Phipps Wash and Arch: The Magic of Discovery

I will unfortunately not be able to provide maps of my final dispatch from the Grand Staircase today, but I will try to update again later once I have access to my mapping program. Honestly, though, the walk out to Phipp’s Arch is a bit of a local’s secret, and I don’t want to give it all away because half of the joy of learning about a place like the Grand Staircase is interacting and relating with the people who call the place home. Any local person would probably happily give you directions to Phipp’s Arch if you just ask them. So, go ahead and make conversation!

I will tell you that the walk starts where Highway 12 intersects with the Escalante river, just underneath the Kiva Coffee house. There is a trailhead parking lot where most people park to walk up the Escalante towards a natural arch just off the river. You can also walk downstream from here, which will bring you to many other, lesser visited natural wonders.

The land around the river on the south side of the highway is all privately owned, so be sure to stay on the trail as the many BLM signs along the way ask you to. There are a few river crossings, which, on April 29th or so, at the time of my doing this walk, was already a welcome respite from the heat of the afternoon. The desert does NOT mess around the heat, I’ll tell you what. I believe one of the “crossings” is more of a traverse and you can technically walk along the side of the sandstone wall if you don’t want to take your shoes off again. If you’re a sandal hiker, or love being barefoot in the water, go for the river. It will lessen the erosion and wear on the sandstone.

The Escalante Canyon walls are far apart at this point on the river, so there is a lot of wonderful greenery to be appreciated. I imagine that later into the warm season some of the willows become difficult to pass, but while I was there it was still passable. There will be a point where Phipp’s Canyon meets the Escalante canyon and the walls will be very far apart. There is a meadow with sage and cottonwoods where the trail turns west and into Phipp’s. One you are in Phipp’s canyon, the walk takes you along the wash for a while before you cross a cattle gate. The human trail then goes in and out of the wash depending on the terrain and water levels.

The canyon starts to branch off about a mile or so in, and it can be a bit tricky to navigate because there are so many human trails. Following any one of these trails would no doubt be an enjoyable experience, but to navigate to Phipp’s Arch, specifically, one must trend left through the branches.

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Eventually the trail moves upward onto the slickrock. There are many, many, cairns set up to guide you along the many possibilities for ascending the rock. My advice for navigating collective slickrock cairns is to take your time and use your common sense. Usually find the path of least resistance (and therefore danger) along the rock is the best option.

Eventually, after a bit of unnecessarily spicy ascending on my part, I was traversing along the upper level of the canyon wall. The is a nice, wide area for walking up there, so it was not too nerve racking. I got to what appeared to be a dead end, then found a small opening in the rock that revealed itself to be a delicious doorway leading to a natural amphitheater above which sits Phipp’s Arch.

 

The discovery aspect of this walk totally made it for me. On top of the canyon walls are formations and theaters that one would not necessarily expect. They hold plants and sanctuaries that make it well worth the effort of finding them. These sacred spaces are what make the Grand Staircase particularly special to me, and I’m so grateful to have been able to experience them once again.

Cheers,

Molly

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