Sand in Our Shoes: Hiking the Escalante, Day 3

The Yellowjacket in Devil’s Garden

Day: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
For many years, I’ve wanted to explore the famous Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons. But my limited schedule and weather conditions had always prevented me from getting anywhere near the area.

Now, with perfect weather, we would finally be able to pursue these wonders. Reading around the web, I had gotten it into my head to go after Peekaboo and Spooky as a loop hike, going up Peekaboo, walking over land, then squeezing through Spooky and walking back up the Dry Fork wash to the base of Peekaboo. Remember this little tidbit, because it comes into play later in our story.

We began our day with a hearty breakfast, loaded up our  packs with water and the requisite essentials discussed in the prior post, gassed up and bought sandwiches at the Escalante Subway. From there, we headed east on Route 12 for 4.5 miles. At this point, we left pavement as we turned right onto Hole-in-the-Rock Road and began the 26 mile drive to the Dry Fork Trailhead.

On the way, we stopped at the delightful Devil’s Garden. Located 13 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock Road, Devil’s Garden offers a picnic area surrounded by hardened Jurassic era sand dunes, now carved by wind and rain into fantastic hoodoos, arches and goblins. We roamed throughout the Garden, taking many pictures. We stopped at Devil’s Garden at the beginning of the day, assuming–correctly–that we would be too tired to stop by at the end of the day on the way back to Escalante.

Devil’s Garden

Devil’s Garden

Devil’s Garden Arch

Dry Fork Trail Head

After enjoying Devil’s Garden, we hopped back in our car and continued south on the bumpy, dusty, Hole-in-the-Rock Road. At mile 26, we turned left onto a jeep trail which meanders another mile to the Dry Fork trailhead. Dry Fork offers a fairly large parking area that overlooks the wash below. We registered at the trail head, took some pictures and then headed down the sandy slope to the bottom of the Dry Fork Wash.

Dry Fork Trail Head View

Dry Fork Trail Head

Along the way down, we came upon a ranger who was hiking back up and out of the wash. She stated that Peekaboo and Spooky were very narrow slots and that we would be well served to just leave our packs at the entrance and explore each slot separately by going in and then coming back out to the entrance. Otherwise, we would find that we would constantly need to take our packs off and carry them or pass them back and forth to negotiate the narrow passages. OK, duly noted. So I guess we wouldn’t do the loop hike after all…

After about 20 minutes we reached the bottom of the wash. Going down the sandy slope is tricky on older knees. Daniel, I’m sure, could have easily slid down in under 10 minutes. Youth.

At the bottom, we agreed to veer to the left and first explore up into the actual Dry Fork slot. It’s a very pretty and easy walk through the cool narrows. It’s wide enough that no contortions are required to walk through. We went up through Dry Fork until the canyon walls began to give way to the surrounding plateau. At this point, we turned around and walked back down until we found a wider point were we stopped and ate lunch.

Dry Fork Slot

Daniel in Dry Fork Slot

Near End of Slot

Dry Fork Slot

Entrance to Peekaboo

Now refueled after our brief repast, we walked out of the Dry Fork slot arriving back in the sandy wash. From this point, we walked just a short distance down the wash and arrived at the entrance to Peekaboo Gulch. Here, at the entrance to the slot, Eileen looked up and declared that there was no way (perhaps with another adjective in there) she was going to go up into the slot. And with good reason. The entrance to the slot is an immediate 10+ foot scramble up steep sandstone. If you have bad knees, I don’t recommend it. I was nervous, because I’ve been nursing my own knee injury and it had been bothering me the entire walk down to the wash.

Assessing the situation, I quickly agreed Eileen shouldn’t try it. And she readily offered that Daniel and I should go while she remain at the entrance, with our gear. So off we went, me first, followed by Daniel, sans packs and water, up the near vertical rock wall and into the contours of the slot. Other descriptions I’ve read speak of pools of water in various parts of the slot, but we found it dry throughout. Inside Peekaboo, we entered a magical world of twists, turns and tunnels as we maneuvered through.

Peekaboo entrance with arch

Daniel coming up

Daniel and Peekaboo Arch

Used the handy log to climb to the next tier

View back down

Peekaboo through rock hole

Near top of slot

Beginning of Peekaboo slot

After only maybe 15 minutes or so we reached up near the end of the slot. Here we came upon two guys coming down, who between them shared a 1 liter Nalgene of water.  They had gone up Spooky, walked over land and were now coming down Peekaboo. I asked them how long a walk it was over land between the two slots. “Not far, about 15 minutes,” was the reply.

That got me to thinking. Which is always where the trouble begins.

I made a proposition to Daniel. “You know, if we walk 15 minutes over land and then come down the Spooky slot and walk back up the wash to meet mom, we might actually get back faster. Not only that, but we won’t have to figure out how to get back down the 10 foot vertical wall at the entrance to Peekaboo. And, having come back down Spooky, we’ll be able to tell your mother whether or not she’ll be able to do the Spooky slot.”

Against his better judgement, Daniel bought into this proposal. And I’m being completely honest that this seemed perfectly rational to me at the time.

