Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lower Calf Creek Falls

A cluster of barrel cacti in bloom along the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail

The 6-mile hike from the mouth of Calf Creek to Lower Calf Creek Falls and back is arguably the most popular hike in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and for good reason. The trail is relatively easy, with no significant gains or losses in elevation. The trailhead is located just off the main state highway (UT 12) through the monument, not 25 miles down a rutted dirt road like most of the hikes in the monument. The canyon scenery is superlative. And, there's running water year round--no small matter in this arid landscape.

The trail up Calf Creek Canyon

A desert garden. I didn't buy a wildflower guide, so I can't identify the plants--other than the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.)

The riparian area along Calf Creek supports lots of birds, but none that we hadn't recorded on previous trips to Utah.Near the middle of the hike, Calf Creek's defined stream channel disappears into a series of wet meadows behind a succession of beaver dams. The lodge of one of the beavers is visible in the center lower right of this image.
Three species of trout inhabit Calf Creek, including the introduced European Brown Trout. I didn't try to identify the trout swimming in the crystalline water.Lower Calf Creek Falls
120 feet high

The trail ends at Lower Calf Creek Falls. When we visited in mid-May, the plunge pool was mercifully deserted, but I understand that the pool is a very popular and understandably irresistible attraction at the end of what must be a miserably hot hike in the middle of summer.

There's a second falls (Upper Calf Creek Falls) upstream of this waterfall. However, it has to be approached from above (not below) over a very steep slickrock trail marked with cairns. We didn't get a chance to visit the upper falls, but that leaves us something to discover on our next trip!

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