The main access to the western Escalante River and its numerous tributary canyons; an unpaved, 55 mile route that is usually passable by regular vehicles apart from the last few miles, which lead to a viewpoint above Lake Powell
is the evocative name given by Mormon settlers in 1879 (the San Juan Mission
) to a short, steep valley leading towards the Colorado River, the only breach for many miles in the otherwise vertical cliffs of Glen Canyon
that constituted an almost impassable barrier between the then unsettled lands in southeast Utah. Even here there was a sheer 45 foot cliff to overcome, and 6 weeks of labour was needed to construct a route down which the wagons of the party could pass. The lower 300 feet are now submerged below the cold waters of Lake Powell but the route to this point survives as the Hole-in-the-Rock road and today this provides easy access to the Escalante River and its western tributaries - the most visited area of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Photographs18 views along the Hole-in-the-Rock Road
360 Degree PanoramasDance Hall Rock
, slickrock around Davis Gulch
The unpaved Hole-in-the-Rock starts 4.5 miles east of Escalante
on UT 12 and reaches the edge of Glen Canyon after 55.5 miles. The first 15 miles, as far as the Garfield/Kane county line, are almost as good as a regular highway, then the surface deteriorates somewhat and is often severely graded but is fine for normal cars until at least mile 38. After here are 6 steep dry wash crossings, tributaries of Fortymile and Fiftymile Creeks, that may be a problem but still the surface should usually be passable until 5 miles from the southern end; the last section after the Davis Gulch crossing is very rough and for high clearance, 4WD vehicles only. The scenery along most of the journey is little changing and not too spectacular as to the west stretch the high, layered 50 mile long Straight Cliffs
while the land on the other side is mostly a flat, grassy plain - the many fantastic canyons are hidden from view, reached only by various side roads that lead east towards the Escalante River. Towards the end though, the terrain is more undulating and dramatic as the cliffs become closer to the Escalante River - the side canyons are more numerous and extend further west, and the grassy plateau is gradually replaced by vast areas of slickrock domes, which are best viewed from an overlook just before Davis Gulch
. At mile 46, the road enters the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
All major trailheads and canyons along the Hole-in-the-Rock road are signposted, and the upper section is well-travelled during the summer months. Important side tracks include the routes to Covered Wagon Natural Bridge (3.5 miles; Cedar Wash Road), Harris Wash
(mile 11), the Egypt Bench/Twentyfive Mile Wash
(mile 17), Early Weed Bench (mile 24), Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch
(mile 26) and Red Well (mile 30), one of two starting points for a hike down Coyote Gulch.
Apart from the grey cliffs that border the road - the second of the four main steps of the Grand Staircase, there are only two other specific places of interest along the route. First is Devils Garden
, 12 miles from UT 12. Not to be confused with the other formation of that name in Arches National Park, this is a collection of large eroded rocks, quite similar to Goblin Valley with fewer formations on a bigger scale. There is a picnic area, a short loop path and two interesting arches (Metate and Mano) a little way to the south.
Dance Hall Rock
The second location is Dance Hall Rock, 24 miles further, by which point traffic on the road is much less - the Hurricane Wash/Coyote Gulch trailhead at mile 33 marks the end of the most frequently travelled section. The rock is a large mound of Navajo sandstone at the edge of quite an impressive outcrop formed of several hundred feet of undulating, striated slickrock with cliffs, ravines, water pockets and eroded, sheer-sided cavities - a nice place to explore for an hour or so. Several large overhangs provided good sheltered campsites for the original Hole-in-the-Rock expedition, who rested here while preparing for the route ahead, which became much harder from here southwards. A worthwhile side trip hereabouts is the one mile hike over gently sloping, sandy plains to Sunset Arch, a narrow span formed of dark-colored Entrada sandstone. Start point for the walk is 4 miles along the good quality Forty Mile Ridge Road, which forks east just north of Dance Hall Rock. Also of interest, and easily accessed from the main road, are two south-side tributaries of Fortymile Gulch - Carcass Wash and Sooner Wash; they both form shallow narrows, both east and west of the road, and can be used to reach the gulch. Sooner Wash is the more interesting of the two.