Slot canyons are formed over the millennia as raging flash flood waters and debris tear through narrow sandstone canyons and sculpt magnificent columns, dramatic buttresses, sinuous arches and sacred vaults.
Northern Arizona and southern Utah boast many spectacular slots. We hiked in three. Antelope Canyon, world renown as a destination for photographers; Buckskin Gulch, prized for its length and depth; and the serpentine Rattlesnake Canyon, regarded for its abstract forms.
Located on the Navajo Reservation near Page, Arizona, Antelope Canyon may be the planet’s most beautiful slot canyon. On a bright sunshiny day in 1997, ten hikers died as a storm 15 miles away sent a raging flash flood — an 11 foot wall of water — through the canyon. According to our Navajo guide, the water’s velocity exceeded 40 miles an hour. Since then, the Navajo require that visitors be accompanied by a guide as they ponder the stunning beauty created by nature’s violence.
This year, the Navajo will put 500,000 tourists through the 1600 feet long, 120 feet high, very narrow canyon. That’s 1370 people per day, 365 days a year. Many visitors complain of being herded like cattle. Fortunately, we selected Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tours Photographers Tour of Upper Antelope and Rattlesnake Canyons.
The two of us had our wonderful guide, Nate, all to ourselves. Nate knows how to maneuver around the larger tours to find empty spaces, and he has the clout to move people when necessary for his clients to get a good shot. Nate is also a master with a camera.
The photos of Antelope Canyon were taken by Nate on either a Canon Rebel T3 or iPhone 6, or by Patty on the iPhone or by me on the Canon. Any photo with a title (i.e., the most interesting and beautiful) were pointed out, set up and in some cases taken by Nate. Other than for the iPhone 6 Chrome setting, no photo on this blog used a filter or was photoshopped.
Toward the end of the tour, we saw two great horned owls in a nest within the canyon, looking down at us as we looked up at them. Apparently, the canyon was a preferred nesting location for eagles. When the tourist hordes arrived, the eagles departed, leaving the great horneds beautiful nests to squat in.
Located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Buckskin Gulch is a tributary of the Paria River, the deepest slot canyon in the US and the world’s longest. At over 13 miles in length, its walls rise 500 feet in spots. We entered Buckskin Gulch by way of Wire Pass and continued to a large rockfall, about a 9-10 mile round trip.
We’ve been in slots before but never for uninterrupted miles and hours at a time. Despite its reputation and popularity, we had long stretches of the Buckskin to ourselves. As Pat said, This is one of the coolest places we have ever been on our own two feet.
Rattlesnake Canyon is located adjacent Antelope Canyon. It is 900 feet long and about 80 feet high. Whereas Antelope was swarming with tourists, we had Rattlesnake to ourselves. It was wonderful.
When we approached the entrance, our guide Nate told us he had removed a rattlesnake from the entrance that morning. We chuckled at the irony and did not assume this was a part of Nate’s schtick — he surely did remove that rattler. Later in the hike, he told us that the previous week’s flash flood had cleared away a black widow spider nest, which had been adjacent the ladder we were approaching. I kind of regretted not seeing the rattler and the ten black widows. I am pretty certain that Patty was not similarly pained by such regret.
We left rattlesnake Canyon and headed back to the Lee’s Ferry Lodge, where Andy cooked up the best pork ribs we’ve ever had and Sam was a wonderful waitress. After sleep disrupted by visions of slot canyons, we went to breakfast, served by Charlie, the most kick-ass waitress. Period.
Although the rooms are a tad shabby, we loved staying at the Lee’s Ferry Lodge with its unique vibe, engaging staff and beautiful views of the Echo Cliffs, the Marble Canyon and the Vermilion Cliffs, towering just behind it.
The Lick Wash
While some consider the Lick Wash a slot, most agree that it is a narrow canyon. We didn’t quibble about the appellation; it’s a beautiful hike.
Located within the Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, the Lick Wash is on the Skutumpah Road, which requires a four-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicle. On our way there, we surprised a golden eagle feeding on carrion, getting within 20 or so feet of it, twice. Along the way, we had beautiful views of the Pink Cliffs and then of Bryce Canyon sitting regally atop the Grand Staircase. We hiked in the 87 degree heat until the canyon opened to a 360 degree view.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
We continued down the Skutumpah Road to Buckhorn Canyon. Two folks with advanced degrees walked upstream away from the canyon when we were supposed to go down stream into it. Maybe it was heat stroke. Anyway, when we finally entered the slot, we discovered a rubber ladder had been taken out in a recent flash flood.
Unable to navigate the 10 foot drop over a boulder, we left Buckhorn Canyon and headed to Kodachrome Basin State Park. On the way, we had fabulous panoramic views up the Grand Staircase to the white, grey and pink cliffs and the dramatic Powell’s Point. We finished that day in the Kodachrome Basin, a gentle and overtly sexual landscape with phallic towers popping up all over the place.