On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
Grand Staircase: Covers a lot of area in Southern Utah; we were based in Kanab.
The National Monument covers over one million acres in three different units, much of it inaccessible without high-clearance 4×4 vehicles or backcountry hiking. It would take weeks to see a significant part of it. We only had an afternoon.
We checked in with the GSENM Visitor Center to see if they could recommend something easy, short, and close by. They gave us two possibilities and we chose Lick Wash Slot Canyon. It involved a 30 mile drive, the first 16 paved, the other 14 on a graded dirt/gravel road, and took us into the White Cliffs, the third step (out of five) of the Grand Staircase of sedimentary rock deposits.
This was one of the most enjoyable hikes we’ve done. I had wanted to hike a slot canyon for awhile but most of the ones I saw in hike descriptions said the canyon was at the far end of the hike. This one was just a few hundred yards from the trailhead. The whole hike was four miles one way but the slot canyon was only about a half mile long so we turned back when we saw that it opened up.
The beginning of the trail, through the wash.
Entering the canyon.
The canyon was wide enough for easy walking. Some of the slot canyons in the National Monument get as narrow as 10 inches.
Trail through the canyon.
The canyon walls are Navajo sandstone, formed from wind-blown dune deposits. In Jurassic times, the winds laid down tiers of sand one way in the summer, and another way in the winter to form cross-bedded layers and different patterns in the rock.
I think hese cavities are called tafoni, hollowed out by freeze-thaw cycles and smoothed by wind-blown sand.
I think these may be fossil snails.
So cool! There’s some awesome slot canyons in the Anza Borrego if you ever get a chance.
@Benw: We were at Anza-Borrego for a few days but somehow I never saw any info on slot canyon hikes. Next time!
Fascinating landscape. Nature is cool.
Love these pictures of wind/water sculpture. I’m sure you made sure there was no rain in the forecast before hiking!
@pb3550: You really have to be careful. It’s often not about rain in the canyon areas but many miles upstream.
Not a slot canyon story but once upon a time we were canoeing the Buffalo River in west Tennessee. Camped the second night on the inside of a bend about 15 feet above the river. Watched lightning to the north all evening but it never rained a drop. The next morning the river was at our doorstep and as we finished packing I was fishing in waist deep water for the skillet at the place I knew the campfire to have been. Then it started raining
ETA: Thanks frosty for the intro to Grand Staircase Escalante. It presents as intimidating and you made it accessible.
I should have been a geologist! So cool! thanks.
@MelissaM: We bought the Roadside Geology books for Colorado and Utah, which made our drives more interesting. You don’t have to be a geologist to enjoy them; you just have to have a good eye for what the author is showing you.
@pb3550: Umm, no, I don’t remember checking the forecast. Mostly because in a month or two all over the southwest we only got a few drops of rain once, and remarked about it to each other because it was so rare.
This is pretty cool! I have a conference in Moab this coming Spring and may attempt a side-trip. Thanks!
Wonderful photos and explanations! Thanks for taking me out west this year!
Grand Staircase is an amazing place. The slots are thrilling, and the vistas across the rolling sandstone slickrock is stunning. For those of you who aren’t familiar, slickrock consists of huge areas of bare rolling sandstone. Great for mountain biking over or for 4WD, if that is more your cup of tea. Because there is no soil to absorb rainfall, any significant precipitation on slickrock quickly flows into the canyons, concentrating the force of water into major flash floods.
The nodules that you see in the last photo are not fossilized snails. They are instead iron concretions, a common finding in the Navajo Sandstone. Because they are resistant to erosion, the concretions are often left behind after the stone erodes, leaving behind Moqui Marbles.
@frosty: Great books! I love both of them
@mvr: Tons of similar terrain around Moab. Grand Staircase is about 5 hours from Kanab.
J R in WV
Great photos, and now I know what the Grand Staircase refers to… geologic formations!
Anyone know what Escalante refers to? I guess I could look it up, huh? Ah, it’s the river that formed many of the canyons in the Monument. Cool!
@frosty: There’s The Slot a bit east of Borrego Springs. I went there in late May.
@J R in WV: Escalante refers to the Escalante River, named after the Spanish priest, Father Silvestre Escalante, who led an expedition in 1776 to try and find a land route from Santa Fe, NM to Monterey CA. He and his party were the first Europeans to explore much of the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah and northern Arizona, as well as Colorado and western New Mexico.
There is an excellent brief history of the expedition on this Wiki page
Back in the olden times, when I was but an infant whitewater guide, I rowed the trainee boat on a trip down the Grand Canyon. One of the side hikes did was up a slot canyon where we were walking through a trickle of water and could touch both walls of the canyon with out-stretched arms. The slot was about 40 feet deep. I asked one of the more experienced guide what should do if the creek flashed. He looked at each wall, up to the top of the slot, looked back at me and said, “We die.”
I have done several trips to red rock country and the Grand Staircase. Another simple to access and great slot is Willis Creek on Skutumpah Road, and is a short drive from the visitor center in Cannonville. The link has great pictures, and its a very easy hike. The slot starts right as the trail leaves the road, and you can go as far as you want. There are countless great slots if you are more adventurous.
I love the area, have hundreds of pictures, and would be glad to give tips on destinations for anywhere in southern Utah. Just send me a note.
In addition to Anza Barrego slots (was there in January and hiked to the famous trestle bridge in Goat Canyon as well as the Slot), Death Valley has a ton of slot canyons. Its a common desert feature. You can drive down a famous one there – Titus Canyon. Did that again earlier this year.
Roadside Geology of Utah by Halka Chronic was a great book for our roadtrip. We didn’t use it as much as i expected, because we were too busy being astonished. I want GrandStaircase-Escalante NM restored. I also want Bears Ears NM to be restored.
Thanks for the info! Further than I thought but not impossible. Still if there is cool stuff with less driving, I could go for that instead.
Tons of cool stuff near Moab. Arches NP, Bears Ears NM, Canyonlands NP
There will be driving, but you can set your own schedule.
There is a nice hotel in Cannonville, right where you turn to go to Kodachrome Basin. The Bureau of Land Management also maintains an office there.
They were not helpful or friendly, but only 5 days before they got hit by a flash flood that wiped out the irrigation system, so we were not welcome.
It will take some time.