Zebra Slot Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
The nearly 6-mile round-trip hike to this beautiful yet short striated slot canyon is a route-finding journey. And discovering the opening to the slot, near the end of the hike, is just the beginning of the adventure.
On the cross-country hike in, don’t miss the tall, orange sandstone slopes off to the far left, featuring sweeping, layered patterns of bizarrely angled waves. This slope is best photographed up close, with a wide-angle lens, and it’s better to wait until the return hike, when it will be in afternoon shade.
Speaking of shade, there’s none along the way, so bring several liters of drinking water. And speaking of water, the entry to this slot canyon is often guarded with waist-deep cold water.
When you first enter the slot canyon, the slanting cliff walls meet underwater in an ankle-straining V-shaped junction of stone. It’s so narrow that you’ll need to hold your backpack overhead and shuffle through sideways. Remember, it’s not an adventure if it’s easy.
Once beyond the water, you continue by bracing yourself up and through the angular canyon walls, encountering the sensation that you’re navigating the anatomy of inner Earth. To reach the most photogenic sections, you’ll wriggle still deeper through the sculpted striations of this trance-inducing chamber. At some point, you’ll begin to notice dark Moqui marbles, spherical concretions of iron oxide, a surprise anomaly embedded in the striking sandstone. Ranging in size from tennis balls to ping pong balls, they’re the pictorial adornment to the already-extravagant slot canyon.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, this hike is for experienced route finders and agile scramblers only. If you’re new to this type of experience, then canyoneering terms like chimneying, stemming and manteling will begin to be part of your adventure lexicon.
[Excerpt from “Southwest Serenity,” published in Outdoor Photographer magazine, 2019 Special Issue.]