Saturday, May 31, 2003: I changed plans a bit today and started by birding part of the Wildcat Trail in the Dixie National Forest. Well, I birded the area around part of the trail. I wasn't on the trail much. This gave me some of the higher elevation species including Junco (Gray-headed race), Red-breasted Nuthatch, Audubon's Warbler, Steller's Jay, and a nesting pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers.
I then continued on U-12 toward Escalante. At one point the road is on top of a narrow ridge, with stunning views of the Escalante watershed on both sides. A Coyote crossed the road with a prey item in this area. I had originally planned to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls early, but it was not early when I got there and I decided to wait a bit. As you will see, events then intervened.
I drove to Escalante and went to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Just as I was starting up their trail, I noticed a thunderstorm approach. I headed down and back to Escalante to have lunch while the storm passed over. Didn't work. The storm hadn't quite hit town when I finished lunch so I went to get gas. It hit, complete with hail, while I was filling the tank. After it passed, I went back to the park.
There was bad news there, more rain on the way. I decided to bird a bit instead. I was rewarded by finally seeing one of the noisy Chats, plus Blue Grosbeak, Canada Goose, and others. More rain was still coming, so I tried a radical change of plan. The park was out, the falls hike was out, driving the roads of Grand Staircase/Escalante was out (slippery when wet), so I headed into another portion of the Dixie National Forest, starting with Posey Lake. Both the picnic area and campground had plenty of people, so I headed further up the road.
At Cyclone Lake (9800 ft), I hit paydirt. There were waterfowl there: Mallards, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Pintail, Eared Grebes, and a bunch of Coot. I continued up to the Aquarius Plateau, hoping to loop around. I started noticing snow patches alongside the road. Somewhere around 10500 feet the road became snow-covered and I decided to turn back. On the way I had seen Elk and Pronghorn, and on the way back I added Porcupine. A woodpecker with white rump flew across the road. My first thought was a must be a Flicker, but it didn't seem right somehow. For one, the flight didn't seem quite right. For two, even though it passed slightly above eye-level, I didn't see the red wing linings (Flickers are normally red-shafted out here). They seemed more gray. I then remembered that the female Williamson's Sapsucker looks a lot like a Flicker. I checked Sibley, and wing linings would appear gray. A nice addition to my triplist.
I returned to Posey Lake and tried another way back. Somewhere I should mention that I was continually serenaded by Hermit Thrushs and RC Kinglets throughout the Alder/Engleman Spruce areas. This was longer and slower, but it also gave me some great views. It also provided a Townsend's Solitaire and Common Merganser, the latter at North Creek Reservoir.
By the time I returned to U-12, the rain was gone. It was also 7:15 so there was no hope of fitting Calf Creek in today. However, there was still the park and I went back there. This time I did the trail, which has lots of petrified wood along it. Since I also did the extension, there was a lot of climbing (I'd guess about 500 feet total in 1 3/4 miles). The main trail is a one-mile lollipop, with a 3/4 mile loop stacked on it. The stick of the lollipop was all uphill going out and all downhill coming back. As most of it had a good surface, I jogged down much of the way. By then it was almost 8:30 and I had worked up an appetite, so I had dinner.
Sunday, June 1, 2003: Today I planned to start by hiking to Lower Calf Creef Falls. On the way I noticed some impressive god rays and stopped at an overlook on UT-12. The overlook (and UT-12) are on a ridge above the Escalante drainage. In the distance you can see the Henry Mountains. (PHOTO)
The hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls is about 6 1/4 miles round trip with relatively little elevation change. You basically hike along the creek. The trail is usually above any possible flood level, so it isn't exactly a streamside trail. After about 3 miles the falls come in view. It's a 3-part fall with a pool at the bottom. The lower part of the fall reminded me of Lucifer Falls in Treman State Park near Ithaca. Many photos were taken. (PHOTO2)
Since the trail is all riparian habitat below with more desert-like conditions on the canyon sides, there were plenty of birds (not all of them Spotted Towhees). New birds for the trip included Gray Catbird, Brewer's Sparrow, and Lesser Goldfinch. Birds and the onmipresent lizards weren't the only animals about. I encountered some deer in Calf Creek on my way back to the car. (PHOTO)
After taking some pictures at some of the Escalante River overlooks, (PHOTO) I headed out Hole-in-the-rock Road to see the rock formations at Devil's Garden. The original plan had been to continue out the road to some trails, but the hot conditions persuaded me that an alternate plan would be better.
The alternative was to head for higher elevations of the Dixie National Forest. (PHOTO) I took the Hell's Backbone Loop around the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness. Some of the pink rock formations forshadowed those I will soon see in Bryce.
On to Bryce!
Monday, June 2, 2003: Sunrise found me taking photographs of the Straight Cliffs (part of the Grand Staircase) from Hole-in-the-rock Road. I had breakfast and then headed west, stopping to photograph "the Blues" on the way. The Blues are some blue-gray shale cliffs.
From Cannonville I headed down Cottonwood Canyon Road to Grosvenor Arch. (PHOTO1, PHOTO2) I also was able to see the Cockscomb (another monocline which separates the Kaiparowits Plateau from the Paria basin).
My original plan had called for some hiking along Cottonwood Canyon Road, but it was already hot and I decided to head toward Bryce National Park. Besides, I could see it in the distance and it was calling me! Before doing so I stopped at Kodachrome Basin State Park to view the rock formations and walk the nature trail. (PHOTO2)