An International Reunion in Willow Gulch


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
When last I'd seen Chez and Dos, it was from the side mirror of a Nissan Versa.

A comically oversized plastic sheet of painter's drop cloth still hung in place of the shattered rear window, rendering the rearview mirror useless. The excess plastic, I'd hastily taped up to keep out the tropical rain after a rotten no-good beach bum thief smashed out the window at Haena State Park, hung out beyond the bottom of the tailgate.

It fluttered in the warm Hawaiian wind as I drove away, already missing the Australian friends I'd met out on Crawler's Ledge.

After our chance meeting, the pair had made a loose promise to visit me in Utah at some point during their half-year adventure in the Western Hemisphere. They were on the first leg of an adventure lasting six months and spanning North and Central America.

It was hard to know at that moment in December if I'd ever see my new friends again.

Fast-forward four months to April, when I received a Facebook message from Chez. Their sights were set on southern Utah, where they had retiree friends capable of hosting them for a week in May.

Could I, they asked, spare a few days to come and give them a local's tour of the best in the backcountry?


Challenge accepted.

The options were at first too numerous. Buckskin, White Pocket and Coyote Buttes all crossed my mind, but on such short notice permits were impossible. The Zion backcountry was jammed as well. Halls Creek and the Needles both held their allure, but logistics were a bit difficult for both. It wasn't immediately clear where we'd connect, as the Aussies' hosts planned to motor them to all the major parks in an RV during the days leading up to our reunion.

As it turned out, Escalante country proved the perfect location.


We met up on a Friday morning on the southern slopes of Boulder Mountain with grins, back slapping hugs and good cheer all around. Once gear had been transferred and breakfast consumed, we rolled south through Boulder and onto the Hole in the Rock Road.

Our target was Sooner Wash, as an entry into Fortymile and Willow Gulches.

The way into Fortymile from Sooner wasn't always obvious, but we improvised where necessary.


Staying out of the dry wash provided fantastic views, both on the large and small scale.



It also offered an opportunity to talk about erosion, crypto and other considerations of desert travel. Stay on the slickrock when possible.


Before too long, we worked our way down from the high ledges and into the water course. Damp spots started to appear in the sand, followed by pools full of larval amphibians.


Rivulets connected the pools. Growing with each successive bend, we soon found ourselves hopping over a gurgling desert stream.

There's something magical about witnessing water emerging from the dry sand, bringing so many forms of life into the inhospitable heat.


I'd warned Chez and Dos to prepare for wading, with a potential waist-deep pool or two.



The water, while cold, did not have too much bite. The motion helped keep it from becoming stagnant and frigid.


As we proceeded down canyon, the pools became deeper and longer.


Walls constricted, too, bending in such beautiful ways.


Passing packs became routine.



Each plunge pool proved more dramatic than the last. As much as I wanted to slow down, pull out the tripod and shoot it right, I knew responsibility meant taking care of my guests first.


But how could you not at least lag a little bit to soak it all in?




"Dave Dave Dave Dave!!!"

I heard my name called from around a bend in the canyon. When I caught up to my hiking partners, they were cautiously watching a sizable snake as it struggled to swim upstream toward them. Its head bobbed, rising above the water as it wriggled against the current. Failing to get traction, it kept slipping back into a pool, only to swim forward and try again.

"What should we do? Should we go back?"

The walls were just a few feet apart. There was no was to slip by without coming within striking distance. Cautiously, I moved forward for a better look.

A quick visual check confirmed what I'd hoped — it wasn't a rattler. I extended the legs of my tripod and helped coax the exhausted reptile up the rock.


The roughly four-foot-long gopher snake slithered onto a small bit of dry sand, giving us space as we continued on downstream.


Our conversation drifted back to the snake at intervals as we sloshed through lower Fortymile. We hoped by leaving him on the sand, we hadn't doomed him to a slow starvation death.

Such is life in the desert. It goes on just fine without people around to meddle.

We couldn't dwell too long, given the superb scenery.







At the end of Fortymile we stopped to filter some water and have lunch.


Pro tip: don't filter from this.


The afternoon was stretching on and we weren't sure where to spend the night.


I suggested working our way up Willow Gulch toward Broken Bow. This came with some worry though that we might find a crowd there, given it was a Friday night in late May.

Still, it would have been a shame to pass up on another stretch of prime canyon in the long light of afternoon.




When the arch revealed itself around a bend in the canyon, I think both Chez and Dos caught their breath in their throats.


None of us were quite prepared for the scale of it.


Climbing up the dune beside the arch, we could see one camp set up in the giant alcove on the opposite side of the canyon. Two people had set up there. They were the first people we'd seen all day, the only one's we'd see until late the next morning.


Wind howled through the trees, making an awful racket.


After some debate on where to stay, we found a nice sheltered spot out of the wind and out of sight of the other couple. With no threat of rain, we skipped the tents and set up for bed right on the soft sand.

[PARSEHTML]<iframe src="" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" width="800" height="800"></iframe><br><br>[/PARSEHTML]My eyes opened early to the dark blue of predawn skies. They appeared cloudless.

Good, I thought. No reason to get up and shoot sunrise. I can go back to sleep.

A faint streak of pink had emerged when next I roused. Some nearly invisible cirrus clouds were blowing by high overhead, catching the first light of day. Snapping awake, I kicked off my quilt, wiggled feet into still-damp shoes and hustled up the hill.

