Two Backpacking Trips in One at Capitol Reef

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I enjoyed an amazing two night backpacking trip.  In one way, you could say it was actually two different trips in one due to the fact that my wife was able to join me for the second night, and even though the same trailhead was used for each night's destination, those destinations were in radically different directions from each other.

- Day 1 -
Saturday - May 27, 2017

A while back I started studying out maps seeking out a way to connect Pleasant Creek to Capitol Gorge in Capitol Reef National Park either as a complete loop or a partial loop.  If anything, I really just wanted to explore Pleasant Creek, but wanted to take it above and beyond that.

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a route that a former editor of Backpacker magazine and Torrey resident, Steve Howe, had come up with.  In fact, I believe he actually led some of Backpacker's other editors out on it some years ago where they tested a bunch of equipment for that year's "Editor's Choice" awards, and now that he runs his own guiding company out of Torrey, I'm sure he leads a few parties along the same route every now and then.  In watching an episode of ABC's Rock the Park, I also came to realize that this was the same route hosts Colton Smith and Jack Steward had done as well.  In fact, it was Steve Howe who provided them with the GPS track and map of the route.  

So with Memorial Day weekend wide open, I sought to explore said route myself.  Only, for me, I'd be doing it in the reverse direction.  Rather than finishing out with Pleasant Creek, I'd be starting with it.  A big reason for that was my wife, Jessica, and I had registered to participate in a small group hike up to some archeological sites in Pleasant Creek to be led by a park ranger on Saturday morning of that weekend.  

The plan was to swing into the visitor center to pick up a backcountry permit on the way down to the Pleasant Creek trailhead where we were to meet up with the rest of the group for the hike.  Then after the hike had concluded, I'd grab my pack and set off while we were already there.  However, due to the the weekend being a holiday weekend and probably the biggest weekend of the year for the park, the visitor center was slammed.  Parking was hard to find, lines were long, and so on.  To wait in line to get a permit would have caused us to be more late to the hike.  So we delayed the permit and made the drive all the way down to catch the group on the hike.  We caught up with the group just before they were about to leave the trailhead and we enjoyed learning a bit more about the history of the area with the hike culminating with a visit to a large petroglyph panel not too far down the canyon.  

The ranger was the park archeologist and Jessica and I were able to spend a few moments discussing Jessica's ancestral history with the park and surrounding area, and a transfer that was soon to take place between the park and Utah State University of a collection of Fremont and other archaeological artifacts that Jessica's great-great grandfather, Ephraim Pectol, had collected in his explorations of the area in the early 1900's, all prior to the Antiquities Act.  The family had entrusted the park with the collection over the years as stewards for the time being, but then recently made arrangements for the Prehistoric Museum at Utah State University's campus in Price, Utah, to become the sole owners of the collection with a clause enabling Capitol Reef to request selections in the future should they want to display any of the artifacts in any temporary displays or exhibits back at the park's visitor center.  From what I've seen of it in pictures and in person, it is a remarkable collection of artifacts that have been well preserved and well cared for.  In all likeliness, much of it probably would have been looted had it not been for Ephraim Pectol and his descendants caring for it the way they have.  Now it will all be available for further study and research with the expectation that it will continue to be well protected with better resources for many generations to come.

Once we were back at the trailhead, it was time to make the drive back up to the visitor center to secure a permit so that I could legally camp in Captiol Reef's backcountry.  Then it was back down to Pleasant Creek we went again where Jessica would drop me off.  Unfortunately, it was now two hours later than I had hoped to start up the trail.

Early part of trail down Pleasant Creek

Pleasant Creek

Shortly after starting down the canyon, I pulled back off and over to revisit the same petroglyph panel the ranger had led us to just to spend a bit more time taking some pictures and video.  The panel features quite a collage of history, from Fremont style petroglyphs (which are abundant in the park), to some earlier archaic figures, and more recent pioneer settler inscriptions, including those of the Hanks family, descendants of Ephraim Hanks who was a Mormon pioneer that had set up a homestead and ranch along Pleasant Creek in the late 1800's.  Some of the Fremont figures appeared to be remnants of what use to be a combination of petroglyph (carving) and pictograph (painting).  There is also a long zig-zagging line believed to be a representation of Pleasant Creek itself.  A similar "map" featuring locally identifiable landmarks also appears along the Fremont River Gorge further to the north in the park.

Bear paws and big horns, plus creek

Archaic stick figure

Fremont anthromorphs

Hanks family inscriptions

I returned to the stream and continued on a bit before pulling back off the stream to check out another lesser-known panel that was also fascinating with more human figures, plus some moon petroglyphs and other extra-terrestrial figures, animals, and agricultural figures.

Along Pleasant Creek

Moon panel

Agricultural figures (including maize/corn?)

Bundle of spears, other weapon, or a harvested crop?

Further down canyon, I wandered along another section of canyon wall to find a few more glyphs.  This time, there was what appeared to be a big horn sheep or possibly deer with what looked like the sun for a head.

Sun Head

From the Sun Head petroglyph, I returned to the creek and continued downstream aiming for a wash that leads up to a nice little slot canyon while taking in the beautiful landscape along the way.

Looking down stream along Pleasant Creek

Globe Mallow

Prickly Pear

Looking upstream along Pleasant Creek

Spring blooms

Pleasant Creek

Continuing downstream

The makings of a slot canyon

Carving through the sandstone

Once I reached the wash leading up to the slot, though getting late in the day, I committed a half hour to go up as far as I could and and turn back within that time.  I dropped my pack and made my way up the wash.  The slot came quicker than I expected and I was soon walking through a chasm that spanned no wider than two to three feet in spots.

Entering the slot

Getting narrower

A small water obstacle and chockstone

Further up the slot

After a few enchanting sections of slot, each broken up by a wider break, I reached a spot where I could have continued up with a few simple stemming moves, but by then I was satisfied enough to turn around and make it back to my pack down at the creek in the time I had allotted myself.

Turnaround point

Following the light

Nearing a break in the slot

Limbo log

Twisting and turning

Sandstone ripples and waves

Along the wash leaving the slot

Once reunited with my pack, I continued to meander down along and across the creek several more times.

Beautiful Pleasant Creek

Within the next mile, I wandered on up to some shallow caves or cavities in the side of the canyon where it was obvious that they had been anciently inhabited.  Soot stains covered the roofs with a mano y metate on display as well as some corn cobs and other signs of historic human activity.  One of the caves actually did go back quite a bit deeper.

The caves

The deeper cave

Mano y Metate


Corn cobs

Shortly after the caves, I reached the end of the canyon where I followed the creek outside of the park boundary as it was diverted into an irrigation canal for the old Notom Ranch further out.  According to some sources, I was now passing through private land, but according to public lands maps, I was now on BLM land.  At any rate, there were now cows there to greet me and there were no signs stating no trespassing.  Along the canal, I retrieved a liter of water to filter up at camp, not knowing how reliable some potholes I'd pass by later would be.  From the canal, I crested over a small hill down to a wash that would lead me back up into the park and ultimately to the area I had hoped to make camp.  Every step led to more and more beauty.  Somewhat remote and definitely now away from more traveled trail, it was incredibly peaceful.

In fact, I had not seen anybody since the big petroglyph panel not far down Pleasant Creek where I had only encountered a large family and then nobody again until a young couple I saw hiking along the creek with overnight gear further back behind me after I had returned down from the caves.  I was pleasantly surprised by that, given all the crowds up around Fruita I had passed through earlier that day.  Surely, Pleasant Creek can't be that much of a "secret".  I was able to relish the sound of the creek, the breeze flowing through the trees and shrubs that lined the canyon, the whole of the natural ambience uninterrupted by chatter and echo.  Now I was heading up to an area I fully expected to be all alone in.  A place well off trail from any high-traveled routes that virtually guaranteed a measure of solitude.

Heading up the wash back into the park

Zooming in on the ridge I'd be seeking to set up camp under

Daisies in the desert

I soon encountered the potholes with water levels I had been uncertain about.  After passing by the first one that was smaller and empty, I encountered many more that were full.  Many seemed to get bigger and deeper the further up I went, at least for a while.

First full pothole

Another pothole

And another pothole


Closeup Reflection

So many potholes!

Yet another pothole!

After skirting around several of the potholes, I worked my way up to a higher bench as I continued to navigate my way up to the top of the basin.  At one point I encountered a formation that resembled a castle tower.

Looking down on, yes, another pothole

Getting closer to the saddle

Another view up the basin

'Castle tower'

Near the top of the saddle I was seeking, but still with some distance to go, I reached a corner along the bench I was on that delivered some spectacular views in every direction.  The sun would soon set and darkness was sure to envelop me in the hour to follow.  I couldn't imagine the area I was originally seeking out to set up camp being any more breathtaking.  This was it.  This would be camp for the night.

Looking northeast across Notom, South Caineville Mesa on the horizon

Looking south down a side drainage feeding into Pleasant Creek from just above campsite

I selected a fairly level slab of slickrock just wide enough to accommodate my Tarptent.  Being a non-freestanding tent with no way to use stakes here, I resorted to anchoring my tent with large rocks.  It was quite breezy and I was concerned about the rocks being enough to hold if it got much windier through the night, but it turned out really well.

Campsite, looking south

Campsite looking southeast

Campsite, looking northeast

Another shot south as night falls in

Happy to have camp set up before the dark of night, I went to filter some water and had a scare with my Sawyer Squeeze.  It simply was not letting any water pass through.  Was it clogged?  I attempted to back flush it, but even then, it would not let water pass through, at least not at first.

I continued to put gentle pressure, and after a good minute or two, I finally got some water to flush through it.  It was the first time I'd had to use it this year and so in hindsight, I believe it was some combination of it being a little bit clogged, and being completely dried out.  Once the membranes had time to soak through, the water began to pass through much more easily.  I continued to back flush it to ensure it was clean enough, but unfortunately, that also meant using up most of what was left of my clean water reserve.

With the filter working again, I was able to get some dinner going and settle in for the night.

- Day 2 -
Sunday - May 28, 2017

The next morning brought a batch of golden alpenglow to illuminate the landscape around me.

Sunrise from camp

Sunrise over Caineville Mesa on the horizon

Camp at sunrise

Alpenglow looking northwest across camp just after sunrise

As I sat down for breakfast, I reflected on where I'd rank the beauty of this campsite of all the spots I've camped at.  Definitely a top 10...and maybe even a top 3...and for a moment, maybe #1.  My camp kitchen area just above my tent was amazing as well.  A relatively flat slab with a nice wind block on one side and another slab of slickrock perfectly angled out for reclining against served me very comfortably and conveniently with of course, a view.

Soaking up the view while cooking breakfast


Camp kitchen

The only downside of such picturesque campsites is that's it's always a struggle to pack up and move on.  But move on I had to.  I packed up camp and made a big decision.  I could either go back downward and pull some water from one of the upper potholes, or I could continue on up to the saddle and ridge above and take my chances finding water in some other potholes in another drainage to the north, down from the area I originally planned to camp.  I opted for the latter choice and made my way up to the ridge.

Sunburst over camp

Heading up to the ridge

Looking southwest down at Pleasant Creek from the ridge

Looking north along the ridge

From the ridge, I had to make my way northward where I arrived at the top of the drainage that offered the next best prospects of water.  I dropped my pack and walked about a quarter mile down with my water filter and containers where I was rewarded with a shallow pool of water.  Indeed, another little oasis.

I topped off my water supply and returned to my pack.  After traveling up the other side of the drainage, I turned back for a view of the Henry Mountains out to the east across Strike Valley.  This is about the area I had considered camping at the night before.  This is also about the spot where Jack and Colton of Rock the Park had camped in their episode on Capitol Reef.  I think I ended up with the better spot, but this was still a beautiful spot as well.  It would have been prettier in pictures if it wasn't mid-day with the harsh light.

Henry Mountains across Strike Valley

From there I continued across a massive slickrock expanse until I reached a point where I could view down into a bit of Capitol Gorge and out to the Golden Throne.

Capitol Gorge comes into view across the slickrock

Golden Throne comes into view at center horizon

Golden Throne close up

It was also at this point that I realized I had veered off course and needed to back track a little bit to reach the drainage and bench that would keep me along the route I needed to follow to reach the eastern end of Capitol Gorge.  In doing so, I also stumbled into some more pockets and potholes of water.  

Backtracking toward my intended route

Once back on course, I worked my way along a bench and onto another ridge I was to follow that delivered more spectacular views down into the lower end of Capitol Gorge.  I was not expecting this, so the wow factor really went up for me.  I've not yet been to Angel's Landing or Observation Point, or anywhere in Zion National Park, but it was hard to imagine the desert canyon views from those points being much more fantastic than what I was now beholding. 

Looking down into Capitol Gorge

Looking out across Capitol Gorge with Golden Throne above

Looking west up Capitol Gorge

Unfortunately, I was so distracted by the views that I ended up going too far along the ridge and had to backtrack yet again, traversing across a few small canyons and their washes before arriving on the right side of another wash I was supposed to be on.  Now I was enjoying views of a different nature to the east, featuring the Henry Mountains and the Notom Ranch further out.

Looking east toward Notom and Henry Mountains


Eventually I arrived at a fence where yet again, I'd have to briefly leave the boundaries of the park before entering again.  This time, I'd be cutting through the corner of what I was more certain to be private land, but again there were no signs about trespassing and so appeared to be a valid easement for the purpose of the route I was using.  In fact, the section of fence that at first glance seemed to block the route was actually set up in a way, perhaps by intent, to allow one to army crawl under and slide a pack through.  (To see this, watch my part 2 video at the end of the post.)

I dropped down to another wash that soon joined up with the wash that drains out of Capitol Gorge itself.  As I turned the corner, just prior to entering back into the boundary of the park, there was an old relic of a car, likely from the 1950's or so.  On it was an old weathered inscription that read: "Scenic Attraction - Entering Capitol Reef Nat. Monument".

Prior to becoming a national park in 1971, Capitol Reef had been designated a national monument in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Old Car

"Scenic Attraction - Entering Capitol Reef Nat. Monument"

Passage back into the park was much easier, only requiring a little duck of the head under some wire strung across the Capitol Gorge wash.

Now back in the park, I followed the wash deeper into the gorge and into the park, where I'd soon encounter the first person I'd see in almost 24 hours.  Of course, the further up I got, the more people I began to encounter, and I fully expected that once I reached the turn off up to another popular hiking destination within the gorge called The Tanks, I would see an explosion of people, crowds of tourists.

Under a shallow alcove in lower Capitol Gorge

Lower Capitol Gorge

Lower Capitol Gorge

And I was right.  As if somebody turned on a valve, crowds of people appeared in mass once I reached The Tanks turnoff.  In all my prior visits to Capitol Reef, I had not been this far down Capitol Gorge before, so I had not yet seen The Tanks and intended to do so while I was here.  First however, it was time for a rest and some nourishment.  I found a nice spot just across the gorge with plentiful shade and a rock to recline back against while I drank up some Gatorade and feasted on a Clif Bar, some trail mix, and fruit snacks.

Once refreshed, I wandered a short way up Waterpocket Canyon (a side canyon directly across Capitol Gorge from The Tanks) where I stashed my pack in some shade and out of sight from the parade of people, then joined the parade myself to go up for a visit to The Tanks.

Turn here for The Tanks

Pool above the Tanks


Tadpoles close-up

Desert spiny lizard

While above the upper end of The Tanks, I tried to scout out the descent of another route connecting Grand Wash with Capitol Gorge that I hope to do this fall, if not, next spring.  Apparently, this is the greater crux of the route, requiring a short, exposed bypass of a large pour-off before descending a large boulder field below it.  I wish I could have gotten closer up to it, but I was pressed for time, expecting to meet up with Jessica at the upper end of Capitol Gorge in another hour.  I'd either have to scout it out another time, or just trust that it won't be as bad as it sounds.  It didn't look that bad from what I could see of it, but then again, looks can be deceiving, for better, and for worse.

'The crux' above the Tanks

I turned around and worked my way back down.  In doing so, I stopped for a picture of the upper 'tank', despite being dry, while there was a break from people surrounding it.

Upper Tank

Desert daisies

I then proceeded down to the lower 'tank' which did have some water in it.  I also observed a small natural bridge across the other side and a unique twist of sedimentary layers exposed in an interesting geological formation that was nearby.

Lower Tank

Natural bridge

A sedimentary twist formation

Looking across Capitol Gorge from near the Tanks

I returned to my pack and began to head further up the gorge, but quickly pulled back out for a moment to check out the natural bridge from the other side of its drainage.

Natural bridge

Natural bridge close-up

I then began to work my way up toward Pioneer Register not much farther up the gorge.

Walking up Capitol Gorge

Central Capitol Gorge

Don't even get me started on the number of people I saw with their dogs up the gorge, some even unleashed and whose owners were carrying nothing to clean up after them.  Like most, if not all other national parks, pets are prohibited beyond the trailheads and in the backcountry of Capitol Reef.  Either some people really are that ignorant, failing to read and heed the signs at the trailheads and in park literature, or they know the park doesn't have the resources to fully manage and contend with the larger crowds and therefor some take advantage of the situation by blatantly violating park rules.  Perhaps some combination of both.

Unleashed dog in Capitol Gorge

Once I reached Pioneer Register, I paused for another look up at it.  This was about as far as I had come on my one prior visit to Capitol Gorge, over a year ago in January when I had brought my kids down for a short little hike.  With how cold, shady, and icy it was down in the gorge, we did not go very far down it at that time.

Pioneer Register is a place where several inscriptions appear from earlier pioneers and residents that had settled into Wayne County, again, prior to the park or even the national monument existed.  Capitol Gorge used to serve as the only road, a dirt road, through Capitol Reef before the highway (Highway 24) that now runs along the Fremont River was put in place.

I always have mixed feelings about stuff like this.  On one hand, it's interesting to see the history and how far back some of the names and dates go, but on the other hand, like modern day graffiti, it can distract and interrupt the the natural beauty.  Same goes for petroglyph and pictograph panels, though at the same time, I'm always fascinated by ancient rock art.  My stance on it now is that back then, especially for the original native inhabitants, these people did not have the Internet, and all the other mediums we now have for documenting and recording our history, and sharing our stories and art with the world.  Now days, with all the other mediums we have for expressing ourselves, communicating, and recording our history, there is no good reason to be leaving our mark as it were, and spoiling the natural beauty to be found on our public lands.

Pioneer Register

John Rich - 1893

M Larson - 1888

From Pioneer Register I continued on up the canyon before stopping one more time at another petroglyph panel near the upper end.

Upper Capitol Gorge



One of the glyphs looks like a half sun with the top middle ray having an arrow point on it.

Half sun with arrow point

A minute later I was at the main trailhead for Capitol Gorge.  On one hand, I should have arranged for my wife to meet me here as I was pretty tired now, but on the other hand, it was extremely congested with people and traffic.  I had actually requested she meet me at another parking area further up another 2.5 miles at the western mouth of the gorge.  So I continued the walk up the road.  Did I mention how busy it was?  The traffic along the road was a mess, with several campers and RV's, some probably bigger than the maximum size allowed, trying to wind their way around the bends, causing all sorts of traffic backups in both directions.

Still, as tired as I was, I was happy to enjoy the scenery by foot as I continued along the side of the road.

Along the road out of Capitol Gorge

Nearing the upper end of Capitol Gorge

With about a half mile to go, a pickup full of people on their way out pulled over and offered me a lift on their tailgate.  At this point, I graciously accepted and deemed them 'trail angels'.

Minutes later I was dropped off at the upper lot and there found Jessica with our car.  She had a bowl of hearty homemade chicken noodle soup waiting for me that she had brought down from her parents place up in Torrey.  It was so good!  And with that, Jess became a trail angel too.

After refueling my body once more, we drove back on down to the Pleasant Creek trailhead where we geared up for the second night.  As mentioned earlier, Jessica would be joining me for this night.  This time, we'd be heading a few miles upstream along Pleasant Creek rather than downstream.  She was three months pregnant and after all the other children we've had, somehow this was her first time backpacking while pregnant.

For the first mile, we took the dirt road road before joining up with the creek.

Jess heading down the old dirt road

Once we got into the upper canyon and got going up along the creek for a bit, I looked up and saw what appeared to be an old doorway set in the wall of the canyon.  I went up to check it out but couldn't tell if it was the start of an old mine that never got too deep, or just an old storage room or hideout of some sort.

Secret doorway

Closer up

Inside the door

Back down at the creek, we continued upstream, at times crossing it while sticking to the dry banks following the cattle trail where it made sense, and other times, just walking right up in the creek for various stretches.

Jess hiking along the cattle trail

Pleasant Creek

Jess surveying the creek

Interestingly, once we left the park boundary and into a plot of state trust land, the scenery really started to take off and the canyon deepened and narrowed for the next stretch.

Jess staring down yet another crossing

Pleasant Creek

Back up on the cattle trail above the creek

Penstemon flowers

A bend against a wall along the creek

Jess up the creek

Making another crossing

Beautiful canyon

Further up the creek

Still heading upstream

Some Ponderosa pines and Pleasant Creek

Small Pleasant Creek cascade and pool

After a while, the canyon opened up again where found our way over the fence line for Dixie National Forest.  We continued upstream for roughly another quarter mile, though it felt longer, before settling into what may have been an old rancher campsite near the junction with Tantalus Creek.

Unfortunately, upon arriving at our campsite and pulling out the tent to set it up, we discovered that neither of us had grabbed its poles.  I usually pack the poles separate from the tent body and fly.  In trading out my Tarptent for the REI Half Dome, I neglected to think of the Half Dome's need for its own poles rather than trekking poles for set up.  In this case that came back to haunt me.  Those poles had been left back in the trunk of the car.

I was now scratching my head wondering what we were going to do.  We certainly would have survived by just cowboy camping, but Jess wouldn't have appreciated that with the giant ants crawling all around and I wouldn't blame her.  She then suggested using trekking poles to prop up the tent.  Of course!  But what could we use as cord?  I'm so used to not having to use extra cord, I've stopped carrying much of it.  Then I realized I was wearing a paracord bracelet.  I sacrificed that by cutting out all the smaller strands out of the bigger sheath and was able to set up a functional structure with our tent.  It would be a clear night so I did not bother to do anything with the fly.

Since we were now on national forest land and the night was quickly cooling down, considerably cooler than what I had experienced in the park the night before, we also took the liberty to start a fire.

Another small waterfall in Pleasant Creek

Looking up Pleasant Creek near our camp

Camp all set up

Warm fire

We dined on some chicken and rice from Mountain House followed by some apple crisp from the same for desert.  Then it was bed time.

- Day 3 -
Monday - May 29, 2017

The tent held up through the night. With dawn approaching, I got up and went scouting around a bit. First up Tantalus Creek for a bit, then back down and further up Pleasant Creek to a small but beautiful little slot the creek had formed.

Tantalus Creek from near our camp

Small cascade along Tantalus Creek

Another small Tantalus waterfall

Looking through Pleasant Creek slot

Looking down in Pleasant Creek slot

Zooming in on cascades within the slot

With the sun now coming into view, I knew Jess would be ready to wake up soon, so I returned back to camp, where we greeted the warmth of the sun, had some breakfast and packed up camp. I let Jess know that the little slot I had found further up Pleasant Creek was more interesting than what I had found up Tantalus Creek and worth another visit, so I led her further back up Pleasant Creek.

Our REI Half Dome tent, held up by strands of paracord and trekking poles

Back at Pleasant Creek slot

Looking down in the slot

Waterfall in the slot

Some purple flowers above the slot

Back down in the slot

Looking back up through the slot

Satisfied, we returned back to camp to grab our packs and begin the hike back down the creek to get back to our car.

Looking back down on Tantalus Creek from near our camp

Back downstream along Pleasant Creek

Entering the canyon

Canyon walls

Jess heading downstream

Looking back at a small waterfall and pool

Looking downstream

Following Jess downstream

Due to the rising temperature of the day, we opted to keep our feet in the creek as much as possible and actually welcomed the stretches that put us back in the shade of the canyon walls.

A welcome bit of shade

Jess downstream

Looking back up the creek

Nearing the end of the canyon

Almost out of the canyon

Once we reached the road we had taken into the creek the day before, we opted to bypass the road as much as possible by staying in the creek until very close to the trailhead, where we popped back out and reconnected with the road for the final few hundred yards.

Staying in the creek

Back up on the road

Tired and hot, we were excited to arrive back at our car and eager to get back up to Torrey to get back to our kids and go out for a bit of ice cream. Amazingly, we had not seen anyone going out the night before or coming back that morning, and our car was all alone at the trailhead when we returned it. How does that happen on a holiday weekend in a "Mighty 5" national park, during what is usually the park's busiest weekend of the year and likely the park's busiest weekend ever? No complaints here! It had been a fantastic two nights of two different but connected trips getting to see and explore some new areas in and around Capitol Reef that I had not been to yet.

 The gamble to seek solitude away from social media magnets and more well known parts of a national park (with the lone exception of Capitol Gorge) on a busy holiday weekend had paid off in a big, big way. In pursuing some lesser known and less popular routes that I wanted to explore, inspired not by seeing any other social posts, pictures, or guidebooks, but by simply studying out maps and google earth not fully knowing how scenic they'd be the whole way, I was able to experience everything from ancient petroglyphs, archeological sites, and pioneer history to narrow slot canyons, creeks, pools, waterfalls, natural bridges, and high ridge vistas. I felt like I got to see and experience a little bit of everything Southern Utah is so famous for in absolute tranquility...again, with the exception of Capitol Gorge. It was so peaceful and so beautiful. I love our public lands!!!

'Sole Mates'


  1. This looks amazing! I'm putting Pleasant Creek on my to hike list. The second night looks like such a doable backpack trip for my family. Thanks.

    When hiking in water, do you just wear your regular hiking shoes?

    1. Thanks Angee! In the past, I've gone with different pairs of Teva sandals. First time was through Coyote Gulch with a pair of closed-toe Tevas thinking it would protect my toes from stubbing them on any rough rocks and other debris under the stream, and that proved to be a no fun because the closed toe, while providing extra protection, also trapped pebbles and what not. It was often difficult to flush it all out only to trap more in a few steps later. The straps also rubbed parts of my feet raw, causing really painful sores that took a long time to heal afterwards. I then got some open-toe Tevas that I really like and are very comfortable, but when I took them on a water hike, this time through Sulfur Creek in Capitol Reef, while not having the pebble trap problem (much easier for pebbles to flush through and wash out), I still got bad sores from the straps. I think all the sand and grit that can still cake around and cling to the edges of the straps and beneath the straps contributes to the straps rubbing those pressure points on my feet raw. So this time around, I did just keep my breathable hiking shoes and socks on with ankle gaiters (which kept pebbles and debris out of the shoes) and then just changed into sandals at camp. That worked out pretty well, but I think next time, I will try hiking in my open-toe Tevas again, but with some neoprene socks and see how they do in protecting my feet from getting sores. Then I can just remove the socks at camp and put the sandals on, with our without dry socks, or put my shoes on if it gets much colder at night.

  2. Would it be possible to get this route from you? I am highly interested in it! Mainly the day 1 and 2 portions.

    1. With all due respect, I would need to get to know more about you first and know that you are educated and experienced with off-trail desert travel and navigation, sensitive to things like cryptobiotic soil and the like, committed to LNT principles and so forth. I share reports like this of my experiences and adventures through places like this to inspire others with the beauty they can discover and experience outdoors and to show what can be experienced if one takes the initiative to learn how to read maps and route plan themselves and make the appropriate preparations to pursue such routes.

      In order to do my part to prevent such from being overrun with crowds that could subject the area to high impact usage and negatively affect the pristine landscape and solitude to be found there as has happened to other once pristine places out there from folks who are more ignorant or ill-willed, I generally hold back from sharing them publicly or to people I don't know well enough to trust that they will exercise good LNT ethics, and are experienced and educated enough themselves to safely navigate such terrain without putting themselves or others in danger.

      That said, I pieced together this route with info I had found in the archives of Backpacker Online as given by Steve Howe who used to be a regional editor for the magazine and actually came up with the route himself. He runs a guiding company out of Torrey and often leads trips that includes this route. You can contact him via his company,, or dig through the archives of Backpacker to find the route info as I did. If you're able to do the latter, I promise, the route will be more rewarding and fulfilling than if I were to hand over a GPS track or detailed map.

  3. Would you happen to have a caltopo map or anything of the sort for your trek from Pleasant Creek to Capitol Gorge trail? This adventure looks so awesome! Thanks for being so inspiring.

    1. Please see my reply above to "Unknown" comment made on April 7.

  4. Hi! I was very interested in attempting the first part of this post (Pleasant Creek to Capitol Gorge) and was wondering if you had made any maps yourself and would be willing to share them or if you know of a map I should use for it?

    1. Please see my reply above to "Unknown" comment made on April 7.


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