Sunday, August 12, 2018

Calf Creek

I haven't hiked Calf Creek since 2005 (when I went camping in Grover with Andrew's family while he was still on his mission (not at all awkward; it's fine)). Ever since then I've just hung out at the cabin with the babies while Andrew's gone off hiking. This year, however, we decided to lug the baby out there (leaving Zoë behind with Grandma). 

We borrowed a hiking backpack from a friend because we imagined, from the comfort of our air conditioned home, that it would be "fun" to take both Zoë and Alexander on a hike or two with the big kids. But to do that we'd need two hiking backpacks (because Zoë is a bit of a whiner/three-year-old and we wouldn't be able to make her hike more than a mile). Even though we decided to only take Alexander to Calf Creek (because the hike is a little brutal, especially the hike back to the parking lot) we used our friend's backpack because it came with a sunshade and a pocket for a water reservoir/bladder/thing. In fact, I was so impressed with the backpack that the girls suggested we get a new backpack (since ours is rather ancient). 

I told them that our backpack was a wonderful backpack, that it had served us well for years, and that we weren't really in the market for a new hiking backpack since Alexander is the intended caboose of our little train. Getting a new backpack at this stage in the game would be somewhat pointless.

Anyway, we loaded Alexander into the backpack, which I wore for the descent, and we headed off into the rather desolate-looking landscape.

The entire trail, if you can call it that, is an exposed sandstone hillside (sometimes cliffside). Rather than an actual path, there are simply rock cairns every now and then that you have to search for among the lava boulders to know if you're still headed in the right directions. Sometimes you are and sometimes you aren't.

I was lucky enough to be such a slow hiker so good at pacing myself that by the time our vanguard company had realized they were heading the wrong direction I was ready to head the right direction with them, so I hardly had to backtrack at all!

Every now and then there would be a little patch of cactus for us to watch out for. We thought it was funny that we've made the switch from scanning the trails for poison ivy to scanning the trails for cactus (though, admittedly, there is also cactus in North Carolina (especially by the coast) and there is poison ivy in Utah (in fact, there is poison ivy by Calf Creek Lower Falls!!!)).

We don't hike to the lower falls though, so we didn't run into any poison ivy. We don't really hike to the upper falls, either, but I think that's where our trail technically leads to. We stop somewhere in the middle maybe? We're just above the lower falls, where a series of pools lies. The third pool has an excellent cliff for jumping from and a little waterfall that is, apparently, fun to slide down. But first you have to get there, and the walk is long and hot and steep (though somehow not as long or hot or steep as the way back up).

Here are a few pictures of our intrepid hikers:

Rachel and Miriam
Benjamin and Grandpa
Me with Alexander zonked out in our (borrowed) backpack
Benjamin exploring part of the creek
My children will be interested to learn that Calf Creek was not named in honour of where you'll feel the burn after making the hike. Rather, it was "named for its use as a natural pen for calves back in the late 1800s and early 1900s." also tells us that if you hike to the lower falls you will pass "mineral-streaked cliffs of Navajo Sandstone, ...beaver ponds and pre-historic rock art sites en route to the paradisiacal pools."

I believe in this instance paradisiacal means "flipping cold."

It's one of the lesser-known definitions of the word.

Karen was telling us that one summer one of her nephews (Ken?) took a thermometer out to Calf Creek once so he could get a reading. It was around 40°F (4°C). And then (for whatever crazy reason) he did the hike in the winter and the water was about the same temperature. To make the story even crazier, the winter hikers still jumped in!

Rachel contemplating a leap
I can't imagine jumping in without having the scorching hot sandstone to warm up on! In fact, I can hardly imagine jumping in at all (though I know I did...once...thirteen years ago)!

Benjamin was the bravest of our group. I buckled him into a puddle-jumper, knowing that the shock of the cold water would chase all knowledge of swimming out of his brain (it happens to everyone; water this cold turns the best of swimmers into a doggy-paddler). Anyway, I buckled him into his floatie and he rashly flung himself off the cliff before we could give him any good instruction.

He ended up bouncing off the wall and hurting his...bottom.

Ouch. He was in considerable pain and once he got out he refused to give it another go. Here he is paddling out to Grandpa, who somehow manages (year after year) to stand in that freezing cold water and wait for everyone to jump in so he can help them out:

Benjamin climbed out of the pool and hiked about as far away as he could (or at least as far as he dared) from the rest of us and refused to come back down. Can you spot him?

Later, while his sister were trying to cheer him up, they said that he could go back to school and tell his friends about how he "hit his butt on a cliff after jumping off" this summer.

