Hiking to Kolob Arch & Beartrap Canyon
When you go hiking with Boy Scouts, you never know what to expect — or what completely stupid thing they will do! We had stopped at the Lava Point Campground near Kolob Reservoir for a restroom break before we began our hike. I was busy looking at the map of the Kolob Canyons area the Park Service had posted and didn't see one of the Scouts enter the outhouse with a large rock. Apparently the pit beneath the outhouse was almost completely filled with sludge and he wanted to see it splash. Several other boys saw what was going on and entered the stall to watch the action.
As the rock was dropped, one of the boys stuck his head right over the hole for a better look. Of course, the impact was far greater than the boys expected and the sludge rocketed out of the hole and drenched the Scout. He was a mess, with sludge dripping off his hair and big splotches on his tee shirt, and oh did he smell.
It took some pretty serious scrubbing before we would let the Scout back into the van. The tee shirt — it found its way into a nearby garbage can. I can see why the Park Service flinches a little bit every time a Boy Scout troop decides to hike in the park.
We had gotten permission from the land owner to cross about four miles of private property, beginning near the Indian Hollow arm of Kolob Reservoir. We hiked down an old jeep road and into some of the most spectacular country I have ever seen. Tucked into the massive red walls of the Navajo sandstone were springs, grassy meadows and stands of pine trees. It was a beautiful hike, except it was all down hill. We dropped about 2,200 feet in elevation with most of the drop occurring over the last mile. When we finally got to the bottom of the canyon and into Zion Park, we were near the headwaters of Willis Creek. Willis flows through a narrow slot with the canyon walls rising vertically between 800 to 1,000 feet. As we entered the canyon, the temperature dropped dramatically (it was 110? in St. George and only 85? in the bottom of the canyon) and the vegetation changed to plants that require more water but don't need much sunlight.
We hiked down Willis Creek to its intersection with LaVerkin Creek and then just over a half mile down LaVerkin Creek to the mouth of Beartrap Canyon; our destination for the first day.
We had stopped a short distance above the mouth of Beartrap to look at a potential campsite (good places to camp are hard to find in the narrow canyons) but decided to go on down to Beartrap and see about camping nearby. The Boy Scouts played in the stream while they waited and when we started walking again, opted to stay in the stream instead of going down the trail.
I started toward the trail and hadn't gone ten feet when I almost stumbled over a big rattlesnake, coiled up right in the middle of the trail. One of a Scout leaders worst nightmares is a snake bite 7 miles into the middle of nowhere and I am certain that if the Scouts had gone down the trail, one of them would have been bitten.
Although the snake had four buttons, it refused to rattle, even when we poked it with a stick, and it was in no hurry to give up its spot on the trail. The rattler was about two and a half feet long, very fat and a strange deep green color (with the normal rattlesnake pattern). I had never seen a rattlesnake that wouldn't buzz and I had never seen one that color before. It was a strange snake. Snakes are a valuable part of the canyon ecosystem so we left it unharmed, coiled where we found it.
Beartrap Canyon is unbelievable. It is narrow, less than 10 feet wide in places, with vertical walls rising up for almost 1,000 feet. A small stream flows across the sand covered floor and hanging gardens protrude from the sandstone cliffs. About a third of a mile back into the canyon there is a wonderful waterfall of about 20 feet with a small pool at its base.
The boys went crazy standing under the fall and splashing about in the pool. They had had a long, hard hike and the waterfall was just what they needed to cool down. Beartrap Canyon is a truly remarkable place.
About 200 yards below the mouth of Beartrap is a grove of big cottonwood trees that makes a great place to set up camp.
After dinner, the boys talked and talked and talked. Finally about 11:30 p.m. they started to settle down. I was just about asleep when I heard one of them say, "There's an animal staring at us!" "Can you see it?" "Look at those eyes glowing in the dark!"
Next I heard rocks being thrown into the bushes at the back of our camp site. "It's still there."'What is it?" The flashlights came out and the braver of the boys went off into the trees to find the animal that was stalking them.
