Dry Fork Coyote, Spooky And Brimstone Gulches

Coming out of Capitol Reef National Park on 13 October 2016, Zosia Zgolak and I stopped in Boulder, Utah to fill up with gas, water and food before heading south into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to camp at the trailhead of the next hike on our agenda--Peek-a-boo, Spooky and Brimstone Gulches.  I drew my inspiration for this hike from 100 Hikes in Utah by Steve Mann and Rhett Olson.  From Highway 12, we turned south onto Hole-in-the-Rock gravel road and drove for about 42 kilometres to the turnoff for the trailhead.  There are actually two separate parking areas--one for low-clearance vehicles about one kilometre from the Hole-in-the-Rock road and one for high-clearance vehicles about another 1.5 kilometres further.  Despite some ruts in the connecting road, I managed to drive my Honda CR-V to the second parking area without too much difficulty.  Zosia and I enjoyed a nice dinner near the trailhead before retiring for the night.
"Best Damn Root Beer" my ass!! Sonny and Zosia enjoy some beer during dinner at the trailhead.
The next morning, 14 October 2016, Zosia and I awoke before sunrise and ate a quick breakfast before commencing our hike.  We followed a good trail briefly before it disappeared among the slickrock cliffs above Dry Fork Coyote Gulch.  Zosia and I briefly got separated here trying to follow numerous cairns, but we eventually regrouped and made it down safely into the main wash.  Almost immediately, we spotted an obvious canyon which we thought was the start of Peek-a-boo Gulch.  We entered this canyon and easily hiked to its end about 1.2 kilometres to the west before backtracking to the entrance.  I would later learn that this canyon is actually part of Dry Fork Coyote Gulch, and we completely missed the start of Peek-a-boo Gulch on our way to Spooky Gulch.

Whatever Zosia and I missed out in Peek-a-boo Gulch was more than compensated for by our visit to Spooky Gulch.  This was, by far, the most thrilling slot canyon I have ever entered.  The canyon walls converged quickly soon after we entered Spooky Gulch, and we had to remove our packs and resort to side-shuffling to proceed further.  It eventually became too cumbersome to carry our packs by hand, and we simply left them behind in order to move more efficiently through the narrowest parts of the canyon.  Some passages required hands-on scrambling, and one section under a chockstone was particularly difficult to surmount.  We eventually emerged from the far end of the canyon, and unaware that a loop with Peek-a-boo Gulch was possible via an overland trail, we simply retraced our steps back through Spooky Gulch for a second round of canyoneering fun (we had to retrace our steps anyway to retrieve our packs).  Although we had earlier encountered a young couple--the only people we had seen all morning--heading in the opposite direction in Spooky Gulch, we did not run into anybody else on our way out.  In retrospect, Zosia and I were quite fortunate to have Spooky Gulch pretty much all to ourselves.

After the thrills of Spooky Gulch, visiting Brimstone Gulch was a bit anticlimactic.  The much longer approach to Brimstone Gulch was somewhat tedious, and Zosia and I were beginning to wonder if we were even on the right track until we once again ran into the couple that we had met earlier.  They had just visited Brimstone Gulch but had not gotten very far before pools of water forced them to turn around.  Zosia and I chatted at length with them before continuing into Brimstone Gulch.  As expected, we only managed to go a short distance into the canyon before our progress was stymied by the aforementioned pools of water.  While it would have been possible to wade through the water and continue further, we were, by this time, eager to return to the trailhead and move on.

Instead of returning the way we came along Dry Fork Coyote Gulch, Zosia and I took a short cut back to the trailhead by following a side wash and then hiking cross-country.  When we returned to my car, we were a bit astonished to see the high-clearance vehicle parking area full.  Glad to have avoided the crowds in the various canyons, we promptly left the parking area with intentions of squeezing in another canyon hike further to the north.  Unfortunately, I got a flat tire somewhere along Hole-in-the-Rock road, and because of the bumpiness of the road, I was not aware of the flat tire until I saw pieces of rubber flying up from the back of my car!  Sure enough, the driver's side rear tire was completely shredded.  A bit dumbfounded at my terrible luck (this was my second tire destroyed in a little over a year), I nevertheless got down to work and changed the flat tire in about 15 minutes.  Because the spare was a "donut", I had to be extra cautious on the remaining drive out along Hole-in-the-Rock road.  Although the road is well-traveled, it would have been highly inconvenient to be stranded in such a remote area with limited cel phone coverage.

