Another trail dispatch this week! I’ll make it quick because this trail was rather straight forward.
The Grand Staircase National Monument has two general bio spheres. There is the low, hot canyon lands and the high, chilly mountain gulches. The area surrounding Hole-in-the-Rock Road is mostly hot, dry canyon lands, whereas the area surrounding Hell’s Backbone road is mountainous, ponderosa-pine inhabited slopes. Having had one adventure down Hole-in-the-Rock, I decided it was time to go up in elevation on Hell’s Backbone.
There are many hiking options in this area, but they all pretty spicy, such as the Death Hollow hike that is 20 miles of pool jumping and poison ivy avoiding. The canyon actually sounds extremely beautiful but was a little more than Nijiel and I were prepared to do that day. The next obvious choice was Box Canyon, which is the complimentary namesake of the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness.
The walk through Box Canyon requires that you do a double car drop- one at the top of the trail and one at the bottom- or get really lucky and hitch a ride. Having only one car, we had originally planned to just hike the first four miles from the top of the canyon and then back up, making it an eight mile round trip. About and hour in to the hike, however, just as the white walls were beginning to rise around us, another group caught up to us.
I asked if they were going all the way to the bottom of the canyon. They were, and so I frankly asked if we could hitch a ride back up with them so that we walk the whole canyon. They agreed, which was incredible generous and exciting. The problem was that we then had to go at their pace, which was a bit faster than ours.
It turned out to be a good decision in the end, however, because the bottom half of the canyon was well worth the quick walking pace. It became very hot by about 1:00 pm, and the constant, slightly downward walking was starting to make my head feel like it was detached from my body.
Pine Creek, however, (which is the stream that forms Box Canyon) was a steady companion throughout the walk, so we were able to cool our feet and heads in the water every time we had to cross, which was many, many times. My feet were white and trench-y by the end of the walk. It would have been a better choice to wear Chacos (not sponsored, but call me if you want to talk, Chaco…) or some other kind of hiking sandal than sneakers that day.
At the tight pace we were going, we managed to walk the whole 8 miles of the canyon in about 3.5 to 4 hours. The walking was only difficult because of lots of deep sand and the heat! In terms of canyons in the Grand Staircase NM, it was unlike any I had seen before. The Scrub Oak was leafing out and the flowers were starting to bloom, thanks to the warm microclimate most likely given to the canyon by the heat-retaining walls around it. The canyon is wide as well, meaning that the vegetation inside gets a lot of daylight compared to the narrower canyons of the lowlands. So even though we were higher in elevation, there was just as much springtime life happening.
Walk number two of the Grand Staircase was another success.