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Utah Travel Headlines Blog

Monday, April 13, 2009

NY Times Explores America's Outback: Southern Utah

Travel writer Tony Perrottet took the road less traveled and explored Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. He calls the area America's Outback, the West's best-kept secret.

In this article he offers an interesting narrative and glowing descriptions of the land. His expressions are artistic, but they sometimes don't jive with reality. Below are excerpts, with my comments.

This corner of the southern Utah has since been immortalized by the painter Maynard Dixon, the novelist Zane Grey, the photographer Ansel Adams and countless Hollywood westerns. And yet, it still qualifies as the best-kept secret in the West. While millions of travelers are drawn every year to Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, Grand Staircase-Escalante and its surrounding area offer a seemingly endless choice of natural wonders that lie blissfully forgotten and empty. It’s America’s Outback.

The paragraph above is fine, but the one below is a little misleading.

But my total isolation didn’t really strike home until I stepped from my 4x4 onto the edge of a mesa above Coyote Gulch, a ravine whose golden sandstone hides three gorgeous, narrow slot canyons. The lonely trailhead offered none of the familiar national park comforts like ranger huts or wooden welcome signs — certainly no dubious snack vendors. There was nothing but expanses of rock stretching toward the horizon, which at 10 a.m. were already glowing like embers under the intense Utah sun. Only a few stone cairns far below indicated that there was any hiking trail at all.

The three slot canyons in Coyote Gulch have become very popular hikes - it is almost impossible to find solitude in that area. On any given day a dozen groups will hike there.

Driving it (Hwy 12), the year 1872 felt closer by the mile. The crowds evaporated. Towns looked abandoned, the doors of sun-bleached frontier houses flapping in the wind. Even gas stations became rare.

The towns are not abandoned - albeit they are spaced a considerable distance apart. There are gas stations. Stores and homes include a mixture of old and new, with doors that close.

The next morning, I set out in search of a waterfall (Calf Creek) said to be upriver. I followed the creek for three miles, passing ocher pictographs painted by the Fremont Indians and the remains of their stone granaries; this lush green refuge had teemed with people around the time of the First Crusade.

This is one impressive pictograph panel on the canyon wall, and a small granary that is difficult to find.

At last, I found myself at the base of a 126-foot-high cascade with a circular pool surrounded by ferns and graced by a pristine gold-sand beach — paradise itself.

Stripping down, I threw myself in the water, registered its near-freezing temperature and leaped straight back out. From then on, I simply lounged in the sun, gently sprayed by waterfall mist. I tried to imagine all those summer travelers jostling through Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, only a Western-size stone’s throw away. Right now, I was fine with my own private park.

The plunge pool under Lower Calf Creek Falls is cool, even on a hot summer day. But not that cold. Thousands of people enjoy swimming in it every summer. It is also a very popular hiking destination. Don't strip down too far because there will probably be children and rangers watching.

I like the article, and the writer's style. It captures the grandeur of this massive area. I just felt it appropriate to point out that some of the particulars may be a little misleading.

- Dave Webb

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