Water Holes Canyon - East of US 89 (Upstream)


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Curvy rocks above the narrows
Curvy rocks above the narrows - east of the dryfall
There are two possible routes down from the north rim of Water Holes Canyon close to US 89. The easiest is the official entrance, on the east side of the road - this is where the Navajo guided tours begin, and may only be used with permission. The other is down a steep gully a short distance west of the highway. This leads to an open section of the canyon; upstream is a short narrow passage that becomes quite dark and enclosed, with pools and several other minor obstacles. The road bridge crosses high above, and directly below, the canyon is blocked by the remains of a car, wedged vertically between the rock walls; this is quite useful as the canyon floor beyond is about 10 feet higher, and the car assists when climbing up.

Photographs of lower and middle Water Holes Canyon.

Above the car wreck, Water Holes is less deep and much more open. The official entrance is down a slope to the left, after which there is another narrowish section then for the next half mile or so the streamway is wider, relatively shallow and fully exposed to the sun. There are short, water-worn channels a few feet deep interspersed with wider stony areas, and following recent floods, many patches of soft mud and pools up to 2 feet deep. The weathered sandstone walls are usually around 5-10 meters high, with frequent climb-out routes. Occasional short side canyons join from both sides.

The best stretch of narrows is reached after 20 minutes walking, extends for around 150 meters and ends at a deep pool beneath a 15 foot vertical rock face. This section of the canyon is often only a few feet wide and has many rock hollows filled with muddy water; much scrambling up rock faces and around tight corners is necessary. There is no way to climb up at the large pool but there is a route up the cliff walls a little way back down the passageway, on the south side.

The canyon can be rejoined after walking along a ledge and back down to the streambed just above the dryfall. The narrows do not extend much further, however, as the ravine becomes wide, with sand banks and pebbles. After a few hundred meters, beneath some powerlines, the canyon divides. The right fork emerges from another dark, twisting section of narrows with more nice swirling rock formations, with 4 vertical drops of around 5 feet, just high enough to make progress a little difficult. This passage marks the end of the narrows of the lower canyon as the cliffs are soon replaced by sandy hills and the streamway spreads out and meanders across the flat desert, although much further up the left fork, several other slot sections are found, which are described in the upper canyon section.

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