Many BPLers have spent time in the Escalante region of Utah. It hosted an October 2008 BPL Wilderness Trekking Course, and is the focus of a BPL photo essay by packrafters Bill Stadwiser and Andy Heath, who ran the Escalante River in March 2009: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/escalante.html. Alongside much older specters, Edward Abbey's ghost still wanders moonlit stretches of slickrock and shaded hanging gardens clinging to alcove walls. I have backpacked in Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef NPs, and the Grand Gulch and Dark Canyon Wilderness Areas, but this was my first visit to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. As Bill and Andy mention, March is definitely a shoulder season in Escalante. After a winter of plentiful snowfall, my girlfriend and I were prepared to be flexible and adapt our plans to the conditions. Steve Allen's "Canyoneering 3: Loop Hikes in Utah's Escalante" is an invaluable resource for planning the trips you would like to undertake and modifying your agenda on the fly.
We were gratified to find Escalante Outfitters open late Sunday afternoon, and encouraged by their advice that the 57 mile long Hole-in-the-Rock Road, the primary access to THs west of the Escalante River, was in good condition. The town of Escalante was covered under a few feet of snow earlier in the winter, but most of it had since melted. Despite various plans over the years to develop Hole-in-the-Rock in the name of economic productivity, it remains unpaved and can become quite muddy where the flats dip into washes. Be prepared to spend an extra night or two at the TH, and consider it a small price to pay for the absence of exit ramps, scenic rest areas, and exhaust fumes. We camped near Early Weed Bench that night, and continued to Red Well TH the next morning, some 30 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock. The Subaru's AWD was helpful, and in other conditions would either be essential or just plain inadequate.
Fiftymile Bench and the Straight Cliffs to the west dominate the view from the flats.
Coyote Gulch is probably the most popular route in the Escalante. Unfortunately, LNT principles are practiced with great inconsistency during peak seasons. Insert stories about destruction of habitat, camping directly beside prominent features, excessive experimentation with echoes, and toilet paper in bushes here. From the Red Well TH, it is about 13 miles down Coyote Gulch to the Escalante River. The landscape inspires both exhilaration and introspection.
For more photos, please see this album:
My girlfriend and I spent three nights between Coyote and Hurricane Gulches, exploring down to the Escalante River, across the flats between Crack-in-the-Wall and Hurricane, and back down Hurricane to Coyote. Nights were near freezing, and days warming perhaps into the 60s. The Escalante is a place where UL practices can really shine. Even with certain luxuries, we traveled light but, importantly, not necessarily fast. These canyons lend themselves to a variable pace and a mindset that allows for pauses and detours. I'm uncertain of our total mileage, and not particularly concerned to calculate it!
A few gear thoughts. We chose to bring my Lunar Duo as opposed to bivies and tarp. While the space of the duo was lavish and appreciated, bivies still cannot be matched in their ability to tuck into spaces where secure staking and open ground are issues, with minimal impact on extremely fragile environments. Wading and wet shoes are a fact of life in Coyote, and I had wonderful results with a new pair of New Balance MT876OR based in part on Roger Caffin's review of their predecessors: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/nb875_review.html. Over several days of water, sand, slickrock, boulders, and mud, they kept my feet more comfortable than they had any real business being. Very quick draining, decently quick drying, and plenty of room in size wide. Two thumbs up! I brought plastic bags to wear between dry socks and wet shoes in the evenings, and did not envy those who were carrying huge leather boots or multiple extra pairs of shoes on their backs.
Due to its remoteness and challenges to access relative to other areas of southern UT, the Escalante does not lend itself to quick visits as much as, for example, Arches or Canyonlands. Try and give yourself some time there. If others are heading that way soon, I am happy to answer questions.