Then, the sky exploded.


Minutes later, Chez came up the same hill, dragging her sleeping bag. Without a word, she sat down inside it and watched the colors swirl. Dos came up a bit later, grinning.

"Good morning," we said to each in hushed voices, loaded with the knowledge that it indeed was a very good morning.

Color faded as the sun crested the horizon, lighting up the far wall of the canyon.


The wind was still blowing, making a calamitous noise down in the trees. It filtered through the aperture of the arch, focusing into blasts capable of toppling a person.


After breakfast we packed up and waved goodby to Broken Bow, heading up canyon.



At the trailhead I offered to drop pack and run back to the car, but we ended up just walking the road together back to Sooner Rocks. Thankfully, the sun wasn't too oppressive.

[PARSEHTML]<iframe src="" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" width="800" height="800"></iframe><br><br>[/PARSEHTML]We stopped for a snack at Dancehall Rock, then motored on back toward Harris Wash. I'd hoped to quickly hit Zebra and Tunnel slots, but the weather had started to turn. The wind grew even more intense, sandblasting us. Clouds moved over, too. They provided a break from the heat, but also posed a problem.

The entrances to both Zebra and Tunnel were flooded. I waded up to mid-torso in Zebra. Nerve ends were firing like lightning from the cold water. My skin turned Kool-Aid red. With little direct sunlight to depend on for heat, I started to worry about hypothermia if we all went neck-deep in the pools.

It's an odd thing to think about dying of hypothermia in the middle of the desert. While the concern might have been overblown, we collectively decided caution was the best approach.

That didn't stop me from stripping down to my skivvies to make an attempt at crossing Tunnel's pool.


After coming out from Harris, we returned to Escalante for lunch. The plan from that point was fluid. I figured we'd head south toward Bryce and find a place to camp for the evening, but wasn't sure exactly where that would be. Kodachrome was an option, but it turned out the campground was full. Instead, we turned onto the Skutumpah Road and ended up at the head of Willis Creek.


The night at elevation proved much more chilly than the one previous in the canyon, but not so cool as to be uncomfortable.


On Sunday morning, we took a leisurely walk down the creek.



The BLM calls it likes it sees it when it comes to GSENM.


After returning to the car, we kept on toward Bull Valley Gorge. Once there, we walked up and down the rim.


Chez, it turns out, really doesn't like exposure. She also doesn't like seeing anyone else on the brink. She had to step out of view while Dos and I took turns peering into the chasm.



And of course, we had to gawk at the old truck smashed between the narrow walls. I guess you really could die out here.


I yearned to slither down into the Gorge and explore its depths, but knew we were expected in St. George by early afternoon. Not only that, but I also faced the return drive to Salt Lake before day's end.

We pushed on, returning to the pavement outside of Kanab and then heading west toward Zion's east portal. The park, while beautiful as always, was an absolute madhouse. After spending such a sublime few days in the solitude of Escalante country, the hordes of day hikers and tour bus patrons in Zion came as a shock.


By mid afternoon, the time had come to part once again.

I dropped Chez and Dos off with their St. George hosts. They praised their Utah experience, saying they would some day return. I'm pretty sure I made a similar vow to visit them on their side of the world.

When I pulled away, this time in my own car amid the scorching Mojave heat, it seemed certain looking in the rearview both of those promises would come true.

Last edited:


Jul 5, 2014
Beautifully written. I went back to the Kauai report and read them both in succession. Looking forward to part 3 in Australia.


Alien from over the pond...
Sep 5, 2012
A great adventure. Well written and beautiful pictures. :)

Gesendet via iPhone 6S mit TapaTalk


Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior
Jun 7, 2012
a couple of my favorite places in GSENM. good stuff.


May 18, 2012
Great report and photos. Lucky guys having you take them there - would love to see Broken Bow one day.
What's the main difference between a gopher and a rattlesnake - I think I'd struggle to tell the difference


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
Great report and photos. Lucky guys having you take them there - would love to see Broken Bow one day.
What's the main difference between a gopher and a rattlesnake - I think I'd struggle to tell the difference

Small, pointed head is the dead giveaway. Also, no rattle, but gophers can do a pretty convincing impression.


Ready For More
Jul 23, 2013
Fantastic! I have a daughter named Willow and sometime in the next year or two, I'm aiming to take her down into Willow Gulch just because I think she'd enjoy that.


Oct 27, 2013
Added to my bucket list.

What are your thoughts on the feasibility of doing Fortymile as a solo hike? Rather difficult with the boosts/pack passes needed or doable with some extra effort?


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
Added to my bucket list.

What are your thoughts on the feasibility of doing Fortymile as a solo hike? Rather difficult with the boosts/pack passes needed or doable with some extra effort?

Water-level dependent, it should be doable. Dry bag your critical items and it's no big deal. One or two places will require some maneuvering, but nothing too crazy.


Oct 27, 2013
Thanks @ashergrey , that's helpful to know. I'm starting to gather ideas for an Escalante-area trip in early October, and this may end up making the cut.


Aug 9, 2007
Well captured, sir. I love that place.

It appears the canyon has changed quite a bit since I was there. This drop looks huge now!

This is the same chokestone in 2013. It wasn't much different in 2011. That's really been scoured out.


Looking back up at it. I was standing about eye level with the stone.


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
Yeah, it's probably dug at least a foot out of the bottom of the pool.


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