Monday, May 21, 2012

Playing the Slots in Escalante

We don't usually play slots, but in Escalante we made an exception, and won big!

Back home in Connecticut slots means slot machines, one-armed-bandits, lined up in countless rows at the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, often guarded by retirees feeding then coins with one hand, grasping a cocktail in the other, a cigarette dangling from their lips. Here in Escalante, Utah, slots are so SO much better. These are slot canyons, sandstone alleyways carved by water and wind. Instead of being sad machines bleeding life from their victims, these slots are natural and magical.

Getting to Escalante from Moab took us across the Utah desert, then through gorgeous Capitol Reef National Park, and on down Rt. 12, where we climbed all of the way up to 9600' before making our way to the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. The stretch of 12 from Boulder to Escalante stands out as one of the most beautiful and exciting drives in the country. Spectacular scenery from a road that clings precipitously to the landscape, with grades up to 14% working engine and brakes. Drive it if you can.

Speaking of driving, to get to the Peek-a-Boo and Spooky slot canyons that we wished to hike, we first had to drive 26 miles on the Hole in the Rock road. This was easily, far-and-away the roughest piece of road we've driven. It was pure washboard; pure rattle your bones, loose your fillings washboard. Brutal. After a few miles of abusing Gigantor at 20mph or so I pulled over to let some air out of her tires. They were pumped up to their limit at 80 psi. I bled them down to 60, and in retrospect wish I'd gone lower. This helped, but it was still a nearly hour-long trip of punishing ourselves and poor Gigantor, a cloud of dust and truck parts in our wake...

But we made it. Poor Toby, who endured the roughest ride of his life, had a quick sniff, and then got set up in the truck with windows open, and a tarp stretched over to keep out the hot sun. Nancy and I descended into the wash, and slogged through deep, soft sand to reach our goal: Peek-a-Boo slot. Right away we loved it - immediately we stepped out of the searing sun into a cool, quiet wonderland. The red sandstone glowed in the filtered sunlight. As we walked we heard only the sound of the sand crunching underfoot and the occasional whoosh of wings as a raven flew over the slot, 60 feet above our heads. We instinctively lowered our voices, and walked on and on, amazed.

Entrance to Peek-a-Boo slot:

We came back out of Peek-a-Boo and walked, practically waded, through the deep sand down-canyon to get to the Spooky slot. On the way we heard high, thin squeaking, and I looked up into a crack in the stone into the faces of dozens of bats! We watched them for a few minutes as they jostled around, bathing each other or whatever bats do as they wait for the sun to set.

Entering Spooky slot felt so good as we were getting baked by the unforgiving sun. Within seconds that was all forgotten as the world we entered was like no other. This slot made Peek-a-Boo look like a boulevard! At times less than 1 foot wide, the only way to move was to scootch sideways. I couldn't turn my head to look back without bumping the brim of my ball cap! It was awesome! We went until the flat, sand floor gave way to a 3-dimensional canyon, requiring technical and contortionist moves to proceed. I went ahead just far enough to know that it was beyond Nancy's level. But wow, what a great experience, worth every second of that tortuous drive.

Actually, the way back wasn't so bad. I tested a theory that faster might be better, and it worked. We careened down the road at twice the speed we'd come down at: 50mph instead of 25. I guess the tires didn't have time to descend into the space between the washboard bumps, and the ride smoothed out considerably. So, it was easier on us, easier on the truck, and took half as much time. Win. Win. Win. This is a road best suited to a plush off-road 4X4 with low-pressure tires, not a monster dually one-ton with pumped up street tires. Next time.

Before leaving Escalante Toby got to go on a nice hike too. We took him down to walk a trail along the Escalante River. It was perfect on a hot day, with a canopy of trees overhead, red-rock canyon walls, and cool waters to wade in. One of Toby's all-time favorite hikes, I'm sure.

There's so much more to see and do in this area. You can be sure that we'll go back some day.

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