Bowns Canyon

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Nick

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It's been a bit frustrating this spring watching all the great backpacking trip reports rolling in while I've been busy working. Granted, I've been doing a lot of hiking for work lately, so I can't complain too much, but it's not the kind of multi-day stuff I wish it was. So at the end of May, I was very excited to finally get back out for some bag nights.

This trip was planned long in advance. It was to be Audra's first big trip on her new boat. It's still a bit early to be on the water in Glen Canyon, but it should be fine if the weather holds up. Going into the weekend, it was looking okay. Not great, but not the hurricane winds of the past few Memorial weekends. We drove down on Thursday night and camped out near Bullfrog. The plan was to launch at first light to avoid the holiday traffic. We slept out under the stars that night after driving down through a pretty good storm. Fingers crossed it would stay that way. When the sun broke over the horizon in the morning, I was happy. That was until I looked south - right where we were heading.

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We moved down lake from Bullfrog heading right into a huge storm. But the chances were only 30% that day, or so we thought. It should blow over, right?

We got hit with a few sprinkles, but as we approached Annie's Canyon, things started to look a little brighter.
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We stopped at a beach at the Rincon to have a late breakfast before continuing south. Our target was the Escalante area, but other than that our plans were loose. I had intentions to possibly hike Bowns Canyons on this trip so we ducked in there on the way down just so I could show the group the approach. We decided to head a little past it, something I hadn't done when I was here in April. We ended up finding what had to have been one of the finest campsites on the entire lake at the back of the canyon. A huge sandy beach next to a roughly 70-foot high dryfall with a little water seeping down it.

We couldn't pass this up. We immediately beached the boat and went to work setting up tents in the powder soft sand.

No sooner had we finished that another round of stormy weather rolled in.
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We deployed the bimini and a bottle of champagne and took it in from the boat. Fortunately it wasn't all that cold out, but the sideways rain was a bit of a nuisance. I need to figure out some way to shelter in the sides of the bimini for storm watching.
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It rained and rained. We had a short reprieve before another 2 hours storm hit us late in the afternoon. I kept looking up at the dryfall from the boat, wishing that the canyon would flash. One of the top reasons I wanted a boat was so I could camp out in storms and watch the monsoons turn the desert into waterfalls. I didn't expect it to happen this soon, but it appeared I would be waiting a bit longer.
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About 2 hours after the rain stopped, we were chilling out on the boat, cooking dinner on the grill. I remember hearing a crash from toward our tents. I looked over to see the most beautiful sight.
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The torrent was amazingly clear, but it was raging hard. It kept going like this the rest of the night and serenaded me into a beautifully lucid night of dreaming. The first of many. Our tent was less than 100 feet or so from the base of this.

In the morning the sky had cleared but the waterfall still flowed loudly outside the tent. The flow had subsided quite a bit but it was still strong.
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We took it slow, drinking coffee and eating breakfast. We had brought along a new toy to try out courtesy of Sea Eagle: an inflatable kayak!
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@neiloro and I wanted to hike, so we used the kayak to shuttle packs and ourselves around the bend to the start of the old Bennett's Oil Field trail that would grant us access to the upper sections of Bown's Canyon. The ladies decided to stay back and keep Nikita company and soak in the sun.

The climb up the steep, rocky slope was over quick and soon we were walking the cliff edges above the canyon. A series of blooming yucca greeted us.
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Walking the cliff edge was very nice. We started the hike right down at the bottom of the scree below in this shot. Just to the right side. Our camp was further up canyon to the right.
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We diverted our path a bit to see if we could get a view of camp from above.
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By this point we had lost the old trail and we were just poking around, looking for a way back down into the canyon. Our target for the day was Bechan Cave in the upper east fork, but the view into the main fork was too much to resist.
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We found a little scramble down into the main fork that wasn't too difficult. Sage needed a little help but it was no problem. We later found an easier spot a little up canyon.
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The reward for our efforts. Countless little pools and small waterfalls. This one was the biggest. We hadn't been hiking long, but we stopped and soaked in the pools.
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Sage trying to keep dry, despite the fact she was already wet.
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On we go...
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Soon the canyon became more dense with vegetation and obstacles, making travel along the bench easier.
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The confluence of the east and west forks of Bowns Canyon. The clouds on the horizon gave us pause, but we couldn't turn back now.
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We continued up the east fork before finally spotting our destination: Bechan Cave. Archaeologists found an ancient mammoth 'dung blanket' about a yard under the surface of the cave that was dated back to 13,000 years ago. Incredible.
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It was BIG inside.
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This is the back of the deepest chamber. The one in the left in the above photo.
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Notice @neiloro crouching under the chamber to the right for scale.
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Looking out.
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We decided to head up canyon a little further before heading back. Kelsey describes another cave called 'Cowboy Cave' before the canyon ends and the old Black Trail exits to the bench above. He says Bechan's and Cowboy are similar in size but that is not the case. Cowboy was much smaller and not really worth the diversion unless you have plenty of time to kill.
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We started racing back to camp, knowing the storm was nipping at our heels. I wish we had time to explore up into the west fork where there are another half dozen caves with ruins and other neat things to see, but this would have to wait for another day.
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And the sky grows darker.
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Just as we made it back to the confluence, things got apocalyptic. The wind was intense. Poor little Sage was nearly getting blown away and we could totally lean into it. The lightning crashing nearby made us move a little faster for the shelter of our descent canyon, although we knew swimming for camp was probably going to have to wait.
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Just as we dropped off the rim, the wind subsided and it rained a bit. We sheltered for a few minutes before we decided to continue down to the lake. I intended to swim from there to our campsite to pickup the kayak, but when we got there, @neiloro gave a holler and @Melissa came paddling to pick us up. The weather was still pretty uncooperative, so I decided to just swim back anyway. I let them drag me behind the boat for a good chunk of it. A nice way to end the hike.