So from the 3 foot high cairn at the end of Peekaboo, off we went to the right down a broad wash off in the general direction of Spooky. The broad wash soon began to slot up, seducing me into the thought that we had reached the entrance to Spooky. But we had not yet walked for 15 minutes. The slot then widened back into a wash as we trudged further along in the mid-day sun. Again, the wash narrowed and slotted up. It was in this second slot that we stepped on a stone that was sheltering a midget faded rattlesnake. Fortunately, the snake wanted nothing to do with us and retreated further under the rock. Cool. On we went.

Soon this slot, too, gave way back to a broad wash. And at this point we had invested more than 15 minutes into the effort. Daniel, reasonably, suggested that we turn back. I, irrationally, suggested we give it 10 more minutes. The wash, winding, was going in the general direction of Spooky and I was convinced the actual slot would reveal itself around the next turn. And if that were the case, then we would return faster by pressing on rather than turning back to were we came. Daniel reluctantly agreed.

The next ten minutes came, and went. We stopped in our tracks, in the middle of the wash in the baking sun. By now we were both getting thirsty and frustrated. I quickly apologized to Daniel for taking him on the now pointless journey through the wash. Daniel pointed out that it wasn’t he who I’d have to be apologizing to.

Ugh. I knew he was right. By randomly changing our hike plan, I had set up a sequence of events that would cause my poor wife much anxiety and more.

As time progressed, Eileen began to wonder where we were. Others had come and gone into and back out of Peekaboo. After a while, Eileen began to ask others if they had seen us in the slot. She was informed by hikers coming out that there was no one else in the slot. What? Where were they? My husband would NEVER go off trail without his gear and water. Something MUST be wrong.

What to do? Head back to the car by herself? Leave a note? Stay, and hope that we will return? Desperate, Eileen asked advice from a family passing by. Good Samaritans that they were, the father and son offered to do the loop in the opposite direction: Spooky up and over and down Peekaboo. Thus they would come across us if Daniel and I had for some unknown, insane reason opted to do the loop that we told Eileen we weren’t going to do.

Meanwhile, Daniel and I retraced our steps back to the end of Peekaboo Gulch. I feel I must reassure the reader at this point that while we couldn’t find the entrance to Spooky, Daniel and I were never lost. The way back to Peekaboo was always clear to me. Back at the cairn at the end of Peekaboo, we saw a cairn trail that led uphill (as opposed to the wash we had just toured) in the direction of Spooky. I had totally missed that, assuming the wash was the route.  Good to know. At least I saw my navigation error. Regardless, we quickly came down Peekaboo and popped out at the opening where the extremely anxious, relieved and pissed-off Eileen met us.

Now, this lengthy story would end here except for the inconvenient fact that a father and his son were out there looking for us and had not yet returned. We certainly couldn’t romp off up happily to our car with people out there on a quasi rescue mission.

So I gulped down a big swig of water, grabbed a full Nalgene and marched off at a hurried pace down the sandy wash the quarter mile or so towards Spooky. Daniel and Eileen stayed behind at the entrance to Peekaboo to 1) conserve energy and water and 2) stand guard to meet our rescuers if they came out of Peekaboo before I caught up with them.

The very sandy Dry Fork Wash

I soon came upon Spooky Gulch. Once inside, I scooted sideways through the much narrower slot for maybe 100 yards. Then I stopped. And listened. Not a sound. There was no one in the slot. Where were they? Had they already gone through? Or did they track back down the Dry Fork wash to Peekaboo via a different fork in the wash I had walked? One thing I did know. I wasn’t going up Spooky alone and contrary to my stated mission after the previous debacle. So back I went out of Spooky and up the wash to Eileen and Daniel at the base of Peekaboo.

Each of us asked the other if we found the father and son. And “no” was the answer. Now we were in need of a Plan “B.” Fortunately, as we were discussing what to do next, the father and son scampered down out of Peekaboo where we where standing. Everyone was relieved that all were OK. The father and son were completely out of water at this point. We happily shared our ample supply with them, I apologized profusely and we walked back up the hill to the trail head and our cars.

Back at the cars, there was a BLM ranger there. He said he wasn’t looking for us, but he coincidentally left as soon as we had returned. I suspect he was probably just being gracious.

Later that evening, back in town, we wolfed down the best tasting pizza, washed down with a few beers. We all slept well that night.

Albert & Daniel in Dry Fork Slot prior to Peekaboo/Spooky escapade

So what’s the moral of my little story? Well, for one, don’t ever change your itinerary without the prior knowledge of everyone in your party. Two, don’t go off wandering without your pack, water and ten essentials. What boggles my mind, even now, is that I know better. I preach this all the time, and yet–in the passion of the moment–I allowed myself to be seduced by the tempting idea to loop hike the two slots. That idiocy, resulted in all the wasted effort and unnecessary grief imposed on my unwitting wife and valiant rescue party.

Payback is a bitch. And I know I will be running a deficit with Eileen for quite some time due to this embarrassing escapade. As well I should be.

But more to the point: “Albert, what about that loop hike? Don’t you still want to do it?”

You’re damn right I do.

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