Hayduke Trail Day 23: The Hills Are Burning

Daily Neat Beat
Day 23
Total Miles: 23.1
Cumulative Miles: 409.2
Map of Day 23 hiking down Reese Canyon and along Last Chance Creek most of the day

I smell smoke I say to Ray as we continue our journey across the remote Kaiparowits Plateau and least visited part of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Morning sun rays as we get started

We are hiking through Reese Canyon and are headed to Last Chance Creek six miles away where we will hike up the creek to it’s junction with Paradise Creek. All morning the rocks smell like smoke and tobacco as we hike down Reese Canyon; we are in the Burning Hills area.

The coal layer is the dark layer in the middle of the picture above my head. The sandstone is red above it because of ancient coal fires that oxidized the iron in the rocks

The Burning Hills are a brick red color and formed from ancient fires of the coal seams below. When the coal burns, it oxidizes the iron in the rock turning it a brilliant red. There are still some coal seams burning up on Smoky Mountain to the north of here and there are many guesses on how long the coal has been burning from hundreds to millions of years.

A coal unit in Reese Canyon

The geology is fascinating in this area and the fight over the coal deposits on the Plateau remain topical and fervid. There are an estimated 5 to 7 billion tons of coal in the Kaiparowits coal-basin area, much of it is remote and inaccessible with 1,000 feet of overburden.

We are hiking through the area that President Trump removed from protection as part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, largely because of these coal deposits. 

Environmentalists argue that the Plateau should be protected from mining because of the climax forest of juniper and pinyons, its diverse population of raptors, it’s uniqueness ecology, it’s remoteness, the blending of cold and warm desert species, and, of course, the dinosaur Shangri La.
A red tail hawk keeps guard over Last Chance Creek

I think about the the land itself. If you just walk the surface without knowing anything about it, it is like observing someone from a distance without knowing their personality. A stark and barren place; badlands. But, the complexity of the land is so much deeper. It is intelligent enough to heat a home, it speaks of it’s history of dinosaurs and swamps, it smells of smoke, and weeps through creeks that seep out of rocks and deposit iron like blood from wounds. It feels alive to me.

Many of the seeps in this area deposit iron as it oxidizes when it exposed to air

We reach Last Chance Creek and I breath a sigh of relief. We once again have made it to water and we will be walking along this perennial creek the rest of the day. No rationing. I am happy about that.

View of Last Chance Creek as it joins Reese Canyon
You know an area is wild and remote when you see mountain lion tracks like this one by Ray’s boot

We hike 23 miles today, partly to make up for the seven miles we had fallen behind on our schedule yesterday. It is windy in the late afternoon as we are blown into camp where Last Chance Canyon and Paradise Canyon join.

View of upper Last Chance Creek near where it joins Paradise Canyon


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