Deep in Southern Utah’s remote desert landscape sits the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Protecting 1.8 million acres, it’s an ideal location for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. A place where one can easily find solitude as well as easily get lost in the deep slot canyon creek beds.
For our first adventure into this massive wilderness, we selected the Bull Valley Gorge loop based on the Las Vegas REI team member’s suggestion and the two days we had for accomplishing the weekend trip. Seeing a photo of the deep canyon on the cover of a Utah climbing book further increased our excitement for exploring our first slot canyon.
You sit up on a rugged, scraggly plateau as you drive south into the Grand Staircase. What you don’t realize, however, are the deep creek beds that weave throughout the landscape. When starting out with Alex and my brother John, we only had to hike a 1/8 mile down a trail to gain access to the stream bed. It wasn’t too long after that when the gorge got deeper and narrower. The site of the water worn sand walls going straight up for 50-75 feet inspires awe as well as a bit of fear. Some of the passageways were only 3-4 feet wide and the thought of a flash flood is always present. (Check the weather forecast ahead of time!) While not too terribly technical, you do need some rope and the ability to use them for lowering gear and bodies down some of the 15-20 foot drops. Fortunately, for us, Alex has developed a passion for the latest robe techniques!
As you’ll see in the video, we had a lot of laughs and a few falls weaving our way through the long, dark passageways. At 17 miles, the two day loop was a fairly strenuous trek. The second half day was particularly tiring as the creek bed opened up and exposed us to the afternoon desert heat and sun. To say, “bring plenty of water” would be an understatement as we found our jugs bone dry by the time we returned to the vehicle. Oh yes, you’ll need to bring a map with you as navigating in desert landscape and deep canyons can be very tricky. N, S, E or W has a whole new meaning when you are 100 feet down. For a unique and memorable adventure, you won’t be disappointed!