Willis Slot Canyon.....
What a Day to Remember!
This is the Destination.......
A beautiful slot canyon just outside of Bryce Canyon National Park and on the way to Kodachrome Basin State Park. Since we had visited Bryce Canyon 3 times, we budgeted just 1 day there. We arrived early, did some hiking, took a few pictures, got rained on, and were annoyed by the thousands of visitors, so we decided to head east to Kodachrome.
This is the Problem
I was looking at the map to see if there were any interesting things to see along the way and that's when I discovered Willis Slot Canyon. People who hiked it, loved it. Most recommended a 4 wheel drive vehicle, but said you could do it without. Don't believe everything you read! We thought we rented a 4x4, but turns it, we were wrong. We had driven this SUV from Jackson Hole to the Grand Tetons to Yellowstone and back and then into Idaho, down to Salt Lake City, all the way to Arches National Park, and then west to Bryce. And now here we are. WOW! I'm getting exhausted just writing about it - over 2000 miles in all.
I’m taking a big risk writing this post – my friends will ever go on another adventure with me – ever again! But, I'm a risk taker, so here goes.
It’s a father’s day Al won’t soon forget. Kodachrome Basin State Park here we come!
Oh, wait! There is a cool slot canyon along the way – just a 6 or 7 mile dirt road separated us from a cool fun hike. Let's Go!
Our first mistake was trusting Accuweather. No rain until 9pm, it said. It was just after 3pm. Plenty of time. After driving on the narrow twisted dirt road, some edge-side, we arrived and walked to the slot canyon trailhead, about 1/4 mile from the parking lot. We never saw the canyon.
Boom! Literally, heavy rain, loud thunder and big lightning! We ran back to our car as fast as we could. There were 5 other vehicles parked there so we waited for some of them to exit the canyon and then decided to follow another car out with a big all-terrain vehicle following us. By big, I mean BIG!
Click the all-terrain image to view a short video clip.
Driving on the wet mud was much like driving on ice. No control at all. We immediately started sliding up the first hill. We were all concerned that we might slide right over the edge and never be seen again but we pressed on and made it about a mile before we were completely stuck. The big all-terrain passed right by, no slipping, no sliding, and no hesitation for the little mud covered SUV from Wyoming (well we had PA plates). How sad we were.
It was like a Christmas Miracle. He stopped by about 50 yards up ahead of us. We waited in anticipation. Then the driver door opened and out popped a true outdoors man. Clean cut but rugged and he was offering help. YAY!
He had a set of brand new traction grabbers that he had been wanting to try and we were eager to be the test dummies. He and Al slid them under our tires. Now I was driving and Al and our new California friend were pushing. Mud was flying everywhere! Huge chunks – on the windshield, on the windows, and about 15 feet high behind the car, and after a number of attempts, we made it up the hill. Unfortunately, it was only 1 of many more to follow. We were grateful for the help even though we only conquered one hill and were still stranded. Thanks for trying!
Unfortunately there were bigger hills and many edge-side tight curves ahead so we knew we had to wait for the road to dry. Two of the other cars from the parking lot were also stuck near us. By now the rain had stopped and the skies were clearing, a little. Kodachrome seemed so far away. Cilivization seemed so far away. Not likely that we would see Kodachrome on this trip. Tomorrow was already booked with a canyoneering excursion and then we were finally heading home.
We contemplated the very real fact that we may be paying for a hotel in town, but sleeping under the stars (hoping for a clear night) right here in this car. YIKES! There was no signal, and hadn't been one since well before we entered this dirt road so no chance of alerting the hotel or even anyone that we were here. We always leave an itinerary with our older daughter or a friend or someone, but this side trip was nowhere on those plans. Who would ever look for us here? I sent a few text messages, just in case one of them happened to go through, by some miracle signal that reached our remote location, or when our cold lifeless bodies are hauled out of here.
While we waited, we snacked, joked, and considered all possibilities. I suggested that we may as well hike the canyon since we had nothing better to do than to sit in the car. So we did.
