It’s just a small sign along U.S. 50 that points to the west and Escalante Canyon. You may not feel inclined to want to turn on this dirt road. It sure doesn’t look like much is there. There is a parking area right there next to the highway, where people load and unload their bicycles, motorcycles and OHV’s, but honestly, it’s mostly vacant.
About 5 miles down the road, you come to a very small town, which is more like a single farm really. Railroad tracks, a small reservoir full of water, a few houses, and a bridge over The Gunnison River is about all there is of note down in this canyon, or so it appears. I’ve been down here a couple times before, but never had any real interest in taking the road any further. There are a few petroglyphs on the rocks not far from the river. You can park here and have a look around but basically, it’s quiet out here. Not much to remark over and not much reason for driving the dirt road in this direction.
Nevertheless, on our return home from Delta yesterday, we decided to drive this road and see whatever there was to see out there. So, after you pass the river, the road winds uphill and past a couple of farms and orchards. I’m not entirely sure what fruit they’re growing out there, but it might be apples. This early in the season, there was no sign of fruit anywhere, and no sign indicating what they were growing.
After a short distance, you come to a fork in the road. After a moment’s hesitation, it seemed obvious that following the road to the right would be the correct choice for me, since the road that forks off to the left requires you to ford a creek before going any further. I wasn’t up for that. There is a sign here with place names and arrows that held no real meaning for me either way. I stayed to the right.
It’s a well-maintained dirt road if a bit narrow in places, but it’s suitable for passenger cars. It’s also pure washboard around some bends, so you can’t get up much speed, even if you wanted to. The scenery becomes more beautiful, so you’ll want to take your time to admire it all anyway. There are a few farms, some cattle grazing, and lots of red rock cliffs and rock formations. There are areas which can be seen as having had major rockslides at some point, but since trees have sprung up in the slide areas, I’d say it’s been a few years since then. Large rock formations hang off the cliffs above the road, perilously making me want to move on, but not too quickly. After a short time, we came upon an old cabin on the south side of the road, where we pulled over to look.
This is the Walker cabin, built in 1911 by Harry Walker and his four sons. Harry was a skilled bricklayer. He originally built it with nothing but block and dirt, and then when he was a bit more prosperous, he filled it in with cement. I must say, it’s a nice-looking cabin and appears very solid, even to this day. It’s owned by The Colorado Division of Wildlife, and they’ve preserved it very nicely with a new roof, new mortar and a fence around it. The windows are boarded up so you can’t go in there, but it looks good -like shutters.
After a few minutes of admiring this cabin, we continued our drive west. The canyon was calling, and we had to go. After several miles of beautiful scenery, and bucolic views of cattle grazing, we came upon another small cabin on the north side of the road. It too has been refurbished and you can go inside of it! This was the home of Capt. Harry A. Smith, who moved to Escalante Canyon after the turn of the 20th century, partly because he was having some health problems at the time. He was already in his mid-60’s when he moved out to Escalante Canyon by himself and literally carved out a new life! In those days, moving to a higher, drier climate was often prescribed by doctors and health practitioners of various kinds, as a cure for tuberculosis and other health problems. I found this great article that tells the story of his life in more detail if you’re interested:
We wandered around the small property and noticed a place where he and some other people had carved their names into the rock. I’m usually a person who hates to see this done by modern people, but somehow, I couldn’t be too angry about this. Being a stone cutter and artist of sorts, he did a really good job. He also carved in the names of some of his friends, specifically, Ben Lowe, who’s name can be found at another location near his old homestead. You can see the similarity in the printing and carving of the two signs. They probably did it to mark their property boundaries, but people rarely do anything similar today.