When we got back to camp, we heard that the wind was not just intense on the rim like we had thought. The girls had experienced a pretty stressful experience in camp. Increasing water levels had set the bow afloat and our port anchor had begun to break loose. At one point, the boat was nearly perpendicular to the beach so my wonderful wife @audraiam fired it up and just drove the whole damn thing onto the beach. It did the job and they were able to reset the anchors a little deeper. It took a little work to get the boat back off the beach after that, but that isn't nearly as bad as what could have happened.

Sadly, that wasn't all the damage. Our crappy REI Kingdom 4 somehow held up, probably because of the ton of rocks we piled onto each stake, but their Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 went airborne in the storm and ended up with a little fly damage. In the end, we were all safe and dry though. That night was mellow and calm. I fished off the back of the boat and caught my first fish out of Powell: first a largemouth bass, then a striped bass. I was happy.

The next day, we expected the weather to change. When we left, we were expecting 30% chance the first two days, then perfect weather the last three. Waking up to overcast skies was not encouraging. We fired up the marine radio and picked up a forecast. More storms. Crap.

Our plan for the day was to motor down to the Escalante and do some exploring, fishing and maybe a little hiking. It was overcast as we motored down. First stop was back at the Cathedral in the Desert. I wanted to see the change since my visit at low water about 6 weeks earlier.

I expected we might not have it to ourselves, but when we pulled in to find a houseboat apparently trying to anchor to the waterfall, I was appalled. We watched them fumble around for a while before taking off. It was nice to see the sun for just a bit.
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Next stop was Davis Gulch where I wet the line a bit, bringing in a very skinny and unhealthy striper. Stripers are typically great fishing here, but some years they overpopulate and kill their food supply, resulting in sickly, skinny fish like this. Anglers are encouraged to not release any stripers live for this reason. We tossed him in the livewell and took him back to camp so we could practice our filleting technique. There wasn't much there, but it was good practice and VERY good eating! Can't wait to return in warmer weather and fill the pan with these.
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Shortly after catching that striper, I hooked into this beautiful walleye. Three species now on this trip! I set him free to fight another day.
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The calm weather didn't last long and we ended up racing back to camp after leaving Davis Gulch. Fortunately the evening was decent and we sat on the boat listening to music, drinking and eating. The waterfall was still going in the distance.
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Day 4. This was the day I was expecting 90's. It wasn't quite there, but at least it was warm and clear out. We decided it was our do nothing day. That's my beautiful wife, Audra, there on the beach, teaching Sage to fetch a stick out of the water. She was hesitant to swim out there at first but she caught on pretty quick.
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We took the boat out and did a little fishing in the day but didn't catch anything. The side canyons had become pretty stained from the flooding. Not sure if that had an effect, but it makes me feel better to think so.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at camp floating around. I fell in love with the inflatable kayak on this trip. This one we brought was a Sea Eagle 385 and it was extraordinary. It handled two paddlers with ease, even with me who is pretty much two people alone! The dogs also liked it. I did quite a bit of paddling around and tried dumping it and re-boarding in deep water and I was able to pretty easily. I liked it so much that I think I'm selling both of my hard shell kayaks and rack now to invest in these. Love love love it.
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The view of camp from the kayak.
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Audra and Sage searching for fish.
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This was Nikita's first time in a kayak. She loved it. She loved the whole trip actually, which is particularly awesome because of her age and inability to get around these days. She spent the whole time just walking the shoreline, looking for fish. The boat just made it easier for her.
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Our final night was beautiful and warm. We had our nightly ritual of eat, drink, talk, enjoy on the boat before retiring. The next day we loaded up and headed north. We took a short diversion into Annie's Canyon where we found lots of floating debris and logs and what a hazard that can be. Then one quick stop at the little arch north of Lake Canyon, now a good 13' closer to being underwater than it was the last time I was here. By the time I write this, the waters must be just a few feet from the lip of the arch. Lots of mixed emotions I have visiting this place.

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"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit."
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#3
I love the pics of the dogs so intent on finding fish, or whatever else is holding their interest in the water.
 
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Yvonne

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#5
love love love the entire trip!! What an awesome time you all had. The storm pictures look fantastic and give me the itch to start chasing soon.
The entire area looks awesome. I've never seen anything of Lake Powell so far and your pictures let me with to explore a bit more.
 

Laura

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#6
Love love LOVE the entire trip too! How awesome to see a flash flood like that, and I love the dogs! It just doesn't get any better than this. :thumbsup:
 
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#8
Very NIce Nick! I especially like the photo of the flower with the sun rays peaking around it.
 

Nick

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Thanks everyone. Looking forward to a few more like this as the water gets warmer.
 

slc_dan

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#10
It doesn't get much cooler than a waterfall like that.

I guess some people just don't get it. I can't believe that houseboat tried to anchor in the Cathedral. :mad:

Bowns looks great, just a taste of that whole canyon system. Too cool.
 

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#12
That was an awesome trip. Nice writeup, Nick. I'll post some shots later, after I've sorted through them all.
 

Nick

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Very nice! Whats next? Great SLC, flaming gorge, wahweap, Bear Lake?? What a great state to live in!
The guys on the pontoon boat forum I've been reading up on say I'm an idiot if I take this thing out on the Great Salt Lake. So let's wait until I'm about to sell it! :)
 

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