25 miles down a dirt road lie some hidden marvels. We headed deep into the heart of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument today to discover the fabled slot canyons, Spooky and Peek-a-boo. We also found a third, with a much less intriguing name, Dry Gulch.
Walking a mile down a nearly impassable road from the parking lot, we soon found the trailhead leading over the rim of the desert down into a land of hidden treasures. We have heard about the canyons and how to find them, but we had no idea what to expect. Some folks resting in the shade of a lone tree on the way down told us how to find the first slot canyon, by the shadow of a rock on a canyon wall. The way down was rather difficult, but the many rock cairns along the way helped us find the way in, snaking down the boulders leading into a large dry waterway.
Once we reached the bottom we found our way to the entrance to Dry Gulch. This place is a testament to the work of water and wind over eons. How nature carved such a narrow and deep slot in the Navajo Sandstone is a big question for me. As we traveled further in the hot desert morning soon gave way to a delicious coolness deep inside the walls of the slot, where the sun couldn’t reach.
We were halfway expecting to find water in the slots due to recent rains, but other than a few mucky muddy spots Dry Gulch was perfectly dry. This canyon was not so narrow as to need one to squeeze through sideways, but narrow enough to give someone claustrophobic the willies. The walls were smooth as can be, etched as they were so artfully by the elements. This area used to be a giant Sahara-like desert of sand. The Navaho Sandstone is actually the compressed remains of this great desert, such that the stone is gorgeously layered in thin lifts of solidified sand.
Next we moved on to Peek-a-boo. This little canyon required some bouldering up a rather daunting 15-foot pitch of stone. Mandy made it, but I stayed behind after some attempts as I couldn’t hoist myself up due to my bad shoulder and the sandals that I wore expecting a watery bottom. This canyon was a wonderland of arches and amazing switchbacks. One arch only allowed one to crawl through on hands and knees.
Now, on to Spooky. So aptly named. This canyon immediately narrowed to now more than a foot wide in many spots. We had to remove our camelbacks to carry them in front of us. And a narrow passageway soon became even narrower, forcing one to shimmy through sideways, sometimes with arms raised. Thankfully we only met one other person coming out near the entrance, so no need to get intimate with a stranger, trying to pass in such confines.
After roughly half a mile we met a steep and forbidding wall of stone, definitely climbable but not without contortions. We decided at this point to back out the way we came. Luckily we didn’t know about and therefore didn’t seek out Brimstone Canyon. This one apparently has quicksand in addition to winding narrow passageways!