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2015 - Trip Report - Canyonlands, The Maze Trip

Canyonlands, Utah, The Maze Trip

October 2015

By Bob Jaussaud

Mal had almost given up on joining us. We didn’t make it to Hanksville until the morning after our meeting time. The problem was that Nelson, Ellen, Mignon and I were having too much fun and finding too many interesting side roads during our run from Zion up Skutumpah Road to Hole-In-The- Rock. The evening we were supposed to be in Hanksville, we ran out of daylight while still in the high country south of Torrey and had to camp in the aspens, deer and beautiful Fall colors. Sorry Mal.

  Fortunately Mal waited for us and we were able to head into Canyonlands together. South of Hanksville, we started into Poison Spring Valley, but were turned back by a washout. The alternate plan was to head into the Maze from the Southern entrance, outside Hite. So, after hiking to an expansive view of retreating Lake Powell, we headed north from Hite on a road severely cross- hatched with water gullies. The going was slow, but we were undeterred. After several tedious hours we reached a turn-off to Cove Spring and decided to check it out. We discovered a functional line camp complete with a corral and a dilapidated Gypsy wagon. Further up the canyon we came to a beautiful juniper campsite near the canyon mouth and decided to call it a night.

The next morning we hurried to make up miles. Continuing north, we did take some precious time to explore the site of the historic Chaffin ranch before finally entering Canyonlands proper at the Waterhole Flat Junction. Turning right, we headed toward the Dollhouse. The road was OK until we reached Teapot Rock, but then it turned truly nasty and remained so until we finally reached The Wall. For the rest of our adventure into the Dollhouse, the specter of having to return on that awful road haunted us. From the Wall we moved on to Standing Rock, where we camped for the night on a beautiful bench, shaded by Standing Rock, with a magnificent view of the Maze area.

Next morning, we left at dawn so we could drive the short ways to Chimney Rock and start our 7 mile hike into the Harvest Scene (large pictographs) before it got too warm. The Harvest Scene trail drops precipitously into a canyon. It looked very exposed and dangerous, but Mignon and I elected to give it a try. It was marked with rock stacks spaced along the trail at critical junctures and we quickly learned to spot the next rock stack before moving ahead.  Once we reached the canyon floor, the walking became easier. The canyon we were following eventually led to a confluence of many canyons. It was at this point that the feeling of experiencing the “Maze” truly came over me. It would be so easy to take a wrong canyon and get hopelessly lost in the “Maze”. Fortunately, our trusty GPS showed us the correct canyon to follow. The canyon floors had flowing water in spots and there was a lot of Fall color. It was so different and beautiful. We arrived at the Harvest Scene and were awed by it, but Mignon and I both agreed that the trail and the canyons were the most rewarding parts of the hike.

The climb out of the Maze went quicker than our hike in. Reaching the vehicles, we continued on to the Dollhouse. After some much deserved relaxing in the shade, Nelson and Mignon hiked to some ancient granaries. They discovered some awesome slot canyons and Surprise Valley along the way. I hiked up the Spanish Bottom trail to the pass and was rewarded with an exceptional view of the Colorado River just above Cataract Canyon. Back at our Dollhouse camp, Chris and his friend, Elias, had arrived. They were driving a very extreme Jeep they had engineered and appeared not the slightest bit intimidated by the Teapot road. They were looking forward to even more extreme adventures. Could it be that we DE members are becoming a little soft? I will admit that my little pop- up camper looked mighty good that evening.

The next morning, we took stock of our situation and decided we should start our journey back toward civilization. Nelson’s back was really hurting him and could potentially become an issue with getting out. Mal was very anxious (as we all were) to get the bad section of road in our rear view mirrors. Also, none of us felt we had the gas necessary to do much more exploring. So, we sadly bid Chris and Elias good bye and headed out. Safely back at Waterhole Flat Junction, we turned north toward the Hans Flat Ranger Station. The only obstacle between us and our goal was driving up the Flint Trail. This is one of those things you have to experience to believe. Amazingly, we made it to the top without significant vehicle damage or loss of life. We found the Hans Flat ranger just as she was closing up for the evening. She told us about a beautiful campsite on a canyon rim that was just outside the park. It was such a relief to finally be off the bad roads.

Mal was his happy self the next morning. He wanted us to explore some things in the immediate area that he had located on his topo app. 

He led us to Granary Spring, Robbers’ Roost Spring and Hooch Spring. We found old corrals and an improvised cabin. That afternoon, after gassing up in Hanksville, we headed down the Waterpocket Fold and turned west on the Burr Trail. Passing through Boulder, we finally called it a night at another wonderful camp site on Hell’s Backbone.

We were all ready to head for the comforts of home, but first we had to complete our journey on Hell’s Backbone. This is an awesome old gravel road that leads up to 9000 feet and has a very historic bridge over a deep chasm. There were Fall colors galore. Heading west from Escalante, we took cutoffs to view Mammoth Cave and Cascade Falls. We followed Old 91 from Littlefield to Mesquite and took the Lake Mead scenic byway to complete our journey home.

I think we all agree that we are not anxious to go back to the Dollhouse or the Flint Trail. In fact, we don’t ever plan to. That being said, it was an awesome experience and I believe we are all glad we did it and made it home safely. The Maze country is rugged, remote and beautiful.  If we ever want to return, the way to avoid the truly bad roads would be to head in the way we did, from Hite, and take the road to the Maze Overlook. From there, one could continue on to Millard Camp on the Green River. The return would be the same way in reverse. Maybe some day.