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2019 Utah Travel Blog (Bryce National Park)

Written by Jeff Drake
5 · 15 · 19

The good times continued in and around our next stop, Bryce National Park. This park contains one of this country’s most spectacular geologic sights, the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument (more on this below).

We’d been hearing and reading about a special type of canyon found in Utah (and other desert places, no doubt), called a “slot canyon”. The name comes from the shape of the canyon, which looks like nature put a coin “slot” in the earth. They are narrow, long or short, deep canyons, usually with a rocky stream of some kind running through it. If there is no stream, you can rest assured that water is how the canyon was originally formed and you should also be aware of weather patterns nearby, because even if it’s completely dry in the canyon, distant rain can build up and suddenly fill the slot canyon with thousands of gallons of rushing water from the far away hills. Caught in a slot canyon flash flood, you are unlikely to survive.

When I say “narrow,” I mean that at points in the slot canyon you may be able to touch both sides of the canyon simply by stretching out your arms. Can you say, “claustrophobic’? It’s not unusual to have to use ropes and ladders to traverse a slot canyon. They can be complicated and even dangerous, given the right weather conditions.

As we always do when visiting a new park, we sought out the visitor center to find out what this place was all about. At the Grand Staircase Visitor Center I overheard a visitor talking to a ranger about a nearby slot canyon off a road called Burr Trail Road (out of Boulder), that was supposed to be very visual and better yet – free of people! I figured there must be a catch and there was… you had to drive 32 miles (roundtrip) over some really tough dirt backroads. To me this just sounded like more fun! We had already made a reservation to tour the most famous Utah slot canyon near our last stop in Big Water called, “Antelope Canyon.” It’s on Navajo land and extremely popular with tourists, so they only allow people in with an Indian guide. We had mixed emotions about Antelope Canyon because of the stories we heard about there being way too many people to see it properly, but decided we’d take a chance on it. So, when we heard about another slot canyon nearby without the people and with good photography scenery, we threw caution to the wind and said, “Hell yeah, let’s go!” And so we did. The name of the place we were seeking is, Willis Creek Slot Canyon Trail.”

Grand Staircase Escalante was almost 2 million acres of land designated for park in 1997, later reduced in size (47%) by the Trump administration in 2017. It is some of the most remote land in the United States and was the last US land to be mapped. Interestingly, there is no “staircase” within the Grand Staircase, nor steps of any kind. The park gets its name from a series of five earthen benches, plateaus and cliffs that increasingly “step up” in elevation going south to north. The bottom of the staircase happens to end at the highest bench of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Each step has eroded somewhat differently, producing cliffs of varying colors, it’s all quite beautiful.

Below are photos of Bryce and Willis Creek Slot Canyon.


Next, we are off to Big Water, Utah!

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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.
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