May 23-25, 2018
We drove a jaw-dropping section of Hwy 12 through a landscape with surprises around every curve, to our next site near the tiny town of Escalante.
This camping area was right off the beginning of a dirt road named “50 Mile Wash”. We read that at the end of 50 Mile Wash Rd. was a historical site known as “Hole in the Rock” where a wagon train of Mormon settlers looking for a way through the mountains to the Colorado River, got really desperate and dynamited a hole through the stone cliffs. They LOWERED THEIR WAGONS down through the hole with ropes to the river below. (The area past the Hole in the Rock is now Lake Powell, but this was before the Glen Canyon dam created that lake.) We heard that for anyone willing to make the trek out to the spot, it was quite a spot to behold. We weren’t that interested in checking it out, but I couldn’t help but wonder, how could blasting a hole through a mountain & lowering wagons & animals down with ropes EVER be the most simple solution to a problem?
We also heard from some other travelers that the road was rough in places, but that if you braved it out to mile 26, you’d be rewarded with 2 fantastic slot canyons – Peek-A-Boo & Spooky. We hadn’t had the chance to explore any slot canyons yet, so we really wanted to venture out to these. We figured we would drive pretty slowly since the road was dirt, and budgeted about an hour each way. We ate an early dinner about 3:30 and took off around 4:00pm for an evening hike in the canyons.
The first few miles were really decent. But as we continued down the road, it turned into rows and rows of the deepest washboard surface I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been on some bumpy dirt roads that actually feel smoother if you go a bit faster – this was not one of those roads. We crept along at 20mph max, our teeth rattling and everything in the truck shaking and crashing. We had to speak loudly to hear each other over the noise of the vehicle shimmying. Occasionally we would hit a particularly rough spot and the truck would jump sideways across the road.
So many times we said, “Should we just turn around?” Every time we came back with the answer, “Well, we’ve already come this far.” And I think we were all just holding onto the hope that maybe the road would clear up at some point and the washboard would have just been a “section” of this route. It did not get better.
About 1 hour in, we passed a minivan with some trouble. The family of 3 was on the side of the road, not with a flat tire…but with a BROKEN AXLE from the rough road. They were stranded without cell service, their rear driver’s side tire bent out sideways, and were borrowing phones from generous passers-by with any cell coverage to plead with a tow truck driver to make this trek out to the middle of nowhere on Memorial Day weekend. We stopped to ask if we could help, but our phones didn’t have any service, so there was little we could offer. We promised to give them a ride back to town if they were still there on our return trip.
It took us just over 2 hours to drive the 26 miles.
At this point it was 6:00pm, and the sunset would be at 8:00pm. A couple of young men were coming off the trail, so we stopped them to ask how long the Spooky/Peek-a-boo loop took them. It had only taken them ABOUT 5 HOURS to go up one and down the other, and they warned us that the connecting trail between the 2 on the far side was poorly marked by random cairns and they almost got lost. (We actually heard later that a young father had gotten lost out there a few months earlier and died of exposure overnight before he was found.)
Feeling very frustrated about the car ride we had subjected ourselves to get to this point, we refused to just drive straight back without trying to see SOMETHING. We had 2 hours until dark, so we set a timer for 60 minutes, swore we would turn around when it went off no matter how far we had gotten, and set off down the trail to the slot canyons. The trail went immediately down, down, down into a dry river bed, and a single track trail along the canyon floor would lead us first to Peekaboo, or if we had more time to continue, next to Spooky.
The whole place is still very remote and not heavily traveled, so signage is minimal and we lost the trail a few times. We finally came to an open place is the canyon as had been described to us, and could see a tall narrow opening in the rock. Halleflippinlujah, we had finally made it to Peekaboo.
And it was magical.
We rushed through, trying to push to the end before our “turn-around timer” went off. The girls squealed with delight when they found places where they could reach both sides of the canyon walls with their fingertips at the same time. “BEST HIKE EVER!” they kept exclaiming.
“Mom, this is exactly the kind of hike I’ve always wanted to do!” Sunny said again and again.
Our timer went off but we were finding such delight around every curve that we kept going – we just went much faster. We jogged our way to the end and then began the run back to the opening of the canyon, giggling with joy and relief to get the chance to play in this fascinating destination.
The only thing that seemed a bit strange was that we’d heard the entrance into Peekaboo required a bit of a climb, and what we had explored was all very open and flat and easy.
Racing the clock, we made our way out of the canyon and back toward the trail. As we did, we noticed a small box next to the path that held a small trail register. While the girls drew some pictures in it and read through previous entries, I scanned a paper map we found folded inside. What I learned from the map was a bit disappointing to me…there was a 3rd trail in this dry river bed area called Dry Fork Narrows, the opening of which was before the entrance to Peekaboo.
Brad & I whispered to each other to keep the girls from hearing, “Was that really not even it?!” On the map, the entrances to Peekaboo & Dry Fork Narrows looked as if they were right next to each other. Brad headed homeward on the trail with the girls as the sun sunk lower in the sky, and I jogged further down the canyon a few hundred feet to see if we really had indeed just missed our destination.
What I found was an opening to an incredible canyon, the entrance to which was about 20 feet off the ground and required some difficult scrambling. I made my way into the canyon which looked much more like what others had described to us (a snarl of arches, drop-offs, stone twists & turns), snapped a few pictures to show Brad what I had seen, and ran to catch up with my party. As amazing as it looked, I know that our group would not have made it far on that gnarly path, so I settled myself on the opinion that the Narrows was just as great as any other slot canyon would have been for us that evening.
We barely made it back to the truck by dark, all of us dreading the inescapable 2-hour ,bone-rattling drive back. That’s when we all realized why the early Mormon settlers did what they did. If we had just driven down this road, in WAGONS, no less…TWICE as far as what we had driven, we also would have been willing to use dynamite to get whatever out of our way. We would have done nearly anything to avoid turning around & driving back on that road. Hat’s off to you, historical Mormon mountain blasters.
Author’s Note 1: The family stranded in the van with the broken axel had split up upon our return. Mom & daughter had caught a ride back to a hotel in Escalante, and Dad was waiting on a tow truck. Some other travelers whose phones were working had stopped to wait with him. Some time later a tow truck passed us on its way to pick him up.
Author’s Note 2: The next day, Brad shared some of the details of this insane day on Instagram. Another traveling family responded that they chose to do Zebra Slot Canyon instead. Further research revealed that Zebra is a very family-friendly, lovely slot canyon…….just one mile down 50 Mile Wash Road.