Before driving east to Capitol Reef National Park, we had to check out Lower Calf Creek Falls in the Canyon of the Escalantes. We had driven across the region the day before on Scenic Byway 12 and were intrigued by the deserted expanse. Established in 1994, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument holds 1.9 million acres and is one of the most recent tracts so preserved under authority of the Antiquities Act.
The hike to the falls would be six miles round-trip over a fairly flat sandy trail. The thick sand would prove to be our biggest challenge, however. It was beach sand without a beach, and surprisingly, required the same concentration and energy levels as our river hikes. Our Camelbaks kept us well-hydrated as we walked, and water was essential in the heat (adding the ice to our packs was our own “essential” luxury). We had grown adept at unzipping the backpack bouncing along in front of us without even breaking stride, and after a couple of miles, were already digging into the packs for dried fruit and spicy turkey jerky –a new favorite for Zach and me.
…but it took Matt to spot the pictographs. Painted by an anonymous Freemont Indian some 800 years ago, the rock art made us wonder about the ancient hand that had created it.
The Fremont culture grew corn and squash on the banks of Calf Creek; remnants of their granaries still sit high upon the surrounding cliffs. Calf Creek was so named for the natural pasture and holding area its surrounding box canyon created for their weaned calves. We examined the figures through binoculars and my telephoto zoom camera lens.
Were the pictographs painted as direction? Or in celebration? Or as a warning… We wondered also how the surrounding terrain had changed in the passing years. The figures danced at an impossible height now, but 800 years ago the cliff face might have been a canvas within easy reach of a determined artist.
We spotted deer grazing leisurely in the marshy grass that fanned out from early encounters with the creek, but as we neared the Falls, the stream became a clear flowing habitat for brook trout and beautiful bank-side wildflowers.
When we finally reached the 126-foot cascade, we were ready for total immersion. Hot, sweaty, sandy… Peeling off our socks and shoes at the edge of that gorgeous green water was easy. Walking into it was not, however. Matt splashed in the furthest but raced back out of the icy water in seconds. Yes, it was “refreshing.” But even in 100-degree heat, a toe dip was enough for the rest of us…
Lower Calf Creek Falls, Utah
Sandy trail between cliffs with pictographs and ruins (Fremont Indians)
Dramatic 126 foot waterfall with refreshing emerald pool at trail’s end.
Fee: $2.00 (parking and useful trail guide)
Directions: Trailhead is off of Scenic Byway 12 between Escalante and Boulder, Utah