When we arrived at Escalante, Utah, we made a trip to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Memorial Visitor Center for advice on best hikes in this 1.9 million acre park. This is the largest national monument in the U.S.--about the size of the state of Delaware. There are lots of good hikes to do in this area. But the most intriguing recommendation was to hike the slot canyons along Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Alrighty, let's make this happen.
We drove 28 miles on this gravel road, parked the car, and then walked a mile to get to the beginning of the hike that Denisa has vowed she will never take again. It started with a steep descent into this desert canyon to some of the most famous slot canyons in Utah--Peek-a-boo and Spooky.
This is the entrance to Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon and the reason Denisa won't be coming back. First of all, there is a big muddy puddle in front of the entrance.
Second of all, there is a 12-foot wall that must be scaled to get inside the slot canyon. It's hard to see the wall because of the shadows, but even Mark was beginning to think we shouldn't do this.
You might notice that even on this busy Saturday, no one else is trying the Peek-a-boo slot. People are walking by, shaking their heads, and then hiking on to the two other canyons in the area. But after driving so far, we decided to give it a try. Mark rolled up his jeans and went into the knee-deep water first. Then Denisa zipped off the legs of her hiking pants, and draped her hiking shoes around her neck to wade through the slippery clay mud in the pool.
From there she could give Mark a boost from behind to get up the first part of the wall. It took all his upper-body strength and his powerful legs to make it up that first six-foot obstacle. But Denisa has neither upper-body strength or powerful legs, nor a boost from behind. So now the predicament is getting her up. Mark literally laid in the mud and reached over the edge to lift her up. To make all this more difficult, the wall is now coated with wet slippery clay mud that gives no traction.
Mark powered-up the next half of the wall, still wondering how Denisa could possibly follow. We had brought a rope that is now looped over Denisa's arm. It's supposed to help stabilize her while she is perched perilously on the slippery half-way-point ledge. Denisa assumed we had no pictures of this tough climb. But she found out later that Mark had enough energy and arm strength to hold the phone. She did not.
Sitting on that half-way point ledge, Denisa didn't like her options for going up or down. But somehow we managed to haul her up the last six feet of that slippery wall. Mark made some heroic pulls from his muddy perch and we finally found ourselves inside the slot. By this time, there was a bit of a crowd outside, incredulous that the old couple had made it. They were also offering words of encouragement, and we even had inspired three people that had teamed up to follow us now.
It was time to zip on those hiking pant legs and put our shoes back on. Even though there was more water and mud inside the slot, we needed the traction of shoes and the protection for the scrapes and tight places ahead.
It isn't a flat canyon, so we were continually climbing up through the water-carved canyon walls.
Mark is always in the lead, figuring out a way to get over the next obstacle, and helping to pull Denisa up behind him.
It really is a beautiful slot canyon. We were finally enjoying it after the first muddy death-defying climb. Denisa has to keep remembering that so she won't be tempted to take this hike ever again.
We crawled out of the slot and into the sunshine momentarily. We heard that the slot gets narrower as it returns underground. But we headed back down for the next part of Peek-a-boo canyon anyway.
Sure enough, those lovely swirls of sandstone color are tight against us now for the rest of the distance through this slot.
We had been advised that we can make this into a loop by hiking up Peek-a-boo canyon, and then back down through Spooky canyon. Now that we have lived through Peek-a-boo, we're heading across the desert for a 15-minute hike to the next slot canyon. On our way, we got one of the wildlife pictures of the day--a lizard sunning himself on a rock pedestal.
We assume that Spooky Canyon gets its name from the tight quarters inside its tall canyon walls.
While Mark can muscle his way up Peek-a-boo canyon, his claustrophobia might give him problems in the tight confines of Spooky. He has to carry his backpack, because there's no way he can fit through the canyon with it on his back.
The good news is that some times it is wide enough to have our feet on the ground,
and occasionally there is even a wider spot to sit and let one's claustrophobia breathe.
Where we had Peek-a-boo canyon to ourselves, more people are making their way through Spooky canyon because it doesn't have a wall guarding its entrance. When we came to an opening to the sky, we waited for 20 minutes. There was as a long line of people making their way through a particularly tough part of the canyon coming in the opposite direction. We had read that dogs won't enjoy this tight hike, but this puppy was actually sleeping through the adventure in his owner's sweat shirt pocket.
We waited as a steady line of eleven people climbed out of this section of Spooky canyon. While we were sitting and waiting, we struck up conversations with fellow hikers. When they found out we were that old couple that successfully made it up the entrance wall at Peek-a-boo, we were suddenly rock stars. One girl even asked if she could take a picture of the two people in their sixties that were so tough. We must have looked pretty old after our exertion today!
We were glad that we had waited for that large group to exit before we re-entered into the slot canyon, especially when we found out just how narrow this next section of Spooky canyon is. We have to wedge our shoes between the walls, as there is no longer a floor to walk on.
We are also having to do contortions to get around the curves in the walls now.
Even though there were more people trying to conquer Spooky Canyon today, we were glad that we met few of them. Having people directly in front or behind you makes this narrow slot feel even narrower. Occasionally we could see light at the top of the tunnel.
It was in one of those wider sections that we took our second wildlife picture of the day--a very large tarantula just trying to keep from getting trampled.
We figured out that we definitely wore the wrong head gear for the hike today. Many of the slots were narrower than our hat brims. We had to hold our brims down to our cheeks to get through these sections.
What an adventure! As we made it to the end of Spooky Canyon, we could say that this had been a particularly challenging way to wander through more of His wonders.
We had to laugh at how much we work sometimes to go on epic hikes. A look at Mark's muddy jeans shows how messy it was.
A 15-minute hike took us back to the opening of Peek-a-boo Canyon. Denisa wanted to see if anyone else was crazy enough to go up that 12-foot wall. We stopped in the shade to eat a snack and watched as two groups came down the wall.
It looked like coming down in two steps was definitely easier than going up. The slick muddy conditions had made Peek-a-boo canyon even more challenging than usual.
Later, we took a picture of Mark's arm. He had wedged it against the rough canyon walls to help Denisa up, and had rubbed the skin right off in several places. He also has a hip bruise that he'll be wearing for some time.
This really was a mud, blood, sweat, and tears kind of hike. It was beautiful at times, but Denisa's sticking by her decision to never take this hike again!