Grand Staircase Escalante Monument
We are now in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah, a vast nature reserve managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The whole area offers an incredible number of scenic highlights, most of which are rarely visited. It is a paradise for hiking and you will find the most beautiful wild places to stay overnight here, as the land is public and you can set up your camp at any nice place in the open air.
NARROW, NARROWER, THE NARROWEST
At the Visitor Center in Escalante, we're checking up on the condition of the Hole-in-the-Rock-Road, a dirt road that runs through the reserve. You must always be a little careful when driving on the roads in this area, as the clay subsoil changes into a muddy mass after rainfall and can make the roads impassable. Since it has been dry for a long time, there is no danger for us and we can drive the road without worries, they say.
There are many sights along the almost 100km long route. After an evening visit to the Devils Garden we set off the next morning for our actual destination. We have chosen a hike through two slot canyons, which promises beside beautiful scenery and some effort also a little thrill.
Peek-A-Boo and Spooky are the chosen ones.
The Trailhead is quickly found, armed with GPS we trudge through the red desert sand. The sun is burning early in the morning. But soon we reach the first entrance and climb over a 2 meter high wall into the shady Peek-A-Boo-Canyon. We climb and crackle and continue one meter after the other in the narrow gorge washed out by water. The stone walls are incredibly smooth. This is due to flash floods that occur from time to time, during which a lot of water is carried through all the rock openings in a short time, thus removing the soft sandstone and creating the narrow gorges. A phenomenon that is not harmless. In 1997, 10 European tourists were surprised and killed by such a tidal wave in the famous Antelope Canyon.
We find the exit from the Peek-A-Boo-Canyon and cross the plateau until we reach the second canyon, the Spooky Canyon. The entrance is easy this time and the canyon is comparatively wide on the first meters. After a short time we are blocked by huge boulders which we have to climb over. In the end, however, our assumption that there is no progress here is confirmed. When we arrive at the last stone, an abyss of about 3 meters opens up in front of us. There is no possibility to climb down or descend. The only option would be jumping, but of course we don't seriously consider that.
We have to turn back. But since we don't like to go the same way twice, we go back above the crevice, along the opening. The canyon is about 5-7 meters deep and we hope to find a way down at the end and not be stopped by another abyss.
We luckily find a way and then enter "Spooky" from the other side. This narrow canyon keeps what the name promises. The canyon gets narrower and narrower. We have to leave our backpacks half way behind, otherwise we won't be able to get through. At the narrowest point the distance between the two rock faces is just 20cm. We squeeze our way through the narrow crevice and eventually reach the place with the rocks where we had not made any further progress before. From below we now see that an auxiliary rope is attached to the rock wall, on which one can climb up. This was not visible from above.
We briefly consider whether we want to cross the canyon to the end, but quickly decide against it. We are too tired and too thirsty. Our brought water was already used up before the half of the hike. We decide to turn back and make it to the car with our last strength in the shimmering midday heat.A little tip from us: It makes sense to walk through the Spooky Canyon first and after that through the Peek-A-Boo Canyon 😉. Had we found out for sure, we would have informed ourselves better...
In fact, our plan was to turn from the Hole-in-the-Rock Road into a road called "Collet Road", which then leads over the Smokey Mountains Road directly to Page. However, we learned that there had been a landslide on this road and now a big rock made it impossible to pass the road. Also the Cottonwood Canyon Road, another shortcut to Page, is closed due to road works. For this reason we have no choice but to take the long stretch over the Highways 12 and then 89 over Kanab.
Before we arrive in Page, we do a short relaxed hike to the funny looking Toadstool Hoodoos. As we continue east on Highway 89 to the southern end of Cottonwood Canyon Road, we happen to see a construction worker removing the road signs and clearing the road. Had we known this earlier, we would have spent another day in the north to be able to drive the whole road here.Now we take our chance now and drive a part from the south into the road to the north. We soon see that the whole area must have been flooded quite badly and that it needed some repair work to make the road passable again. We drive to the trailhead of Yellow Rock. Over an exhausting hiking trail, which leads over a mountain ridge, we arrive at the yellow rock, which is the only one far and wide to bear this striking color.
TOURIST CROWDS VS. RECLUSION
When we get to Page, it's already late and we don't like cooking anymore. On Trip Advisor we pick out a BBQ restaurant where there are supposed to be the best spare ribs. And indeed, when we arrive, we see two huge smokers in front of the restaurant and we smell the fine smell of smoked meat.
Our ordered ribs are delivered quickly and the meat is really excellent. The only thing that irritates us very much, but we have already experienced here in the US several times, is that the food is served in disposable dishes. Too bad!The next morning we drive to Horseshoe Bend, but don't stay long as the tourist buses are already queuing up and we have to make our way through crowding Asians, screaming teenagers ("This is so aaaaawesome") and posing hobby models in beautiful dresses (for Insta I suppose?) before we even see anything. One or two photos and we are gone again! We haven't seen so many people in one heap in the USA so far.
Actually we would also have liked to visit the Antelope Canyon. After this experience at Horseshoe Bend and the fact that you can only visit the canyon with a tour that costs more than 100 dollars per person, our decision against a visit was quickly made.We prefer to continue away from the tourist routes and find our peace and solitude at Alstrom Point, a viewpoint from where you have a sensational view over Lake Powell. We enjoy a great sunset with a glass of wine and a quiet night.
THE STORY OF THE WAVE
Back in Kanab we take part in the wave lottery. "The Wave" is a formation of curved rock layers of the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness and allegedly only became widely known when Microsoft needed the image of the wave as a desktop background. Since then, thousands of tourists have been coming to the South Coyote Buttes, where the unique rock formation is located.
As the formation is very worth protecting, the BLM grants only 20 permits per day, which allow a hike to the wave. 10 of them will be raffled over the internet. However, these are fully booked months in advance. A further 10 permits are awarded daily in a lottery at the BLM-Visitor Center in Kanab.
We try our luck and are there on a Friday. From 08.30 a.m. we can register for the lottery by filling in a form with our names and group size. The draw will then take place in a separate room, which only the group leaders (in our case I am) are allowed to enter. No further registrations will be accepted punctually at 09.00 a.m. and all persons in the room will be assigned a number.
I get the number 10.
As today is Friday, the draw will take place for the next 3 days (Saturday, Sunday and Monday). The number of visitors who want to get a permit is correspondingly high. In the lottery room there are 66 other people sitting next to me. Altogether 150! hope for a permit. So the chance that our number will be drawn is very small. But since there will be 30 lucky winners today (10 permits per day), there is still hope.
One number after another is drawn from the rotating ball. As soon as the number is read out loud by the ranger, a murmur or a cry of joy goes somewhere through the room. Each time it is announced how big the winner's group is and the group leader is asked if he really wants the permits. Of course nobody refuses. In the first attempt a group of four is drawn, then again a group of four and a group of two. So the first 10 permits are already awarded after 3 draws. The number 10 was unfortunately not there.
Also with the drawings for the further two days we unfortunately are not lucky and go empty-handed.
Since Thanksgiving is in a few days, the timing for our participation was certainly not ideal. There should also be days when fewer people take part in the draw and the chances of winning are greater. My disappointment disappears quickly as I casually and purely for the sake of interest look at the hotel prices in Las Vegas on the parking lot of the Visitor Center. What? There are currently rooms in Excalibur for 20 USD per night ... booked!