Prologue: Yesterday's diary, on Antelope Canyon (http://www.dailykos.com/...) likely got a lot of our community excited about the spellbinding beauty of this iconic slot canyon. The diary also touched upon two fundamental aspects about this, or any other, slot canyon, which in this diary I want to highlight before getting into the heart of the matter: presenting other notable slot canyon hiking details, including relative background associated with the places I've chosen to feature. In this case, I elect to relate the negative before the positive. In short, putting the danger before the pleasure. The danger is, of course, the potential of flash flooding. I relate this grim stuff just so you know what to be wary of before entering any slot canyon. Indeed, and for a change, your life depends on common sense should you elect to mess about with Mother Nature. To get the tour underway, let me first present a background story using pictures and captions. Hence, when you venture into sandstone country and terrain like this...
And you happen to notice this stuff moving in your direction...
But you're chomping at the bit to get down inside and experience this...
Well, let me just spit it out: DO YOU HAVE A PREMATURE DEATH WISH? I mean, did you not notice the usual posted signs that demand hikers use common sense before entering such places?
Slot canyons come in all manners of shapes and sizes. Some you enter from the bottom:
Some have, in places, a dry, wide sandy path:
Though most are narrow and with a dry sandy path (unless raining or flooding, of course):
Some have year-round slow water (at least in segments of the fissure):
Some have running water, requiring slogging through the fissure:
Some even have makeshift ladders in select places:
But sometimes you just have to find a way around obstacles, such as chock stones (which are, of course, gigantic boulders):
There are even slots that are accessible only by such mean (at least the entry point):
And to remind you just how high the water can get inside slot canyons cast your eyes above the trail and look for telltale signs, like this:
Final reminder. . .you really do not want to take chances in slot canyons when the water is running like this. . .
If this telling introduction snares your attention, what follows in this diary delineates the more pleasant details about hiking in slot canyons. I also mention the grim details because I nearly lost my life in Paria Canyon due to fast rising water that literally came out of the proverbial blue. Only it was all red, muddy water. I was lucky that time, but it taught me never to trust a clear sky overhead, while not considering what stormy skies lurked beyond the view.
What Are Slot Canyons? By definition, slot canyons are narrow fissures formed by the wear and tear of water rushing through rock strata. A slot canyon is significantly deeper than wide. Some slot canyons can measure less than 3 feet across at the top, yet drop more than 100 feet to the floor of the canyon. Most slot canyons also are formed in sandstone and limestone rock. Sometimes granite and basalt slot canyons can morph into slot canyons. Due to a combination of the particular characteristics of the rock, also the regional rainfall, only a small number of streams will form slot canyons. Most important, slot canyons are created in areas with limited rainfall. This is why the Southwest is home to a variety of slot canyons like no other. Here are some of the more popular slots and hiking details to consider hiking one day. But on the proviso it is prudent to know what is the best season to hike in such confining places (hint: not the summer monsoon season); also, even on a clear day overhead what you have to worry and wonder about is what's happening, weather wise, in the local region. Ergo, a rain storm miles away could end up flooding the chasm with a sunny sky far above the pathway.
Just remember: You can't always trust a blue sky-window overhead. Always...always check the weather forecast before entering any slot canyon, and consider what's happening up-canyon (weather wise) that might eventually flood down-canyon.
ZION NARROWS (http://www.dailykos.com/...) and THE WAVE (http://www.dailykos.com/...), along with ANTELOPE CANYON (http://www.dailykos.com/...) each were featured in previous diaries. What follows are other popular slots, most fairly easy and moderate to navigate, and some that are a bit challenging. Ergo, if you are interested in going down the rabbit hole (in a manner of speech) and considering hiking in a slot canyon, then keep in mind Clint Eastwood's advice (paraphrased): You got to know your limitations, dude!
By the way, having the right footwear for conditions is always highly recommended. Thus if there's some water consistently running in the slot, then water-proof shoes or those for walking in water are highly recommended.
And now, as the Bard says in one of epic plays, "More matter, with less art." In this case, I'll stick to the text and forego images until the close of the diary.
