Lick Wash, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Northeast of the Southern Utah town of Kanab, a surprise slot canyon called Lick Wash is located along Skutumpah Road. It’s 15 miles on twisty, dirty ranch road to get there, but the reward is well worth the adventure. This is the Paria-Escalante region of the national monument, beneath the Pink Cliffs. You will even find pink colored stones and pebbles in the wash. The canyon is narrow at the entry end, widening as you proceed deeper into the wash. This is a nice, easy, short hike to stretch your legs on the way between Southern Utah destinations. My brother and I hiked Lick Wash on Thursday, October 16, 2014 beginning at 10:30AM and ending about 12:15PM. Our plan was to explore the Lick Wash slot canyon for an hour, or so, then return.

Hike Length: 3.1 miles roundtrip Hike Duration: 1.75 hours

Hike Configuration: Out and back. Blaze: None needed.

Hike Rating: Easy. Flat the whole way. Walking on flood deposited stones.

Elevation Change: 120 feet. Elevation Start: 6,260 feet.

Trail Condition: Poor. Loose rock. This is a flash flood wash.

Starting Point: Lick Wash trailhead on Skutumpah Rd north of Deer Springs Ranch.

Trail Traffic: We did not see anyone else on the trail. No surprise.

How to Get There: From Hwy 89 about 8 miles east of Kanab, UT, take the paved Johnson Canyon Road north to the Skutumpah Road (#500) and go about 15 miles (2 miles past Deer Spring Ranch). This is the westernmost of three unpaved routes across the Paria-Escalante region, linking US Hwy 89 with UT Hwy 12. Skutumpah Road is impassable in wet weather but should be suitable for all vehicles when dry. Look for sign that says “Flood Area.” Trailhead parking adjacent to Skutumpah Rd.

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WARNINGFlash floods can occur at any time of year, but they are most common in July, August, and September. Checking the local weather forecast is advisable, but you should realize that conditions change quickly, and it is impossible to predict where heavy rain will occur. Avoid narrow canyons and washes during stormy weather. Be aware of changing weather conditions. Know your escape routes. If you’re hiking in a stream, be aware of rising water levels or stronger currents and sudden changes in water clarity. Educate yourself on the terrain you are entering. Realize that dry washes are a result of previous flash floods. By entering a narrow canyon or wash, you are assuming a risk. If flooding begins, seek high ground and wait for the water to go down before attempting to walk out. Do not enter a narrow canyon if storms threaten. Never camp in a wash bottom. This advisory from the Bureau of Land Management.

This was primarily a travel day for my brother and me, as we needed to work our way from Kanab, Utah to the little town of Torrey at Capitol Reef National Park. To get to Torrey, our goal was to reach Utah Scenic Byway 12, one of my favorite roads in America, and one you should travel at least once in your lifetime.

There are three roads from Kanab that will get you to Hwy 12, including the one we had chosen, Cottonwood Canyon. Our day started out with a big disappointment however, as we drove 40+ miles on Hwy 89 to Cottonwood Canyon Road only to discover that it was closed for repairs. There was a small BLM office nearby, so we waited until they opened at 8:00AM and dropped in to see what was up. They showed us photos of huge craters in the road created by major flooding that occurred not once, but twice over the summer.

Cottonwood Canyon has a well-earned reputation for being extremely scenic. So with very deep breaths of disappointment, we asked the BLM rangers about alternatives. They recommended Johnson Canyon and Skutumpah Road. With a name like Skutumpah, how could we go wrong. They said there were three trailheads between Deer Springs Ranch and Cannonville, where Skutumpah meets Hwy 12. The only problem, we had to drive almost the entire 40 miles back to Kanab.

Nearly an hour later we reached Johnson Canyon Road and ventured onward. Though we never saw it, they say somewhere up in there is the original set for the television series Gunsmoke. It’s on private property, off the road, but apparently you can make arrangements to see it if you are so inclined.

It is 24 miles up the paved Johnson Canyon Road to Skutumpah Road, otherwise known as BLM Road 500. From there it is another 13 miles on Skutumpah through miles and miles of sage and other desert scrub to Deer Springs Ranch, both a working cattle ranch and a western dude ranch touristy thing. When you pass the ranch, begin looking on your right for a “Flood Area” sign that indicates the entrance to Lick Wash. It’s about a mile and a half past Deer Springs Ranch.

Parking for the trailhead is a couple hundred yards off Skutumpah Road and there is room enough for about 10 cars. It would surprise me if there have ever been that many. In fact, your likelihood of seeing someone else at Lick Wash is as remote as the location. We were the only ones there on this day.

From the trailhead you can see the entrance to the canyon about a quarter mile to the southeast. Lick Wash is created by Podunk Creek (yes, that really is the name), and is literally covered with a half-foot deep layer of rocks and stones that have been carried by flash floods over the years. It’s hard to walk on. Definitely wear sturdy footwear. Many of the stones have a rose tint that is an indicator they flowed down from the Pink Cliffs, far above to the northwest.

As you approach the canyon after about 10 minutes, the walls begin to rise, eventually reaching about 250 feet above the floor of the wash. Another hundred yards and you encounter a large chock stone seemingly blocking the passageway. There is just enough room to squeeze through as you enter the narrows of the canyon. I was in awe when we entered these tight walls surrounding the wash. It was certainly more than I was expecting from this nondescript trail in the middle of nowhere.

As we continued through the canyon, there were several pinched enclosed sections through rocks composed of many bands of cross-bedded sandstone at different angles. Unlike the vermillion and white Navajo sandstone found in places like Zion and Capitol Reef, the color here is more of a blue-grey, brown and golden blend. You can easily envision what it would be like with a flash flood rushing through, and that there really is nowhere to get above it. Heed the warning above.

After the first half mile, the slot begins to widen and you are presented with the next pleasant surprise. There are actually hundred foot ponderosa pines growing in this canyon. The beauty of the massive trees reaching up to the sky from the wash bed is enthralling. We even encountered one tree that had been pushed over by the canyon wall and was leaning on the other side, yet still completely healthy and growing.

The farther you go, the wider the canyon becomes. In addition to the ponderosas, we also found scrub oak that was in peak Autumn hue. The sandstone whitens and is formed in layered domes that surround the canyon, reminiscent of the nearby Capitol Reef that would be our destination for the next day.

Layers of Sandstone Surround Lick Wash

We turned around after about a mile and a half, once the canyon opened up completely. Lick Wash continues for a total of four miles until it meets Park Wash. Farther down you can hike up on the sandstone for views of the surroundings, rather than being confined to the wash. White walls of Navajo sandstone are 800 feet high, part of the White Cliffs of the Grand Staircase. There are several features we missed by turning around, but since this was a travel day we didn’t want to become too mesmerized by the fun in Lick Wash.

One feature to see after 1.8 miles is the Twisted Pine Arch high up on the cliffs above on the left side. The arch as seen from the canyon floor is pointed like an arrowhead just to the left of a twisted pine tree. Continuing down Lick Wash for another 0.8 mile a small wash enters from the right and is the path to Slytherin Slot and a close up view of Lost Spire Hoodoo. If you still haven’t had enough, proceed down Lick Wash and find the LeFevre Cabin after another 1.75 miles on the plateau at the base of Calf Pasture Point.

Since we didn’t know anything about it at the time, we also missed some small petroglyphs. Just past the leaning tree, continue downstream another 20 yards and look for a short canyon on the right identified by a large ponderosa pine. There are two weathered petroglyphs on the right side wall of the short canyon.

Regardless of what we missed, we still thoroughly enjoyed our experience roaming around Lick Wash. We will definitely be back some day when we have more time. There are also two other trailheads along Skutumpah Road that caught our attention, so there is plenty to make a full day of this area. After you look at the photo gallery below from Lick Wash, scroll on down below the thumbnails for some more descriptive text and additional photos of the rest of our day on Scenic Byway 12.

To summarize the Lick Wash hike, this was truly a nice surprise for us. Since we really hadn’t intended even being on Skutumpah Road, everything was improvised. We didn’t know what to expect, so what we found was really, really cool. Lick Wash is very easy to do for the entire family. Just have appropriate footwear and plenty of water, and be completely aware of the weather in the area. It doesn’t have to be raining right where you are to create a flash flood.

 

 

Utah Scenic Highway 12

 

As we continued north on Skutumpah Road after Lick Wash, we encountered two other trailheads, both on the left. First was Willis Creek 12 miles past Lick Wash, another of the ubiquitous slot canyons, this one a four mile round trip. Not far past Willis Creek is Bull Valley Gorge, a magnificent slot canyon hike that combined with Sheep Creek and Willis Creek creates a 15 mile backpack through the Grand Staircase. Backcountry permits are required if you stay overnight.

Continue 3-miles northeast on Skutumpah Road to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument kiosk. After the kiosk, it’s another 3.5 out of the monument and onto the paved scenic back way to Cannonville. You will also pass the road to Kodachrome Basin State Park, also on our list for future adventures in this neck of canyon country.

We stopped in the little town of Cannonville to top off the gas tank and ice chest, and get ready for one of the best drives in the country. Utah Scenic Byway 12 travels between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, and is located in one of the most unusual regions on Earth. Traveling through rugged canyon country and over alpine mountains, much of this roadway follows the path taken by the Mormons in the 19th century establishing a route to the four corners area.

Our first stop was the Blues Overlook, sitting across from the delicate pink limestone ledges of Powell Point, named for Grand Canyon explorer John Wesley Powell. It’s a high point of the region, rising to an elevation above 10,000 feet. From there you travel through Dixie National Forest, past Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, and into the town of Escalante.

Next is Head of the Rocks Overlook. Truly amazing, this pullout provides expansive views out across the Escalante Canyons where colorful slickrock stretches dozens of miles to the Henry Mountains. Some 168 million years ago, these striated cream-and-red sandstone formations were sand dunes. You can see Hwy 12 diving and weaving among the rocky domes as it winds its way through the canyons.

You will pass trailheads that follow the Escalante River and Calf Creek, then cross The Hogback. As the asphalt clings to this thin razorback ridge of slickrock, the terrain spills steeply off to each side toward winding creeks and canyons below. Driving here is slow and cautious, but the vistas are incredible. We happened to catch it in season for enjoying the golden cottonwoods along the river far below.

You will reach the town of Boulder, pass Anasazi State Park, and begin the climb of Boulder Mountain. There are many viewpoints along the crossing of Boulder Mountain, including Homestead Overlook and its introduction to the five peaks of the Henry Mountains. The summit of Boulder is more than 11,000 feet, so we had to quickly put on jackets on this cool October evening. The aspen that forests the mountain was in peak Autumn color below 9,000 feet presenting us with a delightful sideshow.

On the north side of Boulder Mountain, heading down, Capitol Reef National Park comes into view. The red and white domes and cliffs are clearly visible in the valley between Boulder and the Henrys. With the late day sun, the red sandstone was shining with delight making it difficult to keep our eyes on the road. Finally, Hwy 12 pulls into the town of Torrey, our destination for the night. All in all, a grand tour. Enjoy the photos.

 

 

This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.

 

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