For the second day in a row, I woke to a pair of unfamiliar eyes peering into our tent. This time it was not an old man but a small Cockapoo, a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle. What a weird sight in the middle of the Utah desert! I simply had to get up and see what was going on, so I threw some gear on and followed the pup down a red dirt path to another tent. As it turned out, the Cockapoo belonged to a fellow named Kyle from Salt Lake City, Utah. Kyle was on vacation from his nine to five and his four kids. When he sat down and thought about the best possible getaway from the monotony of everyday life, he came to the same conclusion as us – to slip away into the desert and wedge himself into a crack in the earth – to hike Buckskin Gulch slot canyon.
The website Adventuresports.com defines a slot canyon as “a narrow canyon carved into sandstone or slick rock by centuries of rain and flash flooding… often filled or partially filled with water and can be extremely dangerous to navigate through.” Buckskin Gulch, the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest, is located in southern Utah and superintended by the Bureau of Land Management. In planning this part of our summer adventure, I was secretly concerned about weather. Due to the unavoidable danger caused by flash flooding, rain would completely erase this stop from our itinerary. I was prepared for that, but what would happen in the case of an uncertain forecast? The last thing I wanted to do was hike two miles into a canyon that was three feet wide and two hundred feet tall, only to get caught in a torrential downpour. Luckily, we experienced the canyon amidst a severe drought, so water was not a concern.
We camped at the north end of the canyon the night before (at White House Trailhead) but drove around to the west entrance (Wire Pass Trailhead) to begin our hike. Before beginning our hike, we had to obtain the proper permits. We visited the Bureau of Land Management office just up the road from the White House Trailhead, scored a pair of canyon day permits, acquired an emergency toilet kit, filled up our water bottles, and motored around to the west canyon entrance.
Wire Pass is a short narrow slot canyon that meets Buckskin Gulch after only about 1 mile of hiking. For the first 20-30 minutes, we weren’t sure if we were even on the correct trail. Everything looked the same, red rocks and blue sky. Beautiful, but the same. In planning our route into Buckskin, I was instantly sold on the name Wire Pass. Actually, the idea of such a narrow slot canyon was my entire reason for driving around to the west entrance. It turned out to be a great decision. Finally, after almost turning around twice, a long dry wash led us to a fracture in the wall. Squeezing through that crack, I suddenly understood how Wire Pass got its name. Wire Pass was extremely skinny and presented us with excellent photographic opportunities.
After a while of hiking through beautiful red sandstone cliffs, carved by water, wind, and time into ripples and waves of stone, you come upon the confluence, or junction, of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch. There we took a right turn and headed farther into the canyon. The walls grew taller and the temperature cooled by 30+ degrees in the smallest, darkest narrows.
At approximately two miles into the canyon system, we stopped and ate a small lunch of assorted snacks. After refueling we decided to pack it in and head back out. On the way back we were kept on our toes by the appearance of a snake from behind a rock, and then another similar snake sunning in the middle of the canyon floor.
In a there-and-back hike, as opposed to a loop, every step you take away from your origin adds another step to your return trip. In planning the Buckskin hike, I had fully intended to venture at least three hours into the canyon. Instead, feeling fully content with all the formations we had taken in by the lunch break, we decided to cut the trip in half. Our hike in the canyons didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would (3 hours as opposed to 6-8).
We drove up the highway a bit to Kanab, UT in search of a cafe with free Wi-Fi. At the time, I was attempting to keep up with my blog so that friends could share in our travels. Of all places, Subway was the first place in town indicating that it had free internet. I found it interesting enough that the Kanab Subway had internet, but it was even more interesting that five Russian female college students were working behind the counter! I watched as these young ladies, ages ranging from about 17-21, struggled to piece together sub-sandwiches for their English-speaking customers. Overwhelmed with curiosity, I inquired about their situation and was informed by the young lady at the checkout that they were in an exchange program from Russia at the local university. Nevertheless, we hooked in to the internet and connected with the world. The shorter than planned hike yielded a few extra hours of daylight, and after a little more on-line research we figured out that we had time to visit nearby Zion National Park, only an hour up the road.