Red Breaks: The Big West Fork and Cosmic Ashtray

A demanding but extremely rewarding day hike off of the Hole in the Rock Road near Escalante, Utah.  Tara and I chose this for our final outing after spending a week in the area.  I couldn't be happier with that decision.  In fact, this may well have become my all time favorite day hike.  It's not a popular route.  You won't find any markers or cairns along the way.  Regular obstacles and diversity in terrain keep things interesting from a navigational standpoint, but every step is rewarded with stunning beauty.  As a result, we chose to take our time here, spending about 11 hours on the loop.

The route begins as so many do in this area, with a turn into an unassuming wash.  The walls soon begin to close in, and the first stretch of narrows is encountered.  Just before the confluence with the Big West Fork, we climbed up to the rim to navigate above its dryfall.  From here, we dropped back in, following this drainage up into the beautiful slot.  Chockstones of increasing difficulty capped with an extra skinny stretch at the top made for a pretty exhilarating morning.

When the walls shortened up, we took off overland through slickrock paradise in search of a geological wonder known as The Cosmic Ashtray.  After a couple hours wandering up, down, and across a number of drainages, we finally ascended to its rim.  The Cosmic Ashtray is a spectacle in and of itself, so we were sure to drop the packs and hang out with it as long as possible.  After doing our best to fully absorb the wonder of this place, we headed southwest, eventually picking up a 4x4 road, which we followed about 4 miles out to the trailhead.  While this was surely the least exciting part of the day, it did give us an hour or so to just trudge along, to sort of come down and reflect on the ridiculousness of all that we'd experienced today.

Thoughts on this gallery

  • Leah Fortson

    on November 12, 2022

    Do you have the gpx route for this?

  • Vance Ventresca

    on April 15, 2016

    This is great, when are you taking me and Nancy :)