Rainbow Canyon UT & AZ
May 5, 2009
David Rich 900 Words
Rainbow Canyons UT & AZ
The world’s most colorful canyons of water-carved sandstone are scattered for hundreds of miles over the Colorado Plateau in Southwestern Utah and Northwestern Arizona. Unfortunately, most people are familiar with only two slot canyons. The insanely popular and best known are pedantically named upper and lower Antelope Canyons a few miles east of Page, AZ in the shadow of the Navajo Generating Station aka smoky power plant.
A hundred camera-toting tourists line up hourly to snarl like snails through the subterranean wonderlands named Antelope, continually stepping on each other’s heels after paying $26 each for the privilege. Avoid the usual jam-packed suspects named Antelope and instead explore the hundreds of equally incredible and completely admission free slot canyons extending north from Page into Utah.
Slot canyons defy photographic logic; fabulous photos require the avoidance of direct sunlight. The canyons are photogenic only in indirect light which seems to cascade and refract over canyon edges in a shimmer of pastels ranging from lemon sherbet and groovy grape to sinuous pink and burnt sienna, grooved into colored bands by eons of water and wind.
Before leaving Page take the short 1 1/2 mile (2 1/2 kilometer) hike overlooking the Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon, the trailhead a mere mile south of Page.
After checking out this spectacular view most will want to clamber onto a raft trip through Glen Canyon down the Colorado River to Lee’s Ferry. I did and it was superb.
Probably the closest and most spectacular free slot canyon near Page is the Wave, sitting a mile below the Utah border in Arizona, halfway along the Highway 89 to Kanab, about 40 miles (65 kilometers).
Naturally every colorful canyon has drawbacks, from Antelope crammed with tourists to the Wave for which only 20 daily permits are issued by the Bureau of Land Management, Paria/Vermillion Cliffs division. It took me a mere two days to get drawn in the permit lottery and I was exceedingly lucky; some people have shown up for the daily drawing (for ten permits; the other ten are reserved months in advance) eight consecutive days before lucking out. Plus for many the two mile hike to the Wave may be a tad more strenuous than sitting on the couch watching telly. But the reward is spectacular: concentric lines of red, orange, yellow and white covering acres of slick rock, superbly photogenic.
A viable and equally spectacular alternative, for those with four wheel drive can be found a few miles south of the Wave, after 30 miles (50 kilometers) of half bad road that includes ten miles (16 kilometers) of deep sand. The Southern Antelope Buttes fill an estimated 30 square miles (90 square kilometers) of photogenically striped mesas stratiated with layers of brilliant pastels.
And the day I spent there was shared with a couple of jaw-gaping German tourists instead of the few with permits for the Wave or the literally hundreds that choke the two Antelope Canyons.
Waiting to be drawn for the Wave is no inconvenience because there are literally a dozen stunning canyons and hikes in the immediate area. These include Paria Canyon, Yellow Rock, Buckskin Gulch
, the Toadstools, Hackberry Canyon, an old movie set and much more. Generally see http://www.zionnational-park.com/coyote-buttes-paria.htm
The granddaddy of all sprawlingly spectacular canyons is Bryce, thousands of pastel banded hoodoos strutting like ten pins filling an amphitheater of 20 square miles (50 square kilometers) that spills into canyons cascading miles south. Because the road is paved the Park is naturally heel to toe with tourists. But the trails are worth it, winding through towering hoodoos of pink, white, orange and red for dozens of miles.
See http://www.nps.gov/brca/ .
A few miles east of Bryce, immediately after the small town of Escalante UT, Hole in the Rock Road heads southeast to Lake Powell, offering a dozen major hikes to amazing slot canyons along its fifty some miles (85 kilometers). The first is Zebra Slot, an easy five mile hike roundtrip, featuring zebra-like walls with broad stripes of pink and purple.
Thirty miles down Hole in the Rock Road, where Mormon pioneers hauled themselves and forty unwieldy covered wagons out of the Colorado River Canyon (now Lake Powell), sits three contiguous and don’t-miss slots. The weirdest is Peekaboo, a corkscrew affair that begins three meters (ten feet) up a dry fall, from there twisting and coiling along a kilometer of slick rock carved into amazing shapes. At the end it’s easy to hike another kilometer cross country to the mouth of Spooky Canyon, the narrowest and windiest slot I’ve encountered. The 100 foot (30 meter) deep canyon is so constricted that a hiker’s chest and back are simultaneously sandpapered most of it’s kilometer plus length, requiring removal of all packs, water bottles and camera cases to explore this utterly amazing labyrinth. The Narrows of Dry Canyon connect Peekaboo and Spooky slots, providing about a mile of vertical canyon walls a 100 feet (30 meters) deep with photogenic sandstone a bonus.
So skip the usual jam-packed suspects named Antelope and instead explore the hundreds of equally incredible and completely admission free slot canyons extending north from Page into Utah.