Deep Down into the Earth: Canyoneering Ephedra’s Grotto

The rope glided through my hand making it warm from the friction as the earth slowly rose to greet my toes. As my shoes settled into the cool sand at the bottom of a 95-foot dry waterfall, I found myself surrounded by red rocks that looked like they rubbed shoulders with a zebra. I had entered Ephedra’s Grotto.


On the third day of my 16-day road trip through the southwest, I was ready for some socializing and adventure so I joined a canyoneering tour with Moab Cliffs and Canyons. Led by wonderful, knowledgeable guides, the five-hour tour introduced our group to repelling and the Salt Flats Recreation Area just outside of town.

Hiking from the van, we wandered as a group through fissures in the sandstone that had been solidified by thousands of years of pressure. Trying to stay on hard rock so not to disturb the biological soil crust, a community of organism that live on top of the sand in arid regions and help the land from further eroding away our guides explained, we leapfrogged downhill to our first repel into the grotto.

Our guide, Riley, explaining the first repel

From the top, you could only see the smooth curve and fall away of the repel into the slot like canyon. While waiting my turn, I watch as my fellow travelers slowly disappear below the rim. I should have been nervous. I though I would be nervous. But surprisingly when it was my turn to strap into the rope and descend, I was calm. As I took the first step down and settled into a right angle with my body and legs, I was all smiles.

The second repel left us dangling under a rock bridge

The second repel, a 120-foot drop, was slightly more intimidating. From the ridge – a small opening between a rock wall and bridge, I could see the bottom…way, way., way down there. As I slowly eased myself off the cliff edge, I looked up at my guide for support but he was blotted out by the bright sun above.  By this point though there was no other option but down. With each step, the repel became easier and easier. Eventually the wall fell away inward and I dangled in the air below the natural rock bridge. Closing in on the ground below, I could hear the gurgle of a spring that leaked from the nearby rocks. The 12 stories flew by in less than a minute and just like that I was back on solid ground in Negro Bill Canyon.

After packing up our gear, we enjoyed a leisurely 2.5-mile hike out of the canyon. Crisscrossing the small creek that streamed toward the Colorado River in the late March sunshine, we laughed and relived our repels and soaked in the beauty of being on vacation.

About Moab Cliffs and Canyons:

Moab’s oldest climbing and canyoning guide service, Moab Cliffs and Canyons is the region’s vertical specialist. They safely guide clients through some of the most rugged and interesting desert terrain year-round. Focusing exclusively on rock climbing and canyoning excursion, they offer an amazing collection of unique and challenging adventures. The guides I met led with ease and confidence from years of experience and smiles on their faces to be teaching others a sport that they obviously love.

Published by Kelsey Ivey

An avid traveler and hiker, Kelsey is a freelance writer and professional explorer.

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