PEEKABOO GULCH: Peekaboo is a small drainage and for the most part amounts to a sandy wash. It eventually merges with a half mile or so narrows section. This prime slot sector is also twisting and convoluted, though only a few feet deep. Peekaboo is very popular with hikers because of the last 300 or so feet, where the scenery turns outrageous, almost a sensory overload. This happens just before the junction with the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch is reached. At this point the ravine cuts deeper into the sandstone and forms a series of interlinked potholes, extravagant swirls and fins of rock, and several arches. Notably, it is these different openings and numerous corners and crevices that account for the curious name of this slot canyon. It takes about an hour to see and experience all the lower narrows.
This particular locale is the first tributary joining Dry Fork (of Coyote Gulch). It’s just downstream of the usual entrance to this particular canyon nexus. Often, there’s a pool of murky water beneath the end of Peekaboo Gulch. The water may be up to 3 feet deep, with a near vertical rock wall about 10 feet high and beyond. Several notches (footholds) have been cut into this slickrock. The notches are also worn and muddy. Ergo, climbing can be tricky. Piling small rocks in the pool sometimes helps to gain an advantage. Above is another watery pothole, and beyond that a succession of pools, each a few feet higher up. There’s still more slippery rocks to scramble up and over, and some places are problematic to negotiate (though nonetheless manageable with patience). This lower section of the canyon features the sandstone arches and the best rock formations. This particular stretch of canyon becomes shallower and the route is more straightforward. There are several places where climbing to the plateau at either side is possible.
To harp on the point again: When hiking in slot canyons where water is common proper footwear is important. Thus some types of shoes are simply better than others (to grip the surface rock).
SPOOKY GULCH: This slot is well-deserving of its name. It’s a dark and mysterious abode, measuring about a half-mile of truly serpentine and tight (narrow) passages. Often, it’s only possible to see a few feet ahead. The canyon twists and turns through a series of one hundred-eighty degree bends and it’s not the place to be during flash flood season, neither is any slot canyon during even a minimal amount of rainfall. (Why?) The colors and patterns of the cross-bedded Navajo Sandstone makes the intrigue of hiking here worth the suspense. The walls also have an unusual knobby texture which is similar to other regional (Escalante) slot canyons. The erosion of the walls adds to the eerie atmosphere. The only downside to such endorsement is that Spooky is quite popular with hikers. Hence, it’s all about timing, the season and not having to wait too long to experience this exceptional and relatively easy slot canyon. Fit hikers can easily explore all the narrows in about twenty minutes, though of course spending more time here is recommended.
These narrows begin a short distance down a lengthy, sandy side canyon. Like Peekaboo, Spooky joins Dry Fork (of Coyote Gulch) from the north, about .4 mile east of the usual entrance point. There’s also a shortcut over a sandbank just before the main canyon which is marked by a cairn.
Note: The canyon floor of Spooky Gulch is sometimes sandy and sometimes scattered bare rocks. The gulch also tapers to a sharp point in some sectors. Although a few pools may form during wet weather this sector of the regional canyon country is much drier than Brimstone or Peekaboo (neighbor slots to the east and west). When the cliff walls tighten, as in impinging on the thoroughfare, Spooky Gulch turns deep and narrow from the start, and with a few straight channels further along. Eventually, the winding begins––sharp bends, thin protruding fins of rock, potholes, and occasional boulders––big, smooth-surfaced rocks that partially impede the passageway. Thus in some parts of the gulch sideways walking is necessary. Indeed, larger people, whether rotund or tall, may not be able to walk all the way through.There are two places in Spooky that require more exertion: a 5-foot literal squeeze up a near vertical crevice, then negotiating around a tight, narrow corner at the top, followed by a climb over a pile of large boulders near the upper end of the canyon. Scrambling under one large rock and over another just beyond is all part of the adventure and effort. As with most slot canyons in this vicinity, Spooky becomes shallow after a while, then the slot gives way to a wide, open and sandy streamway. This segment continues for several miles across gently sloping land toward a distant plateau. An alternative way to reach the narrows is by hiking downstream from the far north end of the wash, beginning from the Early Weed Bench trailhead. This entry is reached from a side track that starts at Mile 24 of the famed Hole-in-the-Rock road.
