“We’ll spend two nights at Slot Canyons Inn with probably the best host in all of Utah,” said Russ, the owner of Backcountry Journeys and our guide for photography and hiking for six days last April.
High praise. If I were a better researcher I’d have noticed the * beside Slot Canyons Inn B&B in our Moon guidebook to Utah and discovered that it’s one of the state’s top B&Bs. The inn is on Scenic Byway 12 where the silence is white as the area’s creamy slickrock and milky, star-filled sky.
What makes a “best host,” and a top B&B?
Despite our 8 pm arrival, the owner of Slot Canyons Inn greeted us. “Welcome back Russ, how have you been?” she said, then turned to us. “I’m Joette-Marie, after my father whose name was Joe. And my living quarters are just down there,” she said, pointing to the helical staircase spiraling down behind the desk at the front entrance.
Her reply to the apology Russ made for our lingering attempts to capture the sunset’s last embers warmed Magellan’s heart. “Don’t apologize. I’ll be up for awhile yet,” she said, “I’m only halfway through making bread for tomorrow’s breakfast.” Freshly baked bread! Among Magellan’s favourite foods, yet rarely produced in the kitchen of Spice.
Each of the eight, large rooms at Slot Canyons Inn is named for one of the main attractions in Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. Ours was Metate Arch after the iconic, slender, natural arch in Devil’s Garden. Having been awake since 5 am and knowing we’d be up for sunrise photography the next day, I arched my back into the soothing pulsations of the jetted tub.
Not only does Joette-Marie do all the cooking, she works alone in her large kitchen, impeccably trim in a dress and spotless apron, a sense of grace animated by a perceivable zest for life, a recognizable depth of character that emanates from those who hold a true sense of self and purpose.
Guests helped themselves, buffet-style, to her homemade abundance. Two flavours of quiche hot from the oven, sizzling bacon, fresh fruit salad, muffins…and bread—no wonder it’s so good—she grinds her own flour! Helping myself to another thick slice and slathering it with butter, I asked her about the delicious jelly, the colour of crabapple jelly, that I couldn’t get enough of. “It’s prickly pear,” she told me, making me think of the personality association of “crabapple” and “prickly.” “Did you make it, too?” I asked. “Sort of,” she said. “There were so many last year and when they ripened I had no time to pick them. Then a Mexican man needing work asked if I had something he could do. He picked many buckets of the fruit that is true to its name. I asked him if he’d like to learn how to make prickly pear jelly. He paid careful attention to weighing the proportions and caught on quickly. He ended up making jelly from over 40 pounds of fruit.” “Do you have some that I could buy for my daughter and myself?” I asked. “Yes, I’ll have two jars ready for you tomorrow morning,” she said.
I’d noticed (snoopy, aren’t I?), on a prominent spot on a shelf in the living room, a slightly worn book bound in blue leather: The Escalante Story 1875-1964 by Nethella Griffin Woolsey. The inscription intrigued me. I didn’t write down the exact words (people; I have some discretion) but it was clear the book was rare, a present from Joette-Marie to her husband and that they were new to Escalante, a place she was looking forward to discovering more about with him and their children.
“Is Joette-Marie married?” I asked Russ later that morning. “I don’t know,” he said. “I know she’s LDS and went to Washington on a mission a few years ago.”
The next morning Joette-Marie saw me looking at a photo of a large family on the wall between the kitchen and dining room. She took me aside and told me about her family’s charmed life in Orange County. How after reading Cheaper By the Dozen, she grew up wanting to have a dozen children. (They didn’t quite make it with several miscarriages, but eight call her mom.) That Escalante started out as a “way station” between jobs, but they fell in love with the area and, at a friend’s suggestion, decided to move there permanently and build a B&B. Then tragedy struck when Jeff was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease just six months after Slot Canyons Inn opened in 2006. That her decision was to go forth and manage it on her own. Although I count myself among the Stoics, I was now wiping the corners of my eyes.
Joette-Marie continued on, telling me about her son Adam, who built a house on the 160-acre Slot Canyons property for his wife and family and co-manages the Inn with her. The biggest challenge they have is finding employees in this remote location at the convergence of North Creek and Birch Creek, which forms the Escalante—the last river named in the lower 48 states.
A chance connection with another person, I often think, is one of the greatest gifts that life presents us.
The next day, I realized my headlamp had gone amiss. I recalled reorganizing my suitcase at Slot Canyons Inn. Maybe my headlamp had remained on the bedspread of the same colour? Good fortune for me: a telephone call confirmed my light was in their Lost and Found.
Once again, we were greeted by Joette-Marie, this time on an early Saturday morning. “I’m sorry you had to drive all this way back,” she said. I explained that it was no encumbrance for us, Slot Canyons Inn being on our route north through Capitol Reef Park on our way to Moab. “Now that you’re back, if you have time you should see our 10,000-year-old petroglyphs. Just continue on the road toward the cabin until you see “The Dig” sign. Park your car and walk to the left of the road for a hundred yards. You can’t miss them.”
We found them. But I wonder; if I open my jar of prickly pear jelly, will some of my connection to Slot Canyons Inn be lost?
Slot Canyons Inn is listed among Utah’s top nineteen B&Bs (don’t ask me why they chose this number). The Seven Wives Inn, where we stayed in St. George, is also on the list.
Through his company Backyard Journeys Russ takes small groups on specialized photography tours: camping in the Grand Canyon, seeing the bears in Alaska, discovering the wilds of Costa Rica…
Unbenounced to us, more than bread and jelly, on the Slot Canyons Inn there’s a private canyon with a two-tiered waterfall in the highest plateau in North America, an archeological dig where rock art graffiti and granaries evidence a 10,000-year-old civilization and wildlife that includes deer, elk, hawks, eagles and wild turkeys. The Inn offers a wide assortment of tours and, seasonally, its North Creek Grill restaurant is open for evening meals. Breaking news: Joette-Marie is putting the finishing touches on a book: Our Escape to Escalante: Slot Canyons Inn Journey, Memories and Recipes.
We had this extra photo of flowers near Slot Canyons Inn that didn’t seem to fit in with any of our galleries for this post. Then, with the death of Leonard Cohen this week, it suddenly found its place, an accompaniment to the last verse of “Democracy” from his prescient album of 1992, The Future.
“I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”