The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has affected everyone on Earth in some way or another, but the Navajo Indian Tribe of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah has been hit particularly hard. The fact that the rapid spread of the virus coincided with the beginning of the tourist season was an emotional and economic hardship for all concerned. Early on, Tribal leaders made the difficult decision to close popular tourist attractions on the reservation, including Monument Valley, the Four Corners, the Little Colorado River Overlook, and the Antelope Canyons in Page, AZ, through the first week in June. After careful consideration, it was recently announced via a live town meeting on Facebook that the closure of these attractions would be extended at least into July. We support this decision 100% and ask that everyone give the Navajo tribe the understanding and support they deserve at this difficult time.
So what should you do if your Antelope Canyon tour was booked to take place between now and then? Rescheduling your vacation (for the second or third time, in some cases) is one option, certainly, but why go through all that hassle? There are other beautiful slot canyons in the vicinity you can still explore and enjoy in a variety of ways, while continuing to observe social distancing.
Buckskin Gulch is the grand-daddy of all slot canyons in the Southwest, the longest and deepest in the area! Carved by a tributary of the Paria River that eventually joins with the Colorado River near Lees Ferry, hiking the full length of the Buckskin Gulch is a multi-day affair, requiring advance planning, camping permits, occasional boulder scrambling and frequent slogs through pools of cold, smelly standing water. Fortunately, the typical vacationer needn’t commit to the “whole enchilada” of Buckskin Gulch; you can get a perfectly satisfying sampling of its wonders in Wire Pass Canyon. Wire Pass Canyon is a photogenic two-part slot canyon that is short enough for intermediate-level hikers to enjoy, yet offers the option to delve further into Buckskin Gulch for those wanting more of a challenge. The walk to the entrance of the initial slot is via a typically dry streambed, which may feature deep sand. An 8-10’ drop a short distance into the slot canyon is one reason why Wire Pass Canyon may not be appropriate for those traveling with young children, the elderly, or individuals afraid of heights. As the canyon walls become higher and closer together, they suddenly open up as the second slot connects with the Buckskin Gulch. If you’ve had enough at this point, you can simply turn around and head back to your vehicle. If you’d like to explore further, you can easily make a half-day hike out of the immediate area around the confluence with the Buckskin. Look for some bighorn sheep petroglyphs dating back hundreds, maybe thousands of years! Access to Wire Pass Canyon and the Buckskin Gulch is off US89 between Page, AZ, and Kanab, UT, on the House Rock Valley Road. Hikers are required to pay a self-permitting fee at the kiosk by the trailhead. Fair warning: the House Rock Valley Road is unpaved! While it is accessible to 2WD vehicles much of the time, if recent weather has brought any moisture whatsoever, the HRVR can turn into a muddy, impassable mess. Parties in rental cars should think twice about attempting this road since off-road driving is strictly prohibited by most rental car companies. A guided tour will get your family to Wire Pass Canyon and back in one piece, and turn you onto features you might have missed trying to find your own way. Page, AZ, and Kanab, UT based companies offering guided tours to Wire Pass Canyon and the Buckskin Gulch include:
Not to be confused with Peek-A-Boo Canyon in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, this family-friendly slot canyon is located between Kanab and Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah, approximately 90 minutes from Page, AZ. With twists and turns on par with the Antelope Canyons, this short but memorable walk features classic slot canyon scenery (including the occasional light beams in the summertime), as well as some unique features such as ancient “moqui” steps, and “Shaman’s Needle,” a pencil-thin stone column located in a small sub-drainage near the canyon’s entrance. While a guided tour is not required to get to Peek-A-Boo, we strongly recommend that you consider taking one, because while the walk through the canyon itself is usually not difficult, the drive to get there can be. 4WD vehicles with adequate clearance are a definite must, with tire pressure lowered to accommodate potentially deep sand. If you’re driving a rental car, forget it! You will void your insurance the minute your tires part with the pavement, which means you’d be on the hook for a very expensive rescue, should you need one, and have to foot the bill for any damage you’d sustain. If you want to try your hand at self-driving, go 7.5 miles past the Kanab, UT, city limit sign on US 89; turn onto BLM road #102 and follow it 4 miles in until you find the parking area. For those who would prefer to explore Peek-A-Boo in the safety and comfort of a guided tour, there are several reputable companies to choose from in Kanab, UT, including: