A bold trek from canyon bliss into terra incognita
Splashing downstream in Llewellyn Gulch, we marvel at the bounty of late-spring blooms: evening primrose, prickly pear, globe mallow. Then something shiny and white glints in the afternoon sun. Wedged in the sandy bank, almost swallowed up by a green tangle of reeds, is a pool slide. Chances are, it once adorned the deck of a tricked-out houseboat that floated by 50 feet above where we are now padding through a few inches of water.
Like a tombstone marking a forgotten grave, the slide reminds us of what was–and that we have no idea what lies ahead. The reservoir buried 250 square miles of Glen Canyon long before guidebook authors or mapmakers or Desert Solitaire fans had a chance to explore it. Now that the lake has shrunk by more than 100 square miles, a slickrock and slot-canyon wilderness the size of Arches National Park has suddenly materialized. And all of it is terra incognita.
Before reaching this spot just below the reservoir’s old high-water mark, my hiking partners and I had spent a day and a half trekking down from the top of Llewellyn, following a remote route coveted by canyon junkies. Upper Llewellyn is certainly a jewel, with challenging scrambles over pour-offs, narrows 10 feet across and 50 feet deep, a crystalline perennial stream just deep enough to cover your feet, and a bottomless swimming hole that is better, even, than strawberry ice cream on a blistering day.