Hiking Little Death Hollow Slots
When I first heard we were planning a trip to Southern Utah, I knew we were in for an adventure. We've enjoyed wanderings around that part of the state and each trip has been a unique experience. Even though we keep a map in hand and have talked to some of the native experts before leaving home, we never truly know what we'll see at the end of the road until we get there.
This trip started out the Friday before Easter. We loaded up the trucks with not only backpacks, camping stoves and supplies to last us four days, but 10 teenagers as well. Are we crazy, or what?
After checking to make sure that everyone had the essential items packed, such as food, sun block, extra socks and toilet paper, we were on our way. I'll let Sam Webb tell about the three days we spent backpacking into the wilderness area around Sand Creek, and I'll focus on my favorite part of the journey, the slot canyons.
We left the town of Boulder on Sunday afternoon, a little cleaner than we'd been for a couple of days, thanks to the restrooms at the Conoco Station, and headed down the Burr Trail. Now for those who haven't taken the time to meander on this trail, you've missed some great scenery. We drove through Long Canyon with its spectacular red cliff walls and then turned off the trail when we reached the turn-off to Wolverine and Horse Canyons. I was a little nervous when I saw that we were turning onto a dirt road. You see, my husband has taken me on some roads (and that's stretching the term, believe me) that would make Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland look pretty tame. This path lived up to its name as a road, however, and it was pretty much smooth sailing for about 6 miles, until we turned off at Horse Canyon. Then the road was a little more like the ones on which my husband likes to test his male prowess. The track lead us down through a wash that was pretty dry, fortunately for us, but the sand was slippery in a few spots.
There were big chunks of petrified wood all along the road, as well as red rock cliffs and overhangs galore. Pretty spectacular stuff, but then what isn't spectacular in Garfield County?
We traveled about 14 miles to the end of the road and set up our tents next to a big cottonwood tree. Since we had swapped our backpack camping for car camping, out came the Dutch ovens and it wasn't long before we were smelling Easter dinner cooking in the pots.
While dinner was cooking, we took time to take in our surroundings and found several trails leading up the red rock cliffs, as well as numerous side canyons just waiting to be explored, including the lower portion of Wolverine Canyon. Our teenagers found several trails, and made a few new ones of their own up the sides of the cliffs. I couldn't watch. I hid my eyes hoping that everyone would make it back alive. Unfortunately, one group of teens left jackets on top of a mesa and didn't realize what they'd done until the sun went down and it started to get a little nippy. Back up the rock cliff they climbed, equipped with flashlights and supported by adults, to retrieve the lost coats. I'm too practical — or just plain chicken — my jacket would have spent the night on the rock and I would have spent the evening wrapped in a sleeping bag!
Needless to say, I was NOT one of the adults who took a stroll in the dark on a two-foot-wide trail with a several hundred foot drop breathing down my neck! Is this where male I prowess comes into play again? As a side note to this adventurous trip in the dark, the group came back with I news that they'd spotted a comet. Although we'd seen the comet at home just a week earlier, looking at it from the blackness of the desert was amazing. Using only our binoculars, we could see the tail extending into the dark sky for what must have been thousands of miles. It was a rare treat, indeed.
The rest of the evening was spent gathered around the campfire swapping stories and eating Easter candy. At one point a little critter was discovered next to someone's shoe. On closer inspection, the critter turned out to be a scorpion. Not wanting each other to know of our nervousness over the little guy, we joked around and acted quite brave. After all, we were big and he was little. Not until we'd seen our fourth and fifth scorpions around the campfire circle in the space of 5 minutes did our true feelings begin to emerge. This was serious business, especially for the four of us of the female gender. Even some of the teenage boys, who had up to this point planned on spending the night under the stars, started to get a little squeamish.
It is amazing the hysteria that can be created by such little insects! We quickly came to the conclusion that the evening around the campfire was now adjourned and put out the fire that had warmed the ground and brought our little friends out to investigate. We all decided that tents with zipper flaps and back seats of cars with rolled up windows would be the way to spend the night.
