You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Running Utah's Slot Canyons: A Life-Changing Experience

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 7/10/2015 Melissa Marsted
ANTELOPE CANYON © rbulthuis via Getty Images ANTELOPE CANYON

Three Utah trail running veterans recently invited me on a life-changing adventure: a 20-mile run/hike through Utah's Buckskin Gulch, the longest and most narrow slot canyon in the world, followed by a 15-mile hike through the lesser known Bull Valley Canyon.

I had never before heard of a slot canyon but had heard the recent news about the flash flooding in this area that killed seven people at the end of this summer. The change of weather is spontaneous in the mountains and deserts of Utah. The risk of deadly flash floods is tremendous. Slot canyons are formed by the force of rushing water through rock canyons that can be hundreds of feet deep and as narrow as three feet. If the rains start while someone is hiking in these slot canyons, escape is nearly impossible.

The night before our first slot canyon adventure, four of us drove five and a half hours from Salt Lake City to Kanab's Parry Lodge, founded in 1931 as a home to Hollywood stars. Unfortunately, the town was packed and dinner reservations were difficult to find. I was happy enough with our bread and cheese and a bottle of red wine on the patio of the lodge, knowing we would indulge in a hearty breakfast at 6:30 the next morning before shuttling our cars to the start and exit of Buckskin Gulch.

After registering our group at the Wire Pass Trailhead, we set off on our day's adventure at 9:30 a.m. We began running with not a cloud in the sky, only the Utah bluebird sky, a depth of blue that is indescribable yet so magical.

Melanie was our leader and safety administrator. She and her husband had brought along the rope we would need for obstacles. With recent rains and flash floods, large boulders and logs could impede our trek through the canyon.

From the parking lot, we ran along a dry riverbed until we entered the slot canyon. We were immediately in awe with the dramatic 500-foot depth and darkness of the canyon, only glimmers of golden sunlight streaming through narrow openings like a laser beam, highlighting the tan and golden striated rock walls. I was slightly anxious from the start, always carrying with me a fear of the unknown, especially after reading the notes about Buckskin Gulch and the 30-foot drop early on in the hike, the stagnant water pools, and the possibility of seeing and smelling multiple dead animals that might have fallen into the canyon.

Buckskin Gulch was formed by the power of the water raging through the walls of the canyon. The bottom of the canyon was quite wet, but the clay mud was packed by earlier hikers so we were able to run in single file through much of it, only stopping for photographs or nourishment. From the start, our group was incredibly cohesive. We trekked on for hours and hours, taking in the sights, sounds and smells.

We came across a few dead rodents, a mutilated rabbit, tons of bird feathers and every once in a while a tiny lizard, one tarantula and one very feisty snake no longer than 12 inches. Every once in a while a raven would flap its wings through an opening in the canyon, becoming our symbol of the magical forces that presented themselves throughout our 35-mile weekend trail running adventure. The magnetic energy that nature created within the depths of the canyon walls proved to each of us that on a given weekend in nature, our hearts and souls could be restored for the week and months ahead.

More from Huffington Post

The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon