That there crack in the rocks is what some people call a slot canyon. Wide enough for a person to fit through roughly shoulder to shoulder. The day before I was going to hike here, I climbed up along the northernmost part of the Arizona trail, looking out over the Vermillion Cliffs and received a mild pelting of rain, watched an ephemeral rainbow against a gray plastered sky, enjoyed life. (20% of the forecast area was receiving a light shower, but the next few days promised good weather.)
Getting out into the canyon, the weather was gusty with hefty grey clouds marking their presence – not appropriate weather for the Utah/Arizona border. I was disgruntled that the weather might make it a bad idea for me to be out, but I made some concessions to this. I went through a small portion of the canyon with some chagrin before getting up onto higher ground. Some inkling of (lets call it) self preservation encouraged me to play a game.
Rules: Climb upwards and along the walls of the canyon, belly crawl over or simply peer down into the canyon as appropriate and identify any points of exit in case of flash flooding. If you can’t ID a point for a distance longer than you think you can run at a reasonable speed…don’t go through. (Buckskin gulch is the longest known slot canyon in North America and is many miles long.)
I played this way for an hour or so, admiring the flora drinking up water seeps on the canyon walls. The wind began whipping up with more veracity, sending tufts of sand up into the air.
Observing the weather, I said, “Ok Buckskin gulch, see you when I bag some canyoneering skills, and find some more statistics on flash flooding.” I don’t like to think of myself as particularly anxious about being outdoors, but canyons are not familiar territory for me at all. I know that in the rainforest of Washington, I’ve come close to uncomfortable evenings stranded on the wrong side of rivers before. (Yay hiking partners and swift-water crossings to save the day.) As I came closer to the trailhead a number of folks had begun to cross my path ready for their casual stroll through the canyon…Ah, what can you do? Busiest trail head I’ve been on in the past 2 weeks and everyone starts LATE, wonder how far they get! Hope they have fun!