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Posts from May 23rd, 2017.

Canyons, Arches, and Slickrock


When hikers think of Utah canyon country, they think of canyons, arches, and slickrock. All these features are common on the Colorado Plateau, which spreads outward from “the four corners”—where the Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico borders intersect. Many hikers, however, are unaware just how prolific these classic “canyon country” features are.

The Colorado Plateau is a vast plate fractured into thousands of canyons. Countless small to medium sized canyons are remote, rarely seen, and remain unnamed. Others are widely known and frequently visited. And, of course, there’s the mother of them all: The Grand Canyon.

Likewise, there are thousands of natural arches on the Colorado Plateau. Many are famous, like those enshrined in Arches National Park. But there are countless others throughout the plateau. Small to medium in size, many are remote, rarely seen, and remain unnamed.

Slickrock, too, is prevalent in great swaths throughout the Colorado Plateau. In ancient times—perhaps 180 million years ago—today’s slickrock domes, reefs, and buttes were sand dunes. Covered and uncovered numerous times, the sand was gradually compressed into stone. Slickrock = sandstone.

Hiking beneath the sheer, desert-varnished walls of a deep canyon is exciting. Coming upon a natural arch soaring above the skyline is a joy. But hiking across a vast expanse of slickrock is a rush.

When hiking slickrock, you’re free. You’re not confined to following a trail. You can follow your bliss. The rock itself is sculpted by the master known as “Erosion” into an infinite variety of sensuous, multi-colored shapes, so it’s always visually engaging, and sometimes astoundingly beautiful. Many associate the phrase “red-rock country” with southern Utah, but the slickrock color-palette extends far beyond red. Rust, mauve, orange, yellow, vanilla, pink, buff, brown, chocolate, coral, mustard, golden, watermelon… You’ll see all these and more.  Contrary to its name, slickrock is not slippery. It has a gritty surface that affords excellent traction even when wet. On slickrock, hikers suddenly have the gecko-like power to safely walk up and down very steep inclines. It’s a gravity-defying thrill. And slickrock, because it’s rock, is largely free of vegetation. So slickrock hiking is usually scenic and often allows 360° views.

Utah Slickrock Guides are based in the village of Boulder, Utah, on the north edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Boulder is “slickrock central.” To put it simply: Boulder, Utah is to slickrock hiking what Moab, Utah is to slickrock mountain-biking. Because that fact is little known, solitude is still readily available when hiking near Boulder. Moab mountain biking, however, is so famous that solitude tends to be hard to find.

If you want to experience slickrock hiking at its wild, lonely, spectacular best, get in touch with Utah Slickrock Guides. A day—or better yet, a week of dayhiking—with us could well rank among your most memorable hiking experiences ever.

Together, we’ll appreciate the wavey undulations, quilted cracks, and corrugated textures of our local slickrock. We’ll find slender balconies (only a couple boots wide) allowing us to stay high, and traverse the shoulders of huge, slickrock formations. Reading the rippling sandstone, we’ll find ramps granting us safe passage down into chasms and ravines, then up gorges and over passes.

Driving Highway 12, between the southern Utah towns of Escalante and Boulder, you’ll see slickrock flowing to the horizons. But there are only a couple, actual trails in this entire region. For a true, slickrock adventure, join us: Utah Slickrock Guides. Explore the extraordinary, unpublicized routes we’ve decrypted in the vast, canyon-country labyrinth near Escalante and Boulder, Utah. The ones we call “Boulder Jazz Festival,” “Witchcraft Caldron,” “Escalante Alchemy,” “Whirling Dervish Reef,” and “Never-Speak-of-It Gulch” are primarily on slickrock. But all our routes traverse a lot of wondrous, swirling sandstone.

For details about our guided-hiking service, visit www.hikingcamping.com, and click on “guided hiking.” We invite you to get in touch with us, even on short notice: <nomads@hikingcamping.com>, or (435) 335-7544.

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Join us—in person, or in print:


Hiking and camping in the wilderness can be dangerous. Experience and preparation reduce risk but will never eliminate it.

Information published in a book or on a website—regardless how authoritative—is not a substitute for common sense or sound judgment. Your safety is your responsibility. The unique details of your specific situation and the decisions you make at that time will determine the outcome.

When hiking, threats to your wellbeing are unpredictable; you must always be aware. In the backcountry, risk is subjective; you must gauge it for yourself. Away from civilization, small mistakes can have severe consequences; you must vigilantly prevent injury and avoid becoming disoriented.

Never hike alone. Before setting out, check the weather forecast and current trail conditions; adjust your plans accordingly. Always carry a map and compass, a first-aid kit, extra clothing, a personal locator beacon, plus enough food and water to survive an emergency.

If you doubt your ability to negotiate rough terrain, respond to wild animals, or handle sudden, extreme weather changes, hike only in a group led by a competent, licensed guide.

The authors and the publisher disclaim liability for any loss or injury incurred by anyone using information published on this website or in the books presented on this website.