BRIMSTONE GULCH: Completing a trinity of favored slot canyons in this vicinity is Brimstone. It may indeed be the ultimate slot canyon of southeastern Utah’s canyon frontier. For one thing, Brimstone Gulch is less than 3 feet wide for most of its 1-mile. The central section is also not traversable at floor level. That’s because in many places it’s just a few inches across, though still many feet deep. The passages are also dimly lit with graceful, curving sandstone walls that block most sunlight. Here the rocks are dark-colored which makes this particular slot canyon ghostly and mysterious, even by Spooky’s standards.
Inside this spectacular slot are pools several feet deep, at least this is usually the case along the lengthier end of the slot. The pools thus require a longer walk to get there than the other two popular tributaries of Dry Fork Coyote Gulch (namely Spooky and Peekaboo). Because of these natural hurdles, Brimstone is less visited than Peekaboo or Spooky, and certainly more challenging. Still, the rewards are well worth the strain. Entrance into this enchanting maze is from the top, as an alternative, though it involves a longer trek over the sandy desert. Only a short part of this canyon is easily accessible before the canyon narrows. Brimstone Gulch joins the larger Dry Fork (of Coyote Gulch) from the north, say, 2 miles east of the usual entrance to this particular slot canyon. The walk down Dry Fork is much like a stroll, that is apart from one potential obstacle formed by a chokestone and 15 foot a dry fall which can be free climbed. At this junction Brimstone appears somewhat unremarkable: a flat floor of soft, cool sand between widely separated walls of orange-colored sandstone. However, that typical scenery changes within a mile or so as the narrows abruptly begin.
The other factor about this slot canyon is that it’s deep from the beginning. Brimstone also contains a few muddy pools near the entrance after which the passageway is dry, at least for a while. Soon the walls squeeze inward to as little as 2 feet. At this point the rocky face above curve inwards, thus preventing all but occasional rays of sunlight from illuminating the way ahead. There’s a particularly narrow and somewhat gloomy section that’s likely to be a lengthy thin pool of deeper cold water, perhaps 5 feet or more. This stretch also curves around several bends. Otherwise, there are no major obstacles before a wider, shallower and more brightly lit section appears which is filled with fallen rocks. At this sector Brimstone is like a veritable subway chamber. However, hikers must also be wary, for this segment during part of the year is home to a midget and faded species of rattlesnake, pale yellow in color.
Take care when traipsing through their home! (Look for the telltale tapered head profile and you’ll know it’s in the viper class, meaning poisonous if it bites.) Beyond the next open area the gulch deepens again, and becomes the narrows which continues at ground level. The adjoining pasageway is about 6 inches wide and offers no easy way to climb above the tight section. Now what? For most people, turnaround and return to the entrance. This about face point is also reached in about twenty to twenty-five minutes hiking in these narrows.
The lengthy central section of Brimstone can best be traversed starting from the upper end. Chimneying techniques with arms and legs are therefore necessary (a few feet above the floor); also a number of small rappels, so, yes, having a rope on any slot canyon hike is always recommended.
WATER HOLES: There’s another appealing slot canyon near Page that might serve as a more convenient surrogate sector to hike, especially for those who enjoy less crowded slots. Water Holes is only a few miles from Lake Powell, flowing into a short section of Glen Canyon that still remains intact (not drowned by the waters of the surrogate lake). Its watercourse extends on either side of Hwy. 89 and becomes much deeper downstream. There are also a number of sheer drops along the way! Various narrow passageways both west, and especially east, of the highway have exceptionally attractive rock formations: curved, delicately colored formations characteristic of this region. Water Holes is also gorgeously illuminated and often very narrow, yet its course is not too deep to block the sun’s penetrating rays.
Water Holes Canyon’s drainage runs east-west for about 7 miles south of Page and joins the Colorado River a short distance above Lees Ferry. Because this slot canyon is entirely on Navajo land a hiking permit is necessary. There are three distinct sections of these narrows: downstream and west of U. S. 89 which is between the highway and the junction with Glen Canyon/Lake Powell. There are various vertical drops up to 50 feet and necessitates using several ropes, or a combination of rim walking while using a different point of entry/exit to hike along specific sections. There’s also the Upstream section which is east of the highway. This section is less deep, though it has attractive narrows and is easy to follow. This remarkable section is naturally the most popular with most hikers. Finally, the Upper Canyon is another branch and located 3 miles from the highway. This is the longest and narrowest segment of Water Holes Canyon and requires more effort to enter this sector.
BLUE POOL WASH: Along the west edge of Lake Powell are several other short slot canyons winding through the light-colored Entrada Sandstone. Blue Pool Wash is quite a lengthy drainage, actually a sandy wash for most of the way. It flows from the high cliffs at the edge of Cedar Mountain (near the east entrance of the Grand Canyon) across a flat plateau, then gets deeper shortly before the junction with Wahweap Creek. At this sector it forms several moderately cavernous and narrow sections interrupted by dryfalls. The narrows sector begins just as Hwy. 89 crosses the wash. This locale is easily accessed and can be explored in about an hour, although climbing ropes are necessary to descend the entire length.
The wash is especially a good place to learn rappelling techniques with three drops to negotiate, all close together and next to the main road. As in all slot canyons, the wash becomes a chasm a few feet/meters upstream of the bridge. The route descends over two small dryfalls, then a bigger falls, also dry, directly underneath the highway. This locale is formed by a boulder on top of the remains of an old car that was presumably pushed over the bridge. It isn't easy to climb down without a rope, so a better point to enter the canyon is on the other side of the road via a slickrock slope on the southeast side. The canyon downstream soon reaches another sheer fall of several feet/meters beneath a chokestone. Ropes may be left in place here.
Except for the lower end of the wash there are no viable reentry points in this part of the canyon. However, walking along the southeast rim, then scrambling down the steeper cliff facades forming the sides of Wahweap Valley, extends to the lower end (of the wash). Decades ago the waters of Lake Powell flooded the valley all the way to Blue Pool Wash, but the water has since receded. Now the floor is covered by bushes, sand dunes and mudflats. Ego, bushwhacking is a must in places! The lower end of the wash soon narrows sharply before it’s blocked by a high dry fall. Usually, there’s a rope attached at the top end. Curvy reddish rocks rise high above. In this sector, other short slot-like tributaries enter on both sides of Wahweap Creek, but none are very narrow or deep. If there’s time, explore and enjoy the solitude and isolation.
THE COCKSCOMB: Along the East Kaibab Monocline within the Grand Staircase-Escalante NM is the bent, broken and tilted rocks known as The Cockscomb. This comely attraction represents the northern extension of the East Kaibab Monocline. Its dramatic fold of sedimentary layers defines the eastern limb of the Kaibab Uplift stretching over a hundred miles northward from the Grand Canyon. Monoclines of the Colorado Plateau are much like vast rugs draped over a series of definable steps in the terrain. These layered rocks are also bent and warped across faults hidden in deeper basement rocks well below the surface. The East Kaibab Monocline’s topography is special because it’s one of the rare monoclines on the Plateau that has had its faulted basement revealed by erosion in the Grand Canyon.
This hike explores a fairly easy and accessible area of intricate slot canyons carved by Cottonwood Creek. The hike begins south from Cannonville, Utah on the Cottonwood Canyon Road. About 12.5 miles past Kodachrome Basin SP the road drops steeply into a tight little valley called “Candyland.” As the road levels out in the valley bottom, take note of an obvious opening in the high wall of sandstone on the west side of the road. However, there still may be no sign marking the trailhead. The red and white candy towers are a giveaway, meaning you are most definitely in the right region. These towers nearest the pullout (for parking) are upturned layers in the Entrada Formation which is so prevalent in this part of Utah.
The hike entails a 3-mile loop. The elevation is 5,640 to 5,550 feet. Start the hike by crossing the road and descending into Cottonwood Creek, then follow a narrow little wash hugging the north (right) side of the opening (the sandstone wall). Once in the canyon there’s a noticeable steep tilt or dip of the rock layers. The rocks (in places) are inclined up to sixty-five degrees along this section of the East Kaibab Monocline. The upright wall of white sandstone where the trail begins is a tongue of the Carmel Formation. This Jurassic Period windblown sandstone is bounded above and below by layers of red siltstone and shale that’s more easily eroded. The Navajo Sandstone Formation is the massive layer below the Carmel Formation. The first upstream slot canyon this trail leads to is carved into the Navajo Sandstone. The walls of its chasm are riddled with an assortment of thin white lines which define micro scale faults and fractures. These geological events were formed in response to enormous compressional force that buckled the rocks to form the monocline. Look closely to see where the layers in the rock are offset along these small, though significant faults. Amazingly, and if you know what to look for, there are normal, reverse and thrust faults in the grouping, but represented in miniature.
Above this first slot canyon the wash widens out where it has carved through red beds in the Carmel Formation. In places, the red siltstone is a rather chaotic jumble smashed together. In other places, it has been squeezed up into the overlying sandstone. Another couple hundred yards the wash bends to the right, where it enters another slot canyon. If continuing upstream, there’s a sizable log wedged some 20 feet above the wash. This spectacle is a testament to the depth of the walls of water that can fill these slot canyons during major flash floods. Ergo: never venture into any slot canyon when its raining, especially during monsoon season. Also, check regional weather, because it may not be raining in the canyon, but if it’s raining somewhere nearby the high water’s eventually coming!
After getting to this point return to the entry of the canyon, then follow the wash downstream at that point. Sheer walls of Navajo Sandstone rise steeply on either side. As in all windblown sandstone rocks, the thin, slanting lines throughout the rock walls are cross-beds that tell a story. Namely, the grooved lines represent the preserved, downwind faces of advancing sand dunes, though long since petrified in this awesome sandstone formation.
Most of the wash is sandy-bottomed and easy to navigate. Near the end, however, large boulders block the wash. This blockage means it’s necessary to scoot up and around to the left before dropping back down into the main wash. After about 1.5 miles, the wash empties into the main strike valley. The road is just beyond. There’s a well-worn trail marked by a cairn (to the left) after passing the power line. Climb uphill to the main road, then turn left and head for your vehicle.
The following list provides the best of the best slots throughout the Colorado Plateau. Many of these places are not crowded, because most are off the beaten path. There are, however, tour operators that supply guides to these places. A few of these slots are also detailed in the HIKING ICONS Supplement. For example, Spooky and Peekaboo, which are awesome slot canyons and fairly easy for most people to enter and explore (with or without a guide).
Capitol Reef NP:
• Burro Wash––sandy streamway that becomes a watery slot canyon
• Cottonwood Wash––deep canyon with pools and dryfalls
• Five Mile Wash––another narrow passageway through the Waterpocket Fold
• Grand Wash––popular canyon with a short narrows section
Page, AZ vicinity:
• Blue Pool Wash––short narrows, north of Wahweap
• Butterfly Canyon––remote, little-visited gorge
• Starting Water Wash––another narrow Kaibito tributary
• Stateline Canyon––shallow but pretty slot
• Upper Kaibito Creek––deep, exciting, challenging canyon
• Upper Kaibito Creek, East Fork––beautiful tributary of Kaibito Creek
• Water Holes Canyon––pretty Navajo sandstone narrows; similar to
North Lake Powell:
• Butler Canyon––tight, challenging, branched slots
• Cheesebox Canyon––lengthy canyon leading deep into the wilderness
• Death Canyon––short slot near North Wash
• Fortknocker Canyon––rarely visited branch of White Canyon
