The last time I visited Utah was in late September of 2013 and it was monsoon season. The rain had ruined a lot of our trip, but we had made the best of it. One part of our 2013 trip that I was excited about was visiting the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM). GSENM is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We like the BLM because they often do not have those pesky dog rules, prohibiting dogs on trails like the National Parks do. By being on BLM land I would be able to have Boomer join me while at GSENM.
Unfortunately, during our 2013 visit, the rain had caused several roads to be impassable and we were denied entry into most of the monument… and do not think I did not try as I had a truck with 4WD at the time and thought I could handle any bit of mud thrown my way.
It was not until I felt the sinking feeling, quite literally, of my truck being absorbed into the ground while traveling down a random road to see the Paria Ghost Town that I realized that perhaps when the sign says “impassable when wet” that it could actually be true and not just a warning one ignores like “slippery when wet”. And lets be honest we ignore the warning “slippery when wet” because we are really hoping Bon Jovi is around the corner.
Dictionary definition of handsome: Jon Bon Jovi
During our 2015 visit to GSENM we were lucky as the weather was dry and the “impassable when wet” was not going to be an issue. I had stopped by the ranger station in Big Water to check the road conditions in GSENM to ensure our safe passage. The ranger almost giggled at me when I asked if the roads were suitable for driving.
“They just graded the roads the other day; they’re the best they’ll ever be” he quipped
Boomer and I left Big Water, driving a short distance to Cottonwood Canyon Road, heading north into GSENM. As we drove down the dirt road I contemplated which hike I was going to take. Typically I research better than I had and would have found a hike that had great photography opportunities and was not too difficult as I would be hiking alone. For some reason, I did not plan ahead, which was both odd and frustrating for me. The road is about 47 miles long with several trailheads located off the road, so I had some time to decide as we drove along the road.
While at the Big Water Ranger Station I had asked for recommendations on which trails were the best. The ranger recommended both the Hackberry and Cottonwood Narrows North and South trails as they would be good options for photography and manageable hikes. I picked Cottonwood Narrows North as the trail we would hike for the day. There was no reason as to why I picked the trail. Nor was there any logic as to why I picked the “north” over the “south” trail.
I leashed up Boomer, grabbed some water and headed to the trailhead from the small parking lot. It was not long, maybe 50 feet (15.24 m), before we hit our first snag. The trail dropped off about 6 feet (1.82 m). A person could have scaled down the rock wall, but a person with a dog could not. Luckily I ran into another hiking couple who pointed us in the direction that was more dog-friendly. To the right of the trailhead was a smooth trail leading down to the slot canyon.
I did not know how long the trail was or if it was a one-way or looped trail, but we proceeded anyway. The trail, for the most part, was flat with the only difficulty being navigating some large rocks along the trail. These rocks did provide some issue from time to time for Boomer. He was not able to grip well on the slippery rocks. The slippery rocks did require me hoisting him up and over the rocks.
About 30 minutes in to the hike we reached a small meadow and saw that the trail split in two. The main trail continued and a trail to the right had a log laying over the entrance. To me that meant that we should not take the trail to the right and we carried on our way on the main trail. At this time we heard a strange sound, not really animal, but also not really human sounding either. I was slightly alarmed as I was pretty much defenseless and I was with my dog, the biggest scardy-cat you have ever seen.
As we continued on the trail, forgetting about the sound, we came to what I imagined was the end of the trail. There again was another drop off that could have been scaled down, but this time a much larger drop. Boomer and I turned around and started heading back. About 5 minutes in to our return I spotted a blonde woman in a white tee-shirt. Or at least I thought I did. Each time we rounded the corners of the winding trail we never caught up with the woman and I was beginning to think I had hallucinated seeing her.
And then it happened… I heard the sound again that we had heard in the meadow. Except this time it was much louder and much closer. In true scardy-cat fashion Boomer took off. Unfortunately he was leashed and took my arm with him.
After I “reattached” my arm and not knowing what else to do I said in a shaky voice “hello”. We received a response back of “hello”. As we rounded the corner there stood the woman in the white tee-shirt and the man responsible for making the odd noise. As we passed by the two hikers I said “you scared my dog”. The man laughed and said “I think I scared you”. I gritted my teeth, holding back the urge to punch him in the throat and said “When he gets scared, I get scared”.
Boomer and I pressed on and put some distance between us and the hikers. The trailhead is not well marked and I almost continued on past where our car was parked. Luckily Boomer knew where we were and directed me back to the car. He is pretty good about knowing where we are. He probably wanted to get back in the car where it was safe and free of scary noises as well!
The Cottonwood Narrows North Trail is located about 15 miles south from Canyonville Utah on Cottonwood Canyon Road in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.