Zosia and I both breathed a little easier once we hit the pavement of Highway 12 and entered the nearby town of Escalante.  Unfortunately, the auto repair shop in town did not carry the right size of tire for my car, but the helpful mechanic suggested that we continue west to Bryce Canyon City where there is a much bigger auto garage.  Luckily, this garage had a single tire of the right size left, and we arrived early enough for them to replace my tire before they closed for the day.  While waiting for the new tire to be installed, Zosia and I crossed the highway looking for public showers, and after a bit of searching and running around, we managed to find one at a nearby campground.  Feeling clean and refreshed, we picked up my car and subsequently spent the next couple of hours doing laundry, buying groceries, and eating dinner (in an unoccupied RV campsite behind the laundromat!) before heading out of town to a nearby rest area to sleep for the night.

This turned out to be a wild day full of highs and lows, but through it all, Zosia proved to be a most resilient and sympathetic companion.  I am grateful to have shared such an adventurous ride with her.

Reminds me of the "Dawn of Man" sequence from "2001: A Space Odyssey"!

The morning sky above the trailhead is very colourful on this day.


It's hard to believe that Zosia and I actually loss sight of one another here! Sonny descends the trail leading to Dry Fork Coyote Gulch.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Oops! Sonny unwittingly approaches an obvious canyon thinking that it is the entrance to Peek-a-boo Gulch.  The canyon is actually part of Dry Fork Coyote Gulch.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

It's all good! The canyon of Dry Fork Coyote Gulch is still worth exploring.
That's one big mother f**cker of a cricket!! This big and bizarre insect is known as a Jerusalem cricket (thanks go to Bob Spirko for identifying this insect).
Hmmm...that didn't feel like Peek-a-boo Gulch at all... At the far end of the canyon of Dry Fork Coyote Gulch, Sonny tries to reconcile what he sees with what is described in the guidebook.  The Straight Cliffs (Fiftymile Mountain) can be seen on the horizon.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here...just kidding! Zosia approaches the entrance to Spooky Gulch.
Not a great place for claustrophobes... The walls of Spooky Gulch converge quickly on Zosia.
Not a great place for fat people! Zosia carries her pack in hand while squeezing through a very narrow section of Spooky Gulch.
I'll be right up, Zosia! Sonny sits at the bottom of a steep, narrow chute.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Nice leg! Zosia looks down from the top of the chute.
Suck in that gut!! Sonny awkwardly squeezes through another narrow section.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

OMG, that was so much fun!! Sonny climbs out of a hole created by a chockstone.  This is probably the hardest obstacle to surmount in Spooky Gulch.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Better than an amusement park ride! Zosia ducks under a natural arch inside Spooky Gulch.
The best thing is that we get to turn around and do it all over again...that's what she said! Zosia emerges from the far end of Spooky Gulch.
4th Class scrambling here, in my opinion... Zosia down-climbs a tricky step below the chockstone.
I think I'm stuck... Sonny wonders if it would be possible to stem his way up to the top of the canyon.
So much more breathing room here! Zosia hikes along Dry Fork Coyote Gulch en route to Brimstone Gulch.
Very cheerful-looking flowers! Some dune sunflowers are in bloom at this time of year.
Keep an eye out for Sandpeople... Zosia approaches the entrance to Brimstone Gulch.
Meh. There is not much new to see in Brimstone Gulch.
Zosia looks like she has a spotlight on her! Zosia appears quite cozy within a narrow section of Brimstone Gulch.
Curled up, this snake was about the size of my fist. A small rattlesnake looks up warily from the base of the canyon wall.
Sigh...not how I imagined spending my vacation! Sonny changes a flat tire on Hole-in-the-Rock road.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

A return trip to explore Peek-a-boo Gulch is in order! Total Distance:  14.0 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  5 hours 51 minutes

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