November is usually a month to get ready for winter and holidays. It’s a month to prepare for cold weather and get used to shorter days. Cutting, hauling, splitting, and stacking firewood usually looms large in November. But this year was different. I spent a brief but fun weekend in Massachusetts with my in-laws. They invited me out to attend Equine Affaire, which is one of the largest horse events in the U.S. It my first time visiting Phil’s parents sans Phil. He held down the fort here so I could go for my “horse spa weekend” as he called it. We had a wonderful time together and I’m so happy they invited me.
Just before I left for MA, I made the difficult but long-in-coming decision to list my horse Skokie for sale. I’d had Skokie since birth. He was the only offspring from my mom’s beloved palomino mare, PJ. My mom and I had spent time picking the stud–a beautiful Thoroughbred stallion named Coverallbases who was a grandson of Seattle Slew on his father’s side and a grandson of Secretariat on his mother’s. When we originally bred PJ to a Thoroughbred, I had hopes of getting into hunter/jumper competition and other English riding disciplines. But this never panned out and Skokie ended up much too big a horse for me and for the western riding I ended up doing. Skokie and I also never really clicked. He was a good horse and I had no complaints about his behavior, but for some reason our personalities never quite meshed. It was time to let him go.
A buyer from Virginia called while I was in MA. I was not interested in selling Skokie to anyone sight-unseen, but the man was very determined. He said his daughter would come pick Skokie up. That made me feel better. There was no way I was going to pack Skokie off with a shipping company and send him across the country! But if the man’s own daughter would come in person and actually ride him and take him back herself, I could feel ok about that.
At the same time as I was negotiating the sale of Skokie, I had my eye on a little Morgan yearling that was more my size. I fell in love with Morgans when I was in college out east. I was on the lookout for a mare or filly, but when I saw the buckskin gelding’s sweet little face on the sale page, I couldn’t resist. I ended up bringing my new baby home the day before Skokie left for Virginia. It was absolute Providence that this transition happened at exactly the same time. Dusty didn’t have to be lonely for even one day, and I didn’t have to deal with the dynamics of a temporary 3-horse herd with Skokie asserting his size and dominance over the young newcomer.
I named the new horse Pepperjack. Skokie was in rare form when Pepperjack got off the trailer. He pranced so beautifully that I almost regretted selling him. He looked like he was posing for a statue in Kentucky Horse Park and had that gorgeous Thoroughbred “Look of Eagles” in his eyes. Skokie is normally very laid back, so seeing him puffed up and almost floating above the ground was a real treat. While Skokie danced and pranced along the fence line, Pepperjack introduced himself to the goats and got to know Dusty a little bit.
I think Pepperjack and I are going to be very good friends. He’s a fun, gentle, and adventuresome little fellow and he will not outgrow me like Skokie did.
Next morning, Skokie hopped on the trailer to Virginia. He now belongs to the Master of the Rockbridge Hunt and will be a foxhunter, which is really the life Skokie was bred for. I feel like a small-town mother who just sent her son off to an Ivy League university, but somehow I think he was made for that life. The best part for Skokie is that he’ll never have to see the inside of an arena again. He always hated arena work but loved striking out cross-country to explore new places. I hope he has a wonderful, exciting life out there and that he turns out to be the best horse his new owner has ever had.
For me, I’m glad of change. Losing Jet so unexpectedly last year was a terrible blow and I’ve had a hard time riding or even spending time with horses since then. With everything new, I feel like I can start over. I look out the window and the horses make me happy again. I look forward to the adventures that await Dusty, Pepperjack, and I in 2020.
In unrelated news, Finn really enjoyed Halloween this year.
I was caught off-guard last year by a blizzard on October 30th. This year’s first blizzard came even earlier–October 24th. We had a good 15 inches of snow!
The heavy snow wreaked havoc on my electric fences, but it sure was pretty!
“Where’s our breakfast?!?”
Petunia had to break a trail down to the house to get milked. I think this time the milk was already refrigerated before it hit the pail!
“Do I really have to walk through all that snow?”
Sweet little Cupcake looks like she dunked her nose in the snow. I love the matching frosting around her eyes.
“They hay feeder is empty! Why is the hay feeder empty??”
“Ah, this is more like it!”
The cold weather got Rita and Coral riled up!
Petunia got very cold for some reason and even went mostly off-feed. She would sniff the hay, take a bite or two, then go lay down in the shed by herself. I blanketed her and gave her medicine but it took her a few days to recover her appetite and her energy. By the time she felt better, her milk had almost dried up and it never came back. So much for fresh goat milk this winter!
TinCup never acted cold and never went off-feed, but I blanketed her anyway because she’s the skinniest goat in the herd and I didn’t want her to lose any weight from keeping herself warm. TinCup says “Nom nom nom!”
It’s been so busy around here that I’m afraid I haven’t been a very good blogger. Day 11 was our last day of “goat vacation.” We packed up and headed out of Escalante the next morning. We had a beautiful drive over the Utah mountains. A pinkish haze drifted across them from some distant wildfire.
When I got home, I had to decide what to do about Buster Brown. I wanted so badly to keep him, but I’d had a call from the fellow who bought Thor and Yeti. He had bought two bottle kids before he purchased Thor and Yeti, and one of them was a bit of a runt that failed to thrive. Sadly, the baby died in September and family was heartbroken. His name was Brownie. I couldn’t help it. I knew my Brownie could be the perfect replacement for the kid they lost. He would fit in well because Thor and Yeti were already there. I’ve never seen male and female siblings stay so closely bonded for this long. Usually by three to four months, the brothers and sisters don’t get along because the boys get pushy. Not so with Brownie. He was such a sweet and gentle goat that even at five months, he and Cupcake were still best buddies.
In mid-October Phil and I took Brownie and Cupcake for a final walk together before he went to his new home.
I can’t get over how closely Cupcake resembles Nubbin. They aren’t related, but Cupcake has that same beautiful red-bay coat with white-frosted ears and nose, and a white star. Cupcake has more white on her sides and legs than Nubbin, but I sometimes still do a double-take.
Snowball is one of the most beautiful kids we’ve ever had here. A roan pattern has popped out from her white coat and it’s absolutely stunning and very unusual. She has the sweetest smile accentuated by her black lips, and just like her mother, Tigerlily, she looks like she’s wearing eyeliner. She’s still as soft as dandelion fluff and her personality is as sweet as her looks.
And yes, Snowball came in the house the other day.
Mocha is the go-getter of the group. She is a very athletic and adventuresome little goat and she will do anything for treats! Small as she is, she can easily jump three feet! I love these “levitating goat” photos Phil got.
On the return trip, Sputnik informed us that he was feeling left out of the packgoat experience. He was right. I pulled the pack off Finn and let Sputnik carry it back. Proud goat!
It was hard going in the canyon bottom. That soft sand was brutal on tired calf muscles.
It doesn’t matter how tired you are or how late it is… there’s always time for a goofy photoshoot! Phil discovered a pile of bleached bones and…
I remembered this grand pedestal from our last trip. Phil stood up there and made muscle poses with yearling Finn.
But was the rock still sturdy enough for the two of them? Finn’s a little bigger these days (and Phil might be too)!
Satisfied that the rock was sturdy, off came the shirt. Finn eagerly bounded onto the rock at Phil’s call and gave us his most magnificent pose.
I think we need a different kind of NAPgA Calendar next year…
How Sputnik felt about the whole thing:
And now it’s my turn to show off. Remember the big stone beehive we passed in the morning? Well it was still beckoning to me when we passed in the late afternoon. Sometimes discretion feels like the cowardly part of valor.
It looked steep but doable. It was steeper than it looked.
They were not invited, but the goats had to follow me nonetheless. As always, goats make a steep ascent look easy-peasy.
About here my nerve almost failed me. It was a looong way to the bottom and my boots were slipping. So I took them off.
Whew! I made it! I wasn’t sure I wanted to look down. I was sitting on a very narrow perch with a very steep drop on three sides. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to climb down. Gravity can sometimes be too helpful in these cases, and I possess a lot more gravitational pull than I once did.
The goats wondered what the big deal was about.
And at the day’s end, Sputnik finally mastered the bottle of Gatorade! Although he did dribble enough to earn himself the title of “Bluebeard.”
Get ready for WAY too many photos! It was our last day and we wanted to go somewhere awesome. We remembered Bighorn Canyon from our trip in 2015 and we wanted to return with goats that could go further than old Cuzco had been able to. The patterns, swirls, and colors in this canyon are incredible and it’s hard not to take photos of everything.
We passed the big stone beehives which I remembered from our previous trip. I longed to climb this hill of stone and take a closer look at the nifty little hoodoo at the top, but it was very steep and I chickened out this time just like I did in 2015.
Still, this is such an enticing little cherry on top!
We hiked past Bighorn Canyon to see some sights further along the wash. I love this bacon rock!
We discovered some perfect little seats in the rock wall. This one even looks like it has a person icon in the background.
The goats checked out the other cubbies and nibbled the cobwebs growing along the sides. I’m not sure why goats like to eat cobwebs.
“Finn, stop photo-bombing!”
An indentation in the rock looked like an enormous sarcophagus. When I stood back far enough to capture the whole thing the photo didn’t come out good, so I took a close-up of Phil playing dead and got the magnificent swirls in the stone instead of the coffin shape.
I climbed up this swirly rock and found a really nice pothole up there. It was dry and looked like it would be easy to get stuck in it if you were dumb enough to climb into it. Thankfully me and the goats weren’t dumb enough to climb into it.
Sputnik recovered nicely from his Death Hollow trek and was climbing and jumping all over the place.
Finn didn’t want to jump down the easy way like Sputnik did… No, he had to show off by climbing as far as he could along an impossibly narrow ledge a few feet above the canyon floor.
Last time we were here there was a shallow creek in the riverbed, but it was almost bone dry this time and the last puddles soon ran out. The goats were without water. Finn watched Phil guzzle a Gatorade and tried to beg some off him. But Finn’s lips couldn’t quite work the bottle without spilling most of the drink. So I cracked open a Gatorade for Finn and poured it into an empty water bottle. His clever lips soon worked out the nipple and he gulped down every last drop.
Goatorade… er Gatorade lipstick–it’s all the rage.
Sputnik wasn’t so interested in the Gatorade but he was happy to split an apple with Finn. Actually, he wasn’t happy to split the apple. He wanted it all for himself. Sputnik quickly gobbled down his own half and then licked the piece that was still hanging out of Finn’s mouth. Finn immediately spit it out and Sputnik wolfed it down.
Into Bighorn Canyon at last.
“Is that bacon?!?”
Sputnik the Bacon King.
Into the Baconverse!
Yellow rock soon appeared beyond the swirling pink and red.
Looks like the surface of Jupiter.
We decided to drop down into the slot canyon for a while. Sand made the going pretty tough compared to the slickrock above.
Eventually we encountered a rock obstruction that Finn couldn’t pass with his pack on. I scouted ahead for a bit and found more blockages further up and decided it wasn’t worth the bother of carrying his packs. The view up top was much prettier and the hiking easier anyway.
Sputnik: Sandstone Warrior.
Check out that yellow! Just above Finn’s nose you can see some holes in the rock that looked like part of a Moqui ladder but I believe it was just a couple of natural indentations.
Mini bacon burger?
Stay tuned! There’s more of Bighorn Canyon coming up!
After our rather exhausting 3-day trip, Phil and I were ready to take it easy. I spent the morning in Catherine’s front yard with a bucket and scrub brush cleaning sand out of our packsaddle straps and panniers while Phil headed over to the laundromat so we could have clean clothes for the rest of our trip. I was hanging the goat equipment out to dry just as Phil drove up with the clean laundry. We decided to head out for an easy trip to Willis Creek Canyon, which we had visited on two previous trips. It’s a beautiful little hike but short and very easy–perfect for people and goats with tired feet.
Willis Creek was a lot more crowded this time than it had ever been on our previous trips. I couldn’t believe the number of cars in the parking lot! And then we met a group of horseback riders. Judging by the amount of horse poo, this trail has recently become a horseback riding favorite.
This is my favorite rock, but I could not persuade Sputnik to climb up there with me.
Finn, however, is not one to miss an opportunity to be in the spotlight.
Giant goat track?
Petrified snow angel?
End of the line (for us at least) and a very tall cliff. It reminds me of an all-natural version of Petra.
Such a beautiful canyon!
What are they looking for up there?
“What’s behind this corner? Oh, a waterfall. No thanks!”
When you accessorize, make sure to choose a goat that matches the landscape.
There is a little story about Divine Intervention involving our camera. After Death Hollow, Phil tried the camera and it still didn’t work. Next morning he gave it another attempt and lo and behold it snapped a photo. Our camera was back in business! The one day I really wanted photos but (unknowingly) had no time to take them was the day our camera was out of commission. If Phil and I had spent time taking all the photos we wanted of Death Hollow, we would never have made it as far as Bill and Adrian and we would never have known how to climb out of Death Hollow. We’d have been faced with the prospect of backtracking and spending yet another night on the trail with no food.
This is the first photo Phil took that morning after our camera miraculously “came to.” It’s a little fuzzy. The camera took a few tries before it remembered how to adjust to light conditions (and it was pretty dark down in that canyon), but it was working! This is the tree Phil and I commandeered from Bill and Adrian so we could hang up our wet things.
It was cold and dark in that deep canyon, but we could see sunlight touching the tops high above us. We were camped at the Boulder Mail Trail intersection and there were several large cairns at our camp and above us on the steep canyon wall to our left. It was a very obvious and well-marked intersection and trail, but without someone to tell us what it was, Phil and I would never have dared to leave our water source. Without a map we would not have known where that trail went, how far it went, or whether there was water on it. We were so thankful that we found Bill and Adrian to lead us out! There was no breakfast for Phil and I, but we still had the remains of our bottle of pancake syrup. Phil had the brilliant idea of using it as an energy drink. I divided the syrup into our two water bottles and mixed it with water filtered from the creek. It tasted pretty darn good and it was an excellent energy boost to start us off that morning. After we finished our syrup water, we topped off with some regular water and then filled our bottles to the top. It was going to be a very dry 8-mile hike over slickrock to Escalante. I tried to get the goats to drink but they weren’t interested.
Our goats were both tired, but Sputnik was also very sore. He’s “flatfooted” with very upright pasterns and the long hike over rock had taken its toll. We would be going over even more rock today. Nevertheless, both goats stood willingly to be saddled and followed us up the steep trail without complaint. There was only one spot near the beginning where Sputnik thought he couldn’t make it. It was a two-foot jump on the steepest section of trail. He went looking for a way around, but I knew there was none and had to go fetch him. He was too tired and sore to jump. I grabbed his halter and hauled his front end over the rock. The rest followed. Thank goodness that was the only trouble spot! The nice thing about a very steep climb is that you get to the top very quickly. The sun felt wonderful after the cold darkness of the canyon. And our camera was working!
You can see the Death Hollow canyon winding away behind us. What a hike! It was so beautiful, but I was glad to be out of there.
Nope, we’d have never found this trail on our own, nor dared to traverse it without knowing where it went and how far. There’s a lot of trackless wilderness in this area!
And here I am with our rescuers, Bill and Adrian. Once we were out of the canyon Bill was able to get service on his cell phone and we immediately made some calls. Phil and I were very concerned that Catherine might have called search and rescue. It would be a big, expensive, embarrassing ordeal and Phil and I would have our names in the paper–Idiot Tourists with Goats Lost in Death Hollow!
I didn’t have Catherine’s phone number with me, but Bill’s wife was waiting for him in Escalante and could relay a message. It turned out she was staying in the hotel right next door to our B & B. She walked over and told Catherine where we were, so that took a big load off our minds.
We found some shade and took a break. I think our camera was still not sure how to adjust for light because our shadow photos were coming out pretty dark. Hi Bill!
Adrian sat down and Finn stood on the rock right above him. I jumped up and shooed Finn away. Adrian was puzzled. I had to explain why it’s never a good idea to sit on a rock downhill from a goat. It’s bad enough when the black pebbles start rolling past and lodging under your seat, but no one wants to suddenly find themselves sitting in a yellow river. Thankfully Finn was too tired to walk back and forth above us and preferred to lay down.
Several miles into our trail, Finn, who was walking behind me, suddenly bolted past on my left. I turned to see if something was chasing him but he wasn’t running from anything. He was running toward something with an eager gleam in his eye. I followed him over the ridge and there was a large pothole full of water! Finn had smelled it and made a beeline. He was obviously very thirsty, but he had a hard time finding the best approach. I went down and helped him. The water was dark brown and rancid so Finn didn’t drink much, but he took enough to get by. Sputnik got a little too.
Bill and Adrian waited for us on the other side.
There were a lot of neat rocks along our route. Phil always loves the diving boards.
A few imposing hoodoos frowned on us from far above, but they were in shadow.
Prehistoric caprine formations.
Was this ever a welcome sight!
We took a long break overlooking the Escalante valley. Despite the sunshine, it was actually pretty chilly. The breeze had kept us cool on the long uphill climb, but now that we were headed downhill it was cold on our sweaty t-shirts. I put my coat on.
Poor Sputnik. His feet were sore before we even started, and going downhill was worse than going up. The tent on his pack kept swinging side to side no matter how tight I secured it. Sputnik’s “rhumba” style of walking was exaggerated by his soreness and even more when he went downhill. The tent slung back and forth and a few times it actually pulled his pack completely to the side. Sputnik never complained. When his pack flipped under his belly he would stop and wait for someone to come fix it, so I had to look over my shoulder a lot to make sure he was still following. In hindsight I probably should have unloaded that tent and carried it down myself.
Uphill again? Seriously?? The Escalante valley looked tantalizingly close but looks are deceiving. I thought it would all be downhill once the valley opened up, but we had another steep climb or two in store.
We got to the bottom and our hitherto well-marked trail petered out in dense brush. Flash flooding in the creek bottoms that summer had obliterated the sandy portions of the trail near Escalante, and a lot of weeds and bushes sprang up from the moisture. We ended up bushwhacking our way to someone’s driveway and walking out to the road via private property. Not the best way to do things, but we were in no mood to get lost this close to town.
We got to the road and Bill called his wife to come pick him and Adrian up. We said our goodbyes and Phil and I headed back to our B & B. For some reason that last mile on the road was the worst part for Sputnik. He was tired and his feet were very sore. We went slow and I let him stop frequently to eat the alfalfa plants that grew abundantly along the roadway. As soon as we got back, the goats went straight into their trailer where I bedded them down deep with fresh straw, stuffed their hay bags, and gave them plenty of clean water. They got their drinks and plopped down to sleep. Phil and I stowed our gear and went straight to dinner where we split a whole rack of ribs and two orders of fries. It was nice to eat again!
I woke up Sunday morning with visions of an idyllic camp breakfast dancing in my brain. I had found a pancake mix that only required water and I’d measured out the right amount for our trip. I mixed up the batter, lit the fidgety little camp stove, and melted butter in the tiny frying pan. I poured the batter and watched in excitement as it bubbled up temptingly. Phil would wake up to a hot breakfast of delicious pancakes, he would hail me as the perfect little camp wife, and he would be forever hooked on overnight goat packing.
A powerful blast of wind shattered my reverie. A scream of rage leapt from my throat. Despite having placed the stove in a sheltered spot behind a rock, the wind had tossed a liberal amount of sand and grit into my beautiful breakfast! I picked out some of the larger pieces of debris, but the pancake no longer looked scrumptious. Breakfast proceeded quickly downhill from there. The camp stove was very fussy and seemed incapable of providing a steady medium flame. When I turned it up, it blazed like a rocket, scorching the food and threatening to set my socks on fire. I turned the flame down and it puffed out. I screamed in frustration! The first pancake came out ok. It was only a little scorched on one side and the other side was only a little raw. Phil ate it and told me it was good but I think he was probably being polite and only commenting on the syrup because I could hear the sand and charred bits of pancake crunching as he ate.
I poured a second pancake and it sat there refusing to cook as gusts of wind seasoned the batter with more sand. I carefully turned the stove up and realized it had gone out again. As soon as I relit the flame, it blasted the poor pancake into cinders just as another hurricane dumped more of the surrounding campsite into the batter. I tried to flip the pancake but it was stuck fast to the pan. I tried scraping it off with brute force and my spatula began to melt. At this point I had my own meltdown. I bellowed, raged, and stomped around camp like a maniac, shaking my fists at God and the Universe for sending all this hellacious, unnecessary wind. I was not to be appeased. My beautiful pancake breakfast was a shambles. I chiseled the ruined pancake out of the pan, dug a hole, and buried it in an unmarked grave along with the uncooked half of the batter which was mostly sand by that point anyway. I was too angry to be hungry and I felt like a useless failure. I’m not usually one to throw temper tantrums, but that morning I munched a granola bar and sulked while Phil graciously scrubbed the breakfast dishes in the creek.
On the plus side, my pants and the goat panniers had dried out nicely during the night. The camera, alas, had not. Phil tried turning it on and it made a horrible grinding noise. The viewfinder showed blackness with a few fuzzy white spots. There was nothing to be done about it. We packed camp, loaded the goats, and headed upstream. I was unsure of our route. I knew we needed to follow the river, but the river seemed to be coming from the wrong direction. We needed to head west and the canyon on our left went west along with a very clear path in the sand, but the canyon had no more than a trickle of water in it. We were supposed to be following the Escalante River and there was a strong creek flowing from the north so we followed the water. The trail did not appear to be quite as well-traveled in the north canyon but it was still well-defined and had recent footprints. The canyons are deceiving because they wander back and forth. The Escalante River canyon goes east and west in this section, but it does so by snaking north and south all along the way. I hoped that our north-pointing canyon would eventually take us west. I sorely regretted not remembering to bring a map and a trail description.
