The rain continued lightly through the night - I'm not sure if it ever really stopped, but it never poured and the weather around us stayed calm - resulting in a restful night's sleep all around. It also meant that there was no need to get up early for sunrise, and so it wasn't until 8:45am that we all - simultaneously for the most part - climbed down out of our tents to greet the drizzly-gray morning.
Despite the weather - which we hoped would clear - this was going to be a special day. In fact, where Mike @Digiratus had been waiting for the visit to Alstrom Point, Monte @Blackdawg had been waiting for the main event of today - the slot canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
To get there, we'd descend through Left Hand Collet Canyon - atop which we'd just spent the night - with a handful of stops along the way. Several (of course) would be for photos, but one would be special - some anceint dinosaur tracks were apparently waiting to be discovered.
Before we could leave, Monte and I decided that with the rain light, now was as good a time as any to add our spare fuel to our tanks - Mike having performed the task already the day before, the Redhead a thirsty girl. Quick to give me a hard time for the difference in speed between his pouring spout and my siphon, Monte was kind enough to let me use his spout to make the transfer.
Which was a great idea until we discovered that the hole in the filler neck for a 1998-2000 Tacoma is about ½ an inch smaller than the hole on a 2001-2004. So yeah, his spout didn't fit, and I got to hear about the speed of my siphon once again.
And so it was that by 10:30am or so, we headed out of camp - plenty of fuel in our tanks for the day's adventures, and high hopes for what we'd see - dramatic views starting immediately as we entered the canyon.
Despite the rain over the previous 48 hours, the road near the top of Left Hand Collet Canyon was in reasonably good shape. Largely rock and sand, it still flung around a bit, but it didn't have the sticky-clay consistency of the day before. Nice!
Winding our way down, we lost elevation quickly. I don't recall how much or how quickly, but it was a significant amount over the course of less than 1-hour. As we went, the canyon walls dominated the views around us. They were of course shorter than the walls we'd seen in the Grand Canyon or at Lake Powell earlier in the trip, but they were just as dramatic - pocked with holes, textured by years of relentless wind and water.
We stopped plenty of times on our way down the canyon, views beckoning us out of the trucks, misty rain urging us back in. This canyon would be an awesome place to explore with nicer weather - tons of rock outcroppings to climb, small side canyons to investigate. As it was, we limited our exploration to the road an it's immediate surroundings - lots of evidence of the recent rain.
And then, as we rounded a corner, there was a boulder the size of several trucks, perched atop a pillar a fraction of it's size. It looked as though it had been shimmed in place - carefully balanced - and ready to fall with the simplest of shakes.
Monte parked under it. Of course.
Mike didn't. Naturally. Or did he? It sure looks like he stopped to me - I guess we'll never know .
Of course, once Mike had pulled by, there was no question where I was going to park for a quick shot or two. I mean, that rock has been there for thousands of years, right?
"Balanced rock" behind us, our next stop was an "Undercut-of-the-wash," fun in that Mike was now asking us why we always stopped under things that could crush our trucks. And yeah, I guess he's right - we do generally do that. Hope it doesn't come back to bite us someday, 'cause it's pretty fun.
At any rate, we were now nearing the bottom of Left Hand Collet Canyon - the ground starting to level out, the canyon walls transforming into rolling hills. And the sun was trying to break through. I can tell you - it had three cheerleaders in trucks, that's for sure. Not that the mud hadn't already worked it's magic, hahahahaha.
The bottom of the canyon signaled our first scheduled pit stop of the day - dinosaur tracks! This wouldn't be our first sighting of these ancient impressions, having seen them in Utah last year on the De-Tour, and earlier this year in Wyoming on The Re-Tour. But this time would bring it's own twist - we knew the general area where the tracks were, but being in the middle of nowhere, there would be no signs or obvious trail to the actual tracks. It would be a treasure hunt!
So we crossed the last wash before the area where we planned to park and then set off - up onto a rock outcropping where we thought we'd find the tracks. We all went separate ways, for no real reason than finding the easiest way up. And let me tell you - I was not the winner, though I did run across a cool tree growing out of the rock.
As I explored the rocky plateau, I stumbled first on what I thought was some Native American art, etched into the stone. Circular in shape, there were several concentric colors that I thought might have had some sort of ceremonial meaning.
Turns out, we'd later see these same types of "formations" when we were exploring the slot canyons, as well as in several places along the road...where it was clear that they are just some sort of lichen growth. Still cool though, if you ask me!
Next, I stumbled upon some holes in the rock that were clearly made by humans - likely Native Americans. I've seen these same types of holes in California, where people used pestles on the stone ground to pulverize their food. By striking the same location over and over - likely for months or years - they'd wear a hole in the stone before moving on to the next area.
Cool, yes - but that wasn't what we were looking for. We were looking for dinosaur tracks. And it was just then that I noticed some small rocks, vaguely arranged as an arrow on the stone surface. So I lined myself up and started walking the hundred feet or so from that point to the line of dino tracks left millions of years before.
