Calf Creek Falls Trail
Calf Creek Falls is a southern Utah landmark and the major feature of the BLM's Calf Creek Recreation Area. Walking between mineral-streaked cliffs of Navajo Sandstone, hikers pass beaver ponds and pre-historic rock art sites enroute to the 126-foot-high Lower Calf Creek Falls.
Roundtrip distance to the falls is 5-1/2 miles. While little elevation change is encountered, most of the trail is sandy, and can be very strenuous walking, particularly in warm weather. However, the falls area, once reached, is a delightfully cool, shady haven well worth the effort.
Calf Creek is a clear stream which runs yearlong from its headwaters some 7 miles north. The road across the canyon to the east, State Highway 12, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC's) in 1938. Until then, mail and supplies were carried to Boulder by mules and pack horses over Hell's Backbone Road or the Boulder Mail Trail, both hazardous routes. Boulder is said to be the last town in the United States to have mule train mail delivery.
Early on the trail, you will encounter Utah juniper trees (Juniperus osteosperma). Commonly called "cedars", these junipers are used locally for fence posts. The seeds ("berries") are eaten by wildlife. Dried seeds are used by Native Americans for making jewelry.
You will also see pinyon pine trees (Pinus edulis). Pinyon is popular for Christmas trees and produces an edible nut, long used as a staple food by Indian people. The nuts are an important food source for rodents and birds. Resin from these trees was also used by Indians to waterproof baskets and to cement turquoise stones to jewelry.
Further up the canyon, just below the rim, high on the cliffs east of the creek, you can see an ancient storage structure (granary) built some 800 to 1,000 years ago by Indians who farmed the canyon bottoms and stored their produce in these high, dry, probably rodent-proof structures. Peoples of both the Anasazi and Fremont cultures were residents in the area at the time these structures were built. Further archaeological work is needed to determine which group built these structures. You may also see four large figures painted in red on the cliff wall. Typically Fremont in style and form, these thousand or so year-old pictographs could represent deities or culture heroes, or a ceremony or event may be depicted.
The predominant geologic formation in this area is the cliff-forming Navajo sandstone. As you look at the canyon walls you can see the typical cream to red-colored sandstone layers formed millions of years ago by ancient sand dunes. Vertical discoloration is created by rain water running down the cliffs.
An old fence is a reminder of the settler's early use of Calf Creek. Weaned calves, just taken from their mothers, were turned into the natural pasture created by the box canyon above the fence. Hence the name "Calf Creek."
Ponds and marshy areas (riparian areas) below the trail were formed by beaver dams across Calf Creek. These dams help control spring flooding, reduce siltation downstream, and provide habitat for mature fish. Riparian areas are one of the most productive and important types of ecosystems. These areas display a greater diversity of plant and animal life than adjoining ecosystems. A healthy riparian zone filters and purifies water passing through it, reduces sediment loads, enhances soil stability, and contributes to groundwater recharge and flow.
Many species of birds find the lush vegetation and abundant water of the canyon bottom ideal habitat. A few of the birds you may observe are the hummingbird, downy woodpecker, golden eagle, mourning dove, western bluebird and common crow.
Mist from the 126-foot high Lower Calf Creek Falls, and shade provided by the canyon, combine to keep temperatures cool and comfortable even during the hottest of summer days. Darker colored, rounded rocks are also scattered about. These volcanic rocks washed down from lava flows originating on the Aquarius Plateau to the north.
Calf Creek Recreation Site and Campground (elev. 5,346) is located along Utah Highway 12, 15 miles east of the Town of Escalante. Facilities at this site include individual camping units, five individual picnic units, a group picnic area, and a 2-3/4 mile (one-way) interpretive trail to the 126-foot Lower Calf Creek Falls. Other developments at this site consist of a culinary water system, playground equipment, 2 volleyball courts, a paved road, paved parking area, vault toilets, and a foot-bridge across Calf Creek. Camping fees are $5.00 per night on a first-come basis.
For additional specific information about the two waterfalls and associated campground, call the Interagency Visitor Center in Escalante: 435-826-5499.
For more information about the surrounding area:
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