Our first article in our Hiking the Escalante series showcased the most beautiful hike in the Southwest, Coyote Gulch. We followed that incredible journey with discussing by far the single most impressive natural feature in the Southwest, Stevens Arch.
In today’s post, part three of our Hiking the Escalante series, we offer up a bit of peek-a-boo. Not the quaint and playful little children’s game, but rather the spectacular solitude experienced by hiker’s that travel to and through Peek a Boo Slot Canyon.
John Muir once wrote when referring to the mountains:
“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.”
Muir’s sentiment can apply to the slot canyons of the southwest, some of nature’s grandest spectacles. Most intrepid hikers are familiar with Arizona’s Antelope Canyon, known for its narrow, twisting, intricately carved red-rock walls, a magnet for photographers. But Antelope is commercial which attracts mobs of tourists throughout the year.
To experience far more solitude as well as a genuine slot canyon encounter, we recommend you drive north about 60 miles, deep in the heart of Southern Utah’s no man’s land. I joined a group of eight fellow hikers last April and headed into the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. We accessed the Hole in the Rock Road and hiked into three spectacular slots, Dry Gulch, Spooky and Peek A Boo Slot Canyon. These three chasms are among the most spectacular slot canyons of the southwest, although not for hikers overly claustrophobic or with limited climbing skills.
Joining us on that fine spring day was Rudi Lambrechtse, a knowledgeable guide and river rat who has spent over 40 years traipsing through the canyons of the Escalante, logging more than 1,500 miles. Rudi published an excellent book, Hiking The Escalante, a detailed wilderness guide to the canyons of the Escalante and Glen Canyon region.
We highly recommend Rudi’s guidebook for anyone planning to explore this region of the West.
Our group spent an exhilarating day of discovery and delved into the mystery of the canyons. What was the main draw? Three narrow slots which drain the north side of Dry Fork Coyote Gulch. Peek a Boo Slot Canyon and Spooky Gulch were challenging, claustrophobic but fun and exciting.
From the trailhead where we parked our vehicles, we hiked north to the edge and started down the trail. Rock cairns guided us on the route down. We worked our way to the west side of the wash, descended a sand dune and back to the wash. We stayed in the wash and walked up the main canyon, Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch, which had several slot-like sections of its own. Narrow sections alternated with deep, wider stretches which featured the sheer Navajo sandstone cliffs this region is world renowned for. The walk up Dry Fork was easy, the scenery and photographic opportunities delightful.
Next up was Spooky Gulch, a dark and mysterious place. Spooky contained a half-mile of sheer exhilaration, wonder, and amazement. The passages were narrow and serpentine where it was often possible to see just a few feet ahead. The canyon twisted and turned through numerous 180-degree bends. The colors and textures of the rock were extraordinary, revealing shades of red, purple, and magenta, the scenery almost unearthly. Walls had an unusual knobby appearance, which further heightened the drama and added to the eerie nature of the place. Navajo Sandstone walls appeared to curve inward near the top, allowing only occasional light shafts to filter down from above.
When we entered Spooky, the canyon quickly slotted up and it’s many boulders required scrambling and climbing to proceed further. Other sections were so constricted that hikers in our group had to squeeze through sideways, holding day pack in hand. In these tight corners, the slimmest among us enjoyed the distinct advantage. Some areas involved crawls through narrow passageways, similar to caving. Spooky is a truly great slot canyon.
Our last adventure for the day was to plunge into Peek a Boo Slot Canyon (a.k.a. Peek-a-Boo Gulch). Although not very long or physically demanding, Peek a Boo Slot Canyon required some navigational and rock climbing skills to negotiate its twists and chutes. We entered it from the top at the crossover route upon exiting Spooky Gulch. The highlight of Peek-a-Boo was an impressive double natural bridge. To add to the vistas, there were two more small natural bridges, carved out features which gave this slot its name. To exit Peek-a-Boo, we down climbed scooped-out pockets in the rock and carefully lowered ourselves to the floor of the wash. Just for fun, several of us attempted to climb up the rock jam into Peek-a-Boo without the benefit of the scooped out pockets, but none succeeded.
Dry Gulch, Spooky, and Peek a Boo Slot Canyon combined for a fun, exhilarating and beautiful loop hike, our total mileage was 5.5 miles. Our group took our time, exploring and photographing the slot canyons, a full day of exploration. Late in the afternoon, we retraced our steps out of the wash, back up the sandy trail to the trailhead above. It capped another great day of adventure in the canyons of the Escalante!
Next up: Geology Comes Alive at the Toadstools.
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