Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Adventures in Big Canyon and the Little C

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim by canyoneering on November 15, 2010

Big Canyon, 3BIV
approximately 7 miles
Navajo Nation
11/06/10 – 11/07/10


Beloved Colorado Plateau on the magical Navajo Nation. It is dark and once again we are negotiating dirt roads that seem to intersect for no rhyme or reason. My GPS on its last legs decides to report for duty and comes to the rescue. The adventure certainly starts with the drive.

Great friends on this trip, representing three states, including Tanner, who I grew up with in New Jersey. Tanner is a recent transplant to the West Coast, the best coast. He has never been on rope before, but is in amazing shape and has the attitude. I think he may have picked a good one for the first one. The other vehicle is already at the rim just above the abyss that can’t be seen at this hour. With no trees in this austere environment and having brought in little wood themselves they have got a weak fire going. Not to worry the cavalry has just arrived. Several hours later, one by one we lay down for a little sleep.

At first light we wake to see what could not be seen before. Finding a way into the canyon requires a little searching; along the way primitive structures you probably wouldn’t see anywhere else, a flock of sheep. On the map this looks promising but we just won’t know until we peer over the edge. Almost there now. Yes, a break in the cliffs. Yeah, that’s going to work. Carefully negotiating the boulder-strewn gully allows for passage to the canyon floor.

Once in the canyon bottom it is smooth sailing along sandy terrain until we hit the limestone. The walls begin to narrow as the sandy bottom is replaced by polished limestone. Slowly the canyon reveals only little of what it has in store for us. The first drop is a beauty into a spring fed room. One by one we take our turn over the 70-foot overhanging drop into the pool below. Thanks to the spring feeding the pool, the water is much warmer than expected considering the cold temperatures of the late autumnal air. A number of rappels follow. Each drop features an enormous travertine formation formed over time from the minerals brought up from the spring just up-canyon and deposited as it flows down the drainage. The calcium formations resemble spires from a fortress that would exist in a fictitious world such as “Lord of the Rings”. We take care as we rappel to not damage these otherworldly formations, but these formations are surprisingly solid. The pools at the bottom of each drop take on an aqua blue color from dissolved travertine that can only be described as that of the Caribbean Seas.

Tanner has an enormous smile on his face. He is feeling it. This may be his first canyoneering experience, but this canyon is so unique that it is like the first time for all of us. I look around and everyone has the ear to ear smile.

The roar of the Little Colorado River gets louder and louder as we head further down Big Canyon crossing hanging garden springs and grotto pools, all isolated from the rest of the planet from soaring red wall reaching two thousand feet above us.  At the confluence with the Little Color River, the color of the water just doesn’t seem real. We play for a while, even though there isn’t much light left in the day. How could we not?

As we float on our backs down the river towards our camp for the night, I think about my wife, Laura. I wish she were here. Instead she is home, 36- weeks pregnant, hopefully not going into labor. Years down the road I will have to bring her here, along with our yet to be born child. They will need to see this.

Camp is set at dark. Wetsuits and other gear are hung on branches of nearby trees to dry. A fire is set. We are all buzzing from the day. Tomorrow, a suffer fest several thousand feet up an old Hopi route to get out of this intensely special place and up to the world above.



3 Responses

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  1. Stephen Schwartz said, on November 16, 2010 at 12:42 am

    DAVE: Beautiful as always, – except for the red socks! Best to Laura.

  2. Ryan said, on April 13, 2012 at 12:40 am

    Hi David,
    Ryan here from California. Wanted to thank you for the all the great information and beautiful pictures you have posted here. I’m planning a trip into Big Canyon this May and have found your trip report very helpful. I know it’s been over a year since you were out there but I was wondering if you could tell me a little more about the condition of the dirt road. Is it drivable with a regular 2 wheel drive car or would you recommend a high clearance or all wheel drive vehicle?
    Thanks again for your excellent reporting,

  3. canyoneering said, on April 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Hey Ryan,

    I’m glad you like the blog. That road wasn’t great but it wasn’t too bad either. Maybe a few tricky spots. If the conditions have not changed you should be fine in just 2 wheel drive, although I would be in a vehicle with some high clearance. I do remember some bumps and ruts that I think would be problematic in a sedan.


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