Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Don't Camp at the Permit Window / Echo Canyon

It’s been a busy month for me. In all of June I was able to only do a quick one day trip down to Zion. I took a buddy from work that had never been through a slot canyon before, down Echo Canyon and we both had a great time. Nothing too exciting happened though so here is the video:

Canyoneering Echo Canyon - Zion National Park from Eric Godfrey on Vimeo.

As for the write up, I elected to tell a story from when I started Canyoneering. Before just jumping into a new sport I decided to get a little training to increase my chances of not dying and signed up for the American Canyoneering Association’s excellent three day course. The class taught me all the basics of setting up the ropes and I felt confident jumping into some easy slot canyons. I had arranged to meet up with a group two days after the class ended to give me a chance to go through a canyon with some more experienced guys, leaving Saturday open for whatever. There was another guy in our class that had some experience and he was meeting up with one of his rock climbing buddies from Salt Lake to do a canyon or two on the day I had nothing going on. He invited me to go with them and I of course accepted.

We drove to Cedar City to meet his friend then found a place to camp. By the time we ate some grub and got our plans together it was around 1:00 a.m. Now for those not familiar with Canyoneering in Zion National Park, they have a horrendously obnoxious permit system that requires you to stand in a long line in the morning hoping that you can descend the canyon you want that day. If it’s popular forget about getting a permit unless you get there the day before really early in the morning. We decided in order to ensure actually being able to get a permit one of us would get in line around 4:30 in the morning. As we settled in for some sleep, one guy suggested we just camp at the permit window since we will have to get up in a few hours to get in line anyway. We all agreed that was a good idea, even though we had heard your technically not supposed to. Whats the worst that can happen?

All my gear was stashed in my car so we opted to drive both cars over to the Visitors Center. After getting out of the car we spotted a police car in the parking lot and decided maybe we should check the area out first. Sure enough there were two officers walking back from the permit window area and they stopped us to ask us what we were doing. Knowing that we probably weren't allowed to camp there we told them we were just checking the weather. They told us that was fine, but made sure we were aware that camping outside of a camp area is prohibited and that we can’t stick around all night. We told him that was fine, went and checked the weather then watched the officers leave.

We should have listened to the officers, but we didn’t. We figured the cops had made their rounds for the night and we should be in the clear, but just in case we opted to move our cars to a parking lot across the river in hopes that if the cops drove by again they wouldn’t see our cars and want to check out who was there.

Soon our pads and sleeping bags were sprawled out below the permit window. We were first in line and the excitement of tomorrows trip kept us from falling asleep right away. Well, it was either that or the annoying information video that played over and over just above our heads.

Before long more people started showing up asking us what canyons we were looking to get into and setting up their own bags hoping to get into the canyons they desired too. We made it to about 2:30 a.m. when two different county sheriffs showed up to inform us of the same thing the earlier pair had done, that we can’t camp outside of a designated camping area. Luckily it wasn’t the cops we talked to earlier. This time however, the officers wanted to take down our information in order to make sure there were no warrants out for our arrest or anything. The officers asked to see our driver’s licenses, but we didn’t have them on us, so he said that was fine and took down our names and social security numbers. The guys I was with were reluctant to give this information in fear that we were going to get put on the permit black list and not be able to get permits in the morning since we broke the rules. The officer assured us that we could come back to get permits and that this was just a routine thing that they take down our information, so we gave our info and took off.

The two guys I was with were in a big hurry to get back to the cars, one saying “Dude their calling in our names, lets hurry and get out of here.” I didn’t know these guys too well, so I didn’t notice why they were in such a hurry to get out of there, but I would soon find out.

We crossed the river and jumped into our cars, the other two pulled onto the road and immediately a police car pulled them over. I pulled out behind and an officer shined his flashlight in my eyes and motioned for me to pull over also. I sat patiently and watched through my rear view mirror as an officer conversed with the driver of the other vehicle wondering why we were being pulled over.

After a while of watching the other vehicle I saw the driver get out, get patted down, and then handcuffed and sent behind the vehicle where I couldn’t see him anymore. Oh boy, what had I gotten myself into? Soon the officer that had told us at the beginning of the night not to camp walked over to my vehicle and asked me to get out. He proceeded to pat me down and put handcuffs on me, and then escorted me to where my two new friends were sitting on the ground.

Many questions ran through my head wondering why these cops were making such a big deal out of us camping in front of the permit window, and why the others who were told to leave weren’t on the side of the road with us. As I was thinking this, one of the guys started talking to the officers asking them if he could know why we were handcuffed and what was going on. He looked at us and revealed the meaning of all this hassle, the other two, in order to avoid being put on the black list and not able to get a permit, gave fake names and social security numbers to the officers. Not a good idea! Then on top of that after one officer started poking around the other guys truck, he found a marijuana pipe sitting in his door.

“What is this all about? Am I going to find drugs in your vehicle?”
“No, that’s all you’ll find, that’s all mine, these guys have nothing to do with that”
Oh boy, I know I’m screwed now. The officers proceeded to bargain with the other two getting permission to search his vehicle and trying to sort out why these two gave fake names. For all they knew they were ducking the law. After about an hour of waiting around and searching the truck the officers decided to send the two who gave fake names off to the Washington County prison while I, who gave my real name and SS#, got off with just a $50 fine for camping at the permit window. I was glad I gave my real name, and glad I happened to be driving my own car, not the car with the drug pipe in it, but I was now left partner less for Saturday. I opted to sleep in my car since it was now around 3:00 a.m. and then drove to Bryce Canyon and hiked around by myself until I could meet my other buddies in Zion the next day. Lesson learned? Don’t camp at the permit window, and careful who you meet, you never know if your going to end up handcuffed on the side of the road at 2:00 in the morning! Or even worse, spending the weekend in prison all because you thought you would get put on the “no permit for you” list if you gave your real name!

OMG, you are brave~
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