They were faint for sure, but they were definitely there. Each about the size of a watermelon, walking down what might have been at the time a stream bed or beach - now a sandstone outcropping in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Having found the tracks, we headed back over the sandstone outcropping to our trucks - the patterns in the sandstone itself perhaps more of a treat than the faint tracks.
By the time we were back in the trucks, it was getting on time for lunch - a fact I was quick to remind Mike and Monte about, having skipped lunch already a few times on the trip. Driving makes me hungry, and if I don't get fed, I get hangry. And no one wants that.
We decided that lunch should be our first order of business when we arrived at the parking lot/trailhead for the slot canyons - hopefully less than an hour away. Then, re-energized, we'd be able to attack the hike with a gusto like we'd never even imagined. Or something.
Out of the canyon, the road was well graded and only slightly muddy - allowing us to make great time - and we arrived at the slot canyon parking lot in a mere 30-minutes.
It was at this point that Monte was really getting excited. The sun was coming out and it was all he could do to get a bit of lunch in his belly before heading out - again, this the thing he'd been waiting all trip to do. So excited in fact, that he'd even convinced Mike to hike down to and through the first slot canyon we'd come to - Dry Fork Narrows Slot.
We headed out - slot canyons somewhere in front of us - invisible really, from above.
Following cairns piled high by summer visitors, we picked our way down a hillside and towards the wash that each of the slot canyons emptied into. Steep and slippery, Mike did a great job - knowing that the trip back was going to be more than Monte may have initially suggested.
But, eventually we got to Dry Fork Narrows Slot, and the ammo-case log book - a must for all visitors to sign, given the danger of floods when exploring these amazingly narrow paths through rock. We signed the book and headed in.
Talk about a special experience. As much as we'd complained about the rain for the last couple of days, that same rain had "reset" the slot canyons. We were the first footprints in the mud, a rare opportunity in this land of relatively little rain.
As we walked up Dry Fork Narrows Slot, the walls got closer and the echos got longer. At times, we could stretch our arms wide and touch both sides of the canyon. Such a difference from the Grand Canyon we'd experienced - and yet, perhaps the beginnings of a new Grand Canyon!
Eventually we turned around. Monte and I were keen to see two additional slot canyons - Peek-a-boo and Spooky - and Mike was ready to start the trek back up to the trucks. So we parted ways - Monte and I heading down the main wash another half mile or so to the head of Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon.
...Where we were sorely disappointed when we discovered a large, deep puddle in front of the initial scramble into the canyon. To us - without a change of footwear - it was impassable, making the canyon and it's secrets inaccessible. "A reason to go back." we consoled ourselves, as we headed down-wash again towards Spooky Canyon.
As we rounded the last bend before Spooky, it was clear that this was going to be a whole different type of experience than Dry Fork Narrows. Spooky was very narrow. Perhaps spookily so. We loved it.
The further we went, the narrower it got.
Eventually, we were "arms in the air" making our way through - until it got just a little too narrow, and a little to wet for us to continue. But we'd had a blast - the slot canyons both living up to their hype and holding back several secrets - a place we'd want to return in the future to try and unlock a few more.
Headed back to the trucks, we wondered out loud - where would we find Mike? - would he be just a few hundred feet from where we left him? Halfway up the hill? Waiting at the scramble? The further we went, the more surprised we were - still no Mike...
And then - as the scramble and parking lot came into view - we saw him. And he saw us. He'd made it!
We made the final scramble back to the trucks and had a quick chat about our plan. It was now approaching 4:00pm, and we weren't really sure where we were camping for the evening. We knew that we wanted to make it into the small town of Escalante - to refuel at least - but unlike some of the early nights in the trip where mileages and thus approximate locations each evening were planned - we were now playing camp sites by feel.
So we headed towards Escalante and a yet-unknown camp - sure we could find something, BLM land plentiful around us. Along the way we stumbled across The Devil's Garden - a "garden" of hoodoo's (and one arch), brilliant orange against the late afternoon sky and clouds. We lingered there, but not for long.
A quick search for a camp site around The Devil's Garden didn't yield fruitful results, and so it was that we headed into-and-out-of Escalante. Well, really it was in-and-out-and-in-and-out-and-in-and-out-and-in-and-out of the tiny town - a quick stop for fuel, turning into a run for a few groceries, and a quick stop at the hardware store for a Mike to pick up a new step-stool - having left his previous one on the trail!
Headed out of town, we'd spotted a promising looking site off the main road overlooking Escalante Canyon. As long as it wasn't too muddy, we were confident that it'd be the perfect spot for us to call it a night. We arrived just as the light was waning over the canyon, and the clouds were hoarding the last of the sun.
Minimal rain in the forecast that evening, we got camp setup, a fire made, and dinners prepped (another hobo meal for me) in short order. With currently clear skies, we crowded around the fire - keen to keep the cold at bay as long as possible. Alas, we were successful only until a bit after midnight, when our wood ran out and we called it a night.
As we climbed into bed, I hoped again for the same thing I'd hoped all trip - no rain and a warm morning. Because hey, a guy can always hope, right?