Kettering Vacationers Achieve ‘Bucket List’ Goal, Matt and Nancy Diggs Share Utah Travel Advice

Published in the Dayton Daily News, April 27, 2007 — By Nancy Diggs, Contributing Writer

Books like Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Things to See Before You Die or the movie The Bucket List urge us to see and do everything while we can.

It’s a message I’ve taken to heart. Usually it’s my husband, Matt, who plans our adventures, he who over 50 years ago promised to love, honor, and push me to do things I’m scared to do.

I’m the one who had always wanted to visit a slot canyon. I longed to leave my Kettering home and travel West to be a part of those luminous sculptures, where sunlight magically alters colors and contours. I wanted to bask in their radiance, I wanted to run my hand along the curving surfaces.

I discovered that there are more than 75 slot canyons in Utah alone, and Escalante is the best location for exploring them.

This remote town, population about 800, has few amenities. Take medical services, for example. When we were there, the clinic was staffed two days a week; those with serious injuries would have to be helicoptered out to St. George 180 miles away.

There’s not much selection when it comes to restaurants, either, but the ones they have are surprisingly good: Georgie’s Cafè for Mexican food, the Outfitters for pizza and sandwiches, and the Cowboy Blues Cafè, along with the Subway at the gas station. And it does boast the very comfortable Slot Canyons Bed and Breakfast.

At the inn, three of the guests were ladies of a certain age who described what they had discovered in their week’s stay, including archeological digs, the track used by Butch Cassidy, pictographs and dinosaur footprints.

Best of all, they raved about two wonderful canyons. If we were looking for slots, they enthused, we couldn’t go wrong with Spooky and Peek-a-Boo canyons.

Equipped with directions and a favorable weather report, we drove 26 miles on unpaved, washboard Hole-in-the-Rock road and up an even more rutted drive to the Dry Fork trailhead. It took scrambling over boulders, down slickrock cliffs and across talus slopes to find the entrance to Spooky, but it was just what I’d been seeking.

With the movement of sun and clouds, the walls seemed to undulate. As we walked between them, they became closer and closer together until we had to squeeze through an opening 10-inches wide. After climbing up sand-slick boulders, we came to an impasse: a high-walled hollow too wide to brace against for a foothold. A steep curved passage led up and sharply to the left, partially blocked by a large stone. Matt was able to climb up, but I couldn’t get a foothold, nor could I reach high enough for a grip on the slippery stone above. While he alternately pushed and pulled me, I begged to turn around.

But Matt thought if those ladies at the inn could do it, surely we could.

Somehow he wedged me halfway up, scrambled above, and then pulled me through the narrow opening. We slithered through more low passages and over chockstones, twisting up a narrow chute and over chest-high boulders. A 15-foot drop threatened on the other side of the rocks.

Some have risen to great heights on the shoulders of others. I was happy to rise just a few feet on Matt’s, as he knelt, placed my left foot on his shoulder, then stood while I searched for a foot- or knee-hold for one last push to the top—and out.

If Spooky was a light show, Peek-a-Boo is a playground designed by Henry Moore. We crossed through a moon gate, under a natural bridge and, kid-like, zoomed down sandy stone slides.

I learned to let go and trust my body: When we came to a deep crevice, I leaned forward and dropped my hands to the other side in order to scoot along on hands and rear. There were more hollows to negotiate, some with walls at shoulder height, and more arches. Walking under them was like traversing the rib cage of a giant whale.

Then with one last pull up we were on a kind of balcony before we had to descend an almost sheer 15-foot cliff—the final challenge.

To get down entailed passing a shallow recess to reach faint indentations that served as foot- and hand-holds leading down to a narrow shelf, then descending to a piled stack of stones about three feet high. Matt went first, positioned me as a bridge in the recess with my back against one side, my feet on the other, ordered, “Don’t move!” and went below me.

After a muscle-quivering eternity, when I was sure I could no longer hold that position and would send us both crashing down, he returned to help me move hands and feet one at a time to the shelf.

As he reached the pile of stones, they shifted, causing him to tumble, but he was able to catch me as I slid down.

As we rested, I reread the directions to the canyons. To my surprise, there were more on the other side of the page.

For Spooky and Peek-a-Boo, I read, “basic canyoneering skills are required.” Spooky is also home to the highly toxic midget faded rattlesnake.

Back at the inn, we ran into the ladies again.

“Wow!” we said. “We’re really impressed that you did Spooky and Peek-a-Boo. Did you find it as hard as we did?”

“Oh, we didn’t go into the canyons,” they replied. “We just heard about them. We decided they were way too hard for us!”

Next time we’ll get a guide.

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