And the Slot Canyons around Escalante, Utah
After backpacking in Coyote Gulch for several days (Part 1), we camped another night on Hole-in-the-Rock Road near Devil’s Garden . As it only took us a couple of hours to hike out of Coyote Gulch by way of Jacob Hamblin Arch, we had time to think about another hike to finish off the day. As traveling on the Hole-in-the-Rock road is tedious and time consuming, when we passed the turn off to the well-known slot canyons of Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot, we decided to seize the opportunity.
If you are not familiar with hiking out in the desert country, you are in for a surprise, and, if seen with the right attitude, a treat. Unlike in other areas of the country, though you may have some cairns to lead you, other than your guidebook descriptions, you will not find any signs to indicate the way. I had Kindle versions of my guidebooks loaded on an Ipod, which served as a handy reference guide. Those with Smartphones could do the same thing. At any rate, it would be good to have some form of guidebook with you the first time you venture out.
Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyon-
After we located the well marked path down to the Canyon floor, we followed the guidebook directions toward Peek-a-boo. We passed Dry Forks Slot Canyon on the way, but waited until we returned to venture inside.
Though the guidebooks tell you it is a 12 to 15 foot climb into Peek-a-boo, it seems that they down play the adventurousness of actually having to negotiate the entrance. Once again, Gerry with her rock climbing skills made the climb. I found that I could make the first pitch that features the large depression, but I could not find any handholds in the smooth sandstone to finish the second pitch. Fortunately for me, Gerry was already inside and could give me a hand and help pull me up and inside. I think, depending on your abilities, that this would be another good place to have a short rope for those that need extra assistance. Providing you have someone that can make the initial climb.
Even inside, there were several scrambles in the beginning where I either had to give Gerry an extra push from behind or she give me a hand from above. It was fun, but we were a little surprised as the guidebooks seemed to have downplayed the height of certain areas. Once inside, we were also surprised by the narrowness of sections of the slot. Yes, the guidebook mentions this, but somehow it is different actually experiencing the tightness and the need to squeeze and chimney yourself through various sections. It gave us the feeling that we were glad that this had been done many times before and that there was, indeed, a through route to the end. I had feared when we were at the upper parking area, that there were too many cars there, maybe ten or so, that the slots were going to be too full of people to get any good shots. I need not have worried. The slots were tight enough that no matter how many people are there, you have to go single file just to squeeze through. That being said, we did not see any other people inside Peek-a-Boo until we were almost out. There we met a group of European travelers who were not sure if they had just left Peek-a-boo and were entering Spooky or just the reverse. Like I said, there are no signs for added insurance. I assured them that this was Peek-a-Boo as I had seen many pictures of our climb in. As Gerry said,” I am glad to see a few people. It helps you not feel so lost in the expanse of the desert.”
Spooky Slot Canyon-
To find Spooky Slot Canyon, we relied on the directions given by the Europeans from Peek-a-Boo and also on the guidebook. Between the two we found the way to Spooky. I think Spooky is aptly named as it is much longer, tighter, and darker than Peek-a-B00. There were long sections of barely squeezing our way through certain sections and if I had not been assured that, in fact, many people had done this slot, I am not sure I would have trusted continuing. There was one section about three quarters of the way down the slot that had a pile of boulder erratics blocking our path forward. I climbed up and over, and when I looked down I saw footprints, but they were fifteen feet or more below. We had no rope. Gerry, however, found a way down low where we could barely squeeze through an opening between two boulders, but even then the drop to the floor was five or six feet. If we committed to the jump, I sure hoped that there was a way forward and out. Trusting that the footsteps led somewhere, we took the low jump and continued. This would have been one of those places where I would have liked to have seen someone just for assurance, for as far as I knew we were the only ones in the slot at that time. I am sure Spooky is one of those slots that if I did it again, I would have more trust and less trepidation. Being our first time, however, some sections did feel a little unnerving.
Zebra Slot Canyon-
Zebra Slot is fast becoming the next popular slot of the well known slots off of Hole-in-the-Rock Road. To find the path to Zebra, you go about eight and a half miles down Hole-in-the-Rock Road from Highway 12. Immediately past a cattle guard, you will see a small pull out for cars on your right. This is the car park for Zebra. No signs. If you see this small pullout right past cattle guard and then across the road a well worn path, you have reached the trail head for Zebra. After finding the trail head, the path is easy to follow- one of the easiest we found so far- and is well-worn and grooved from foot traffic. Follow this path for about an hour, crossing several smaller washes, until you reach the larger Harris Wash. Just stay on the path until you reach Harris Wash. At the Wash, take a left for about a half mile and bearing left the wash narrows into the short, but scenic Zebra slot. You can walk in the wash, but the sand is quite soft and slow going. Instead as the trailhead ends at Harris Wash, look for a foot path to your left just beside the wash that leads to the slot. This makes for much easier walking.
When we had arrived in Escalante four days before, we had stopped at the Visitors Center just outside of town and we had been told that the water was chest deep inside Zebra. Later down in Coyote Gulch, two photographers- the ones that had a hard time scrambling out of Jacob Hamblin arch (Part1)- told us that the water was only mid-calf deep in spots. As we were hiking several days after their report and there had been no rain, we decided try our chances. As luck would have it, there were only two puddles at the entrance that were only ankle deep. No problems.
As far as photographing inside Zebra, I had read in “Photographing the Southwest, Volume 1”, by Laurent Martres that a tripod was a must. I, however, found the slot way too tight and setting up a tripod way to time consuming. I, therefore, relied on a fast ISO of 1600 and the VR function of my camera lens. This along with bracing my arms and body and holding my breath seemed to give good results. With most of today’s DSLR’s an ISO of 1600 presents no post-processing problems.
Zebra is a short out and back slot canyon. There is one section that is tight and requires some chimneying to get to the famous stripe formations, but besides this section, I found Zebra to be one of the easiest of the three slots to maneuver. The short slot, plus the well worn, path down to the wash made this one of the easiest slots to find and enjoy. It is still amazing, however, in all this vastness, that someone finds these little gems in the desert.
Even though Devil’s Garden is an easy family destination that requires very little walking, it is still well worth a visit on your way up or down Hole-in-the-Rock Road. The Hoodoo like formations are different than anything else on the road. We happened to be there around dinner time, and seeing as they had picnic tables, decided to have dinner and a camp fire there before pitching our tent. I wanted to take a shot of the Hoodoo’s, but was concerned that the full moon was coming from behind the formations creating a silhouette. I tried a few of these shots, but they left much to be desired. I only had a small flashlight, but decided to set the camera for a twenty second exposure and try some light painting of the formations. The twenty second exposure allowed any stars present to be pin sharp and the clouds to not blur too much. To allow me to get in place nearer the formations, I set the camera for a ten second timer delay. I tried several of these with different ISO”s and found that with an ISO of 2500, the campfire light, the light painting and the moon, I could bring out some details in the Hoodoos. I cropped down so that the moonlight was not presented as a blown out orb.
Though I feel like we accomplished a lot on this trip down Hole-in-the-Rock road, I still feel that I need to go back and do a backpacking trip down to Neon Canyon and Golden Cathedral. It cost up about $240.00 to send out our camping equipment both ways. It would be great to have an outfitter carry my gear, especially my photo gear, but I guess there is something to be said for self-reliance. No matter the cost.
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