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Peekaboo and Spooky Slots
(and some chores)
Saturday, May 18

Free from the martial law of the packraft journey, our group was finally allowed to be up and ready at a time well after 8 a.m. We had done a little research and found that the former location of the Ranch Dog Kitchen, located a little ways down the main drag, had been taken over and a new restaurant was now in its place - Magnolia's Kitchen. Some in our group had meh memories of Ranch Dog and didn't want to go back, but online reviews and a lack of too many alternatives convinced everyone to give it a try. It was actually very good, with various wrap-oriented breakfast items that were generous and high quality.

After breakfast, we walked back to the Padre Motel and booked ourselves another night. It was a great place, and there was no need for us to try and move somewhere else.
courtesy JInnes
courtesy JInnes
Escalante Main Drag
Magnolias Kitchen
Magnolias Kitchen
Today was our "spare" day - the day that we would have used had things gone especially slowly or wrong during our packraft. Given that we did not have to do that, and we had in fact completed the journey in six days, we had this day as a spare. However, there were still a number of tasks to complete, including cleaning and packaging the packrafts for return shipment, checking out at the ranger station, getting our own gear packed and ready to go, and in an unfortunate turn of events, we also had to deal with the flat tire on Gino's rental car. We examined it more closely and realized that he had hit a long bolt that must have been lying on the ground. Likely the front wheel had gone over the flat-lying bolt, sent it spinning, and then the rear tire caught it in just the wrong way. The bolt had pierced in through the bottom of the tread and had come out on the sidewall. This meant the tire was completely un-patchable.

Gino did a lot of calling around (Sunday in southern Utah is not the time to be trying to find an open garage), and eventually located a garage located about two and a half hours' drive away that was open AND which had an appropriate replacement tire. And the availability to fix the tire. Basically, Gino's "spare" day was - ironically - taken up by the task that would get the "spare" tire re-stowed away.

So, while Gino sped off to handle the tire (which would take him a good six hours round trip, at least), the rest of us brought the pack rafts across the street to the town's main gas station, which sported a coin-operated spray wash. Here we spent the next hour unfolding, washing, and drying the packrafts and all of their accessories.
courtesy BConnell
Packraft Cleanup
Packraft Cleanup
So tidy and perfect
The packraft washing was essentially done by noon, meaning we had an open afternoon available to us. Chris (W) had wanted to go see the friendly slot canyons of Peekaboo and Spooky. Not everyone was interested in more outdoor activity and so we split once again, into a hiker group (Chris W, the Hatkos, Jenn, and myself) and a stay-behind-and-do-more-packing group (Brian, Sophie, and Alana).

For those of us in the hiking group, it was once more back down Hole-in-the-Rock road, all the way down to the Dry Fork Coyote Trailhead (about forty minutes drive down the road). The short side road has been greatly improved since I first visited these little slots about fifteen years ago, being now easily accessible to any vehicle. There's a new parking lot that is big and graded, fenced, with signage and a bathroom. And a cute little take on the classic circus ride warning: a "you must be able to fit between these two poles" sign, warning that if you can't, you are likely to get physically stuck in Spooky (and maybe need a rescue).
courtesy JInnes
You must fit!
Many warnings
Starting off
We started off on a nicely defined trail leading out from the parking lot. It led over flat scrubland, soon reaching the edge of the Dry Fork Coyote drainage, at which point, it turned left and began an easy and well-defined tracing of the upper rim of the drainage.

