. Driving that last 50 miles on a rough dirt road sapped what little energy we had left that day – but we made it! At 9:oopm we pulled over in deep sand, set up the roof tent, and got some sleep.
The Coyote Gulch Trailhead
We parked two miles away from the trailhead because the sand was so deep we were afraid we’d get stuck in it if we pressed on. Even pulling off to the side of the road was precarious because the sand was so deep. We were up at 5:00am and made good time hiking the dirt road to the trailhead. From there, we started to cross open desert towards the gulch.
We found ourselves on sandstone slabs for miles following a series of cairns (those piles of rock hikers leave to mark routes). After four miles of hiking, we arrived at the edge of the canyon at a rock feature called the “Crack in the Wall.” As the name suggested, Manny and I had to shimmy our way through it to access the deep canyon.
The Crack in the Wall
Once we passed through the slot formation of the Crack in the Wall, things were pretty straightforward. We dropped down into the deep canyon and ended at the river gorge at the bottom. It was beautiful. As we hiked up the river, we saw Stevens Arch – a massive rock formation. Then we followed the river about six miles to our exit point.
Following the River at the Bottom of Coyote Gulch
Almost the entire hike was in water, so even though it was a warm day, it stayed cool on the valley floor. The terrain was just very similar to the Zion or Buckskin Gulch, only it wasn’t necessarily a slot canyon. It was a wide canyon with a lot of trees and vegetation. We passed waterfall after waterfall as we hiked until we reached another major arch called the Land Bridge, which was just amazing.
After lunch at the Land Bridge, we continued up river to Jacob Hamblin Arch, the last major geologic feature of the hike. This was our exit point from the canyon and I had my doubts about how this was going to go. There is a steep sandy class 4 scramble called Sneaker Route that leads out of the canyon. It didn’t look too difficult from pictures I saw, but there was a possibility that it would be too dangerous to ascend without a fixed rope. In the worst case scenario, I figured we could just hike back the way we came, which would make for a 30-mile day. This was not a pleasant thought.
Exiting the Canyon via the “Sneaker Route”
Fortunately, there were fixed ropes placed by other hikers who had rappelled down earlier that day. As we ascended, I realized that we actually needed those ropes to get out. The route was simply too steep and loose to do it without them. It was pretty cool that day, but as we climbed out of the gorge, we felt the full heat of the sun. Between the physical challenge of quickly gaining 2,500 feet straight up and the heat of the sun, the hike quickly turned into a sufferfest.
After reaching the plateau above, we crossed open desert in deep sand and 90-degree heat. Those last four miles were tough. We ended up hiking a 20-mile day, then drove straight home for eight hours. It was a very, very long day.
So was it worth 20 hours of driving for a 10-hour hike?
So was it worth it? Absolutely! As long as 12 hours seems when you are with the right people the time flies. This is all part of the adventure. I was surprised that Manny and I were able to keep ourselves entertained with conversation for 20 hours of driving, It reminded me of how superficial many of my interactions with people had been in the COVID era. There is no substitute for a good road trip to spur deeper, more satisfying conversations.
The hike was incredible as well, which made this trip even more fun. But it’s both the road trip AND the adventure itself that makes these kinds of trips so fun. I mentioned to some friends how long the drive was and what we did, and regardless of age, people often responded as if this is just too far to drive. But why not? Why not just get in the car with family or friends and drive 600 miles to see something incredible? It sure beats watching another mediocre show on Netflix.