Zebra Canyon is a photographer's dream. Shape shifting walls undulate in synchronous waves so narrowly spaced that sunlight refracts as if inside a prism, bouncing between stripes of pink and magenta, accented by an interplay of water, sand, and sky.
This is a slot canyon, meaning the rock walls constrict to less than arm's length apart. While it takes a skilled photographer to negotiate the contrast of light and dark within, a beginner canyoneer should be able to navigate the terrain. The only major obstacle is a pool of water. Lack of light and wind in this sheltered crevice makes evaporation happen slowly, so water often lingers through even the driest weather. The pool may be shallow and stagnant or deep and clear, depending on recent rainfall. Come prepared to get a bit wet and cold. If you expect deep water, consider a dry bag for your camera gear.
Although the canyon is shady and cool, the hike crosses open slickrock desert. Beginning from Hole in the Rock Road outside Escalante, the trail crosses 3 miles of rolling terrain and a sandy wash. Although there are no signs, the path is well worn and easy to follow with occasion rock cairns to aid in navigation. At the intersection with Harris Wash, a broad sandy riverbed, turn left (upstream). Where the wash appears to fork, keep right and the canyon mouth will soon come into view.
You can walk a short way on dry sand as the walls close in, but the true experience requires crossing mud and water and turning some corners. Mild claustrophobia is well worth it for the sandstone spectacle within.
The most picturesque corridor is just beyond the long pool, and it requires only walking and wading. Beyond this, however, is a short rock scramble into another chamber and a new perspective. The rarely-seen upper canyon is cut off by a sheer wall, but it can be accessed by exiting the slot and hiking up and around on slickrock. Potholes filled with moqui marbles await discovery above. These oddly spherical rocks are iron-oxide concretions that challenge geologists for explanation.
Although the hike to Zebra takes some time, the canyon itself is small and can be explored in 30 minutes. To extend your adventure, check out Tunnel Slot, which is a bit further down Harris Wash.
Tunnel Slot is aptly named. It is a slot canyon like Zebra, but the walls enclose so narrowly overhead that barely any light squeezes through. Wider near the bottom, the canyon resembles more of a tunnel. Whatever water is in Zebra, expect it to be deeper and colder in Tunnel. The pool here can be more than chest deep and about 100 feet long. This one is less photogenic and more adventurous than its neighbor around the corner, and it has a character all its own.
To get to Tunnel Slot, return to where the footpath joins Harris Wash. Find a continuation of the trail on the opposite side of the wash and follow it east for just under a mile. Take the first side canyon coming in from the left, and the dark hole of Tunnel Slot will soon appear.
Enter the water and aim for the light at the end of the tunnel where the canyon opens back up and sunshine returns. The wash above here can be explored as well, but there are no more narrows.
Harris Wash continues downstream of Tunnel Slot, and it is an entirely new adventure. It soon narrows into a deep canyon of its own, filled with dense vegetation and trickling with perennial water. It meanders and deepens for many miles, eventually meeting the Escalante River and continuing to Coyote Gulch, then on to Lake Powell.
Harris Wash makes an excellent backpacking trip, even during the heat of summer. There are plenty of good camping spots after passing Tunnel Slot. Overnight trips require a free permit from the BLM office in Escalante.