Cottonwood Canyon and The Toadstools

December 9 & 10, 2016

It was December 9 when I left Page, AZ, and drove west towards Kanab. Not one to cover great distances quickly, and preferring to enjoy the journey, I decided to go up Cottonwood Canyon to camp for a couple of nights. The weather was cold, but dry, with no rain or snow in the forecast that I was aware of. If there was any kind of precipitation expected I wouldn’t even consider driving on this road because it is mostly bentonite clay, the nastiest, gunky, gooey, slippery, slick and horrendous stuff to drive on imaginable. In fact, it’s just not possible to drive on it when it’s wet. Let’s just say that driving on ice is a piece of cake compared to driving on wet, bentonite clay. Don’t even attempt it!!!

DSC06142CottonwoodRdCyn-277-Dec92016

Cottonwood Canyon is a ridgeline that runs north/south through Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah, connecting Hwy 89, with Utah S.R.12. It is 47-miles between these two points. (East of Kanab, to west of Escalante). 47-miles of fascinating geology. I would highly recommend driving this road if you’re into hiking, geology, or just into scenic drives. I was there a few years ago, and spent four nights in this area (or was it five?). Most people seem to drive through at top speed and they miss so much. Even driving slowly as I do, I too would have missed the huge oyster bed right by the side of the road, and I wouldn’t have learned that I was driving through an area that used to be a great inland sea if it hadn’t been for the book I purchased called The Geology Road Guide to Cottonwood Canyon by Janice Gillespi. I learned a lot from this book, and the knowledge I gained can be applied to several other locations in Utah. Patient drivers of this road will be rewarded with a closer look at spectacular natural features, including one known as the Cockscomb. Topography here is on a more intimate scale, and formations are varied and colorful.

There are several hikes along this road, some of which I’ve done in the past, but on this occasion it was too cold to go up any of the canyons or wade in the river, and the wind was too brutal for me to attempt Yellow Rock (it was December after all). The water was frozen and fractured, so I kept breaking through, and my hands froze in minutes when I entered a canyon, even with gloves on. I spent two nights here, but then I saw clouds forming, and decided to get out…just in case.

CocksComb_124

Here’s a piece I wrote while camping up Cottonwood Canyon in 2014 ~ Magical Mornings and Tea in Bed.

DSC06155CottonwoodRdCyn-283-Dec92016

I drove west some more towards Kanab, but I couldn’t just drive by the Toadstools, the area is simply too beautiful and fascinating to drive by.


To visit The Toadstools park at the trailhead off of Highway 89, 45 miles east of Kanab, 12 miles west of Big Water (by the way, the visitor center at Big Water is well worth the visit, and you can pick up one of the guides to Cottonwood Canyon there also). The trail is open year-round and fees/permits are not required. The entire hike is exposed, so avoid going in the middle of the day during the summer. Otherwise, spring through fall are excellent times to hike here. The area is dog-friendly. The hike itself is about 1.5-miles round-trip, but if you decide to explore beyond, you can perhaps add another half mile just exploring.

GPS Coordinates
(37.101310, -111.873169)

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I hope you have enjoyed this installment of my travels during the winter of 2016/2017, and hope you’ll continue the journey with me.

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2 responses to “Cottonwood Canyon and The Toadstools

  1. Beautiful scenery. That clay road sounds treacherous when wet. Would you have to wait a few days until it dried to travel safely? Is that area susceptible to flash floods?

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    • I think in 2015 they had severe flooding. The road was closed for some time, it re-opened in 2016. Several areas suffered in Utah. There is a risk of flash flooding in most places in Utah, anywhere there is a wash in fact, or run-off from slick rock. Bentonite clay is found in a lot of places in southern Utah, if the guide book says ‘dont go in if rain threatens’ they mean it. The only time I was on wet bentonite clay was scary, one tiny spot and the vehicle lost it, no control at all…zero. Luckily it was a small spot. Yes, bentonite will dry out, but then it puffs up and expands, so a vehicle will sink in even after it dries. I prefer to let other people be the the first and pack it down again for me. lol.

      Liked by 1 person

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