Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument (GSENM) spans almost a million acres, half the size of Yellowstone and almost as big as Grand Canyon National Park. Its sweeping vistas of geologic history stretch across much of southern Utah, where mother earth inches up her skirt and shows some ankle: all the colors of candy land tempting the eyes.
But amidst the vastness, one special hike holds a prize at the end that is a feast not just for the eyes but for all the senses.
A close friend suggested to us that the 80-mile stretch of Utah 12 between Boulder Town, Utah, and Bryce Canyon was the prettiest in the country. He might be right. Especially when the highway climbs to the thinnest of ridgelines and plummets on each side to dizzying views, it’s hard to argue the fact.
A Hike with a Prize
And nestled among those miles is Lower Calf Creek Falls, a three-mile out and back hike with a prize. Spoiler: it’s a doozy.
We tried to imagine people discovering this thousands of years ago. It would have seemed magical: an impossible basin and shower and cool respite smack in the middle of a high desert. The Falls and the grove at its base it are at least twenty degrees colder than everything surrounding – a destination oasis after two sandy hours among cactus and Utah juniper and magnificant late-fall views.
We stopped for rest and lunch, as did most everyone. A few hardy children, intrepid adults, and enthusiastic dogs splashed in the water. For us, one touch was enough to insta-chill our dusty hands and to confirm that even wading was not for us.
Were it mid-summer we’d have lounged in the shade and spray even longer, but on this warm October day we had cooled more than enough after half an hour in nature’s autumn icebox to welcome the sunshine and exertion the return trek would bring.
Hell’s Backbone Grill
Worth more than just a mention: dinner afterwards at Hell’s Backbone Grill, a serious foodie oasis as far from others like it as you can imagine. It’s in nearby Boulder, one of the most remote small towns in the continental US. And at population 240, it’s a very small town indeed.
The Grill wears its politics unmistakably and legitimately, as they’re sponsoring efforts to maintain the size and sanctity of GSENM. Signs for that and for blue candidates stand alongside “wash your hands at this basin before dinner” and “Black Lives Matter.”
But it’s the food people come this far for, and this was our first “fancy dinner” since we began life on the road. (Note that we had splashed off worst of our sweat and dust with parking-lot showers and quick-changes in the car before heading here. Oh yes, we are very fancy indeed!)
Begun with goat cheese fondue and capped with the best gingerbread this side of London, it did not disappoint. Even standing in line for them to open was altogether worth the wait to find this delightful remote eatery as much a prize as the waterfall we had just come from.
Brief Bonus Waterfall Video
Just put this on loop for when you need to de-stress.