By Dan Webb, Dec. 2017
Southern Utah has this ability to make you feel like you are alone in the universe. As I slid my way through the slot canyon it seemed like I was the first to explore this alien world. Logically I knew that thousands of people have hiked this canyon before me. But the beauty of the red rocks is that for just a moment I felt alone.
Every so often I get the urge to leave the city. It itches and crawls its way into my head until I find myself driving south to escape. Ever since Afghanistan I have never fully felt comfortable or safe in the city. The wide open terrain of southern Utah is my antidote.
Recently, the San Rafael Wilderness area has been my go-to destination. Having hiked Goblin Valley just a few months ago, I decided to find a slot canyon this time. An internet search of slot canyons in the area showed Little Wild Horse and Bell's Canyon as an easy place to run away to.
Your phones GPS will take you to within a few meters of the parking lot for Little Wild Horse. Any car or truck can make this journey, the roads are well-maintained. From that parking lot it's about a 10 minute hike to the mouth of the slot canyon. You will approach a trail head marker telling you that if you turn left you will enter Bell's Canyon, and turning right will place you in Little Wild Horse. It seems the popular route is to start with LWH canyon and loop through Bell's. You will need about 2-3 hours for LWH if you turn around at the top, and around 4-5 to make the whole loop into Bell's. The entire hike is moderately difficult, but with a little water and good shoes, almost everyone would be able to complete the trek.
It is impossible to keep a comfortable temperature in the slot canyon. The sun and exercise warm you up, then you enter a sunless corridor and the temperature drops. I finally stopped removing my outer jacket and then putting it back on every 5 minutes, and just resigned myself that I would be toasty during the hike. This is southern Utah in the winter. The temperature during the day was brisk and quite enjoyable to exercise in. The temperature at night made me realize I'm not as tough as I thought I was. If you want to learn from my mistakes then get a hotel room; Hanksville and Green River are both close enough to drive to after a long day of hiking.
You have to move slowly through a slot canyon. If you auto-pilot your way through, you miss one gorgeous rock formation after another. If you are looking at your feet you will run into a wall. If you are looking up at the walls you will trip on a rock. And if you are looking at your camera, like I was, you will run headfirst into a boulder. In LWH canyon there are some tight squeezes, but it never gets too narrow that you have to worry about making it through.
Take the three and a half hour drive from Salt Lake. Sweat out the contamination of the city. Run your hands across the smooth red rock as you hike. Look at the tell-tale signs of natures awesome power as you come across huge boulders that were left behind during massive floods. It takes just a few moments of isolation in the desert and I feel heavy weights being lifted off my shoulders.