Boulder • You know the old cliche of walking seven miles through snow to get to school. Well, what do you think the old-timers did to get the mail?
You can find out, and experience it for yourself, with a trip down the Boulder Mail Trail. The trail links Boulder and Escalante and marks the old route that brave souls traversed to get the mail from one town to the other.
Boulder Mail Trail
The basics » The route is 24 miles from Boulder to Escalante, the most common direction in which the trail is taken. The best times to go are in the spring or fall, when cooler temperatures make hiking in the desert more appealing. Plan to spend one to four nights on the trail, depending on how much time you have to explore.
How to get there » The trailhead is well-marked off Hell’s Backbone Road. It is the first left off the dirt road and just past the Boulder air strip.
How to get back » If traveling with a group, the easiest way to navigate the hike is to leave one car in Escalante and shuttle to the trailhead outside of Boulder. Escalante Outfitters can help outfit hikers and also arrange a shuttle for a fee. Others such as Four Season Guides (fsguides.com) and Excursions of Escalante (www.excursionsofescalante.com) offer guided tours of the hike.
We say brave because parts of the hike follow sketchy lines along slick rock. However, the joy of the trail is in the variety that it offers.
This hike can be treated not only as an adventure to appreciate Utah’s desert landscape but also as a lesson in historical appreciation.
According to reports, resident James Schow was given a contract of $200 per year by the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the mail twice a week between the towns.
Schow used mules to carry the mail, medicine and whatever else he could be coaxed into delivering between the towns.
In 1910, the U.S. Forest Service ran a telephone line along the trail to Boulder, attaching the line to rocks and trees. The trail saw more activity in the 1920s when the Parcel Post used the path to ship goods between the towns.
The route continued to be used extensively until the 1930s, when the Hell’s Backbone Bridge was completed. While the curvy road has added to the fame of this part of Utah, it made the use of the trail unnecessary, leaving it to go back to the wilds to be discovered by modern-day adventurers.
The trail offers a variety of options for hikers to explore.
Day hikers from Boulder who want to experience the route without committing to the full hike can make it an easy out-and-back hike that winds through sagebrush, pinion pine and, finally, slick rock.
Day hikers from Escalante can do the same, using the exit point as their beginning.
More adventurous hikers, or those wanting a few nights under the stars, will want to make it a weekend trip.
Much of the appeal of this hike is its lack of publicity despite its beauty. Like the small town of Boulder, the trailhead often goes unexplored as hurried tourists whiz by, marking off their checklists a drive on Hell’s Backbone road before they get to Torrey and Capital Reef National Park.
If only they knew what they were missing.
The 24-mile hike, from Boulder to Escalante, boasts three canyons, each with their own personality. There is Sand Creek, which is just 2.5 miles into the trail and usually has water. Farther along is Death Hollow, which has some notorious and narrow sections. Finally there is Mamie Creek, which rewards hikers with a natural bridge.
The first section to Sand Creek is an easy-to-moderate hike that features pinyon pines and junipers and wide expanses of slick rock to explore.
The Death Hollow section is memorable for its views and tricky slick rock descent to the floor of the canyon.
This is the area that would probably cause the postal crew and their mules to decide delivering the mail wasn’t important after all, given the steep angles they navigated.
What goes down must come up, and the climb out of Death Hollow will make you earn your dinner. Luckily, as with everything else on the hike, the reward is amazing views.
The scenery is enough to leave one breathless and make even the most time-conscious folks pause and admire the aesthetics and solitude. Come to think of it, delivering the mail here might not be so bad after all.
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