Saturday, September 24, 2011

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park

After I left Zion I stopped briefly in Bryce Canyon National Park.  I had hoped to spend a day there but I’d over-run my time in Zion so I only had a couple of hours to spare so I chose not to pay the $25 entry fee in order to see the whole park.  Luckily there is one canyon that you can check out without paying so I spent a little time at Fairylands Point.

My next stop was Escalante, the jumping-off point for the next part of my adventure- exploring Peek-a-Boo and Spooky slot canyons.  I had heard about the canyons from Mariah and Kris and had further researched them at the public library in Springdale (the little town right outside of Zion) so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect but I have to admit that when I turned onto the gravel road just after passing Escalante I did pause for a moment to evaluate how much I REALLY wanted to do this…  The access road to the trailhead was about 26 miles down the road and there were signs that warned that the road “may be impassable when wet”.  I’d checked the forecast and it hadn’t rained for a couple days and, although there was a 40% chance of rain for the next afternoon, the weather looked pretty good.  The sun had just set but there were few clouds in the sky.  When I remembered the videos Mariah and Kris had shown me I decided to take the risk of having to turn around or possibly even getting stuck (with no cell service!) and committed myself to driving 60 miles (round-trip) out of my way in order to explore these slot canyons. 

It turned out that the road was actually not in terrible shape; there were a few places where I had to creep along in order to avoid bottoming out but overall I was able to go about 30 mph (I was unwilling to drive faster on an unfamiliar road at night) so it took me about an hour to reach the access road.  By this time it was about 9:30 pm and it was getting pretty dark. 
The corner- picture taken the next morning
The access road was 1.7 miles and I had gone approximately 0.7 miles of that distance when I came upon a muddy, rutted-out corner and realized I could go no further. I didn’t trust that my car could make it through the mud and the path where people had “cut the corner” in order to avoid the mud was through a patch of uneven, sage-brush covered ground that my car didn’t come close to having the clearance for.  Thoroughly frustrated at this point, I am not ashamed to admit that I cried for a minute!  It was so upsetting to have traveled so far only to be stopped so close to my destination!

my tent, pitched directly behind my car!  I had already taken
the fly off before remembering to take a picture.
After a moment I put on my big girl panties.  I realized that, worst case scenario, I was only about a mile from the trail head so I could always just walk in in the morning.  I decided to re-evaluate the mud hole in the morning when the light was better, moved my car over slightly in case someone came through early in the morning and pitched my tent directly behind my car. The ground was rock hard and I hadn’t staked my tent the previous two nights, plus the weather looked great and I was feeling lazy… so I didn’t stake my tent or put on my rain fly.  What a mistake THAT turned out to be!

I awoke at 12:30 am to lightning and thunder all around me. “Crap!", I thought. I stuck my head outside of my tent to test for rain and immediately felt drops coming down. Annoyed, I launched into action, attempting to secure my fly while still standing inside of my tent, all the while conscious of the fact that lightning was flashing all around and I was the tallest thing around for miles. 

As you can see, the land is quite flat!
The fly of my tent normally extends to either side of the tent about 2.5 feet but I didn’t have a single thing within the tent that I could use to pound the stakes in with and I was afraid my tent might blow away if I wasn’t inside of it, so I wrapped the end of each fly around one of my sandals and wedged each bundle under my tent, a solution that worked for oh… about 2 seconds.  Annoyed at the weather for being so deceptive as well as at myself for being deceived, I settled in for one of the loudest nights of sleep in my life.  The storm lasted until about 4:30 am and there were several times where the lower part of the side of my tent (as in, where it touches the ground, normally!) was actually ON TOP of me and my tent was basically lying completely sideways.  Amazingly, I actually WAS able to sleep through most of the storm and awoke at about 7:30 feeling fairly well rested!  There was about ¼ cup of dust covering everything inside of my tent (which is over ½ netting), me included!  “Well,” I thought, “at least I have an amusing story to tell!”

Upon exiting my tent I realized that I had neighbors!  There was another car and a large tent not 100 yards further down the road.  I made some coffee and went over to introduce myself.  It turned out that their names were Matt and Tabitha and they were from Valdez Alaska.  They were intending to do some canyoneering as well and so we decided to hike to the trailhead together.  We broke up our respective camps and headed in. 
Peek-a-boo canyon

The three of us hiked together for about 20 minutes and then split up when, about 5 minutes after entering Peek-a-boo canyon, the terrain got too difficult for Tabitha to feel comfortable with.  The rain had accumulated in depressions, forming muddy puddles which sometimes had bits of unidentifiable debris floating in them.  At places where the walls were further apart than about three feet it was necessary to step into the puddles in order to reach ledges, which were sometimes at about chest level.  The mud stuck to every inch of your shoe and any portion of your leg that it touched, sometimes resulting in you having a 5 lb “boot” of mud encasing each foot from mid-calf down.  It’s hard enough to scramble on top of a ledge that is chest high, and even harder when you weigh 10 lbs more than usual!  But, in my opinion, that just added to the fun!  
Cool hole in the wall in Peek-a-boo
In the end I have no idea if I made it to Spooky canyon or if I even WAS in Peek-a-boo canyon, honestlyFrom the hiking books I had read and the maps I had checked out I was under the impression that Peek-a-boo and Spooky both ran sort-of Southeast to Northwest, were roughly parallel and about a mile apart from each other, and that there were no other canyons between.  Upon exiting Peek-a-boo I was to cut right and walk perpendicular from the direction I had been traveling, across the ground between the two canyons.  The guidebooks made it sound like it was impossible to NOT drop into Spooky canyon  but in fact there were tons of little slot canyons all over right after exiting Peek-a-boo!  I attempted to measure the distance accurately and walk in the correct direction but I didn’t REALLY have an exact idea of distance OR direction and any sort of precise land navigation is pretty difficult without taking lots of compass readings (probably not possible with the compass on my watch, although I DO think it’s actually pretty accurate!) and I don’t have GPS.  The only real landmark that I had was the big ridge that was to the south that looked largely unchanged throughout my hike and thus was no REAL help in navigating other than that I knew I had to walk that direction to get back to my car! 

Sweet arch in Spooky
Well, I DID actually find a lovely narrow slot canyon that I had to do a bit of interesting maneuvering to drop down into so I think that I may actually have found Spooky canyon, although I don’t REALLY care because it was wonderful to explore in any case.  I DID have a little anxiety at one point when, at the bottom of a crevice that was about 12-18” wide, I heard thunder and spent the next 15 minutes “hauling ass” to try to get out of the canyon, the entire time wondering when the water was going to come crashing around the bend behind me!  As much as I enjoyed the canyon I was certainly relieved to see the walls widen and was completely content to spend the next 45 minutes out in the open as I hiked back to my car, thunder rumbling ominously in the distance from time to time. 

From other videos I've found onine I'm now confident that I DID actually find both Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons!  Yay me!  :o)


  1. Incredible job Laura...on the trip so far, in the Slot Canyons, and especially on the blog. Well done.
    Lori P.

  2. :o) Yay! Thanks Lori! It's nice to hear that you've enjoyed reading my blog, and even nicer to know that someone is actually reading it! :D