The last couple of days have been full of unexpected twists and turns. On occasion, literally.
We never did make it back to Zion. I guess we’ll have to save that for next time. The problem is, the list of things to do ‘next time’ grows with every trip we take.
We couldn’t decide what to do on Wednesday, but after chatting to the owner of the local mercantile, we decided to take a drive along Scenic Byway 12. We weren’t disappointed. The landscapes we passed through were truly spectacular: sagebrush-filled valleys between towering cliffs, bare sandstone rock as far as the eye could see and, most surprising of all, the occasional deep ravine with a stream flowing along its bottom.
However, the most breathtaking part of the drive was crossing what locals call the Hogback. Following our experiences at the Grand Canyon the day before, we decided to rename it the Heebeejeebee Highway. Whatever you want to call it, flicking left and right on a narrow snake-like road, with a drop of several hundred feet on both sides, really gets the pulse racing.
During a stop at one of the visitor centres for the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument we were told about a number of remote slot canyons. Showing a rare glimmer of common sense, and listening to advice for the second time in less than 24 hours (this time a Park Ranger’s), we reluctantly decided it was too late in the day to take on such an adventure.
So now we were left with quite the dilemma for Thursday: return to Zion as we’d planned, or investigate these intriguing-sounding slot canyons. We put our heads together, human and Ses, considered both options carefully, weighed the pros and cons and decided… if we get up early enough, we can do both!! (Okay, it was never going to happen, but it seemed like a great plan at the time.)
We got up before the sun and by 9 o’clock we were turning off Scenic Byway 12 onto Hole-In-The-Rock Road. Most of this 57-mile-long dead-end dirt track was as smooth as… well… something that isn’t smooth at all. In many ways it reminded me of the McCarthy Road we drove in Alaska a few years back (which, incidentally, features prominently in an upcoming Jaspa’s Journey book).
Fortunately we only had to travel 27 miles (!!) of this comparative superhighway, before turning down Dry Fork Road. About two miles later we finally arrived at the parking area, where we met Daisy the border collie (and her human, Roger), visiting from Canada (what are the chances?!).
Just following the trail down into Coyote Gulch was an adventure all on its own. Once there, we walked a short distance up Dry Fork before deciding that, although it was really cool, it really wasn’t slotty enough for us. Bypassing Peek-A-Boo Canyon we next headed for Spooky Gulch (I just love the place names out here in the West). There we discovered what a slot canyon is really like.
The walls of Spooky Gulch must have been at least 50 feet tall, but no more than 4 feet apart. And this proved to be only the beginning. As we got deeper into the canyon, the ever narrowing passage twisted this way and that, following the path carved out by eddys in the water that rushes through the slot during flash-floods.
At some points the human members of our party found themselves squeezing sideways through gaps, their fronts and backs simultaneously scraping against the sandstone walls. At times the going was even quite tight for Daisy.
Thankfully, the deep sand in the bottom of the canyon was the biggest problem for us Ses. Until we met the first of the natural steps within the slot, that is. These steps meant we not only had to contend with the insanely narrow gap, but also had to climb several feet up the sand-slick stone at the same time, often around tortuous switchbacks. Needless to say, at the first such step it was back into the camera bag for us!
We had a great time with Daisy and Roger. But eventually we squeezed out of the slot canyons, climbed out of Coyote Gulch, said goodbye to our new friends, before bumping and bouncing back to Hole-In-The-Rock Road.
We made a couple of small detours on our way back to the main road. The first was to three caves carved out of the cliffs below Fifty-Mile Mountain by two bizarre prospectors back in the 1950s and 60s.
Our second, shorter detour was to the Devil’s Garden, a neat collection of hoodoos. But all the while we could see a storm brewing in the distance, so we abandoned all thoughts of Zion and headed home as quickly as we could. By the time we climbed back up the mountain to Brian Head, the wind was whipping the snow around us.
Geocaching news flash: we managed to grab not one, but three, First To Finds along the way on Wednesday!