I love slot canyons. Their depth, their towering wall heights, how skinny things get, the way the light plays around and bounces off the walls. There’s a ton to love as a photographer. Unfortunately, those exact same characteristics make them really tricky to photograph to truly capture their beauty.
Little Wild Horse Canyon in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah fit that pattern precisely. Maybe not quite at the start of our trek, but certainly as we got closer to the end. It was a fabulous progression.
Our morning hike started off simply enough. Meandering down a dry creek bed, with obvious signs of where the water runs when it does arrive since there were some big cottonwoods changing into their fall colors to greet us. (I also got some magical morning sunlight on the bark of one of the trees.)
It rained in the area about 2 weeks prior to our arrival, but Utah being Utah, we didn’t think much of it since we were heading to the desert. It’d certainly be dry by now, maybe an occasional tiny puddle to splash through. As we got to the mouth of the canyon, we saw that wasn’t the case. Thankfully my husband – hiking research guy that he is – had read there was another way around this “puddle” so we stayed dry (for now).
Once we trekked our way around that “welcoming pool”, things started to look more like normal canyon hiking. Interesting rock walls, plants growing in unusual spots, rock falls, etc. A bit of a tricky start, but really pretty once we climbed around it all.
Not long after this point, things started getting narrow. And sandy. The canyon floor quickly and steadily became beach-like sand, making walking just a touch harder than normal. Certainly not difficult enough to stop us though.
As the canyon continued to narrow, we started running into a few more puddles. Some were easy enough to splash through as they barely got over the toes of our boots. Others got over our ankles, and a couple got up to our knees. We kept chugging along because the scenery was so very worth it, and really – what’s a little more dampness when you’re already wet!?
I continued shooting whatever I could. The light began dancing on the canyon walls as the sun got higher in the sky, creating fascinating highlights & shadow patterns. There was just so much I wanted to capture, but I tempered that urge a little so I wasn’t slowing us down too much or putting myself in the way of other hikers. Considering the shooting pace was a little more rushed than I would’ve liked, I came home with a lot of goodies! (And yes, though the red walls were gorgeous in their natural color, I found during post processing that the black & whites let me play around more with the shadows & textures in the rocks.)
It was a pretty easy walk through the canyon, so long as we could twist ourselves and our packs through the narrowest parts. We even ran into some stuff to climb over and through to keep it interesting.
Just as things were starting to get interesting though…
…we ran into the puddle that shall not let us pass. (I’ve been reading Michael Palin’s published diaries from the early days of Monty Python, thus the loosely quoted Holy Grail reference.)
We started through a series of puddles that were ankle-deep, then shin deep, then knee-deep, then mid-thigh deep, then… um, really deep. By measure of my husband’s hiking stick, the next puddle was going to come up to at least above our waists, if not chest-high. Considering we were surprised to see any lingering remnants of moisture at all on this hike, we weren’t prepared to get quite that wet. Naturally, for me, I had the added bonus of visions of slipping & plunging to neck-deep with my camera attached to me flash before my eyes. (When you have a clumsy gene, these visions flash in your mind all the time!)
When we made the call to turn around and head back, we estimated we were probably 2/3 of the way into the canyon. We certainly saw a lot of gorgeous sights. If only a fellow returning hiker hadn’t passed us and said that the most beautiful part of the canyon lied ahead of that massively deep puddle, we wouldn’t have known what we were missing! Disappointing, yes. But that’s ok – it just gives us one more reason to go back!
On our way back to the trailhead, I was quickly reminded of the benefits of out-and-back hiking in a canyon like this. So long as you’re paying attention to how the light is moving on your way in, you can save yourself some time and skip the shot the first time you see it if it’s in a ton of shadows and plan to catch the sight in better light on the way out. (My husband very much appreciates that I try to do that – one less thing slowing him down at the start of a hiking day!)
Even though our bottom halves were utterly soaked through, we still saw some grand sights on the way out.
An unexpectedly wet day in Little Wild Horse Canyon for us, but we really enjoyed it and can’t wait to go back to explore it some more!