Slickhorn Canyon 1997
Exploring a great side canyon
Another great day in canyon country. My original itinerary called for our moving down to the mouth of the next side canyon (the last big one before the river). However, in discussing the trip with everyone, a couple of nites previously, I had forgotten about such, and proposed the more obvious thing, which was to layover today, and spend the day exploring what I refer to as East Canyon. Actually, there is no name on in on the map, so I guess I can call it what I want. Many of us were up and ready to explore early. The no-see-ums were tormenting us again, so we thought it would be good to be on the move. We left the main campsite, and got to where Will and Barbara were camped, and they announced that they were heading down canyon, maybe all the way to the river (San Juan). Will seemed to be pretty highly focused on the river. He tends to like to see new things, and while he could not remember much of the trip so far (even though he and Ray had been petty much down all the way to here in 1985), he was anxious to see some new territory. By the time that he and Barbara were up, the gnats were out, and sorta bothersome.
Within a hundred yards of the mouth, East Canyon, becomes pretty rough. In fact, just a few meters above the pool where we were getting our water, we came to our first major detour. Big climb up and over some room size boulders. Then down to the canyon floor, only to slither up and around some more rocks. Lots of climbing, and hopping, and going around. For awhile, I thought Susie was not going to take to well to all this, but she announced that she always liked to scramble around rocks when she was a kid, so she was having fun. So if she was having fun, and I was in canyon country somewhere, hey, it has got to be a great day. This went on for about a half mile or so. I don't recall how long the scrambling took, but it was at least an hour. George, Ray, and Barbara Allen, and Dolph were ahead of us, and we caught up to them just below the fork in the canyon. They decided to head up the right (south) fork and that turned out to be an excellent decision. By the time you reach the fork, the roughness decreases, but the vegetation increases somewhat. We had gained quite a lot of elevation from the mouth of the canyon, perhaps 300 feet or so, in about at most 2/3 of a mile. That is steep for a canyon. We stopped for a rest break about another half mile up, on a huge slab of slickrock. Right after the break, I was walking in the stream bed and looked up to my right, and here was a large (3 foot cube) boulder, blackened with desert varnish, that had a nice petroglyph on it. We looked around for awhile and found another one, which was not as good. Sue, and Andy, and Lance caught up with us, about that time.
Lunch was another little bit up the canyon, where we watched an ant drag a piece of cracker backward perhaps 20 feet, over rocks, and cliffs (to him). We all marveled at this guy's strength, and thought if we could backpack like that we could all in all the goodies we wanted. Dolph and George turned around at this point, but the rest of us kept moving up canyon, and we were rewarded with a huge slickrock amphitheater. It was perhaps a quarter mile across, and at the head of the canyon, there was a way to climb out. We looked at the topo map, and realized that we were less than a mile (as the crow flies) from the point in East Slickhorn Canyon where we would probably be on Friday. Someone joked that we should just go for it, climb out, and head for Mexican Hat and drink beer in the San Juan cafe for the next few days. Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy, so the photos just won't do it justice, but it was really beautiful. Our trip back down the canyon took us 2.25 hours, and we got back just as a storm was brewing. Susie and I rushed down to our bath spot, but the downpour hit just as we had stripped down. But the Idea Lady headed up the creek and found a big boulder under which we could bathe near the creek but be out of the rain. The rain did not last too long, and it cooled everything down nicely. Hardly a no-see-um at dinner, which was chicken, pesto pasta, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Wonderful! After dinner, I scrambled up the rock fall across rom camp, and found a whole bunch of petroglyphs that the other crew coming down canyon had told us about.
Ah, the other crew. This was a group of about six hikers, most of which were our generation, as opposed to the Sarah Boomer generation. The leader's Utah license plate was: DSRTRAT. And this crew was one of the noisiest that I have encountered. God, there was a woman that would laugh constantly, like she was on drugs or something. When they hiked in past us on Sunday afternoon, one of the guys was carrying a 12-pack of beer on the back of his pack. Anyway, their taking the prime campsites was not a problem, because we surmised that they were so hung over in the mornings that they couldn't start hiking until noon. They were camped upstream from us about 50 yds under a rock overhang, and lord, they were noisy. They were ultimately headed for the San Juan, were they would be picked up by rafts.
We had a real visual treat tonite: The sun broke through under a very black sky, and lit up the upper canyon walls with a spectacular golden glow. Susie said it was the most spectacular sight she had seen in canyon country.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 1997, 2006; Photo of George and Roger © Suzanne A. McDonald, 2006