The front building, where Capt. Smith lived, is a small 1-room building with a dirt floor. On the south side of the building, is a large sandstone rock, which he used as one of the walls of his home. Inside, there is a large alcove he carved out, which I at first thought was perhaps a fireplace. It turns out that this was his bed. There’s a small carve-out there, where he kept his pistol. I thought at first that it might have been a draft for the fireplace, but no. Under the place where he slept were a couple of other smaller carved out areas, where he kept matches and possibly books. Beside his bed, he had a rifle case carved into the rock. My thought: Only a single guy could live like this! There’s a reason why his wife chose to stay in the Midwest! I don’t know where he cooked, but perhaps he cooked outdoors.
Behind his home he built another house, where people could stay when they were passing through. I don’t know if everyone who stayed there were friends or relatives of his, or if he operated a type of way station. But the backhouse, which has also been refurbished with a new roof and wood floor, was where the guests stayed. According to the sign there, people would sleep on all levels of the house, including under the main floor, which I would call a crawl space, and up in what might be considered the attic. The entrance to these spaces was from the outside. You can walk around the main floor, as the floor has been replaced with new wood, but I wouldn’t recommend going into any other places.
It’s easy in our modern-day lives to take some conveniences for granted and to forget how hard life was back in earlier times. I didn’t see any evidence of an outhouse, but there must have been at least one. Out in front of the main house is where you now park your car, and there’s a turnaround there that goes around a large sandstone rock as well. I try to think about what life was like for travelers in those days, and I realize that they more than likely weren’t showing up there in Toyota’s, Jeeps or Chevy’s. Cars had been invented by then of course, but I’m guessing that most people in Western Colorado were still riding horses and using horse-drawn carriages of some kind. It’s a fair piece out there, so it probably took the better part of a day, or even longer to make it to Smith’s cabin. They were probably hot and tired by then. I know I would be!
Down the road a bit further, there is an old homestead at a bend in the road. We pulled over, but there are large signs discouraging anyone from stopping. It’s private property, and the owners aren’t looking for company or lawsuits from anyone who gets hurt in there. I believe this was probably the old Lowe homestead, but I can’t be certain. Only a chimney stands where a house used to be, and there’s some other stuff there, but we didn’t linger or go in. I know some people don’t care about private property signs, but I do.
In a short distance, we ended up at what I considered to be the end of the road, which is where, once again, you must drive through Escalante Creek to get to the other side. There is a farmhouse and some farmland near there as well. I decided that this was as far as I’d go, and we turned around.
It’s a nice drive, and not too long. It always seems longer when I’m driving somewhere for the first time. But as I got closer to the end of the road, the crowd thinned out to – nothing – at least on a Thursday afternoon. I noticed a couple of campgrounds along the way, one called Potholes Campground. I’m not a camper, so I didn’t stop to check it out, but the website says they have important things like toilets, and you can drink beer there too. Good thing, because these two things inevitably go together! John noticed there was no cellphone coverage out there, (we have Verizon) so if you’re looking for an afternoon of solitude, this is a good choice.
Many of the photos I have posted on this article were taken with my iPhone camera, but a few were taken with The Nikon. Here’s a couple pics of the beautiful scenery along the road:
This photo was taken as a horizontal shot, but I turned it vertical, and it looks like a genie emerging from a bottle! This appears to be from a natural seep, and not any kind of human-made art.
FLOAT TRIP REMINDER
I have booked a 90-minute float trip down the Colorado River, starting in Fruita, on June 25, 2022. The float starts at 10:00am, but check-in is 15 minutes before then. We have met the minimum number of floaters to make the trip a go. At this point, we still have room for a few more floaters! I’m trying to keep my headcount for this adventure at no less than four and no more than ten. The cost of the trip is $48. It’s best if you bring cash, since they do charge an extra 4% if you use a credit or debit card. If you will be in The Grand Valley on Saturday, June 25th, let me know if you would like to attend this adventure. This is a FLOAT and NOT WHITEWATER. I have posted a separate invitation to this adventure on my blogsite. We will also be getting up early to photograph some of the local lavender farms at sunrise! I’m not charging for any of this stuff personally but would love to know if you would like to attend, so I can keep a count of attendance. Message me if you’re interested. Travel well!