To see the best part of the narrows in the man fork of Blue John Canyon
without the steep climb down at the upper end, the easiest route starts by descending the west fork, beginning along a sandy side track that leaves the main road just north of Burr Pass (see map
) and crosses a branch of the canyon after half a mile. The drainage is a shallow wash at this point with sloping sides and a floor of reddish sand; it stays nearly level for a while, curving gently while maintaining a straight northeast course overall. Low cliffs rise up after a mile forming a shallow ravine as the wash descends through the ledgy Kayenta layer and into the smoother Navajo sandstone beneath, soon reaching a narrow, stepped dryfall where the floor drops by 50 feet. The first part is the harder to pass though still not too bad, by climbing down a steep slope via several narrow ledges, on the right side of the dryfall. The second half is more straightforward as the canyon becomes more enclosed, and angular rock layers allow for an easy passage down, to a sandy streambed that marks the start of a short but pretty slot section; this is quite dark at first but soon opens out to a sheer-walled gorge, 20 feet or more across. The first exit route is on the right side about 10 minutes below the end of the slot, then soon after the canyon walls become markedly less steep, and there are many places to climb up to the plateau. Two short parallel side canyons join in quick succession from the north, both having short slots ending at dryfalls, typical of the Blue John system.
Photographs19 views of Blue John Canyon
(west/main forks), and a short video
Junction with the Main Fork
The streamway bends to the east then south and joins the main fork amidst high sandbanks, in a wide open area with the enclosing cliffs now quite far away. Turning southwest, the cliffs around the sandy wash stay relatively low and distant for a while, coming closer after the first significant side canyon, on the west side. This has another brief slot beneath a high, unclimbable dryfall. After this, also to the west, is the last climb out route, along a sloping ravine; the walls are much steeper beyond this, and the canyon now quite narrow. Another tributary joins just beyond, constricting to a few hundred feet of nice passages, before the inevitable blocking falls.
Now the main narrows begin - about a mile of deep, dark, vertical-walled canyon of which the last 1,000 feet is particularly enclosed, and ends with a 200 foot section where the ravine gains height sharply via a series of dryfalls, steep slopes and chokestones. The passageways are mostly quite straight and the rocks at either side smooth and sheer; there are no eroded fins or delicate curves like in some other slots. The canyon is dark because the rocks overhang high above, becoming just a few feet apart in places, and forming a narrow slot in the ceiling that even holds a few chokestones, all 200 feet above the streambed. The walls are dark red in color and have a variety of forms - sometimes smooth and flat all the way from floor to rim, in other places composed of thin angular strata and pebbly inclusions. A few places have a 'subway' appearance, with a roundish opening around the streambed and a narrower straight-sided crevice above. The depth, darkness and quiet make the passages just a little foreboding, similar to other deep, dark gorges like Buckskin Gulch or Echo Canyon. Most of the floor is soft sand so walking along the open parts can be rather tiring though this also makes the slot largely dry and free of potholes. The wash is blocked by a few minor boulders and piles of fallen rock, but has no major obstructions.
The quickest way to return to the trailhead is to scramble up the steep section at the head of the narrows and hike northwest for 1.5 miles; the alternative is to walk back downstream to the west-side exit between the two tributary canyons, then the route is up the side of a ravine, across undulating land of small hills and gullies, then over an area of sand dunes, this latter part aided by the distant rocks of Burr Pass as a guide to navigation. The hike takes around 5 hours.