Peekaboo and Spooky Gulches
Wednesday, April 17
Mid week: Wednesday, April 17. Outside our cozy hotel rooms, it was barely above freezing. It was, however, a glorious, beautifully clear morning. Time to start our Escalante-area adventuring.
Morning at the Prospector
In addition to the centerpiece of our entire trip - a 3-day backpack down scenic Coyote Gulch, I had also envisioned doing a 2-day lead-up backpack. Something nice, but not as nice as Coyote Gulch. Something easier. A nice intro and build-up to the Coyote Gulch trip. But then, we got to thinking... the upcoming weekend was the Easter long weekend, and if we did this 2-day intro hike now, then we'd be forced to go on our Coyote Gulch backpack right smack on that long weekend. And Coyote Gulch is fairly well-known. And very beautiful. In other words, a magnet for hiker traffic. And that might mean difficulties with getting good backcountry campsites. Especially so since we were a large group of nine people.
So we thought about it for a bit more, and decided that the best course of action was to shuffle things around, do Coyote Gulch starting this morning (a Wednesday). This would let us hike out on Good Friday, when presumably all of the weekend groups would be hiking in. We could then go and do the much less-visited 2-day backpack on the long weekend. Perhaps it wouldn't be the ideal "ramp up" of ever-increasing beauty, but no doubt it would still be great.
We set off in the direction of Coyote Gulch nice and early, around 7 a.m, heading down the wide gravel road on the southwestern side of the Escalante River. This road, known as the Hole-in-the-rock road, is probably the most important access road of the entire Escalante area. It stretches virtually all of the way from Escalante down to near the Colorado River. Many little side roads branch off from it, each providing access to a different section of the Escalante River, often with beautiful slickrock, or interesting arches, interesting hoodoos, or tight sinuous slot canyons. One of those beautiful locations was the Coyote Gulch area, accessible from the hole-in-the-rock road about forty miles down from the start.
Going down and back along the Hole-in-the-rock road can be tedious. It's long, it's often washboarded, it's dusty. It's best to combine one's outings, if possible, to avoid too many back-and-forths. To this end, we decided to package a little gem of a day-hike into the morning, before starting out on our Coyote Gulch backpack. That little gem - or rather, little gems - were the twin slot canyons of Peekaboo and Spooky Gulches. They are short and very tight slot canyons, of very different character from one another, but both immensely beautiful. They are fairly close to the Hole-in-the-rock road and the hike to see the best parts of both gulches is a nice, short loop, and easy to do (assuming you know where to go and you are comfortable with a bit of minor scrambling).
Ready to be Spooked
We turned off at the signed Dry Fork Coyote side-road, and drove in about a mile on a somewhat rougher 4wd road. It was still passable for our 2wd Tahoe, fortunately, and we made it all the way to the trailhead. Disturbingly, even on this mid-week day, there were already quite a lot of cars parked at the trailhead. Spooky and Peekaboo are a lot more popular now than when I discovered them fifteen years ago.
We envisioned this hike taking at most 2-3 hours, so we packed light and were ready quickly (packing light also advised simply because the slot canyons are so narrow - taking a big pack through them would be quite difficult). After generous applications of sunscreen, we all started down the cairned slickrock route towards the bottom of Dry Fork Coyote, with Evie and Katie racing each other for the lead.
Continuing down into Dry Fork
It takes about twenty-five minutes or so to follow the route down into Dry Fork Coyote (yes, it's the same Coyote as our upcoming Coyote Gulch, but much further upstream, where it is only a dry wash). As soon as we arrived in the wash proper, we could see the entrance to Peekaboo on the far side. It's quite distinctive, with a smooth sandstone dryfall leading up to a small, almost cave-like and shadowy entrance.
The initial dryfall is the crux of the hike through Peekaboo. It is smooth and slopey slickrock, and there's a bit of minor exposure while climbing it (it's about 25 feet high). With a little care, and trust in the friction of your sole on the sandstone, it is easy to climb. To make things a bit more reassuring, I climbed up first and dropped down a hand-line to the others, and in no time, we were all standing at the top, peering further up into the dim hollows and alcoves that is Peekaboo.
Peekaboo is... Elegant. Graceful. Curvy. Peekaboo is all about continuous ovals and arches and alcoves. Overhead are aesthetically wonderful natural sandstone bridges, which feel a bit like the kind of archwork you might get in a some sort of natural-themed church. For those of us who had visited Peekaboo before, there was quiet satisfaction at being in this beautiful spot again. From those who were here for the first time, murmurs and exclamations of wonderment could be heard.
As we progressed up-canyon, the initial oval, rounded arch structures gave way to a more typical, but still beautiful, sinuously-carved slot. Peekaboo narrows considerably through this section, forcing you to take off your day-pack in places and shuffle sideways. This continues on, with a few slightly wider portions, for about another twenty minutes. Then, the floor of the slot rises up to the level of the surrounding landscape, and Peekaboo opens up into a section of nondescript desert wash. I stopped here and waited for our group to re-congregate.
As I said earlier, the outing we were on was a double-feature: both Peekaboo and Spooky slots. It was now time to transition over to Spooky, which was the next drainage over to the southeast. Although not well-marked, there is a cairned route leading over the open desert here, heading in that direction. There are also obvious signs of foot traffic, if you look carefully enough, and between the footprints and the cairns, it was relatively straightforward to hike the short distance between Peekaboo's drainage and Spooky's drainage. Perhaps fifteen minutes had past when hiked over and down a hill and saw a wide, flat-bottomed expanse of sand. This was Spooky Gulch, just above the point where it began to slot-up.
Sandy Wash above Spooky Narrows
We waited for everyone to bunch up once again, and then we headed down-wash. Immediately, sloping walls of slickrock closed in, leaving only a narrow strip of sand about two feet wide upon which to hike. The slickrock walls soon became more vertical, and higher, and the floor of the canyon became shady and dark, and very soon we encountered a cute little natural bridge, through which Katie and Evie demonstrated their very best "spoooky" poses.
Then came the boulder jam - a big mess of huge boulders that choke up the slot at a slightly wider point. At first glance it looks like you can't proceed, but one must look closer. There are a couple of dark holes, both of which -- upon further examination -- lead directly down into darkness. Both require some careful scrambling, since once your eyes adapt, you can see it drops down about twenty feet. The hole on the right (looking down-canyon) is slightly easier, and it was the one that we used. I went down first, then ferried down everyone's packs. Then, acting as a spot for the next person, and they the next person, and so on, we all scrambled down into the darkness of the hole.
Below the Boulder Jam
Below and beyond the boulder jam, Spooky started to really earn its name - from here on, it was super, super tight. And very dark. Fortunately, none of us were claustrophobic or too big, although packs off and shuffling sideways are a must in places. If you are of a larger build in the chest, you'll be obliged to exhale, to collapse your ribcage a bit, in places. The overall experience is very different than Peekaboo. Peekaboo was more artistic, fun, playful. Spooky was more ominous, brooding. In a word, spooky!
Forty minutes of shuffling, grunting, scraping, and sliding brought us to the mouth of Spooky. Fortunately we encountered no "uphill" hikers, or there would have had to have been a negotiation. We emerged from the dark depths into the bright sunlight, blinking for a moment as our eyes adjusted.
Back at the cars before 11:30a.m. Although it had taken us a bit longer (3 hours) than we had planned, we were still on track - a track that would allow us to continue on into the desert wilderness for our next objective of the day - the start of our 3-day backpack into Coyote Gulch.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Peekaboo and Spooky Slots - click map to view
Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch Loop - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet