An Abortive Slot Canyon Hike in Escalante and the Joys of Air Transportation

The day after we hiked the Peekaboo Loop in Bryce Canyon, we had a dilemma: should we hike another trail in Bryce or try one of the slot canyons in the Grand Staircase National Monument? After a great slot canyon experience last year we opted for the latter and headed east.

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The rock formation on the right-hand side is the first “step” in the staircase. Normally I avoid staircases and should have known to trust my anti-staircase instincts on this one.

We stopped at the visitor’s center in Escalante to make sure we were headed to the right place. The ranger there gave us great directions and told us which slot canyons to shoot for.

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We also found some cheery information about how it would feel to be crushed by a flash flood.

The slot canyons were down Hole in the Rock road, a dirt road that basically took us to the middle of nowhere. After a little over an hour of driving our rented Nissan Altima on a surface that ranged from “gravel that might puncture the tires but was okay for the suspension” to “ridges that wouldn’t hurt the tires but might destroy the suspension,” we made it to the parking lot, only having scraped the bottom of the car in a potentially disastrous way once.

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Victory!

There was an additional one and a half mile walk to the trail head from the parking lot, down a road reserved for vehicles that were not Nissan Altimas.

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To get to the slot canyons, we had to walk down a ridge of slickrock, which is a type of sandstone, that in spite of what you might think from the name and from Jim’s cautious approach, actually provides great traction. img_9031img_9032img_9034

Some people are less trusting of the legendary traction provided slickrock less than others.

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We eventually made it to the bottom, where the trail split into three, each branch leading to a different slot canyon. Fatefully, we chose to hike Peekaboo Gulch first instead of the easier but narrower Spooky Gulch.

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Peekaboo Gulch had to be accessed by climbing a 12 foot wall. But there was good news – the wall was made out of slickrock.

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Good news going up. Bad news for the bare thighs of people sliding down.

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Once we were in and Jim regained consciousness, we could see that the canyon was impressive, and we were feeling good about our chances, having cleared the 12 foot entry wall.

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Piece of cake from here, right? RIGHT?!

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Hmmm… I don’t know if my leg will bend at the angle necessary to climb that…

We got maybe 50 feet in; after climbing several 5 foot obstacles, Jim’s back, which he had had surgery on a few years back, started getting sore. We decided to turn around and head to Spooky Gulch.

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This, of course, would mean descending the infamous wall, an endeavor that went well for neither of us.

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About halfway down the wall, I chose to jump the remaining five feet or so rather than risk slipping. Apparently, at 44 years old, a five foot jump is out of the question, and when I landed I hurt my back, which was ironic since we were only going down the wall to avoid having Jim hurt his back. I’m sure we’ll all have good laugh at the irony one day, probably during a shared traction session at the physical therapist. Jim fared a little better than I did climbing down; his back was fine, but sliding down the wall rubbed the back of one leg raw. Cutting our losses, mainly because neither of us wanted to risk having to explain to our wives how the other one had died in a slot canyon successfully hiked by small children, we headed back to civilization. On the plus side, this did give us the time to return Bryce Canyon Pines for dinner and pie and to see to Bryce Canyon at sunset, where we were able to take pictures at Paria View.

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Paria View is one of the few overlooks at Bryce that faces west instead of east. The view was amazing, but there are so many incredible views at Bryce that the road branching off to Paria didn’t even have a sign.

Sunset photo taken at undisclosed location.

By sunset, it was getting chilly on the edge of the canyon, so rather than risk having the cold cause my old man back to seize up, I snapped some quick pictures and retreated to the car.

That was not the end of the Odyssey, though. We still had to navigate the U.S. airline system. This gave us trouble from the start, mainly due to Jim’s love of board games.

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No, not THESE kinds of board games. These games make Jim die a little bit inside.

Jim’s carry-on was packed with board games, and apparently stacks of cards give the x-ray machine trouble. This is good to know in case you are planning to smuggle an illicitly large container of shampoo through security. When we tried to go through security, Jim was asked to open each of the board games, empty it, and then repack it. While that was going on, I ordered and consumed an entire lunch.

A luggage search under our belts, to make it home, we only had to endure a flight delay due to the 65 mph winds at Salt Lake, a rebooking, a take-off in 65 mph winds, and twenty minutes of the airplane taxiing to its gate at Dallas, during which the plane apparently circumnavigated the entire airport. Having checked off all of these bucket list items, we made it back to Virginia, only having lost one piece of luggage on the way.

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