The canyon before us was lovely. There was no point trying to find a trail on the shore. The water was only shin-deep and the stream bed was level sandstone with good traction. Although the water was cold, the footing was very easy for us and the goats and we soon got used to the temperature. In fact, as the morning warmed up, the cool, splashing water felt very pleasant on our legs, battered as they were from walking through reeds and pricker bushes the day before. The canyon was narrow with very high walls and it got more and more beautiful as we hiked up it. For the most part the creek stayed easy to navigate. We kept the goats on leashes because they had a tendency to make for the shore and this didn’t usually work out well for them. We had to pay close attention to the creek bottom in places. There were plenty of potholes and deeper fissures and I didn’t want our goats falling into them. Sputnik seemed particularly prone to tripping in holes. I got in the habit of guiding him very carefully across narrow places between potholes and making sure I showed him the deep spots. He never tripped into any big holes, but the sudden slipping from ankle-deep to knee-deep water made him suspicious of the creek. Finn, on the other hand, navigated uneven underwater terrain very naturally.
We stopped for lunch on a sandy beach under a large alcove. We didn’t have much food left. We’d planned a light lunch in anticipation of eating a large dinner in Escalante that evening. We each ate a granola bar and some trail mix. The goats begged some trail mix off us as well but we managed to save a little for an afternoon snack. As we went on, the creek became more pitted and difficult to navigate. The canyon walls turned black and rose up impossibly high on either side. We came to a wider area strewn with huge boulders and there was no obvious path for the goats to follow. Phil held the goats while I scouted. A flash flood earlier in the season had wedged logs and other debris between the rocks, making them difficult to climb. I found a couple of possible routes, but decided it would be best to unpack the goats before attempting them. Phil tossed the panniers and goat packs over the rocks to me, then navigated his way over, around, and between the boulders. He found what he thought was a good route for Finn, but Finn had his own ideas about rock climbing. He watched Phil in bemusement, then nimble as a cat, he plotted his own course, leaping gracefully from boulder to boulder with perfect ease and precision. I was on the other side of a massive rock and unfortunately missed the display of athletic prowess, but the sheer beauty, power, and grace of Finn’s performance brought Phil to the brink of tears.
Sputnik, on the other hand, will never make it in the ballet. He is a strong, willing, and capable goat, but he is not an athlete. I took him through a narrow crack between boulders where he had to get wet up to his chest. We repacked the goats on the other side and continued our journey. I was starting to have a lot of doubts about our route. The Escalante River was not supposed to be this difficult to navigate, and the canyon was never described as being so narrow. I was also concerned that we still hadn’t turned west. We planned to reach the town of Escalante by late afternoon, and since we’d been down the other end of the trail on a previous trip, we should be in familiar territory by now. But nothing looked even close to familiar! Little did I know we were hiking up Death Hollow–a tributary to the Escalante River. The upper Escalante River is frequently almost dry this time of year, but since I didn’t have my trail description I didn’t know this. We were headed straight into the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness and miles away from our planned route and any civilization. But I can’t describe how beautiful it was. Over and over I lamented to Phil the loss of our camera.
Not far after the boulder field we came to a place we weren’t sure we could pass. The black canyon walls narrowed together until there was only a small rock ledge on one side. The creek ran swiftly down the middle in a deep chute interrupted by a series of even deeper pools. We walked along the narrow ledge, careful not to slip, but soon our luck ran out. The canyon walls pinched together above us and our shelf narrowed beside a swiftly-flowing flume of water. The only way to go through was to crouch down and crawl along the narrow shelf, clinging to the rock on our right. The tunnel wasn’t tall enough for the goats to walk under unless they went on their knees, and it was certainly too narrow for them to carry their packs through. If they could make it at all, they would have to go up the narrow, swiftly flowing channel and over a small waterfall. Sputnik had already slipped from the narrow shelf once before this point and had to be pulled out. Luckily the water in that place was only chest deep, but his packs were fairly well sodden. Both goats were getting tired.
Phil went back downstream to see if there was a place to go around this spot. The goats and I waited on our narrow perch for a long time until I started to get nervous. There was nowhere to tie the goats so I took them both and headed downstream in search of Phil. Sputnik fell in the water again at the same narrow place as before and this time Finn went in too. I eventually found Phil and we agreed that maybe it wasn’t a wise idea to get separated so long. He hadn’t found an alternate route, but I had studied the tunnel in his absence and I thought we could get the goats through if we unpacked them. We went back upstream and both goats fell in again at the narrow spot so now both packs were thoroughly sodden. We got to the tunnel and Phil held the goats while I crawled through. I told Phil I would explore a little way upstream to make sure it didn’t get worse. We didn’t want to unpack the goats and get them through this difficult and somewhat dangerous spot only to encounter an even nastier one further up.
I came out of the tunnel into the most beautiful canyon of all. Small silver cascades tumbled over smooth, sculpted sandstone into large, deep, and silent pools. Before the tourists came and scared them away, this was a Unicorn Canyon. I explored around a bend or two but shouted my progress back to Phil so he wouldn’t worry. When I came back I found a place where I could climb over the tunnel and back down within a short distance of where Phil was waiting with the goats. It would be much easier and safer to ferry the packs over the top than through the tunnel. Phil had to navigate the narrow ledge back and forth to bring me the panniers and packs one at a time while the goats waited on a wider ledge downstream. I had a nice perch about seven feet above the water where Phil could toss me the packs when I leaned down to grab them. I carried them over the top to the upstream side of the tunnel. Finally, I crawled back down the tunnel to help Phil with the goats.
Phil led Finn as far as he could go along the shelf before Finn slipped down into the rushing creek. Luckily the edge of the pothole was only a little over two feet high, but since the water was rushing over it, the force made it difficult to jump or climb over. Phil pulled Finn’s halter while Finn heaved himself out with a struggle. Phil let Finn loose at the other side and it was Sputnik’s turn. Sputnik plopped into the water without even trying to navigate the shelf and then he just stood there in the rushing stream and refused to even attempt climbing over the waterfall. Phil and I both pulled and were able to lift his front end over the ledge. After that it was easy, but I could tell Sputnik was exhausted and absolutely fed up with this miserable hike. Unlike us, Sputnik had no interest whatsoever in the scenery.