• Fry Canyon––short White Canyon tributary with two flooded narrow
• Gravel Canyon––slots, pools, drop offs and long open sections
• Long Canyon––extensive White Canyon tributary; pools and good narrows
• Maidenwater Canyon––one of many branches of Trachyte Creek
• North Wash––wide drainage with 4 slot canyon tributaries
• Poison Spring Canyon––another big canyon with narrow tributaries
• Rock Canyon––good narrows in Cedar mesa sandstone
• Smith Fork––secret, branched slot near Bullfrog Marina
• Swett Creek––another remote Trachyte tributary
• Trachyte Creek––shallow slots, plus waterfalls and cascades
• Trail Canyon––tight narrows through smooth Navajo sandstone
• White Canyon––well known gorge that includes the 'Black Hole'
• Booker Canyon––short but pretty narrows deep in the wilderness
• Buckskin Gulch––longest slot canyon in the world
• Bull Valley Gorge––testing canyon containing muddy pools and deep
• Cottonwood Wash––easy, popular narrow canyon
• Lick Wash––short narrows in a distant upper tributary of Buckskin Gulch
• Paria River––one of the two best extended canyon hikes in the Southwest
• Starlight Canyon––short slot section in a remote location
• Round Valley Draw––another deep, scenic Navajo sandstone canyon
• Willis Creek––a permanent stream flowing through some beautiful narrow
• Wire Pass––easily explored tributary of Buckskin Gulch
San Rafael Swell:
• Baptist Draw/Upper Chute Canyon––superb slot canyons in the middle of
• Bell Canyon––short canyon with nicely eroded rocks
• Cistern and Ramp Canyons––a pair of deep, secluded ravines
• Crack Canyon––narrows and intricate rock formations
• Crawford Draw––watery canyon through fine stratified rock
• Devils Canyon––deep Coconino canyon with many narrow tributaries
• Ding and Dang Canyons––two short ravines through the San Rafael Reef
• Eardley Canyon––fantastic, hidden ravine; a narrow upper section that
deepens considerably downstream
• Forgotten Canyon––short but intriguing ravine
• Iron Wash, North Fork––hard to reach slot
• Little Wild Horse Canyon––the most popular slot canyon in the Swell
• Muddy Creek––remote canyon with extensive Coconino narrows
• Big Horn Canyon––colorful ravine in little-visited country
• Brimstone Gulch––possibly the darkest Southwest slot canyon
• Coyote Gulch, Dry Fork––lengthy streamway including various narrow
• Davis Gulch––testing narrow canyon with a huge natural arch
• Egypt 3––excellent narrows in three distinct sections
• Harris Wash - classic Navajo sandstone drainage with interesting side
• Little Death Hollow––remote canyon with long, exciting, narrow
• Llewellyn Gulch––another magnificent hidden canyon
• Neon Canyon––long slot ending at the 'Golden Cathedral'
• Peekaboo Gulch––pools, arches and other eroded features
• Red Breaks––secluded, rarely visited area
• Spooky Gulch––claustrophobic canyon with unusual rock textures
• Clear Creek––long valley with side canyons
• Echo Canyon––steep side ravine that becomes a narrow slot
• Hidden Canyon––cool, shady branch of Zion Canyon
• Kanarra Creek––colorful gorge with permanent stream
• Keyhole Canyon––short, narrow tributary of Clear Creek - NEW
• Kolob Creek––deep, challenging, difficult to reach Virgin River tributary
• Mineral Gulch––just outside the park; narrow tributary to the east fork of
the Virgin River
• Misery Canyon––technical slot, a Parunuweap side canyon
• North Creek, Left Fork––well-known canyon that includes 'The Subway'
• Orderville Canyon––long and very deep gorge joining the Zion Narrows
• Parunuweap Canyon––another deep watery narrow canyon
• Pine Creek––short, popular narrows requiring technical climbing
• Poverty Wash––hard to reach tributary of Parunuweap
• Red Canyon (Peek-a-Boo Canyon)––short ravine through deep red rocks
north of Kanab
• Red Hollow & Spring Hollow––2 short slots near Orderville, east of Zion
• Sand Wash (Red Cave)––colorful slot with two long branches
• Spring Creek––long valley just north of the park
• Taylor Creek, Middle Fork––one of the finger canyons of the Kolob
• Zion Canyon––the most famous narrows in the Southwest
Some parting shots:
And so, DKos community, we come to the end of another trail, another armchair tour. There will be other scenic places to tour and more supplemental topics to read and think about, so stay tuned for a continuation in this series.
As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.
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