"I would never say that!" he said, affronted. Then he explained, "I would never use a potty word in front of my friends! I would say that I hit my bottom jumping off a cliff."

This coming from the boy who, while playing "I'm going camping and I'm bringing..." came up with both "poop" and "toots." So don't worry; he's a regular, ordinary six-year-old boy and sprinkles his speech with potty words rather abundantly (just not in front of his friends, apparently).

Anyway, his sisters weren't about to let him show them up. Soon Rachel summoned enough courage to leap off the cliff (and what good form she had, too):

And then Miriam took the plunge:

Alexander just thought we were all crazy.

Then Miriam and Rachel had to try out the waterslide waterfall (Benjamin would not try it; he was still hanging out at the top of the hill):

And then the kids wanted Andrew and me to take our turns jumping into the pool. The only problem was...

We. Could. Not. Do. It.

So here's a series of pictures of us chickening out over and over again:


This year was just not our year. Perhaps another year will be, but this year we just overthought things. The pool is too cold, the jump too far. What if we missed and spanked our butts bottoms on the rock wall? What if Alexander needed me right then (I think I heard him fussing)?

It was just too hard.

So Grandpa was like, "What's so difficult about this?"

And he jumped in just to rub things in our faces.

And then the girls went again to show us how brave they were:

And we came to the conclusion that Andrew and I are just a couple of yellow-bellied, chicken-livered, thumb-sucking cowards. But we were warm cowards, so there's that.

We stopped by the pools downstream (but before the pool that rushes over the cliff as a 130-foot waterfall) where the water was a little warm and much more accessible.

Alexander first lifted his feet when I put him in the water (because it was still rather cold and he didn't exactly like that), but he ended up loving splashing in the water so much that he cried when it was time to go.

This is the pool that leads to the waterfall

Andrew, very graciously, took his turn with the baby on the way back up the trail.

He did not pace himself, which was rather worrisome. I kept calling out to him to slow down, but he wouldn't heed my warning. He said something about, "It's not a race and we can all go our own pace." And I was like, "Yeah...then slow down."

Rachel kept up with him while the rest of us lagged behind, enjoying the desert scenery and stopping for drinking breaks while we moseyed along the trail.

"Why can't Dad just wait for us?" Benjamin complained to me. Then he turned to Grandpa and said accusatorially, "Why didn't you ever teach Daddy how to wait when he was a little boy?!"

Well, we eventually did catch up to Daddy, panting under the very-rare shade of a tree along our route. He did not look well. He was ruddy and flustered and sweating like a pig (only much, much more than a pig because pigs don't sweat).

"You're bleeding!" Rachel pointed out. "And there's a stick poking out of your leg!"

He'd stumbled into a cactus of something in his rush to get to the top of the bluff. And he didn't even notice! He had blood dripping onto his sock and shoe and was still wildly winded.

"Do you want me to take a turn with the baby?" I offered.

"Yeah!" Andrew groaned in response, then wheezed, "I got you...through the...sand."

"But that's the easiest part!" Grandpa sneered before ordering Andrew to "Drink! Drink! Drink!"

(We tend to be rather militant about hydration these days).

So I took Alexander and put him on my back and we slowly picked our way back up to the parking lot. Ironically, Miriam, Benjamin, and I were the first to make it to the top (when we had been so far behind at the beginning) and Rachel and Daddy were utterly exhausted at the end (while they had been so peppy at the beginning).

"I guess the moral of The Tortoise and the Hare really is true," I observed to my six-year-old hiking buddy, who I was half-dragging up the hill by this point. "Slow and steady wins the race."

"What?!" he exclaimed in surprise. "How do you even know that story, Mom!? Did you go to kindergarten?"

"I did, indeed," I told him proudly. 

We celebrated our return to the van by cracking open the cooler for some icy-cold drinks. 

Five minutes after finishing the hike I wasn't sure I'd ever do it again, but now that I'm this far removed from it, I'm thinking it was pretty fun. So maybe I'll go back again to attempt another jump into that pool one day...


  1. How far was the hike? How far down was that jump and how deep was the water in the pool? Looks like a fun time!

    1. All excellent questions! I'm not really sure of the answers to any of them, however, because we've never quite completed the hike to the upper falls and I can only find official information on those falls. Maybe one year we should hike all the way! Haha!

      My guesses are that the hike is about 2 miles round trip (but it's a rough two miles). The pool and the cliff are about 15 feet deep/high, respectively.

      But I'm really not sure about any of that. Haha!

    2. That's ok! Thanks for the estimates :)