We followed along this drainage for quite a while, and I eventually realized that the new parking lot was quite a bit farther away from the drop-in point than the older more primitive parking area. This meant that my estimate of time and distance for completion of the Spooky/Peekaboo loop were going to be off as well. I explained this to the others, in order to manage expectations.
Along the rim
Cactus Flowers
Nearing Peekaboo
After quite a lot of in-and-out rim walking (nice, but I felt was unecessarily long), we finally came to the dropoff point that led down into the bottom of Dry Fork Coyote itself. I recognized this part, as it was the same as the original route. In a few minutes we had descended down to the floor of Dry Fork Coyote, and in a few short minutes beyond that, came the mouth of the little side slot of Peekaboo.
courtesy JInnes
Peekaboo Entrance
The entrance to Peekaboo is actually a twenty-five foot high dryfall, smoothed and sculpted by innumerable flash floods. There are enough scallops and divots, however, along with some eroded moqui steps, that it is relatively straightforward to scramble up, provided you are comfortable with a little bit of frictioning on the sandstone. We had brought along a hand-line just in case but everyone managed it fine on their own. Soon we were in the first of the little shallow potholes that form the floor of Peekaboo's initial stretch of slot.

From this point it is a simple matter of hopping from pothole to pothole, under and through neat little arches (natural bridges, I suppose, since they are technically over a water course). And speaking of water, today several of the potholes in Peekaboo were filled with a foot or so of muddy water (I've visited here many times when the slot's floor was bone dry). Not feeling like getting my hikers soaked in muddy water, and not wanting to switch back and forth between boots and barefoot, I followed Chris Waddington's lead and performed a few careful dynamic moves to swing over the water-filled potholes.
Peekaboo entrance from above
Wet today
Peekaboo Arches
After the arches and the potholes, Peekaboo narrowed down into a more standard twisty-turny slot canyon. There wasn't any more water and our forward progress was straightforward. In a few spots it made sense to take one's pack off and hand it off to the person in front or behind you. The slot is quite shallow and therefore very well-lit, and opened up immediately to blue sky maybe ten or fifteen feet above us.
courtesy JInnes
courtesy JInnes
Peekaboo Narrows
Gillian, Peekaboo Narrows
Widening up
Half an hour of up-slot walking and Peekaboo opened up into a shallow sandy wash. This was the end of its lower narrows, and is the standard point at which hikers turn right and strike cross country over to Spooky canyon's wash (it is possible to continue up Peekaboo, but that is very much less visited and wasn't on our agenda). There's now a very prominent hiker marker here (another upgrade from the marker-less route this used to be more than ten years ago).
Marker to Spooky
Crossing to Spooky
Spooky Gulch's wash
The walk across the open terrain over to spooky is very short - maybe ten minutes of walking, and along a well-trodden path. Spooky's wash is obvious - the trail descends to a large flat sand-filled wash, and lots of footprints show that you are to turn right and walk down the wash to the point were it slots up (which is almost immediately).

Spooky's got a character immediately different from Peekaboo (part of why this route is such a great little sampler of slots). Where Peekaboo is rounded and shallow and swirly and has arches, spooky has a more linear character, has this distinctive pebbly texture to its walls, and gets quite dark. This isn't obvious initially, but within a few minutes, one encounters a big boulder jam, which apparently seems to stop progress. Exploring a bit to the right in the boulder jam reveals a cave-like hole that allows you to descend a short dryfall into the real section of narrows.
courtesy JInnes
Narrows of Spooky
Boulder jam descent
Gettin' pretty tight
Down in the main section of narrows, Spooky reveals the origin of its name. It is gloomy and dark in here - not as dark as something like Ringtail slot, but dark enough (although not requiring a headlamp if it is sunny out). The walls get incredibly close along this inner section, and this is where the warning at the trailhead comes into play. There are extended sections along here where you must take your pack off, turn sideways, and shuffle along. In one spot, you can wedge yourself in place simply by taking a big intake of breath.
courtesy JInnes
courtesy JInnes
Jenn, Spooky Gulch
Squeezing through
Spooky can indeed be a touch intimidating for those unfamiliar with slots (or those prone to a bit of claustrophobia). But take heart - this dark and tight section is not really that long, and within about fifteen minutes, you emerge into the open at the point where Spooky empties into Dry Fork Coyote.
Completing the loop
With the two mini slots complete, it was time to return to the cars. I really was not feeling having to retrace back up to the rim and follow alllll the way along it back to the car. I could see from my map, our track in, and our current location, that it should be possible to chart a cross-country course and intersect the rim trail not far from the new parking lot. I proposed the idea to the others and they were willing to give my idea a chance.

