Slot Canyons of Utah, Arizona

Spring 2004

Dave Svilar, Jill Wolverton

While standing in a slot canyon it's difficult to imagine how they actually form.  Impossibly narrow and deep their walls give a psychedelic effect without even using drugs.  Dry waterways that only see action a few times a year, but when they do look out.  On more than one recorded occasion curious sightseers have been drawn in thinking the weather looked good overhead.  Unbeknownst to them, a storm had built in the mountains nearby sending a wall of rushing water through slot canyon drainages leaving them no chance for survival.  Jill and I kept this information in the back of our minds always checking nearby mountain ranges for signs of building clouds.


Water Holes Canyon, AZ

Some of my favorite pictures I'd seen from Canyon Country were those of Antelope Canyon, a beautiful slot canyon in northern Arizona.  Upon further investigation this canyon was located on reservation land and the Indians there were milking the tourist dollar for all it was worth.  Go into any shop in Page, AZ and you'll find brochures for tours of the canyon starting at over $20/head.  I'd be glad to pay an entrance fee, but the requirement for a guide was ridiculous.  Instead of paying their fees and being herded through like cattle we examined our options.  A canyoneering guidebook noted a slot canyon that "rivaled Antelope in beauty, but without the crowds."

My mission was strictly photographic, so we made out directly for the portion of Water Holes that was named "Best Slot."  Following hand-drawn map from a ten year old guidebook I was doubtful as we turned down a desolate, rough, dirt road and passed three run-down Navajo homes.  If this place was so great, how is it that there are no signs or other tourists?  Getting out at the end of the road I pulled out the hand-drawn map and tried to find my bearings by using the powerlines overhead.  The expanse in front of us was pure desolation, and it was hard to imagine that anything of beauty existed within walking distance.  We laid our trust in the hand-drawn map descending into a wash and then hiking over the sand into a gulch.  Soon the gulch narrowed and finally gave way to a narrow and beautiful slot.  We had walked directly to it!  The walls were fifty feet high and so narrow that even midday sun penetrated in only a few places.  The undulating striations formed from years of water washing through the brittle sandstone was almost dreamlike in appearance as the filtered light produced shades of red, yellow and magenta.  The hike down only took 30 minutes and luckily Jill was patient enough to let me waste over two hours playing with my camera.  Lighting was tricky and shutter speeds between four seconds and two minutes were the norm.  A must for anyone interested in photographing a gorgeous slot canyon and not wanting to deal with the crowds of Antelope. 

(see also Paria River, Buckskin Gulch)   

WHERE?  Jill and the Toyota search for slot canyons.




Peekaboo and Spookey, UT

Some of the desert's finest canyoneering adventures can be found in the area near Escalante, UT (see Neon Canyon).  Synonymous with 'canyoneering' are slot canyons which are in abundance off the Hole n' the Rock Rd that parallels the Escalante River.  Two of the easiest to access and navigate are Peekaboo and Spookey slots.  Not nearly as long or spectacular as the Buckskin Gulch (nothing is) or photogenic as Water Holes these still provide a good slot canyon taste test.

Less than a mile from the car Peekaboo and Spookey are neighboring gulches that provide tourists with an easy opportunity to tick off a slot canyon.  As easy to access as they were, there was a surprising lack of crowds inside the actual slots, which just goes to show how easy it is to thwart the average sedentary American.  Peekaboo required a wade through a muddy pool and a short climb.  One woman watching Jill wade through the muck turned to her friend, "Oooh.  That's disgusting.  As if..."  She found a spot in the shade, pulled out her compact, and reapplied her eyeliner.  Spookey was narrow, requiring sideways walking, and a C-cup or smaller.  Some of the more well-fed tourists found it difficult.  One man who looked as if he had a six-pack with his eggs in the morning found a spot in the shade and ate a Twinkie.

PEEK-A-BOO  Dave examines the double arch entrance.


CURIOUS TEXTURING  Jill discovers her likeness as she slithers through Spookey.


CLAUSTROPHOBIA  Things become tight in the middle of Spookey.

-written May 2004

Take Me Home