If I’d planned better this post would be about hiking out to Coyote Buttes – I’d told everyone about it as I travelled but neglected to realise you needed to enter a lottery system for permits and had to get lucky. I wasn’t “lucky” with the permit, instead, I stayed on a ranch, ate great steak and hiked through one of the prettiest canyon’s I’d ever seen. Maybe I did get lucky!
Coyote Buttes and the Ranch
This was my second attempt at getting to Coyote Buttes – the first resulted in me driving to the wrong town and abandoning my plans in favour of heading to Zion with Sebastian and The Frenchman. The second time, Lars, Michael and I had a similar problem albeit we were forty miles in the opposite direction – the hostel was proving very tricky to find! In the end we managed to locate it by knocking on a door late at night and getting some directions. I’m glad we did as the three of us were in a lovely, 14 bed dorm for $20 a night!
The next morning Lars and I annoyed the chef by making breakfast in the kitchen – we’d assumed it was a communal kitchen but it wasn’t. We made good by making sure we cleaned up properly and then asking permission each time we wanted to make food. We buttered the chef up some more on the final night by buying 4 good steaks and asking him to teach us how to cook them properly on the grill – the chef was happy to oblige and took the 4th steak, potatoes, pineapple, bread and sweetcorn that was offered. Incidentally, Pineapple is a good tip for the BBQ – it caramelises and tastes delicious.
The reason we were here in the middle of no-where was to try and get a permit to Coyote Buttes. It’s apparently one of the most photographed natural areas in the states – hard for me to believe given the number of visitors to The Grand Canyon – but either way the pictures look beautiful with the rocks rolling through the desert like a stormy sea. Each morning we woke and rushed across to the Rangers station and entered the lottery for one of the ten permits – there was excitement in the air one day when eleven permits were available instead of the normal ten! The lottery system is ran like a bingo with one “team-leader” putting their name into the hat with the number of people with them. There was about thirty bingo-balls in the spinny thing and around eighty people wanting to walk – the chances were slim.
Our number for the first day was seven.
The bingo balled popped out and the lady called it out the number. “Seven…”
I nearly whooped with joy. Lars was at the door and we grinned at each other. We were headed to Coyote Buttes the next day!
Then they finished the number. “…teen”. It’s the longest way of saying seventeen I’ve ever heard. Seven………..teen. Fraq. Our heads drooped. Our hearts sank. We’d missed out.
Coyote Buttes wasn’t to be but we got to do something very special indeed – hike through the Wirepass slot canyon.
Wirepass and Buckskin Canyon
It all started out with a 5mile drive off-road in my rented Ford Taurus which took fifty painful minutes. The car is simply not designed for off road use with it’s huge over rear overhang, the low profile tyres, a torquey engine, automatic transmission and front wheel drive! Still, we got there and started the walk.
The start of the hike is a wide river bed with hills rising gradually on each side. At one point there is a sign denoting the trailhead of Coyote Buttes and that 1/2 a mile in is restricted access – we decided to have a look-see and walked for half an hour before turning back respecting that we didn’t have the necessary permits. The original canyon slowly gets narrower until one point where the trail disappears behind a rock – we followed it through and were inside the slot canyon.
Before I arrived in Wirepass I had no idea what a slot canyon is. I hadn’t even heard of the phrase before, but here I was in a corridor carved from the rock with the sunlight glinting 50ft above my head. Viewed from above, the slot canyons look the gap between tectonic plates as they gouge a deep scar through the landscape. It’s hard to describe what it is like when you’re standing inside one though. The blue sky is tens of feet above your head (sometimes it was easily a hundred metres). The walls are claustrophobically narrow with various points forcing your to traverse sideways to avoid getting stuck. The smooth walls twist and turn, undulating as they go. Huge boulders have got stuck at the narrowest points creating obstacles for us to leap from. The mud is sticky and as it dries forms into crispy shapes which sound great to walk on and when photographed look eerie. In all, it’s an awe inspiring sight which Lars and I giggle like school girls.
At the end of Wirepass is Buckskin Canyon. At the point at which the two converge is a large arch carved into the cliff face and at one end some petroglyphs. Turn to the right and the canyon quickly narrows again and continues on for miles. It is much higher than Wirepass but no-where near as impressive due to the width of the corridor.
The drive back was somewhat different as I didn’t want it to take another fifty minutes. We treat it like a rally stage. Whilst as the speeds were nice and slow the car was slithering around, the engine roaring (we locked it to low gears), the back was swinging out with lift of oversteer, clouds of dust billowed into huge rooster tails and we overtook a Ford pickup truck much to his amazement. This was until the washboard near the end when we had to creep over it at 5mph and still got rattled senseless. The drive back was fun and took fifteen minutes or so.
Make sure you check out the next blog post though – it was time to pull some pranks in the canyon!
More photos of Wirepass and Buckskin can be found in the Digitallery album USA – Utah – Wirepass
Click here to load a map showing you the location of this post and images from the digitallery taken nearby.