The next day we loaded up our day packs and set out to conquer the slot canyon that runs for about seven miles up through Little Death Hollow. We followed a small stream for a few hundred yards down Horse Canyon until two canyons merged. We hung a left and continued up the dry wash of Little Death Hollow, the walls getting closer together the further we hiked. The trail going up the wash was littered with boulders ranging in size from a nice starter home to a '72 VW Bug, to those just large enough to get lodged in my boot. Pieces of petrified wood were also very evident. Most all the rocks we encountered were of the traditional southern Utah sand color, except the petrified wood, which was nearly black. It was therefore easy to identify which boulders were petrified wood as we jumped from rock to rock.
When the canyon truly turned into a slot, we found a huge boulder wedged between the canyon walls, blocking the path. It was as if it had been placed there as a warning — no wimps beyond this point. Some of us scampered, while the rest of us decided just how wimpy we actually were, and then slowly picked our way across the rock and entered the slot. I can tell you, I WAS NOT going to be left behind — something about proving my womanly prowess took over!
The day was beginning to get warm, but down in the shade of the slot it was cool and inviting. Several times we saw old tree trunks and branches wedged between the sides of the canyon walls some 20 or 30 feet above our heads. They looked like they'd been placed there as chin-up bars for a desert Bigfoot.
The going was pretty smooth for the most part. We encountered several areas where large rocks were blocking the path which had to be navigated by either crawling through a small opening at the bottom, or hoisting ourselves over the top. I chose to hoist most of the time. At one impasse, a weathered tree trunk found along the path was used as a ramp to get us to the top of one boulder block. I m sure that we weren't the first to use it, and probably won't be the last.
The walls rose straight above our heads about 40-50 feet most of the time and were pock-marked where water had eaten away at the sandstone. Evidence that water had formed this slot, and still rushed down from time to time, was everywhere. Huge rocks had been tumbled until the path was too small for them to pass. There they remained, jammed into the narrow openings. Smaller rocks and plant debris filled in small cracks on the canyon walls, sometimes 30 or 40 feet high. We were relieved that the weather forecast for the weekend called for sunny skies.
We didn't see any snakes on our trip, but we encountered winged ants that must live in the slot. We didn't bother them and they returned the favor. In the few spots where the sun hit the bottom, lizards scampered across the rocks with our teenagers in close pursuit. Luckily for both parties, nothing was caught.
The view from the slot was limited — just red rock walls with a glimpse of sky from time to time. There was an occasional shelf where some of the kids decided to sit and wait until the slow-pokes (like me) caught up. At one such point, 16-year-old Bob Webb gave his dad the bad news that somewhere along the trail he'd lost the only set of keys to the family's Bronco. Although he had two miles of trail to search, it was a very narrow 2 miles! He took off running over the boulders and returned a relatively short time later, a smile on his face and the keys in his hand. What a relief!
We continued to wind our way through the slot, catching a glimpse of sunlight here and there, and then stopped in a sunny spot about 5 miles from the trailhead to enjoy a light snack. We decided to turn around and retrace our steps, instead of continuing to the end, as we'd left all the vehicles at the bottom of the trail. Besides, that gave us extra time to enjoy the canyon before heading home and facing the reality of dirty laundry, homework and cleaning out the truck!
Making our way down the canyon was easier, as we had traveled the road and knew what to expect. It seemed to go much quicker, as the decision of how to best navigate some of the tricky spots had already been made.
After climbing down from the rock sentinel at the entrance of the slot, the canyon opened up to the splendor of southern Utah. The red hillsides were dotted with green junipers and the sky was as blue as I'd ever remembered. The colors were so brilliant, it was as if they couldn't possibly be real. I wondered why the sky at home wasn't that same color.
Would I go again? You bet. I've been through several slot canyons, and this one certainly deserves an A in my book. We happened to be there on a very warm weekend in April, which made it more than pleasant. We wouldn't have wanted it to be much warmer. I'd suggest making this trip in spring or fall and avoid going in the middle of summer.
There was no portable water available, so be sure to bring enough for your needs. And one last thought.... Bring an extra set of car keys!