Here we are at the height of winter in the Rockies, and my mind keeps wandering towards the desert. 50 degree temperatures and full sunshine have got the canyoneer in me stirring… and dreaming. When I close my eyes I’m met with visions of narrow walls and potholes instead of powder and cliff drops. The desert canyons are calling, and their voice is growing louder with each passing day.
My introduction to slot canyons began in Utah’s San Rafael Swell; specifically the Goblin Valley area. After two good friends helped forge my attraction to the badlands of the west my curiosity grew exponentially. I began searching out canyons big and small to plan the next adventure. I had heard about slot canyons perhaps once or twice but didn’t have any inkling of the magic that lived within them. In fact, deciding to see one was more my friend Jeff’s idea than mine. I had made an ill-fated exploration of the Swell a season earlier, but had only scratched the surface of what lay within. All I imparted to Jeff was that I wanted to go back; perhaps he knew a good spot to explore.
We left early in the day and cracked our first beverages when we arrived in no man’s land. Personally, I consider the abandoned fueling station of Woodside to mark the beginning of this void. From that point on it’s just you and the other yahoos; no concerns other than getting where you are going in one piece. Our destination was Little Wild Horse Canyon, likely one of the most popular slots in the state; certainly a good introduction to the world of narrow walled desert canyons. We arrived at the trailhead under sunny skies, and even better, it was empty. A good sign as later trips would reveal that any number of bumbling tourists and unruly children are often crowding the trail.
The walk was an inspiring one. Within minutes of becoming enveloped in the narrows I understood the attraction of slot canyons. Tight sandstone walls close in around the explorer; sandy floors give way to potholes as the thin sliver of light above you grows dimmer and dimmer. I embraced the strange feeling of confined emptiness; it was almost ghostly, otherworldly. Though thousands had made the same trek before me I felt as though I was the first person blessed with the privilege of hiking amid such beauty. We wound our way around small pools before the canyon opened up again… and like that I was hooked.
Since that early autumn day in the Swell I have become addicted to slots. Unlike the tragic cases of the elderly seat dwellers in Wendover, my addiction is a healthy one… as far as I know. The powerful lust to be lost in these magic places has driven me to purchase guide books and relentlessly scour the internet for the best beta on some little known canyon. Trips are planned around the idea of being lost in the sandstone; the only people in the world that know where you are walk just feet away from you. Some places are crowded- we saw at least 10 other travelers as we explored Peekaboo and Spooky canyons in Escalante; others are empty, much like Little Wild Horse on my virgin trip. It matters not; anyone who you encounter in one of these places is there for the same reason- to hopefully get just a small taste of the inebriating feeling that comes when you explore the special places of this world.
So as the sun beams down on this Sunday afternoon I can’t help but feel a little guilty. I am, after all, a powder hound. But the warmth in the air steers my mind toward the desert. The canyons are calling, and although Ullr may yet have something to say about it, I won’t be able to hold out much longer.