So, instead of turning right and following the obvious track back to the entrance of Peekaboo (which would follow the standard lollipop configuration), I turned left, heading down Dry Fork Coyote and looking for a reasonable exit on the right-hand side that would position us for some sort of cross-country trek towards the parking lot.

A sandy slope soon provided us the required exit, and soon we were on open ground above Dry Fork Coyote. We could see the rim some distance away to the southwest, and we simply made our way in that direction, avoiding cryptobiotic crust and staying on either sand or rock whenever possible. Within about twenty minutes we were under the rim and it was no problem finding a spot with an easy grade that allowed us to climb up to the rim and back onto the official trail. and we were now only a few hundred yards from the trailhead. Sweet.

We strolled back into the parking lot at about a quarter to 5pm. Our total loop distance ended up being 6 km (3.7 miles), but if we had followed the standard path all the way back it would probably have been more like 9 km (5.5 miles). Please note that if you are using this track map as a guide that we did this cross-country alternative on the return leg.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Peekaboo and Spooky Loop (modified) - click map to view
Peekaboo and Spooky Loop - Hike Data (modified)
Start Time: 2:16p.m.
End Time: 4:48p.m.
Duration: 2h32m
Distance: 6.05 km (3.76 mi)
Average Speed: 2.4 km/hr (1.5 mph)
Start Elevation: 4890ft (1491m) *
Max Elevation: 4956ft (1510m) *
Min Elevation: 4645ft (1416m) *
End Elevation: 4883ft (1488m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 432ft (132m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 424ft (129m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
We headed back into town. Gino had returned from his tire-changing adventure, his rental car now sporting a nice fresh tire and looking as good as new. It was time to hold our final function as a full group: a celebratory dinner at a local restaurant. In Escalante, this boiled down to roughly three or four choices: Nemo's burger joint, the Circle-D restaurant, Escalante Outfitters, and probably one of the more upscale chalet-hotels. As it turned out, Circle-D's restaurant wasn't serving dinners at the moment, and we didn't really want to have a big finale dinner at a fast-food stand, so.... Escalante Outfitters it was.
courtesy GBrancatelli
Celebratory Success Dinner
With most of Escalante's visitor population funnelled into only a few choices, the Outfitters were full to the brim on this Saturday night, and we waited a fair while for our table and for our dishes (mostly we ordered pizzas) to arrive. We recounted our just-completed adventure while we waited, thinking back on the numerous unknowns, challenges, and accomplishments of our first-ever packraft down the Escalante. Let's enumerate the many unknowns that we encountered and ultimately vanquished:

  • Finding a company who would rent eight packrafts to us for the Escalante River
  • Finding a way to get those packrafts into our possession
  • The floatability of the Escalante during the time of our trip
  • The unknown difficulty of driving down the last unknown bit of Hole-in-the-Rock road to its very end
  • How much effective distance would our large group of nine be able to manage per day, on average
  • The ability of a homemade packraft be able to withstand the rigours of a river like the Escalante
  • The possibility that we would have to bail and divert out a very strenuous unplanned exit
  • The condition and difficulty of the transition zone between the Escalante River and Lake Powell
  • The ability for us to find suitable and safe campsites on Lake Powell
  • The condition and difficulty of the Hole-in-the-Rock exit

Each of these was the cause of some degree of stress and anxiety, and we met and manged each of them pretty well, really. As well as other challenges, including a leaking valve, an unexpectedly strong headwind, the loss of a critical piece of camera gear, and waste management (wag bags were required along the whole route). We did actually end up doing a pretty good job, getting all nine of us from Fence canyon, all the way down the river, and up and out Hole-in-the-Rock. The ranger at the interagency center was probably at least a tiny bit impressed that we had managed it. He noted that a couple of rangers who had gone in behind us had given up after a few days. So, kudos to us!
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