We re-saddled the goats and dumped water out of our panniers. Phil and I gave the goats a break and carried the panniers ourselves for a while. The day was wearing on. The sun touched only the tops of the canyon walls. Phil and I split an apple and gave the other to Finn and Sputnik. We were both starting to realize we would not make it out tonight so we saved the trail mix and trudged on, still clinging to the fast-failing hope that we were on the right track. At least we were still by the river.
The canyon soon widened and looked more like the familiar Escalante Canyon, raising my hopes for a bit. Unfortunately the stream bed got more difficult to navigate. It ran in deeper, narrower channels between steep, sandy banks and began to wind more. It was quicker to cut across the bends, but the trail was not usually very easy. A trail would look good for a while, but then it would peter out and we’d have to bushwhack to pick it up somewhere else. Our legs were sore and scabbed from the previous day’s bushwhacking through pricker bushes. Here there were no prickers, but the reeds were brutal. They ripped open the scabs from yesterday and tore new ones. The sand was hard to walk in, especially for the goats. Sputnik was starting to groan as he walked.
We came to a split in the canyon. One trail followed a small watercourse to the west (finally, a trail going west!) while the main watercourse continued north. We opted to keep going north along the stronger creek with the wider trail, but we had to cross the deep, narrow tributary to get there. Phil and Finn jumped across, but Sputnik and I were tired. The bank was steep and sandy and I didn’t think we could make it. I saw a log in the creek and decided to use it as a step. Bad idea! Although it had looked large and solid, it was merely floating on the surface! I sank immediately up to my armpits and burst out laughing as I clung to the reedy bank like a drowned rat. I couldn’t climb the bank. It was too steep, too high, and too sandy. There was nothing to grip. I turned back and grabbed onto Sputnik and used his horns to pull myself up. We bushwhacked our way to the place where the two creeks joined and were able to cross there. I later learned that I had fallen into Mamie Creek–a tributary to Death Hollow creek which is in turn a tributary to the Escalante River. It turns out it was a good thing we didn’t try following Mamie creek because it eventually dead-ends at a sheer wall with nowhere to go but back.
We trudged on in the gathering dusk, each bend in the river offering brief hope that the canyon would open up and we’d see something familiar. We started to see deserted campsites along the way which dampened my spirits. If we were on the proper trail, we would be close enough to the town of Escalante that no one would camp here. On the other hand, it was comforting to know we weren’t in a trackless, uncharted wilderness where we would never see human life again. The creek crossings were getting treacherous in the deepening twilight and I told Phil we’d better pitch camp at the next suitable spot. We rounded one more corner and suddenly we saw tents! Human life! Two men were sitting under a tree near the creek, talking and sipping wine from their camp mugs.
We were extremely relieved to finally see someone, and the first thing out of my mouth was, “Where the heck are we??”
One of the men broke out a map and showed me. They were crossing the Boulder Mail Trail that runs for about sixteen miles between Boulder and Escalante and intersects Death Hollow in the middle. They had descended into Death Hollow canyon that afternoon and pitched their campsite right at the intersection where the Mail Trail climbs back out of Death Hollow and continues up over the slickrock to Escalante. Luckily they had started in Boulder and were headed to Escalante as we were. We asked if we might follow them back to town next day and they very kindly agreed.
Their names were Bill and Adrian and they had never seen or heard of packgoats before. They were delighted with them. Unfortunately Phil and I crashed their party. The tree they’d been sitting under was perfect for hanging our wet things, and the spot next to it was ideal for tethering the goats so I’m afraid we took over the best part of their campsite, but they were good-natured about it. Darkness fell soon afterwards so we didn’t spend much time chatting with our “rescuers.” Phil and I quickly pitched our tent and got the goats settled. We opted to save the scanty remains of our trail mix for morning. We had an estimated eight-mile hike up and out of the canyon and across the desert to Escalante next day and we had no other food with us. Thankfully our warm clothes were packed at the top of Sputnik’s panniers and weren’t too wet. The sleeping bags had gotten wet but the synthetic materials hadn’t soaked up much water and they dried pretty quickly once we unrolled them and got in. Our bags were chilly but not freezing. We went to bed grateful to have found someone who knew where we were and better yet, how to get us out!
Since our camera was broken, I’ll attach some other people’s photos of death hollow and hope they don’t mind.
Photo taken from this blog: https://www.arieleeflang.com/?p=543
The spot where “Tim” is clinging is where Phil tossed the packs up to me. The spot to the lower left of the photo is where we had to crouch down and cling to the rock and the goats had to go for a dip.
Here’s a video of the beautiful Death Hollow hike. Most people hike it downstream so the best bits are near the beginning of the hike. There’s a long segment with the guy talking in camp (just across the river from where Phil and I found Bill and Adrian). If you want the short version with just the hiking, start the video at around 12:30 and watch until the lady starts talking about her shoes.
We spent a very nice night in the B & B where we were very happy to be able to shower after three days of camping in San Rafael. But it was only one night because the B & B was booked on Saturday, so Phil and I took the opportunity to go on our first overnight goat packing trip together! I’d picked a very easy and straightforward trip for our first overnight–just something to dip our toes in. Clark, our host at the B & B, had offered to drop us off at the Escalante River trailhead about 15 miles outside of town. He would then drive our truck back to the B & B and park it there while we followed the river trail back to town. It was the perfect overnight hike with water all along the way, an excellent camping spot at the halfway mark, a clear and well-traveled trail, nice natural formations and Indian artifacts to see along the way, and almost no elevation changes. The weather was slated to be perfect. I was excited to embark on my first “real” goat packing experience with Phil, even if it was going to be a super easy one.