We headed for the canyon just before 5. It was about a mile hike just to get there – all downhill – killer on the knees, but the canyon itself is very flat. The creek at the canyon was just a trickle so we headed in. We had read so much about how slot canyons flood and people are swept away or get trapped and drown so we wanted to be safe.
We were very glad we made the hike into the canyon. It was amazing!
After about 15 minutes, we had completed the first canyon and thought we better head back – so 15 minutes back. Now the little trickle at the beginning of the canyon had grown to a raging stream. YIKES! I really have no explanation why we don't have pictures documenting more of our adventure, but perhaps stress played a roll in the reasoning. I guess we'll never know.
We hustled the mile back up the hill to our stuck abandoned car in the mud road.
These pictures do not do justice to the real appearance of our car.
The road condition was much improved and looked very promising. The others (Jetta and Mini Van) were gone so we thought if they can make it now, maybe we can too, so we carefully drove a few miles only to find 3 vehicles now stuck at the first creek crossing. There were 4 creek crossings total. Along the way we passed 2 ladies walking – shocking. They were very sweaty and had disgusted looks on their faces. They didn’t ask for help so we pressed on. Another 1/2 mile down the road, we saw an abandoned SUV. Maybe they broke down but had to see the canyon? Another mystery that will never be answered.
Luckily for us we killed at least an hour hiking. A 4 wheel drive pickup truck that passed our stuck car a while ago made it to the rushing creek first and met a young couple on the opposite side also trying to cross (locals planning to camp overnight at the slot canyon).
They had shovels and started digging out the wet mud. They worked on it for almost an hour before we arrived to help. Hence the luckily we killed an hour hiking comment.
The water was moving pretty fast and was a little deep in the middle, but I seriously thought we could all make it across.
I suggested that the 4 wheel drive truck should go first, followed by the first non 4x4 in the line, which was also a rental, but everyone who had been working tirelessly thought it would be best to fill in the 'river' and then drive across. Where was their sense of adventure?
Sounded like fun, so we joined in.
We gathered sticks and brush to make a solid driveway heading into the stream, which was probably necessary due to how deep and slippery the mud was.
It was looking pretty good.
Some gathered rocks to fill in holes in the stream and dead brush to provide traction in the mud. One of the shovels got swept away but was later recovered.
When we all decided it was ready to go, the pickup went first and we all knew he could make it. Now for the rental cars. One by one we all crossed and everyone cheered. The water had receded quite a bit by now and wasn’t running as fast as it was when the first couple arrived. Thank goodness.
Somehow there was minimal cussing and no arguing – by anyone. Lots of laughing - it's just what we do. We finally made it off the slot canyon road and back to pavement at 7pm. We were thankful we had food and water with us. We seriously thought we might be spending the night out there – truly in the back country. There was no signal for miles so no way to call for help.
Before returning to Escalante, we ran into the big all-terrain. He was glad to see that we made it out and said that the 2 walking ladies thought the road was too treacherous for driving, but were determined to do the slot canyon even if it meant hiking 5 miles one way. The all-terrain people post a blog and told us to watch for our story there:)
Needless to say, we never made it to Kodachrome – maybe next time. I’m very thankful that this is not my car!
So if you're interested in hiking this amazing slot canyon, here's how we found it.
We headed north out of Bryce, then east toward Excalante (our real destination), then south on Rt 12 through Cannonville. Once you reach the town, turn right on Main St at the Grand Staircase Inn. Go through town and the road turns into Kodachrome Rd. Follow that for maybe 3 miles then turn right onto BLM500/Stutumpah Rd. I think it was labeled. We found it pretty easily and there were several cars/trucks/4 wheelers just returning from a muddy adventure. Even though several people who rated this canyon in TripAdvisor, or other travel related sites, said the dirt road was between 5 and 7 miles to Willis, it was really only about 3.5 miles. It only felt like much longer. Follow BLM500 until you reach the Willis Slot Canyon parking lot. Good Luck!