The Red Cave

Those of you who were around before our trip began may recall Adrian and I going on and on about desert canyons and red rocks and crazy amounts of stars. During the four days we spent in Moab, Utah, we saw all those things. However, there was still something we really wanted to see, and that was a slot canyon.

This is a random picture of Antelope Canyon found on google images. It’s one of the many photographs we saw of this ridiculous place. We could hardly believe the place exists, but it does and we were only about 250 miles from it. We decided we had to go.

We spent an entire day travelling to the nearest town: Page, Arizona. During the waits between rides, the heat was crippling. At one point we waited for an entire 3 hours in the sun, but we were excited and that kept us going. It wasn’t until the last ride that took us to Page that we found out that Antelope Canyon required a guide and a $30 entrance fee per person. There would be no mooching off of per-vehicle fees on this one. The cost did not mesh with our budget and the mandatory guide did not mesh with our style.

We spent the next day at Zion National Park, mistakenly thinking there might be slot canyons there, then ended up spending the whole day lying under a bridge due to heat exhaustion. (No, we didn’t run out of water. It was just 41°C. Our bodies are not used to that.) Then, Adrian remembered something he’d briefly googled the night before while half asleep: The Red Caves.

With the last of the daylight, we hitch hiked, semi-delusional, in a hurry towards where they thought they might be. Fortunately, the sun set as we were waiting outside a campground that featured both wifi and some friendly people who invited us to share their campsite. We spent the night with some awesome people and a really cool baby before getting in the car of two brothers.

Will and Wesley were super chill, dealing with us as we drove back and forth through the towns of Orderville and Mount Carmel, asking for directions at local businesses until we eventually spotted the dirt road/ long driveway to the home of a farmer whom we were supposed to ask for permission to cross the land of to get to the cave. While Adrian was doing just that, Will and Wesley asked me if they could join us. Everyone said yes and after 3 miles of walking in some serious heat, the four of us arrived at a great big crack in the side of this:

From the first steps we took inside, our minds were blown. The sandstone walls looked like soft skin. We walked through sections of light and dark that changed with the angle of the sun.

It was enchanting, but also incredibly challenging and probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever encountered.

During flash floods, which are common in the area, slot canyons fill with rushing water. When the water subsides, the canyon is left with debris and stagnant pools. When people explain the wonders of slot canyons, they tend to skip over the details of those stagnant pools. The only thing I’d heard about them was that they were extremely cold (which they were). Everyone failed to mention the colour and the smell and the dead animals floating in the pools.

The smell of a dead raven was almost enough to turn us back, but the obstacles nearly forced us to turn back. Rocks lodged between the narrow walls created miniature cliffs. Only the two tallest members of our group were able to make it up the most difficult ones. Being the shortest, I was just lifted up most of them. Much appreciated, guys.

It was all worth it when we got to a large chamber where people had been carving their names since the 50’s.

Although one wall was entirely covered, there weren’t nearly as many names as you’d expect from a 60 year period. It wasn’t the type of place you’d just go and not carve your name, either. It felt like we were joining an elite group of explorers.

I’m now writing this from a hammock on the back deck of a gorgeous house just north of Durango, Colorado. We’ve made it out of the heat! My toe, which got smashed up and bled pretty bad on our way out of the canyon, is drenched in polysporin. It’s recovering from it’s trip back through water full of dead things. It was very not-happy after that. This is a well-deserved rest before booking it across the country to Electric Forest. We’re very grateful to all the amazing room mates here at “The Ranch” and to an old friend for welcoming me back into his life. Happy travels to those of you on the move out there. I think we’ll stay here for now.

2 thoughts on “The Red Cave

  1. Yee haw Allie and Adrian in Cowboy (and girl) Country in Durango. You are definitely on a pilgrimage journey for Barbara, hitting all her favourite places in the Southwest, whether or not you realize it! Barbara has climbed through 40 of the best (and free) slot canyons in the Southwest, and her website on her Favorites is ‘Slot Canyons of the American Southwest’. Yes, there are many in Zion if you know where to look. Durango is so close to Mesa Verde National Park, the best of the Anasazi cliff dwellings, if you can stay long enough. If you don’t have the funds to cover entrance fee, let me know, and I will put it on my VISA. Alternatively, call me at the entrance, and I will give the ranger my VISA number, if you don’t just sneak in.


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