Leprechaun Canyon, Utah
Leprechaun Canyon, Utah
Of all the geologic wonders in southern Utah the arches and slot canyons are probably the most famous. The American Discovery Trail passes right by a nice slot canyon that is almost certainly missed by the majority of travelers. A few miles north of the Hite Bridge on Utah highway 95 lie The Irish Canyons, a set of narrow slot canyons in soft sandstone. One of them, Leprechaun, is easily accessed from the highway near mile marker 28 just north of Sandthrax Campground and 5 miles northwest of ADT waypoint R30030 at Hog Springs.
A short dirt road heads northeast towards a rather nondescript wash opening and a trail continues from there, the trail is partially overgrown by willows and tamarisk which you can bushwhack through against the right hand wall. Continue to follow the wash which enters a small slot that is fun to explore, it’s possible to climb out of the end of it but almost everybody backtracks and scrambles up the sandstone on the right just before the start of the small slot, there are usually marks on the face where people climb up. If it has been wet it may be too slippery, look across the wash and assess whether you want to use the crack to get up to the next level. Once up above the small slot follow it into the canyon, you will soon be in a large ‘cathedral’, if the sun is shining throw some of the fine sand up in the air for great photos. This cathedral area was used for some scenes in the movie 127 Hours, the actual event happened about 100 miles north of here.
Continuing into the canyon the walls draw in and a bit more than a mile from the start you reach Belfast Boulevard, a quite narrow, tall, crack, this is where most people stop. Be careful if you continue into the Boulevard, it’s so dark you will need a headlamp and at points so narrow that you have climb a little to get over the narrow bottom. There’s not even room to put a foot down, you don’t want to slip and wedge yourself in there, then having to re-enact another much less pleasant scene from 127 Hours!
If you research the canyons ahead of time you will mostly find references to ‘dropping into’ the various forks, all of these routes require ropes and technical skills. One of them drops into the far end of Belfast Boulevard from an even narrower section of slot, in places it’s only a hands width wide at the bottom few feet. Slot canyons are of course formed by erosion, rainwater is channeled into a narrow area and eats away the soft sandstone. Keep this in mind if there are clouds around, most of the erosion occurs during flash floods, and you don’t want to be anywhere near a canyon if that is a possibility. Fortunately the entire drainage area for Leprechaun is visible from the road so it’s easy to see if there is a chance of rain, in some other slots rainfall many miles away can cause floods on apparently clear sunny days. The small slot in the wash is forming in reverse due to a hole in the canyon floor.
It’s well worth a couple of hours to explore Leprechaun which also has the added benefit that on a hot summer day the narrow sections are cool. There are not usually any pools of water but there may be muddy areas and even some patches of shallow quicksand. The area is so remote that it’s quite likely you will have Leprechaun to yourself. If you are interested in more slot canyons there are a series of famous slots on the Notom Road north of Sandy Ranch (R30230), these are longer and all end in very technical climbs, they are also much more subject to flash floods. There are over 1000 named slot canyons in Utah!
A final warning, if you camp at Sandthrax you may discover Sandthrax Canyon, aka “The Chasm of Doom”. Do not enter this canyon, it is deceptively dangerous, very technical, and very easy to get stuck in. Many people have spent the night in there, local SAR crews know it well.