Finding hidden canyons in Utah and Arizona

I hate forks in roads as I always fear I’ll make the wrong decision, what if bad weather follows us on one route but it would of been sunshine if we went the other way?

We had decided to revisit our favourite spots in Utah but I guess deep down it didn’t feel right because there were still so many new places we wanted to explore in the States and our time was limited. So literally right as we got to the road junction we changed our minds and headed south towards Arizona and it felt like the right thing to do.

We stopped for a little walk to what we hoped would be a slot canyon. Only one car was parked in the small area and the owners came back as we were leaving. It was three locals with harnesses and clips attached to their waists so I figured I’d check if we also needed gear to access the canyon. They said there’s a big drop down when entering from the top but if we start at the base we could go up four sections without gear.

So we set off and walked through deep sand before descended into a dry riverbed filled with white sand. There were tall rock walls on one side and a big sandy hill covered in shrubbery on the other. We spotted a gap in the wall so we climbed up a ledge to investigate and it led us into an amazing sort of box canyon. It was like a big circle carved out of the rock face and the walls rose high around us. The colours were just insane, burnt orange so vibrant it didn’t even look real. Some walls were darker with mineral stripes waving through them. We spent a while gawping at the walls around us and then continued onto the slot.

It was so much better than we’d expected! As the walls curved through the canyon they changed colour from salmon pink to the sort of orange you would find on a women addicted to fake tan. The sandy floor was kept refreshingly cool in the shade and soon enough we reached our first hurdle which was a steep ledge. I passed my bag up to Craig and managed to heave myself up and continued exploring. The next section was really narrow, especially the base which was barely wide enough to place my feet without them getting jammed but it was easy to wiggle through and a fun obstacle.

The next level had a large boulder wedged at the bottom of the canyon. It was about a meter and a half high and there weren’t any footholds to get up it. I instantly thought of the movie ‘127 hours’ where a climber has a rock fall onto him as he’s exploring a slot canyon. It’s based on a true story in Utah and the guy had his arm wedged between the slot and the rock for 127 hours. No one knew where he was so his only way of surviving was to cut his arm off with an extremely blunt penknife! Luckily there were no limbs squished between this rock but it did seem too high for us to navigate around. I stood beside the rock and jokingly pushed my back against the wall and raised my legs up on the opposite wall, saying that’s how we needed to get up. Turns out that was exactly how we needed to do it but I couldn’t managed the shuffle up as it hurt my back bones too much. Craig made it up though so he had a little wander around the next section on his own and then we slowly headed back through the magical slot. It wasn’t just the colours or the narrow twists and turns that wowed us but more the fact that we had such a special place all to ourselves.

We drove south to Kanab where we got information on the popular sight ‘The Wave’ which is a unique rock formation with a stripy pattern in it. It’s become so popular that BLM manages it with a lottery system. The lady at the office said they give 10 permits out every day but there’s usually 100+ people joining the lottery! We decided to give it a miss, it looked incredible, there’s no doubt about that, but we weren’t feeling lucky and we didn’t want to wait around two days if we did win. So we continued on our journey, briefly stopping at Jacobs Lake Inn for a cookie because so many people told us we had to stop there. Some people said it was worth driving that route just for the cookies. Craig got a lemon and sugar one and I got chocolate praline and we both wondered if the people that recommended the place had only had packaged cookies before because they really weren’t anything special.

The drive got interesting as we drove through Vermillion Cliffs National Monument with a giant orange and red cliffs rising out of the floor. On the other side of the road were canyons that just dropped through grassy fields. I can’t imagine navigating the area on horseback all those years ago, they must’ve come to so many dead-end routes due to the canyons or just galloped off the edge.

There was a collection of old rock dwellings beside the road where people had made cozy homes under giant boulders that had rolled down. The boulders provided a natural wall on at least one side of the house and part of the roof and then they piled small rocks up to create the other walls and even put doorways and windows in them.

It was getting late but we figured we had time for another hike so we entered the surprisingly quiet Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and headed on the Cathedral Wash hike. It was recommended to us by a lady in Kanab and it turned out to be quite the adventure. The first section was quite dull, the colours were bleak and it was nothing like the beauty of the slot we explored earlier in the day.

But it all changed when we reached a section that we thought we couldn’t get down. The canyon suddenly dropped about 10m below us and marks on the rocks showed it was a waterfall in flash floods. Then we spotted 5 ladies who must’ve been 50 – 60 years old and they crouched under an overhanging wall and climbed up some foot holds to reach us. It was a good job we saw them as that was the most confusing part of the hike to navigate. There were occasional puddles of water at the base with sticky clay around the edges which we had to avoid. The next obstacle was a giant boulder that had been wedged in the canyon (about 10x the size of the one in the slot canyon earlier!!) It created another layer to the canyon as sediment and other rocks built up behind it so below the rock was another 10m or so drop. We had to carefully walk sideways along a narrow ledge and use any hole we could find in the wall to grab onto. As we felt under the rocks for dips to hold onto I couldn’t help but wander if I’d accidentally finger a goddam tarantula in its cave-style home. We slowly descended along one side but it became too dangerous so we had to go back until we could cross over and take the opposite wall which worked. There were stone cairns along the way but they didn’t always take the safest route so we improvised a bit. We began making points to remember like curves in the canyon or certain cairns so we could find our way back along the correct side. Any challenging section we got to we just had to remember that the 60 year old ladies managed it so we couldn’t give up!

Eventually the canyon widened and we arrived on a sandy beach with the Colorado river gushing past us. The water was clear and cool with an emerald tinge to it but sandflies were ravenous so we didn’t spend too long admiring the view. Our ‘quick’ hike ended up taking about 3 hours but it was well worth the effort.

It was a very adventurous day and we definitely felt like we picked the right route as we escaped the crowds and had plenty of desert sunshine.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow those pictures are absolutely stunning! Looks like you made all the good descisions coming here! And I’m kinda bummed we missed a lot of this when we visited Utah last month!

    1. Very happy indeed. There must be so many things we also missed though, far too often I leave an area and someone messages me saying ‘did you go to that amazing free hot spring by the road’…nope 🤷🏽‍♀️

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s