Kevin's Utah and Arizona trip, 2011
Sunday - Grand Staircase-Escalante slot canyons
previous: Saturday
next: Monday

I started off with a visit to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitor's center that's in Escalante. I'm impressed with the centers. There are several around the monument - it's a huge place! This one dealt with the flora and fauna. Another, geology. The only other one I visited was about the human history. So I got road conditions and the weather report. Also a couple of brochure/trail maps.

My plan was to start at the Dry Forks slot canyons, then head back north and see what I could see. I drove a good 25 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock Road. HitRR is sand and gravel. usually wide, sometimes flat and straight, and usually washboarded. I discovered that anything under 40 mph made the vibration from the washboarding worse. I was frustrated for a while, stuck behind some people who either didn't have this problem, or hadn't discovered that high speed helped. I was eventually able to pass them. I occasionally hit fifty or sixty mph.

After about 45 minutes, I made it to the turnoff to Dry Forks. Then it got interesting. First, this was cattle country.

In Wisconsin, we're used to seeing cows. But they're always fenced off nicely in their pastures. In the west, they just roam. There are only fences to keep cattle from their neighbors' land. On the turnoff road, there was a small herd with calves lounging around right next to the dirt road.

The road itself was very rutted. I was thinking that I was glad to have the Jeep, since a normal car
wouldn't have been able to make it, when I saw a little Honda come around the corner.

Dry Forks Canyon has four slot canyons. First, a hike across wide open slickrock
(sunny, windy and hot) down into the canyon.

I saw some people negotiating their way into Peek-a-boo Canyon, and other people just watching them. I decided to move on to the next slot. Dry Forks Canyon has a wide gravelly bottom with some sand "dunes", and low (compared to the other places I'd seen) rounded sandstone walls. As I walked down by myself, it felt like a western movie set. I expected to see some cowboys ride around the bend.

I got to the entrance to Spooky Gulch. It was very windy, especially overhead, and as I did some rearranging of my gear, and got some food, I was showered with sand. I had a peanut butter sandwich with real sand!

A short way into the canyon, was a nice little section of alcoves, back and forth.

There were a few backpacks sitting there, and some people wandering around. With pack on back, and tripod in hand, I moved on. I only went a short way before the canyon turned left, and it was immediately clear why all the backpacks were sitting back there, so I took mine back.

There was a group ahead of me, but they turned back before too long. One of the guys who had gotten farther ahead said "it just tears your shirt up when you try to squeeze through." I found a wide spot where they could get by, and as a woman squeezed herself out of the crack, she said, "you can only get through if you're a certain size - or cup size."

It was red sandstone, which is normally very rough, but this canyon had little marble-sized protrusions sticking out of the walls all over it. It made it rather rough. Between this canyon and the next, my knees and elbows were skinned up.

Spooky was relatively flat and narrow. It had a few areas that were wider but much of it was very narrow and deep. The upper areas got a little more convoluted and had some climbs. There was one spot that was difficult to get up. I had already left my tripod behind (I wasn't getting good shots with it anyway, since the light wasn't quite right), and for this one, I had to set my camera down to get up it. Once I figured it out, I went back down it and brought the camera up with me, after the practice run.

Finally I reached my limit. In the picture below, just past the chockstone on top, there is light. That's where the path went. I think the opening was just big around enough for my chest. I couldn't get through with my camera around my neck, and I didn't want to risk dropping it down between the rocks below, so I turned back. There is a path to the top of the other slot, but my pack and tripod were back down this canyon, so I turned back.

I then went over to Peek-a-boo Canyon. This is a much more convoluted slot canyon, with more climbing involved. The entrance itself is a climb up a rock face, with some shallow toeholds. I got up that okay, but had trouble with the next part.

There were four people ahead of me. A woman, whose name I didn't get, Pete and Lauren, her college-age kids, and Bob, an older gentleman. Bob helped Lauren, Pete and the woman up, then Pete helped Bob and me up. I had to take my shoes off for this part, since Pete helped me up the rock out of a thigh-deep pool. There were four more pools. Some people were able to make it across them without getting wet, but I didn't try this. I just walked through with my shoes off. I didn't want to risk jumping, missing and getting my shoes wet, since I had ditched my hiking shoes. I also had my camera dangling around my neck (having left my pack outside the entrance). Not great for balance.

It was my birthday!

But I made it through. I hung out with the group for a bit until the woman's photo and video habits slowed them down even more than me. They also turned back pretty soon too.

Peek-a-boo starts out somewhat deep, but then opens out into a shallow slickrock canyon. Then you climb over a pool on a narrow gap, and there's one more very narrow and convoluted section. It climbs and has some short twists and turns, and you're out again. There might be more above that, but I didn't continue.

Funny how in each canyon, there were a lot of people around for the early parts of my climbs, but after I got up higher, I never saw any people until I got all the way back to the entrance.

Since I was there, I decided to check out the third slot canyon. The main fork of Dry Forks is relatively wide, with a flat gravelly bottom. A pleasant, cool walk.

A fourth slot canyon, Brimstone Gulch, is a long walk down the main canyon, and is very difficult, so I had no problem skipping it. Then it was back up the steep, slickrock "trail" to the parking lot.

I passed a road that I thought would take me to the top of the nearby mountains. It said it was 11 miles away, but I wasn't sure I had an hour for it. I wanted to see Zebra Slot Canyon. I found the trail-head. I wasn't sure how easy it would be to find my way down there, since it didn't seem marked. I had my compass, but no map. That's okay, since it's hard to follow maps in the dark.

It turned out to be a well-traveled trail, and easy to follow. I estimated two hours to the safe side of sunset, so I gave myself until 7:00, then I'd turn around and come back up.

After half an hour, I met a group of kids coming back up, who said the slot was about a mile and a half away. But I could make it. There was water at the entrance, but only for a hundred yards or so, and only waist deep. They gave me advice on how to find the entrance (which I would have needed). I thanked them, and said I'd see how far I got.

I wasn't in as much of a hurry now, knowing I might not be able to get to the canyon, let alone into it. I heard some ravens crying and croaking, and found their nest. There were younguns in it, but I couldn't see them, since it was kinda in a cave.

Apparently a fence intended to keep cattle in/out, but not be destroyed by
a flood. The top of it was about shoulder height.

I climbed up to look at the solution holes.

Check out these stripes. You can imagine what a slot canyon would look like in this rock.
It was one of my biggest disappointments of the trip to have missed Zebra Slot.

I found some interesting rock formations, and did a little climbing. If I had hurried, I might have gotten to the entrance of the slot, but the light would have been too far gone anyway. Around 7:00, I headed back up. I made good time, and got back sooner than I expected. This turned out to be fortunate.

I went back south to the Devil's Garden, and got there right at sunset. The sunset itself wasn't great (no clouds), but it cast a beautiful golden light on the rocks. I stayed there shooting well after the sun went down.

Several other photographers were there.

I was the only one left after the sun disappeared.

Interesting how the different layers responded to the elements.

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