Basically a slot canyon is a narrow canyon that has walls sometimes over 100 feet high and can be as narrow as 2 feet at the base. Slot canyons can be insanely dangerous when it rains because the whole canyon is simply a huge funnel that the water shoots down. Thankfully it wasn’t raining when we hiked Little Wild Horse Canyon.
Little Wild Horse is a long way from anything. Tiny Hanksville, Utah is 40 miles away. This creates a tiny thrill from realizing that you really are on your own out here if something goes badly. It sounds like a ridiculous way to get a thrill but that’s part of the experience. It makes you more aware, more apart of the environment. Now, granted, the Little Wild Horse has become very popular and chances are that someone will be there to help. But it is easy to get hurt. Very easy.
We pulled up to a packed parking lot and …..
…oh, hello 55 Girl Scouts.
Not wanting to get caught behind the early high school aged group we quickly loaded up the packs and sprinted the half mile to the canyon mouth, where the girls were very nice and let us take lead into the canyon. Little Wild Horse is popular because it is considered the perfect non-technical canyoneering experience. You have to do some climbing (aka “scrambling”) and bouldering but no ropes or pulleys need to be used. It also gets narrow real fast.
Hence the areas that are known as narrows. In this confined space with walls 100 feet high we climbed and bouldered our way up the canyon. Then we saw water. Because this is a slot canyon you often run into pools of leftover rain water that take a real long time to evaporate. These are called potholes and this one was snaking around an S curve so we had no idea of the depth or length. Another gentleman was already there deciding whether or not to get his boots wet. He had no idea about the size of the pothole either. This was about a mile in and we still had 2.5 miles to go. Going back meant squeezing through 50+ Girl Scouts and shame. My wife and I started to get a little depressed.
Enter the Girl Scouts.
“Ok ladies, get on your water shoes!”
The 20-something short blonde, the leader, smiled at me and walked up to the water where she proceeded to take off her shoes. She didn’t have water shoes, which seemed to be sandals.
“You’re going barefoot?”, I asked.
“Sure! No big deal!”, she replied. My wife and I looked at each other and quickly unlaced our boots. Boots-in-hand we followed the Scout leader, with 50 ladies in tow, through the murky pothole that was about a foot and a half high. It was surreal. The rocks weren’t sharp and we went nice and slow. After about 25 feet the water ended, we laced up the boots, thanked the Scouts, and off we went!
After more scrambling and narrows we came upon hikers coming from the other direction that told us there was one more pool to conquer. It was a small pond at a sharp turn beneath an overhang followed by four foot climb over a boulder, then another slick four foot climb up a shoot. Onward! We reached the pond and followed the advice of the hikers and stayed left, once again with shoes in hand. This time the wading was waist deep although it was entirely in sand. No problem! It took us about ten minutes to scale the boulder and the chute, and we were off to the top!
The head of the canyon was a 7 foot dryfall that usually represented the end of the line for most hikers. We didn’t want it to end. We wanted to exit out the back of the canyon, loop around a small swell, and enter Bell Canyon from the back. We would make our way down Bell back to our car. That is if we could traverse a 7 foot wall. We back tracked a bit and I found a couple of ledges to climb. It was not easy and I had to heave my way up. My wife followed my lead and she worked here way up.
It might not sound like much but that climb, combined with scrambles and water-filled potholes, was fairly life-changing. It was an accomplishment. It was real. We continued up and around the canyon, came through Bell Canyon (not nearly as interesting although tough because we were tired), and made our way back to the car. Yes, Little Wild Horse is bucket list material.
We stopped off at Goblin Valley State Park after the hike and enjoyed the totally bizarre valley with its multitude of massive clay toad stools. Unfortunately the long hike and hot temperatures made the visit a little short and we headed back through Capital Reef to our cabin. But first, a little pie.
One of the traditions of our trips is enjoying pie. Good pie is actually fairly common. Bad pie is rare. Fantastic pie is very, very rare. My wife tries many different pies, usually recommended or regional specialties. I stick with apple pie and ice cream. Last year we watched a pie special on CBS Sunday Morning that mentioned the town of Bicknell, Utah. The restaurant was called The Sunglow Café and Motel, a rundown motel attached to a greasy spoon style restaurant. I ordered the apple pie and was completely underwhelmed. It was almost in the “poor” range. My wife ordered the pie slice sampler: buttermilk, oatmeal, pickle, and pinto bean. You read that right. A slice of buttermilk pie, a slice of oatmeal pie, a slice of pickle pie, a slice of pinto bean pie. How was the pie? Well, in order of yumminess: Pickle, Oatmeal, Pinto Bean, and Buttermilk. Apple not included in ranking. Overall yumminess was very whatever. Believe it or not the taste is barely, barely the actual flavor of the ingredient. In the end the slices were a good example that anything can taste pretty good with a lot of butter and sugar.
Hikes: Little Wild Horse Canyon/Bell Canyon Loop, Goblin Valley
Miles hiked: 8.5