Letters from the Desert
from Steve Allen

Dear ones all,

Another year of intense fun, good friends, and hair–raising challenges has passed. I find myself in the canyons a bit less than in years previous, but the fascination and commitment are still there. Sometimes business, work, or outside projects get in the way, but there does have to be some bending in the normal flow of life. There were so many great adventures this year—the lightning storm on Death Hollow Ridge, the near catastrophe with Harvey and Bud in the Chinle Hills above the San Juan River, and the winter descent of Baker Canyon with the Young Turks. Each deserves to be told and perhaps will be in the future years, but as usual there was one adventure that stood out from the others. In fact, it was an adventure such as one could scarcely imagine.


My twin brother Ace initially suggested the route during a casual conversation while I was visiting him in Kansas.

“Virgin territory’ never been seen, incredibly dark, have to bring a flashlight. It’ll take a team of three or four. Mostly easy rambling, but some tight corners and slippery traverses. Interesting stuff to explore along the way. We’ll boom and zoom. Be through it in a couple of hours. Cake. Casual. Cashmere. Let’s do it quick — before the end of the year. Might be to late if we wait.”

So started the adventure. Unbeknown to most of my canyon friends, brother Ace is truly one of the greats—a canyoneer of redoubtable skills, unparalleled perseverance, phenomenal physical strength and agility, and the ability to turn the tough into fluff. We were a good team and had shared a thousand adventures, some in the canyons, others on the peaks and vertical walls. While I was the slot specialist, As was no slouch, having descended technical routes like West Clear Creek Canyon on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona, a score of canyons in Utah, and even the diabolically difficult and dangerous underwater traverse in Willow Creek Canyon in California. On this trip we would be joined by the effervescent Shelly and the morose but talented Phil.

As with so many of our slot trips, this one didn’t start with a bang, but with the rush—of running water. This flash flood was different than most though; the rain that fell at the head of the canyon came in brief torrents, sending spasms of thick sludge through the maw, which eventually cleaned the slot of all debris.

“We’ll have to go lightly,” commented Ace after hearing the onslaught far below as we sat on the rim. “This one’s going to be polished and slippery.”

After waiting overnight for the flood to abate, out team started through the canyon. A short battle with a thick tangle of brush led to a steep slope which took us into the canyon proper. In most respects this canyon presented problems more akin to caving than to slot canyoneering. The floor and the sides were polished as smooth as marble and were covered with a viscous substance that made every step treacherous. Overhead the slot curved in an arc over our heads and gothic–type ribs broke the symmetry of the undulating, pearlescent, russet–colored walls.

We found that talking was eerie due to the muffling effect of the canyon walls. Often it sounded as if someone was far, far away when in fact they were standing right next to you. A long series of tight corners required strange bodily contortions to navigate. Straight sections saw us slopping through long potholes full of grungy water and odiferous waste. From time to time we passed small openings in the wall from which water spurted with some force. These had the effect of continually cleaning the canyon’s silky surface.

Phil was the real leader through this part. With Shelley providing assistance, he did a magnificent job of leading us through the tortuous passages and across, around, over, and through an assortment of challenges.

Further down, the character of the canyon changed dramatically. The narrow passage we had been following opened into a cavernous chamber. The walls became smooth and velvety and had an uncanny, almost translucent quality. Occasional rumbles and groans, as though we were within the very bowels of the canyon. Often these were accompanied by dank and pungent gusts—like the halitosis of an unseen Colossus.

At the far side of the chamber, we came to our final challenge, a tiny opening in an otherwise featureless wall. Like a plane into the vortex of a hurricane, we entered the conduit. After a brief struggle through its claustrophobic length, we popped out into a wide expanse. Colonoscopy Canyon was a done deal and a good time was had by some.

So it goes in canyon country. They tell me to slow it down. Just might have to do that—in a couple of ten or twenty years. Otherwise I am looking forward to seeing most of you this spring or next fall. I welcome correspondance.




© 1990–2007 Steve Allen