The trail started out mellow leaving the parking area behind. But at the head of the canyon I looked down and shook my head, I should’ve put Aspen’s harness on. She typically scrambles over boulder fields with more grace than I do, so I wasn’t too worried, but trail quickly became a generous term. We managed the descent until about 20 minutes in when we got to a six foot drop. Emily held on to Aspen while I scouted ahead. I had to stem down the section and there was no way Aspen was making it without a harness and rope to lower her. It was time for a group meeting…
We sat perched on boulders high along the Hopi Salt Trail under an Arizona sun as we analyzed our situation. Due to our late start we didn’t have time to go back for the harness and rope, so going forward as a group was not an option. Jude happily offered to escort Aspen back to the car and catch up on her reading while Emily and I continued down the canyon or we all went back as a group. I feel like in these moments, it’s important to remember that Aspen did not choose to go on this particular hike. I had to keep her comfort level in mind and didn’t think she would be comfortable going back with Jude while I continued down the canyon. We made the responsible decision to go back as a group and hike around the canyon rim to get a bird’s-eye view of the Little Colorado River.
When we picked up our backcountry use permit from The Navajo Nation to hike the Hopi Salt Trail down to the Little Colorado, we were informed dogs were allowed, but that was the extent of the information. Also, this was a last minute adventure during our road trip so I hadn’t done much Internet research and was not prepared. I wish I’d seen the paw ratings on Hike Arizona’s Salt Trail Canyon before we attempted this adventure. Please note at this time, the Salt Trail is closed. I believe it is a seasonal closure. Call the Cameron Visitor Center for updates at 928-679-2303.
After our canyon rim exploration, we headed north to Utah’s canyon country, looking at hikes where dogs were allowed with a grain of salt. One activity we all agreed was a must for our desert road trip was a slot canyon. As in a shimmy-sideways slot canyon, obstacle course slot canyon, idyllic slot canyon. The BLM office in Kanab sent us to Huntress Slot Canyon and while this was extremely dog-friendly, there was only one point that I could touch both sides of the canyon with my arms stretched to their limit. Truly a beautiful little hike, but we wanted narrower. If you do visit, please be mindful of the cryptobiotic soil in the area, especially on the walk to the canyon, and don’t bust the crust. I kept Aspen on leash until we were confined in the slot canyon to help protect this fragile “desert glue.”
From there we headed to Escalante to explore two iconic slot canyons along the Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulch loop. Based on some Internet research I had a better idea of what to expect for this hike. A write up from Outdoor Project was particularly helpful with a few key details. Including that the entrance to Peek-A-Boo was 10 feet off the ground and Spooky had a boulder jam that requires climbing and stemming to negotiate. Aspen was in her harness and I had a rope at the ready. Plus thankfully we had reinforcements, as I could not have gotten Aspen through by myself even with the gear.
In Peek-A-Boo we only used the rope at the entrance and Aspen negotiated the rest easily with a handle-grab assist now and then. We popped out on the north end of the slot canyon and followed a route marked with cairns to the backside of Spooky.
As we headed south deeper into the canyon, I noticed scratches along the walls and joked about some poor soul being dragged along on an adventure against their will. As we approached the boulder jam, our ears rang with the cries of an unwilling child as a family of five tried to negotiate the terrain. For a moment I thought maybe we found the culprit of the scratches, but the family was traveling up the canyon and hadn’t reached that section just yet. The parents passed the three children up the first drop in the jam and then handed them off to us at the top. I’m terrible at guessing ages, but I think the oldest daughter could have minded her younger siblings at the top. However, I’d recommend adults not be out numbered by little ones – human or furry. After Aspen helped sooth the youngest in their bunch, it was our turn to navigate the drop…
I attached the rope to Aspen’s harness using a figure-8 and then stemmed down to the bottom. Emily was stationed at the top and handed her down to Jude on the next level and then she managed the rope as she was lowered down the last drop to me. Thanks to our gear and numbers, we got Aspen through the jam without issue.
South of the boulder jam, Spooky Canyon continued to live up to its reputation as the walls closed in. The twists and turns in one particular narrow section proved tricky to negotiate even for Aspen’s slender build and we had to pass her backward and then down an awkward drop. The rope wasn’t necessary for this section, but her harness was essential.
As we hiked back to the parking lot we passed a handful of groups with dogs, some with harnesses and some without. A few larger than Aspen. I am very curious how far into the canyons those parties went and how the dogs faired…
Dogs allowed doesn’t always mean dog friendly. While dogs are allowed on this loop, the sign at the trailhead stated dogs not recommended in order to reduce conflict. This is when it is essential to honestly evaluate your dog’s capabilities and comfort level. Aspen is friendly toward both dogs and humans, plus we got an early start to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day. Having completed the loop, I could see how conflict could arise if a dog felt trapped in those confined spaces. I also recommend thinking about your dog’s comfort level. Are they trusting when they have to be lowered/hauled up the boulder jam? Or are they going to stress out and put themselves and you in danger of being injured? If you feel your dog is up for the challenge, a harness, rope, and enough hands are essential. I also recommend getting an early start and checking with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center for conditions before venturing into the canyons.