Global Adventures | Streams in the Utah Desert

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, enjoy a reflection from Linda Shewey about the beauty and power of water in the Utah desert.
Linda Shewey Linda Shewey
17-year member and Global Adventures Leader
May 20, 2023
Global Adventures | Streams in the Utah Desert
Linda and friends seeking shelter from the rain.

Raindrops began to fall as our group of Global Adventurers set off to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Prior to the trip, we had checked the weather forecast and knew rain was possible. As we had previously done a hike up the Virgin River Narrows, we were aware of the risks of flash floods and the appropriate precautionary measures to take while hiking. Although this trail was along a creek surrounded by greenery and red sand, it was not in a canyon and there was plenty of easily-accessible high ground near the trail should the creek abruptly rise.

Being from Washington, we were not daunted by a little rain and promptly donned our gear and continued up the trail. However, as we were soon to witness, the Navaho Sandstone is nowhere near as absorbent as the pine needle and moss floors of Western Washington.

As we made our way up the trail, we paid close attention to our surroundings. To our left we observed a large vegetation[1]covered plateau and some low rocky outcroppings. Across the creek to our right were high desert-varnished cliffs containing pictographs and a granary—a testament to the early native inhabitants of the area. As the rain turned into a downpour, we sheltered under a rock overhang located a safe distance away from the creek and watched in fascination as the drops gathered into rivulets, the rivulets into streams, and the streams into ruddy torrents. The water rushed to make its way into the creek, carrying sediment from the sandstone being washed off the rocks.

The creek rapidly swelled and covered portions of the trail we would have been walking on. We couldn’t believe how quickly the landscape transformed. Then, just as fast as it had started, the rain stopped. The thirsty ground absorbed the water and the previously-tumescent creek returned to its normal course, leaving behind new wrinkles and crevices in the ground.

Once the risk of flooding was gone, we continued up the now water-free trail to the Lower Calf Creek Falls. Water cascaded 126 feet below into a refreshing pool, spraying mist in every direction—a truly magnificent sight. We were awed to have witnessed first-hand the power of water in the desert.

During our eight days of adventuring in Utah’s National Parks, we had plenty of opportunities to see the geologic sculpturing effects of water. In Zion National Park, our hikes included The Watchman (a magnificent monolith overlooking the river), the Emerald Pools (fed by a 400-foot waterfall surrounded by sheer cliffs), and the Narrows of the Virgin River (a slot canyon with walls 1,000 feet high).

The next several days were spent hiking among Bryce Canyon’s spectacular crimson-colored spires and taking advantage of the night sky to see the stunning display of stars, including the Milky Way extending from horizon to horizon. In addition to amazing geology, we learned about the area’s unique flora—like the Bristlecone Pine, Mormon tea, and Sacred Datura plants—and the history of the Fremont People, the area’s first inhabitants.

Not all Global Adventures need to take place internationally to be amazing. There is so much to learn about the unique cultures, landscapes, flora, and fauna that inhabit areas closer to home. And it’s even better to learn while hiking with a great group of Mountaineers friends.

This article originally appeared in our spring 2023 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive

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