The next thing I heard was, "It's a worm! It's nothing but a glowing worm!" I guess the boy's imaginations had gone a little wild between the rattlesnake and the cougar tracks they had seen earlier in the day, and when that little glow worm turned on its phosphorescent light they were sure a wild animal was about to get them. They had me laughing so hard it took another hour to get to sleep.
After breakfast the next morning we hiked the two and a half miles to Kolob Arch. Kolob Arch is one of the largest freestanding arches in the world, officially measured at 310 feet. Unfortunately, it is so high up on the side of the cliff face that the enormous span is difficult to appreciate. As a matter of fact, at some times of the day, when the lighting is wrong, it is difficult to tell that the arch is free-standing at all. Never-the-less, it is worth taking the time to see.
Besides, just past the arch three canyons diverge. If you hike up the canyon to the far right (the one with the stream in it), you come to three very impressive waterfalls. (This is a very strenuous hike and anyone attempting it should be in excellent physical shape.)
The first two waterfalls aren't quite vertical and the water spreads out and rolls down the sandstone in a thin layer, giving the rock an iridescent sheen. The first waterfall empties into a large bowl. carved out of the solid sandstone.
The second fall, directly above the first, empties into an even tighter bowl. The second fall is extremely difficult to get to and should be viewed from the talus ridge to the right (as you climb up the canyon).
To reach the third fall you have to climb an extremely steep talus slope that is covered by wild raspberrys and cactus. This is a strenuous climb and the hiker should take plenty of time to work through the tangle of bushes. There are only a couple of faint deer trails to follow here. Several times the Scouts wondered if the climb was worth it.
We kept reminding the boys that the next pool of water we came to was reserved for the Scout leaders. The Scouts had spent every minute they could wading in and swimming through each pool we had crossed while on the hike. We told them the next pool was ours. When they finally crested the top of the talus slope, hot and sweaty, and came up to the third waterfall the Scouts couldn't believe their eyes. At the base of a 25 to 30 foot vertical fall was a huge pool of deep blue water. At the back end of the pool was a sandy beach. As we walked up to the pool, all 10 boys were poised to jump into the water.
Using all the self control they had, the Scouts waited until we jumped into the pool and had a swim. I couldn't believe how deep the water was, at least 15 feet and probably 20 feet out in the middle. And, I couldn't believe how cold it was. About one lap around the pool was all I could stand and I was ready to get out.
The boys thought they had gone to Scout heaven and spent the next several hours swimming and jumping into the pool. I have a rule that I won't let the boys jump off of any cliff that I don't dare jump off.
Well, there was an overhang about 25 feet above the pool and the boys just had to jump off of it and into the deep water below.
Finally they convinced me that I should jump. Now, I'm not afraid of heights, but let me tell you, it was a long way to the water. After a moment of hesitation, I jumped. I tried to go down as deeply into the water as I could to see if I could touch the bottom. I didn't even come close. That was one deep pool. What a rush!
Soon the boys had goose pimples about a half inch high and their teeth were chattering so badly they could hardly talk. It was time to head back to camp.
Saturday we started the final leg of our adventure, the six and a half miles to Lee Pass and the waiting cars. This would be, by far, the hardest part of the hike.
As we cleaned up camp and got ready to go, we told the boys that about 2 miles down the trail, just downstream from the "Corral," were some great swimming holes on LaVerkin Creek. The plan was to stop at the pools and cool down before we began the last part of the hike.
Unfortunately, as we neared the pools we noticed two very scantily clad females had already discovered the swimming holes. Fortunately, the boys hadn't seen the sun bathers. We decided it would be better if we just kept on going down the trail and left the pools to the all-over-tan crowd.
That last four miles was tough. The temperature in the shade reached 108 degrees, the sand sucked at our feet, pulling us down. And, the uphill climb just wouldn't end. As we crested the top of each ridge, another climb would spread out before us.
Several of the boys were trying out for high school football and had been in training all summer. They literally sprinted the last several miles up the trail. The rest of us drug along, pausing at shady spots to get a drink and cool down.
About a mile before the end of the trail, we rounded a corner and ran into Steve Price (Farmington). He was hiking toward us with a day pack full of cold drinks. He had been waiting for us at the trailhead, but decided we could use a little extra pick-up. He was was right.