Lost in Escalante

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is where I finally tumbled head over heels in love with the desert. It didn’t have the paved roads or towering peaks of some of the other Utah parks we visited – though it did have a gorgeous visitor center. Instead its hikes were spread over miles of rough dirt roads, marked sparingly with signs and cairns of pale orange rock. It was a place where you could get lost, and get lost we did.

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We had only scheduled one day at the monument, just enough time to hike to the Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons. Our first “real” slot canyons of the trip, Peekaboo and Spooky were known for their scrambles and tight corners, and located 26 miles down a dirt road. Our rented camper van did an impressively good job navigating to the trail head, though if the road had been in any worse condition we would’ve had to turn back.

Reaching the trail head we played connect the dots with a series of cairns to descend down into Dry Fork Drainage, a large gulch that housed the canyons. Just minutes after the descent, we were presented with the wide and inviting entrance of a slot canyon. Without a second thought, we passed the cairn that marked its entrance and walked right in.

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The ripples in the walls were entrancing, clear homage to currents that had formed them long ago. As we wandered through the canyon, however, I noticed that we weren’t seeing any of the sharp twists, turns, and scrambles that Peekaboo, the first canyon on the trail, was known for. We must have entered the wrong one. Assuming we had passed Peekaboo and entered Spooky instead, we popped up out of the canyon and began searching for the trail that was supposed to link the two.

We followed several series of boot prints down a dry wash, but they eventually disappeared into masses of cow tracks. We scouted around for ten more minutes before, wary of losing our way, we returned to the canyon. Our time in Escalante was running out, so we quickly backtracked to the mouth of the canyon and worked our way up the trail searching for the entrance to Peekaboo. Walking up and down the start of the trail several times, we didn’t see anything. Finally we spotted someone leaving canyon we had just explored and asked if he knew its name. He didn’t, but he did point out the entrance to Peekaboo, visible less than 50 meters further down the trail – whoops!

Peekaboo started with a bang – a nice fifteen foot vertical scramble, just tall enough to get your heart racing. It quickly morphed into a series of tight twists and turns – nothing like the canyon we had mistaken it for.

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There were no mere ripples in the walls here. Instead the water must have fought its way through the rocks, twisting and melding them into fantastic shapes. Over and under, we made our way through; continuing upstream, winding through the orange rock until our path narrowed into impassibility.

Turning back, we decided our time was up. We wouldn’t be able to get to Spooky on this trip. I didn’t regret our detour though – it’s a rare treat to get lost in this age of GPS and pavement. Plus, I’m already planning for the day I head back with more time to poke around – a desert backpacking trip is definitely on the horizon.

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Upon further investigation we discovered that the mystery canyon was the Dry Fork Narrows, described in a guidebook as a great appetizer to Peekaboo and Spooky. Stay posted for more tales of my week in the desert.

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