It was probably the ease and obviousness of the hike that put me off my guard. Phil and I had explored both ends of this trail on previous trips but had never hiked it through. I had read a trail description three weeks earlier when planning the trip, but the Swell vacation kind of obstructed my view of all that was to come after so I didn’t prepare. At the time I thought, “It’ll be fine… I’ll review the trail the night before at the B & B, I’ll ask Catherine (our hostess) for some details, and we can always pick up a trail map at the BLM office when we get our overnight camping permit.”
Phil had gone by himself to get the permit while I packed our panniers and I had forgotten to mention getting a map and trail description. Catherine is a wealth of excellent information about all the trails in the area, but she had a full house that morning and there was no time for me to ask questions over a leisurely breakfast like we usually do. Nonetheless, I was brimming with confidence as I struck off down the trail–in exactly the wrong direction. Phil expressed his doubts. The woman at the BLM office had mentioned something about hiking the trail upstream, which sounded familiar to the trail description I had read too. But the description had also mentioned going under the highway bridge and seeing the ruins of an Indian granary up on the cliff. We’d crossed under the bridge and there was the granary, so surely we were going the right way! Maybe the stream was going the wrong way? Phil and I argued back and forth a little bit until I said, “Well, better safe than sorry.” So we turned back toward the parking lot to look for a signpost. Good thing we did!
The sign was on the opposite side of the parking lot from where we’d unloaded so we hadn’t even seen it. I love Lake Powell, but I didn’t bring my water skis on this trip!
Phil found an amusing slogan written on the bridge. If you don’t get the reference, read this and be sure to watch the “Body Massage” video linked there.
Once we got going the trail looked very familiar. We had been here in 2012 with Cuzco and Nibbles on our first trip to Escalante. We had crossed under the bridge to view the Indian ruin on that trip too but had been advised to turn back and explore upstream, which was the essential part of the trail description I had forgotten. We crossed the creek many times. Finn and Sputnik were reluctant to get their feet wet at first. It had been a long time since they’d had to cross water, but it quickly became routine on this trip.
I loved this huge boulder with the crack down the middle, but I couldn’t persuade either of the goats to share my interest.
It’s difficult to see because it blends into the rock, but there is a huge natural bridge here. It looks like the entrance to a giant’s castle.
This is the view from beneath the bridge. It sits very close to the rock wall behind it.
There was a small jug handle type arch further on.
The varnish on the cliff walls was amazing.
The trail was often difficult to walk on. The sand was deep and lined with stickers. Phil had a particularly hard time with stickers getting under his sandal straps and we kept having to stop so he could remove them. We found it was generally easier to just walk up the river.
Sometimes when we didn’t hike in the river it felt like we were in the jungle.
I found a dinosaur footprint!
And here we had our first major adventure. You can’t see it in the photo (and because of what ensued I neglected to take one later), but just beyond that alcove, Phil spotted a large donut hole in the rock that was just low enough for him to climb up and sit in it for a photo shoot. I thought Finn could probably jump up there and join him as well. Finn wasn’t so sure and walked over to the sandy spit of beach you can just see at the right edge of the photo. Sputnik followed Finn but he must have taken a slightly different path because all of a sudden he went down to his chest in quicksand.
It happened in the blink of an eye. Phil jumped down from his perch while I raced across the creek to help our sinking buddy. I grabbed the leash attached to Sputnik’s halter, untied it from his saddle, and pulled. Phil grabbed Sputnik’s collar and also pulled. Sputnik didn’t budge. He was struggling a little but could hardly move. His pack weighed about 40 lbs. and probably more now that it was wet. Phil and I pulled a couple more times to no avail and I was starting to feel panicky.
“Phil, we need to unload him!” I said.
We both began fumbling with the straps when Sputnik gave a mighty heave and suddenly he was out! Sputnik and I rushed over to the beach where Finn had been standing and chewing his cud very unconcernedly. I quickly re-fastened the few straps on Sputnik’s pack that Phil and I had managed to unhook before he dislodged himself. Then I turned to look for Phil. He was still standing there in the spot where Sputnik had been and one foot was knee-deep in sand. Phil was stuck in the same quicksand that had trapped Sputnik!
Phil was stuck fast. The sand had created a suction and wouldn’t allow his foot to come out even when he pulled on the rope I handed him. He thought he could free his foot if he slipped it out of his sandal, but we didn’t want to lose that shoe at the bottom of a creek with miles to walk in either direction! I tried to break the suction by working a stick into the sand under his foot, but it didn’t help. The stick just threatened to break. So Phil and I used our hands to shovel sand out of the hole until eventually Phil was able to pass a rope through his sandal. I pulled the rope, hoping to release both Phil and his sandal, but the sandal broke! Phil had put the rope through one of the pull tabs instead of through the sandal straps. Phil dug down once more and after a lot of effort he finally managed to wiggle the rope under one of the big sandal straps. He pulled his foot out and then both of us pulled on the sandal but it wouldn’t budge. I could feel the strap stretching and I was afraid we would break it. So I got down on my hands and knees in the water and dug more sand out of the hole while Phil pulled on the rope. Suddenly the sandal popped out of the water! It was not broken. We were very relieved!
I left the stick in the quicksand hole to warn future hikers. What a scare! I’m glad we didn’t lose Phil, his shoe, or my goat down there!
I was wet, Sputnik’s saddle rigging was full of chafing sand, and his panniers were wet, but we were all ok and the camera had only gotten damp. I had remembered to remove my hip pouch before going into the water to help Phil, so nothing important got soaked. A short time later, just as I was beginning to dry off, I slipped on some moss and soaked my entire left side. I was laughing until I noticed my hip pouch was full of water and the camera was bobbing around. I fished it out and handed it sadly to Phil, then dumped my hip pouch out. Soggy goat treats plopped into the creek.
Thankfully we soon made it to our planned camping spot and since no one else was there it was a fairly relaxing evening. I had to wash all of Sputnik’s gear and hang it up to dry along with my pants. We pitched our tent on a comfortable piece of of sand and ate a delicious dinner of beef stew. I made Finn and Sputnik comfortable under a large cottonwood tree where they had plenty of fresh and dried leaves to eat and comfy sand to bed down in. As Phil and I were climbing into our tent, we looked around and noticed a lot of jewel-like things glittering in our headlamps. They were beautiful! On closer inspection they were cute, tiny little spiders. They were everywhere! It’s a good thing neither of us is afraid of spiders!
On Friday morning we broke camp early. Eldon and Debbie caravanned out with Taffy. Herb had left late on Thursday night since he had animals to take care of in the morning back home. Phil and I weren’t heading home but were on our way to Escalante for our own Utah “goat vacation” sequel. Robert and Connie had a little wiggle room in their schedule so they followed Phil and I to Little Wild Horse Canyon for a bonus hike that Herb had recommended. Phil and I had been to Little Wild horse four years earlier but we’d had to turn around because Cuzco couldn’t make it over some of the obstacles in the slot canyons. We thought we could complete it with Finn and Sputnik.
Robert and Connie only made it a short way into the canyon before they encountered obstacles that their goats weren’t prepared to face. They were forced to turn back so we said our goodbyes in the canyon.
Usually Finn steals the spotlight, but this was Sputnik’s day to shine. We generally kept Finn and Sputnik leashed since this is a popular canyon and we expected to encounter quite a few people. But since I had the camera, I let Sputnik go a few times to free up my hands. This meant Sputnik did all the exploring and wall-climbing. I’m sure Finn was very jealous.
I love it when goats peer up the canyon walls. I don’t know if they’re trying to see how high it is, or if they’re looking for a way out, or a ledge to play on, or just admiring the scenery like we humans do.
There’s more root here than bush!
The walls are so cool!
“How high is that?”
Little Wild Horse is a beautiful canyon, but I’m afraid I can’t recommend it for goat packing. It’s incredibly narrow in places to the point where panniers must be removed, and there is no place for traffic to pass. This can make it very stressful on goats and on people who are afraid of unfamiliar animals and/or animals with horns. Since half the tourists don’t speak English it can be difficult to communicate that the goats won’t hurt them and they should just squeeze by.
And this was the stopping point. This was the same obstacle that turned Cuzco back the last time we were here, only this time instead of being held up by an elderly goat we were held up by crowds of tourists. Phil had scrambled ahead of us over the rock. Finn measured the height, backed up, and was just winding up to leap onto the rock after Phil when a group of several tourists came down the canyon. The goats and I had to scrunch against the canyon wall to get out of their way. They passed and I climbed the rock and turned to call Finn when another group came up the canyon from behind us. I had to climb down and scooch Sputnik and then Finn out of their way so they could pass us. We started again for the third time when yet more tourists came. After that it was an unending flow. The place had turned into Disney World and my goats and I were holding up the lines! As soon as there was a momentary break in the crowd, I backed the goats up to a convenient turn-around place and headed straight back out of the canyon. If it weren’t for all the people, Finn could easily have cleared the obstacle, but Sputnik would have had a hard time.
Our original plan was to hike up Little Wild Horse and down Bell Canyon, forming a nice loop to avoid backtracking. Herb had never been up or down Bell Canyon but he thought it should be goat-friendly. At first we thought it would be too. For one thing, there were no crowds. Nearly everyone hiked up Little Wild Horse and back, skipping Bell Canyon entirely.
But not far up the canyon we came to a narrow place with a good 5-6 foot jump/climb/scramble. It was very narrow and the killer was that there was no good take-off spot for the goats to leap from–just a pile of loose, rounded rocks that varied in size from softballs to beach balls. Finn assessed the climb and gave Phil a sad, pleading look. While I’m certain he would have tried to make the jump, there’s a good possibility he could have hurt himself in the attempt. So Phil and I gave up on Bell Canyon, ate our picnic lunch, and enjoyed the stunning views before heading back out and on to Escalante.
After Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons, we packed up the boys and headed to Escalante. The drive along Highway 12 is always stunning. We were about fifteen miles outside of Escalante when I spotted a cyclist along one of the curves. I recognized the floppy white fisherman’s hat and white tank top immediately. It was Matt! Phil was riding shotgun and he rolled down the window, waved, and shouted “Hey, man! See you in Escalante!” Matt shouted, laughed, and waved back at us as we drove past.
Phil and I settled into our room at the familiar and wonderful Rainbow Country B & B where we have stayed on all our trips to Escalante. We unpacked and then walked into town with our goats so we could eat at our favorite little outdoor restaurant called Nemo’s. We were just crossing the street when we spotted a white shirt, tan skin, and black hair. A bike was leaning against the fence. It was Matt! We offered to buy him dinner, but he had already eaten so we treated him to ice cream. We all sat and chatted while Phil and I ate dinner. We were able to snag a quick photo before Matt headed out. He had to find public land before dark because, as he said, “If you sleep on public land you’re an adventurer, but if you sleep on a park bench you’re a vagrant.”
Thankfully Escalante is mostly public land, so I’m sure he didn’t have to ride far to find somewhere to sleep. He was headed for the most difficult portion of his trip across the Navajo Nation where water and food are scarce and very far between. We wish him all the best and we hope that by now he’s made it to Mexico.